The Solo Traveler

In a few days I’m leaving on big trip: Ten days in Hong Kong. Matt and I are visiting an old friend of his, who’s been living there for a few years. I’m so excited, though I must admit that all this summer travel has really kept me away from my  new friends. I encountered this problem last summer too. When you’ve got weddings, family reunions and vacations galore, there’s not much time left to nourish new friendships, which are the very ones that need the extra love (versus the old friendships that pick up where you left off, cliche as it may be). I’m not complaining–I know I’m lucky to take such trips–but lack of PBFF time at home is the one down side. And every time one of my new friends says “where are you going this time??” after extending an invitation I have to decline, I feel a mix of guilt and regret.

Since it’s summer, I’m not the only one off gallivanting around the world. An old friend left this morning for a week in Nicaragua. Solo.

I’ve always been intrigued by solo travel. I once signed up for a yoga retreat by myself. I flew to Tulum, Mexico, for a week of stretching and sunning on the beach with other yogi wannabes. It was a good way to wade into the solo travel waters, as I wouldn’t be with a friend, but I’d be in a specific program with others who signed up for the same activity. I’d meet like-minded people! We’d bond in downward dog and be connected for life!

For me, it didn’t quite work like that. On that first night, Matt showed up, surprised me, and proposed. (I know. Not too shabby.) It was a perfect day and a perfect trip, but it wasn’t the solo travel experience that I had mentally prepared for. I still wonder if I could hack it in the on-your-own world touring. It’s said to be the quickest way to make new friends. I have a friend who travelled alone around South America and would send emails like: “Just met two great Canadian guys on my bus. I’m joining them tonight on the top of a mountain for some camping out and bongo drumming.”

I mean, what?!

When two strangers in a strange land cross paths, it makes sense that they would team up. What makes finding new friends so hard when you move is that everyone else is already settled. They have friends, favorite coffee shops, and full lives. Travelers, if they’re alone, are in the discovery phase, just like you. It’s the perfect breeding ground for friendship. Plus, travel is one of those friendship accelerators. If you travel with someone for one week, it’s as if you’ve know them for one year. On top of that, solo travelers are a self-selecting group of like-minded people, so there’s a good chance you’ll hit it off.

As I write this it occurs to me that perhaps I regret never having experienced the travel-for-one adventure my Nicaragua-bound friend is about to embark upon. As a friend-seeker (I just made that term up but it makes this sound like an actual job!), it feels like a missing piece of the puzzle.

Have you ever travelled alone? Was it the romantic, friend-finding adventure I envision? Or are you, like me, a summer traveller who suddenly loses an entire season with the local friends? Got any tips for picking things up where we left off when I return?


Filed under The Search

16 responses to “The Solo Traveler

  1. Liza Stefani

    worthy of literary criticism reenactment. i really shd email you a piece i wrote once to this online site about that encounter;) anywaysh i was depressed for a few days after that and for 3 months later during the time i returned, my thoughts lingered to him. However i must say that time and your mind’s capacity to process things made things clear to me – it wasnt love that i felt, although many gfs said so, but simply the value of company and friendship. When you’re travelling, u appreciate the company on your back. I can never ever forgot the day that i cried myself for 8hrs non-stop in a boat. Whenever i listen to Jeff Buckley’s Lover You Should Have Come Over, it never fails to strike a razor icicle to my heart, esp. on lonely nights.

  2. Liza Stefani

    whopps whatever i wrote was CUT OFF!!well, basically i said that in aug 2007 i travelled to siem reap in cambodia myself and i made frens with my guide who was 3 yrs younger than i was. he drove me around siem reap and even tho he spoke in stilted english i felt comfortable being with him as he was v.down-to-earth and sincere. and then i said that what happened later when i wanted to leave siem reap for another city in cambodia was worthy of reenactment….

  3. I have never traveled solo, but have always kind of wanted to. Especially some days when my children are driving me crazy. 🙂

    But, I will say that my husband is my favorite person to travel with. I can’t imagine actually planning a trip without him because I’d miss him being there experiencing it with me (unless it was a girls’ trip, of course, because he would definitely be unwanted on one of those).

  4. I have traveled alone and made “small talk” along the way. When I traveled through Europe during college, my friend and I had tons of opportunities to make friends–not sure if was our crazy 20’s or friendliness, but it worked! I do think it’s easier to make friends while traveling with your husband (or even a friend). There’s just more to talk about and less awkwardness. My husband always thought we’d make long-lasting friends while on our honeymoon (21 years ago), but we didn’t (too into our own romance, I’d like to think…). But, just the other night we were in Eataly (NYC) and struck up a conversation with a couple standing near us–at a tapas bar. They were visiting from PA and we all enjoyed a long chat. After leaving, I said to my husband, “Is that the couple you wanted to meet on our cruise 21 years ago!!!” He said, “Yes!”
    So, I hope you and Matt have a great time–and maybe even meet more friends you can share as you travel together!!

