Mind-stretching. Enriching. Educational. Empowering.
Solo travel is many wonderful things. As with anything, though, there are some challenges. I asked members of the Solo Travel Society, the actively engaged community that I facilitate on Facebook, “What is the hardest part of traveling solo?”
Their answers were many and varied – including, “There is no hard part!”—but there were several themes that came up again and again. Here are the main challenges that were identified, along with some tips for handling them in future.
Sharing Special Experiences
Megan said that sometimes the hardest part of traveling solo is wishing someone was there to share your experiences along with you. Mattia found not being able to share the experience with loved ones back home disappointing, while Jason found it particularly difficult being away from family during the holidays—although he noted that when you travel solo, you always find someone to celebrate with. Melinda joked that “If something really funny happens to you, it's nice to have someone to laugh with. Otherwise you spend the next few hours looking like a dill every time you think about it and laugh out loud and passers-by think you're going mad!”
Taking Your Photo
A number of readers lamented not having anyone to take photos of them while traveling. When Ina suggested using a selfie stick, reaction was quite mixed. Monica said that she is sick and tired of selfies and Kiki worried that she looked silly trying to take pics of herself. Chanin recommended asking a stranger to take your photo, but cautioned that the quality of the resulting photo is not guaranteed. Jeanne worried about strangers running off with her camera, and Alex reminded us all that “Back before everybody claimed to be a photographer we used cameras for self-portraits using a timer…which all cameras still have.”
Janice is a master selfie-taker. To read about why she thinks selfies are just fine (no matter what critics might say) read her post In Defense of the Selfie. Or to commiserate with me about my inability to take a decent selfie and see how I managed to get around it on a trip to Quebec, check out A Creative Solution to My Selfie Problems.
Travel in general can be expensive, but solo travel can present an additional burden of cost. Several Solo Travel Society members mentioned the aggravation of the single supplement that is charged by many tour companies. Taru noted, “For some trips it's ridiculously high!” Suz and Warren said the fact that there is no one to split costs with makes things difficult, and Joe agreed, adding that there is no one to share 2-for1 deals with when traveling alone. Michelle brought up an entirely different topic around money: “When the credit card stops working because the bank forgot you were going to more than one country on your travels and put a freeze on it–money problems are my biggest stress being solo now!”
For tips on how to get around extra charges, see 10 Tips to Avoid the Single Supplement. Don’t forget that we have published many posts on just about every subject related to saving money for and while traveling. You can find them in our Ultimate Travel Money Guide: How to Budget and Save on Travel. For advice specifically on managing your money on the go, check out Manage Money. Avoid Fees. Keep Cards and Cash Safe.
Watching Your Stuff
This one surprised me: a lot of readers told me that the hardest part of traveling solo is not having anyone else to watch your belongings. Over and over again, readers complained about having no one to watch their luggage while they used the washroom, especially in airports. Bryony finds “going to the loo in airports and lugging all your baggage (especially if you're the kind of person who only takes carry on so is burdened like a mule)” a big challenge. Dawn added that it also frequently means that you lose your seat while you’re gone. Isabel identified this problem: “When there are no lifts at the metro stations and I have my check-in as well as cabin luggage to move to and from the airport. I can't exactly carry one piece down, leave it there, and run up to get the other piece without worrying that someone might not just grab the unattended piece and bolt.”
On a different note, Taru said that there is “nobody to watch my stuff on the beach if I want to go swimming.” This one, we can help with. At the Beach Solo: 20 Tips for You and Your Things.
Everything Is Up To You
Now, this one did not surprise me at all. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword: the fact that everything is up to you can be simultaneously freeing and burdening. You can do as you wish, whenever and wherever and for as long as you wish—but every decision, every plan, every bit of organization is also on your shoulders. Brenda shared, “I'm on month 3 of a long trip solo right now. I find it mentally exhausting at times trying to organize and figure things out, even easy stuff, like “What am I eating for breakfast?”
Amy said, “Being from a city that is sorely lacking in public transportation, I have a bit of difficulty deciphering best transportation options when visiting large cities with buses, trains, light rail, etc. I'm visiting Sydney in March and I'm spending quite a bit of time mapping out transportation (besides the two-legged kind!)” Rebekka understood Amy’s problem, offering “I'm from Sydney and always think how difficult it would be for tourists, our transportation sucks and everything is so spread out!”
At the end of the day, said Mecedes, “You are the only one taking care of you.” And the hardest part of traveling solo, according to Martha, is “learning to depend on yourself.” According to Janet, “The best part and the worst part are the same: making your own decisions.”
Here are 5 challenges identified by veteran solo travelers, along with solutions in Top Tips for Stress-Free Solo Travel.
For some Solo Travel Society members, the hardest part of traveling solo comes at the very beginning of a trip. For Pamela, it’s “the moment before I leave for the trip because there are anxieties and fear of the unknown. A small part of me will want to go back home and live in my comfort zone but once the plane takes off, it leaves the anxiety and fear behind and I begin to live in the moment and enjoy the adventure.” Claire agreed, saying “Once at the airport, I start feeling excited!”
