When your work revolves around travel, you establish some personal preferences, on-the-road routines, and strong opinions. In our Travel Showdown series, we’re facing off over some of travel’s most divisive topics – from packing methods to room service. This month, two Virtuoso Life editors on the pros and cons of traveling solo. And while we know travel looks different right now – and you may not be ready to explore just yet – we hope you’ll allow us to indulge ourselves for a moment here. We can’t wait to travel again, and just writing about it makes us happy.

Me Time
My version of self-care? Flying halfway across the world for the weekend, just to witness an off-the-wall cultural phenomenon that piques my interest. When you’re a solo traveler, you nab the ticket and go. Case in point: Il Palio, Siena, Italy, in the summer in 2017 – one of the best experiences of my life. While it can be comforting to travel with a group, setting off totally unencumbered by companions’ considerations is a rare treat. No stressing about the “lightweight” stroller in the trunk of the rental car, or your friend’s previously unknown and extreme bear phobia (what?), or your parents’ hard pass on any accommodations that don’t offer extra-cushy, self-cooling Tempur-Pedic beds.

Give me some adventure, that jolt of adrenaline that comes with stepping off a plane into a sea of new faces, and the buzz of a foreign language. Traveling alone, I’ve gained entry to a tight-knit community of free divers on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, and danced the lindy hop with Russian millennials at the Golitsyn Loft in Saint Petersburg. The excitement and genuine warmth I felt there – they were ecstatic to meet an American peer and proud to show me their cosmopolitan city – will stay with me for a long time.

In these and other solo trips I’ve found kindness from strangers, friendships in new acquaintances, and the thrill of self-satisfaction after finding my way back to my hotel all by myself. And yes, I recommend stopping along the way at every café or boutique that tickles your fancy – just because.
– Samantha Falewée, assistant editor

A group of surfers in French Polynesia
French Polynesia: Better enjoyed with travel companions. (Getty Images)

All Together Now
The truth – and I’m going out on a pretty wobbly limb here as a travel-magazine editor – is that no one loves hearing about your vacation for more than a few minutes. Not the best parts anyway. That amazing afternoon you spent with Paolo and his nonna learning to make pasta in the tiny Tuscan village? Life-changing, yes, but not that captivating in the retelling. Ditto the hot-air balloon ride over the Masai Mara at dawn. If the nonna burned the ragu or the balloon got snagged on a baobab, maybe. But those sublime, silly, and transcendent moments of a trip live on best in our memories – so all the better to share them with someone.

In my line of work, I’ve taken many, many solo trips – and met wonderful people and had moving experiences along the way. But to check into a spectacular hotel room alone, sit down to a four-course dinner for one, wake up on my own in Stockholm and catch a perfect pink sunrise through a jet-lagged haze is to feel the pang of missing my people.

Who else but my crew of college friends recalls our 1995 hotel room in Avignon with (I am not kidding) carpeted pink walls? Only my husband and I remember the Wes Anderson-esque bustle at our honeymoon hotel in Lisbon. The friend who spent a week in French Polynesia with me knows the same thrill of zipping across the endless blue on jet skis. And my sisters and I have piney summer days spent floating on an Oregon lake tucked away in our collective good-times files. The adventures we have together bind us to each other. They live on in our inside jokes, shorthand lingo, and the stories we share.

Right now, especially, striking out for some new land with a few of the people I love the most sounds like a five-star indulgence.
– Marika Cain, managing editor

Top Photo: Getty Images

15 comments

  1. I love to travel with close friends. Seeing the world through their eyes adds multiple dimensions to travel experiences. BUT, my solo travels are the most liberating, exhilarating, restorative and rewarding trips I take. I meet far more people, experience the location more immediately, without distraction, and achieve a sense of accomplishment that is missing from my trips with friends. I look forward to traveling with friends again post-COVID, but I long for solo travel on a cellular level.

  2. Everyone should do whatever they feel like. Why is there any discussion at all? “Best” is in the eye of the beholder. What you should do is whatever you like.

  3. I can appreciate both sides of travelling solo or travelling with a companion. My beef is that if you chose to travel solo because the destination you want to go to is not on another’s bucket list, or in my case a couple friends of mine were going to Alaska on a cruise – top of my bucket list.
    The issue I had to pay the same amount for my trip as my friends the couple. It was a trip of a life time and it was very comforting to know they were my backup should anything happen on the ship.

    For many years I have wanted to travel solo but the travel industry has missed the mark on fair treatment. There are lots of widows, individuals to do an escape from a spouse or kids and yet they are stung with high prices for double occupancy.

  4. Solo Travel All the Way!! I’ve been traveling solo for almost 20 years and, although I wish I could experience some things with another person, I love being on my own. To be honest, I get kind of cranky when I have to deal with someone else’s wants, needs and schedule. It sounds selfish but it’s not. – because that back and forth ceremony of “What/Where do you want to eat?”, gets old quickly.
    I’m going on a world cruise solo in Jan 2022 (postponed from 2021) and I’m really psyched. The crumby thing is I have to pay a single supplement. But it’ll be worth it since I can’t think of anyone I’d want to share a 300 sq ft suite with for 6 months – one of us would be thrown overboard for sure.

