Solo Travel vs. Travelling with Friends

The more the merrier right?

Not always when you’re travelling.

I’m at an age where I’ve had enough drama on vacations that I now closely screen travel companions… or travel solo.

After seeing a friend lose her shit and throw a bike at the bike rental shop guy, or having a friend tell you to Fuck off after clearly reiterating your no camping in Europe rule, or having a friend of a friend steal your boyfriends iPhone off the counter of the condo in Hawaii she was staying in for free, I’ve learned that more is not merrier and to be incredibly discerning with my most precious asset, my vacation time.

Group travel is fun when you’re contained in a space where you are all responsible for your own activities and entertainment such as all inclusive resorts and cruises. These environments are ideal for large groups where everyone can do their own thing and have their own space but connect over pool time and shuffle board. If you’re going to travel around, negotiating routes, sharing a car rental, or having to decide on where you want to eat, proceed with caution.

I’ve travelled solo, in pairs, and in groups.

Travelling solo is fun, freeing, and empowering. The downsides include:

– eating dinner alone. I’m typically happy to do activities throughout the day on my own but enjoy reflecting on the day with a friend over dinner or drinks. Who am I kidding though… I rarely end up eating alone when I travel as I usually meet other solo travellers happy to show me the best local food and drinks in town.

– Not being able to do certain side trips independently. I hate group tours and excursions but when travelling solo, I’ve had to sometimes sign up for that group tour to avoid wandering lost in the jungle alone.

– Not having a photographer but not wanting to buy a selfie stick. Typically people are around and happy to take a photo for you but there are occasional times a travel companion is a useful photographer

– Solo travel is more expensive. Whether it’s splitting that bottle of rum, or sharing major expenses like hotels and car rentals, solo travel can double your cost. But sometimes the freedom is worth it.

– Safety. This is rare as I tend to stick to the tourist track but there’s been once or twice where I didn’t feel entirely comfortable as a solo female traveller. If this happens, make friends with the least scary looking person. After a short conversation, your fears will usually subside. Or you’ll stay hidden in your hotel room until morning as I did in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

The freedoms of solo travel often outweigh the downsides. Having two friends get in a passive aggressive fight over the fan in the room in Colombia is a great reminder of how when travelling solo you choose the room temperature in addition to your routes, accommodations, transportation, activities and meals. Everyone should take a solo trip at least once in their lifetime. And I don’t mean joining a group tour like G adventures alone, I mean true solo travel where you plan your own itinerary and are responsible for your own activities every day. Do it.

Travelling with friends can make amazing memories even better. Dancing with an 80 year old man at the local pub isn’t nearly as funny as when you have friends there to laugh with. And those avocados the size of melons on the big island of Hawaii were meant to be shared.

If you are going to go on a group trip, choose your travel companions wisely. Have those conversations before you leave about budget, food, and activities, before you end up renting a surfboard in Hawaii and are out catching waves while a travel companion is throwing a hissy fit on the beach because she wants to go for lunch and you only have one rental car. Let people know your expectations and things you want from the trip so you don’t compromise what is important to you. I’m a diver and often travel with non divers so am up front that I’ll be going on some dives while they do whatever they want during that time. Group travel doesn’t mean you spend all your time together, and clearing that up ahead of time can save you the passive aggressive comments about something someone wanted to do but didn’t clarify with the group ahead of time. Group travel also means compromising and making concessions. Be clear about things that are important to you (ie. that I don’t camp in Europe) and don’t get manipulated into breaking your boundaries or you’ll end up frozen and soaking wet in a field in the middle of nowhere, England. Do make compromises on things that are less important such as eating at a restaurant that serves something other than empanadas or checking out that bar you really aren’t interested in (but then turns out to be amazing and you’re so glad you went!)

I typically take the lead in planning as well as driving (because people still don’t have free car rental insurance with their travel credit cards) but some of the best trips I’ve been on have been when I’ve taken a backseat and let someone else do the planning. Not a literal backseat because as mentioned, I’m always stuck driving, but am happy to take direction from my key navigator to find some cool spots I might not have decided to check out if I had done the planning alone.

If you’re going to embark on a group trip, follow these key points:

– Consider an all inclusive or cruise if your group is anymore than 2.

– Be careful about including friends of friends you have never met. The worst travel experience was with a friend of a friend who assured me she was cool (she was a yoga instructor after all!) but turned out to be bat shit crazy.

– Know each others’ strengths. One of you may have free car rental insurance and another has Uber discount codes. Someone might be better at finding cheap flights while another has organized and printed an entire list of every vegan restaurant in Portland organized by opening hours to ensure you eat well.

– Take responsibility for your role in travel mishaps. Like when you’re stranded on the side of the highway in Colombia for an hour and a half at dusk with no food because you had a fun idea of how to get to Totuma mud volcano.

– Have the conversation beforehand about not spending every minute together. Otherwise you could lose out on that $100 Breaking Bad slot machine payout to watch your friend put her makeup on in the hotel room in Vegas or having friends think you’re pissed off simply because you went to go for a walk alone in the sun.

– Set boundaries and stick to them. If you really don’t want to sleep in a tent in a field in Europe, don’t do it. Compromising what is important to you will raise resentment. If someone is trying to manipulate your clear boundaries, they probably aren’t someone you want to travel with anyway.

– Be flexible. Don’t compromise on your boundaries but with things that don’t really matter, be flexible. This is their trip too.

And lastly, don’t fear solo travel.

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