  5. I love traveling solo! Whether it’s a short in-country plane ride or a longer backpacking trip, I love starting out alone and picking up friends along the way. In 2005, I went on a Birthright Israel trip without knowing anyone – like your intention, I was a solo traveler, but with a group. I hit it off with 2 guys and 1 girl and the 4 of us extended our stay post-Birthright to spend 4 days in Egypt, then the 2 guys and I went on to hike Petra in Jordan, and then we stayed with the best friend of the boyfriend of the 2nd cousin of the girl we traveled with in Tel Aviv. It was fantastic! Now as sketchy this might sound, I still look for opportunities like that in the States: this weekend I’m going sailing on yacht from Boston to P-town with people I met via Craigslist; in Sept. I’m going backpacking with a couple I met at a bar; and I often couchsurf when I travel around so I can meet more people that way. As you can tell, I’m a big fan.

  6. Megan

    I traveled for two and a half months around Europe by myself and it was one of the hardest experiences of my life. It was not at all like you’d imagine – meeting new friends, going on adventures with said new friends, etc. Maybe it was just me, but it was lonely, depressing and difficult for pretty much the entire time – I missed my friends back home SO much and felt like I was being selfish/wasting my time on a vacation just for ME. Then again, maybe I’m just not extroverted enough/need to let my conscience take a break for a while. I don’t know that I’d do it again. I envision traveling with a close friend or group of friends the way you imagine traveling solo, but I could be mistaken…

  7. I moved to Japan in my mid 20’s and did little trips all around there by myself. And let me tell you, nothing makes you get to know yourself like solo travel. It was difficult and depressing sometimes but overall it was awesome. I came back after 3 years, a completely different person.

  8. I traveled alone doing disaster relief work for 4 years after college. It was kind of like your yoga retreat plans – solo travel to a location with other people doing the same thing, and also alone. It was an incredible experience…but hard to pick the solo travel apart from the actual work we were doing. I certainly ate many meals alone and went to movies alone…but also made friends with other solo travelers quickly. I have great memories and even better friends from it…and definitely have no problem going to dinner alone!

  9. Laurie Lee

    The closest I’ve came is 12 years ago flying to Canada to meet an online friend by myself. At the time the whole online thing was still pretty new so I consider this pretty gutsy.

  10. LizC

    I love the idea of solo travel but I find it very intimidating. Mostly because if it’s a place I’m unfamiliar with I don’t even know how to find the good areas of town! How do you find a non-sketchy hotel? How do you not end up staying in the red light district? I’ve searched the internet and there’s just so much information that it’s overwhelming and I give up. At least if I’m traveling with someone else I’m not responsible for all the decisions and if I end up in a sketchy area then I’m not alone in that sketchy area.

  11. Jenny

    I traveled solo on group tours before. The first time I did it I met a lot of cool people and had some fun travel adventures with them. After dinner on evening, my new travel buddy pushed me to reach out to the others on the trip to organize a post dinner hang out session, as if I was the bold and confident one. It makes you realize the “roles” you play in your friendships at home are relative and that in another country you might be the social ring leader even if you never seen that way by your local friends. Traveling solo gives you new insights on yourself and new ways to connect to people.

  12. I could write for hours about travelling, solo or with friends (new and old), but I just wanted to say have a great time in Hong Kong! Try to get to Ocean Park, the Big Buddha, Stanley, the Peak, and the Harbour light show (every night at 8 on the Avenue of Stars at Tsim Sha Tsui). I don’t know how much time you have for sightseeing, but it’s all good fun. Obviously the food is amazing there, too!

    • Thanks Wendy! I have all the time in the world for sight-seeing. That’s pretty much why we are going. I know we are planning for the Peak and I think the Big Buddha, but I’ll write the others down. Thanks again!

  13. Pingback: A Little Help From My Friends… | MWF Seeking BFF

  14. As I read this, I am “living it up” in Melbourne, Australia, traveling solo for a few months. It’s scary. But yesterday I played poker with a mass of mad Australian men. I was invited by a couple I met on a conservation trip last week. A few nights ago I cooked Thai food with a girl I had met earlier that night.

    Basically, solo travel is seriously good for making new friends, but I’m not sure about long-lasting friends. I’ve had such a good time meeting people I might never have met, learning about other folk’s lives, being more social than I’ve been in a long time… They’re not “superficial” friendships per say, but they do have a way of making you feel a little lonely. And it is making me miss my “old” friends back home.

    I think it’s a great experience for anyone. Takes you out of your comfort zone, introduces you to know people, but I am appreciating my ability to be one place and consistently grow the budding relationships I left back in NZ.

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