Solo Travel Stories: The Benefits of Going Alone
Anyone who’s done it will tell you – there’s something pretty incredible about traveling alone. Actually, there are several things incredible about it. Sure, nothing quite beats sharing a killer sunset with a longtime friend. And sometimes it’s nice to have a buddy’s shoulder to cry on when you miss the last train out of town. But traveling alone opens up a world of possibilities, challenges, and memorable solo travel stories. And done with the right attitude, it can be the most enriching travel experience of all.
Lessons from my solo travel stories
1. Save cash
“A bottle of the rosé?” she said in her thick French accent as the evening sun slipped behind the shimmering trees. It was less of a question and more of an instruction – she didn’t wait for a response. “Une bouteille de rosé,” she repeated to the waiter standing above.
For the last week I’d been traveling at my own pace and budget. In a city as expensive as Paris this meant baguettes and tap water, with an occasional beer that I’d nurse for an hour until I got strange looks.
“The price is not too bad,” she said defiantly, after I politely enquired how much I was in for. I looked around the dusty area and rickety table in front of us. Then I fought the urge to think about how many more meaningful things I could’ve bought with the €30 than a mediocre bottle of wine. I shrugged and trusted that the alcohol would ease my anxiety. I also knew that by tomorrow, I’d be back on my own solo-traveler-friendly budget with different priorities.
2. Break out of your comfort zone
In an ambitious attempt to dodge reservation fees in Italy, I decided to take regional trains between two cities. I confidently flicked the “Trains without compulsory reservation” toggle on the Rail Planner app and discovered I was in for a long day of train travel. I’d need to make multiple changes at several stations, the names of which were disconcertingly unfamiliar.
All of this would’ve been fine – even enjoyable – if it weren’t for a national rail strike that kicked off that very morning. Rail strikes in Italy are already confusing and frustrating for locals familiar with the routes, but completely overwhelming for novice travelers unable to communicate. Ticket and information windows are closed, trains disappear from the electronic boards at the very moment they’re supposed to arrive, and even those that stay up on the boards tend not to come.
As I sat alone on a sad, deserted platform watching train after train appear as Canceled, I yearned for familiar company to vent with or rely on. But in hindsight? It meant that to reach the small town of Certaldo by nightfall, or at all, I had to hustle and venture out of my comfort zone like I’d never had to before.
3. Meet new people
I arrived at the Barcelona hostel after a long day of train travel, weary, alone, and somewhat lonely, sometime after 6pm. I felt as if I’d walked into a private party as the only outsider. And I immediately regretted my decision to stay in one of the city’s most popular establishments.
“Free dinner’s at 9,” said the receptionist. “Then we’ll go to the bars at 11. Clubs around 2.” She didn’t give me time to decline.
If I was traveling with friends, we probably would have escaped the bustling hostel reception for a quiet bar together. But early the next morning – sometime around 6am – I sat on the steps of the hostel unapologetically eating a bag of Cheetos with a new blonde friend from Colorado. I then realized that as a solo traveler, I was instantly welcome to the party.
4. Go your own way
I spent three nights unsuccessfully attempting to decline the Barcelona receptionist’s invitations to nights out that ended at 6am. I realized that I faced a choice – social integration or me. So after several nights of limited sleep and several days of excruciating hangovers, I booked a nearby apartment . It was close enough to meet up for a beer, but far enough to actually get some of sleep I so desperately needed.
5. Be spontaneous
The plan was always to get to Germany – Berlin, to be precise. But that all changed when someone showed me a picture of Slovenia in the hostel common room.
“Lake Bled,” he said, swiping through dozens of photos on his iPhone. “You’ve got to go to Lake Bled.”
I looked at the quaint church on the island and couldn’t disagree. Free of any obligations, with no fixed itinerary, and only myself to please, I knew what I had to do.
“Alright,” I said, reaching for my rail map. “I guess my other plans can wait.”
Of course, traveling alone is not exclusively better than traveling with friends. Each have their own pros and cons. But with a Eurail Pass in hand, there’s no reason why you can’t have the best of both worlds. If you’re with a friend you can spend a few days exploring a new city or country on your own, then hop on an overnight train to meet in a place you both feel passionate about. And if you do happen to go it alone, you don’t need to spend your time wishing you had company. You can revel in the once-in-a-lifetime character-building experience and create your own solo travel stories.