Solo, Group, and Partner Travel: A Comparison
Choosing how to travel Europe is a fairly easy decision. With so many trains crisscrossing the continent and delivering you into the heart of world famous cities, it’s difficult to make a case for any other mode of transport than rail to serve as your principal means of getting around. A much more difficult question to answer is, who do you go with? Or, for many of us, should you go with anyone else at all? If you find yourself in this situation, these tips may help you reach a few answers. Let’s compare solo, group, and partner travel.
There are many people in the solo corner hailing this as the most rewarding way to travel. They’ll say things like it’s the best way to meet new people, to truly get in touch with a destination, or, most nauseatingly, to get out of your comfort zone and get to know yourself. While all of these may ring true, you can still achieve all of these objectives if you travel with a partner or a group of friends. It obviously depends on your own approach and style of travel.
However, rail travel does lend itself perfectly to solo adventurers. It’s safe, social, and convenient, and there’s a real thrill that comes from the solitude and anonymity of crossing a country (or continent) alone by train. And it’s certainly true that doing so pushes you out of your comfort zone on regular occasions.
What to expect
There will be times that you wish you were back home, or at least alongside a good friend. But going it alone will also stretch you in ways you didn’t know you could go, open your eyes to new sights, put you in the path of some fascinating people, and keep your mind wandering in a way that may just keep you coming back for more.
Pros and cons
+ Freedom to go where you choose
+ Increased spontaneity
+ Spend money on doing only exactly what you like
+ Pushing your limits and getting out of your comfort zone
+ Often easier to meet other travelers
– Potential to feel lonely and isolated
– Forced to manage all decisions – and handle all consequences – on your own
– Having to share that incredible sunset with an annoying random stranger, or no one at all
1. If you’re afraid of isolation, book a hostel that has a good rating for atmosphere or vibe. Shared AirBnb apartments can achieve the same goal.
2. If you’re uncomfortable with dormitories, opt for a private room in a hostel. You’ll get the social aspects of the hostel without the snoring bunkmate.
3. Activities like hostel dinners and free walking tours can be great ways to meet new people.
It’s easy to get sanctimonious about the joys and benefits of traveling alone, but there are some aspects of travel that are better shared with friends. Group travel opens up a whole new world of possibilities – things like car hire to that isolated nature reserve, tours and hotel rooms are often cheaper and significantly more enjoyable when done in a group.
Practicalities aside, sometimes it’s simply more enjoyable playing a game of cards on the train with your mates than staring out the window longingly. Trains are also perfectly set up for group travel. Most have sets of double seats that face each other across a table, or private compartments that seat up to six people.
What to expect
Being in a group is often about compromise and going with the flow. Travel brings out the best and worst in us, and it’s important that you know your fellow travelers well and are comfortable in each others’ company. It’s not uncommon for groups to face conflict and disagreements, but provided you’re all on the same page, these shouldn’t detract from the experience for more than a few hours.
Pros and cons
+ Sharing the experience with friends
+ Saving costs on certain activities
+ Less risk of loneliness and solitude
– Potential for conflict
– Difficulty with group bookings during peak seasons
– Easier to spend time with friends than meet other travelers
1. Consider seat reservations a few weeks in advance if you want to ensure you have seats together on the train.
2. Don’t be afraid to split up and rejoin if you have different interests – this is particularly easy to do if you have rail passes.
3. Ensure you are all in agreement on budget, itinerary and other arrangements before you depart.
4. Few inane arguments on the road are worth sacrificing a longstanding friendship for.
Travel with a Partner
Many people believe that the best way to establish if you and your partner are compatible is to take a long trip together. This may or may not be true, but there’s definitely something special – and thoroughly romantic – about a European rail journey for two.
Traveling with a partner also presents several benefits, including the option to share hotel rooms, share responsibility and decision making, and, of course, share the experience with someone you know and care about.
What to expect
You may think you know your partner, but until you miss the last train out of town because you left your rail pass at the hotel, or you’re taken ill in some remote corner of Montenegro, there’s a good chance you haven’t experienced all sides of each other. Travel has a way of accelerating relationships in a way that few other experiences can.
Pros and cons
+ There’s nothing quite like sharing that quiet sunset with a partner
+ Private double rooms in hostels are good value when split two ways
+ Train travel is convenient for couples
+ Long train journeys often dish up interesting conversations, and long comfortable silences, which are great to share with a partner
– You’ll see your partner like never before, both good and bad
– Unlike traveling with friends, it’s difficult to get alone time when traveling with one other person
1. If you’re going with private rooms in hostels, book in advance – these are limited and tend to book up first.
2. If you’re happy planning last minute, it’s often easy to get good deals on double hotel rooms.
3. Consider implementing a monitored budget for shared expenses.
4. Don’t be afraid to take some alone time.
Of course, pros and cons of traveling alone, in a group, or with a partner will vary from person to person. There’s no one-formula-fits-all approach. There’s also no reason why you should restrict yourself to just one type of company on your trip. Pick an approach and a rail pass that works for you, and, regardless of who you’re traveling with, you’re bound to have an experience of a lifetime.
For more solo, group, and partner travel tips:
10 tips for solo travel with Eurail
Cheap travel in Europe – 13 tips for your next trip
Where to meet other travelers on your Europe trip