Ian shared that he found the first solo trip the hardest. “I very nearly booked a flight home whilst waiting for a connection to Singapore.” But I think Max had the best line of all. He said that the hardest part is “getting out the door. The rest flows like wine.”
For anyone experiencing those first-day jitters, this is a great read—also contributed by members of the Solo Travel Society to help an anxious first-time traveler: When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed: 43 Tips for Traveling Alone.
When Something Goes Wrong
Jennifer has found that the hardest part of traveling solo is “Being sick! I was down with fever and diarrhea on my last 2 days in Cambodia. I had to “crawl” to the nearest pharmacy to get meds.” Likewise, Karen hated “Falling sick and having to drag my aching self to the pharmacy.”
Getting sick can be an isolating experience at home, so it stands to reason that the feeling would be heightened when traveling solo. In fact, Sabrina refers to getting really ill while traveling solo as “I want my Mommy” status. For that reason, it’s wise to engage in as much prevention as possible. Here are tips to prevent and treat health problems as you travel.
I once found a trip to Bratislava and Vienna ruined by excruciating dental pain. Just the search to find someone to help was a task. Then there was the challenge of moving from feeling sorry for myself into altering my expectations and finding the bright side. See Making the Best of a Bad Travel Situation.
Hannah misses “not having anyone who you can truly trust to be there when something goes wrong and to talk it through with.” In the same vein, Lucinda says, “When something goes wrong—sick, lost luggage, flight issues—I miss having someone for support and help.”
Have a look at Travel Problems: Prevention and What to Do When Things Go Wrong.
Attitudes of Other People
Not everyone understands or appreciates the desire to travel solo. Family and friends, while well-meaning, can sometimes be a bit difficult to deal with around this issue. Rachael finds the hardest part of traveling solo happens “at home before leaving and having to listen to my mother's or other people's comments on how unsafe it is to travel alone and having them point out every little news item of someone disappeared or raped or beaten. I've quit trying to explain how it really is because they have no idea what it's like to travel alone and it can actually usually be as safe as when you are at home.” Isuru sympathized, saying, “Ah, I know this one well. I was getting scolded every time I called my mother during my trip.”
While Suzanne finds it difficult to convince her parents that she will be fine, Ayn hates having to say “no” when someone wants to come along on the journey. Sue says it is hard “convincing others that I really do like being on my own. Don't feel sorry for me!”
And it’s not just people close to us. Julia dislikes “that look people give you when you say, ‘One, please,’ and Alex is annoyed by people constantly asking ‘OMG you're traveling alone?’”
For all of those people who “just don’t get it,” there is the Solo Traveler’s Manifesto. Feel free to share this e-book, entitled Glad You’re Not Here, with anyone who needs a little help understanding the beauty and joy of solo travel.
While it didn’t come up very often, for some people, loneliness can be the hardest part of traveling solo, though usually only for part of the journey. Mark expressed it this way: “I travel solo because I want to do my own thing, not because I want to be a hermit. Reaching a new place and not knowing anyone can be hard. There are days where I don’t talk to a single person other than saying “hello” and “thank you.” Staying in guest houses can be great for finding fellow travelers, but times in hotels can be very lonely. Meetup and other social sites can be great if you are in one place long enough.” (Here are some more suggestions on that topic.)
There Is No Hard Part
Lots of Solo Travel Society members also rejected the question altogether. When asked, “What is the hardest part of traveling solo?” Shane replied, “Nothing! I love everything about it, even the little challenges.” Daniyal was definitive: “Trust me. Nothing.”
Laura said, “The hardest part for me was just making the decision to do it. I haven't really encountered any problems in my solo travels. In fact, I've loved it!” Elly responded, “I enjoy sharing magnificent moments with me, myself, and I. So no hard moments at all.” And Nurfadzliatulliana says the hardest part is “not smiling, because I tend to smile all the time when traveling solo because I love everything about it.”
The Hardest Part of Traveling Solo Is Coming Home
And finally, lots of readers say that the hardest part of traveling solo is not the traveling at all: it is coming home that is difficult. Rhy finds it difficult to leave when you have fallen in love with a destination. Nathan says that it is hard to say goodbye to the awesome friends you meet along the way.
Isuru pointed out the difficulty of the transition or “fitting back into the regular lifestyle after a trip. My mindset is so fresh and motivated after a good trip, I find it very difficult to move with family and friends.” Likewise, Ginger identified the problem with “going back to reality—having to have conversations with people (other than directions or information while you're traveling) after you've come back from a solo trip.” Here are some of Janice’s thoughts on bringing the best of your travels home.
The Hardest Parts Are Not That Hard
Although the list may seem a bit long, the takeaway here is that the hardest parts are really not that hard—definitely not hard enough to stand in the way of exciting, fulfilling, life-altering solo travel! One of the most rewarding aspects of traveling alone is, in fact, the knowledge and confidence gained through conquering the challenges that arise along the way. We’ve got your back—Solo Traveler and the 250,000+ member Solo Travel Society—with lots of information, advice, and inspiration to help you along the way. Travel well, and when you return, consider sharing your stories and photos with us by contributing a Solo Travel Destination post. You’ll find our online submission form here.