  5. When I was young, I would pour over a copy of Frommer’s Europe on $10 a day, buy a ticket, and go! Every pensione or B&B has a communal breakfast room where travellers share experiences and recommendations. That’s how I met a Canadian girl looking for someone to hitchhike with through Devon & Cornwall. One of the best trips ever!!! The Brits went out of their way to drive us to their favorite spots. Would have missed that experience if I’d been travelling with a friend. On my own, the logistics of the trip were as important as the sights. A kind Frenchwoman who rescued me from an evil automatic ticker taker at a train station, the gallant bus driver who escorted me off the bus, a little down the street, and then gave me a gentle push towards the direction of Malmaison. Quite a contrast to the German bus driver of a decade later who slammed the doors shut in the face of an old woman on crutches hobbling up to the bus door. Time tables uber alles. Cripples can wait for the next bus. I took a train to West Berlin and walked through Checkpoint Charlie on my own, back when the wall was still there. From the west side, we had watched soldiers popping up from the other side and then playfully hiding again. But there was nothing playful about Checkpoint Charlie. The East Germans practically writhed with frustration at having to let us in. There were huge posters along the wall with detailed instructions for all the forms we were expected to fill out. They were all in German. They needed American dollars and were officially encouraging Americans to visit, but it was clear that we were not universally welcomed. Yet when leaving that night, and being caught in the maze designed to prevent East Berliners from making a run for it, an East German soldier and I both burst out laughing at my confusion. Since then, I’ve aged and gotten lazier. Now, even when solo, I travel with a group. I enjoy meeting new people from new places, and most tour directors make sure the singles have company at dinner. The upside of travelling with a friend are the shared memories, which continue to be referred to over the years. That’s nice. But there is an intensity to experiences on your own. Even the best loved companion dilutes that experience. But … whether on my own or arm in arm with a friend, the point is to go! To find an adventure and enjoy it! There are things to see out there, and I darn well intend to see aas much as I can!

  6. I love it both ways! Or, even a combination of the two. I spent four heavenly days all alone in Victoria, BC. I told the world that would be my forever go-to destination. I’ve been back twice on cruises with friends, and, although those were fun, I can’t wait to go spend a few days on my own again. On the other hand, a good friend travelled with me on my “dream trip of a lifetime” to Spain and Portugal. We also met up with another couple of my friends while in Barcelona, and that trip was absolutely fabulous. I couldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much without my friend and travel companion. Combo! I travelled alone to Prague to meet up with a group coach tour of Central Europe with my friends from the Barcelona adventure. I was paired with a lovely young lady from South Africa for rooms, and spent time with my friends and with new acquaintances along the way. That was also a great trip. My conclusion: the best way to travel depends where you’re going, how you’re travelling, and what you’re doing. With my primary language (I’m from the USA) and closely related culture in Victoria, I flew in, took a shuttle to the hotel, and aside from one short coach tour, walked everywhere. In Spain and Portugal, although I can muddle through in Spanish, I’m not fluent, and don’t know any Portuguese, my friend and I took buses and trains, sailing, on-off, and coach tours, as well as walking a lot. I would have been a bit uneasy on my own. Being a bit introverted, I would have been fine on the Central Europe tour with English-speaking travel companions, tour guide, and bus driver, but it was more fun having friends to fall back on when we wanted to do the same things, even though I didn’t hesitate to go off with others when we didn’t. Just do what you want to do with whomever you want to do it! The only wrong choice is not going. By the way, I’m booked alone for a cruise tour of Tierra del Fuego in 2023 since none of my friends seem to want to go to the End of the World!

  7. I love it both ways! Or, even a combination of the two. I spent four heavenly days all alone in Victoria, BC. I told the world that would be my forever go-to destination. I’ve been back twice on cruises with friends, and, although those were fun, I can’t wait to go spend a few days on my own again. On the other hand, a good friend travelled with me on my “dream trip of a lifetime” to Spain and Portugal. We also met up with another couple of my friends while in Barcelona, and that trip was absolutely fabulous. I couldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much without my friend and travel companion. Combo! I travelled alone to Prague to meet up with a group coach tour of Central Europe with my friends from the Barcelona adventure. I was paired with a lovely young lady from South Africa for rooms, and spent time with my friends and with new acquaintances along the way. That was also a great trip. My conclusion: the best way to travel depends where you’re going, how you’re travelling, and what you’re doing. With my primary language (I’m from the USA) and closely related culture in Victoria, I flew in, took a shuttle to the hotel, and aside from one short coach tour, walked everywhere. In Spain and Portugal, although I can muddle through in Spanish, I’m not fluent, and don’t know any Portuguese, my friend and I took buses and trains, sailing, on-off, and coach tours, as well as walking a lot. I would have been a bit uneasy on my own. Being a bit introverted, I would have been fine on the Central Europe tour with English-speaking travel companions, tour guide, and bus driver, but it was more fun having friends to fall back on when we wanted to do the same things, even though I didn’t hesitate to go off with others when we didn’t. Just do what you want to do with whomever you want to do it! The only wrong choice is not going, or not using your fabulous Virtuoso travel consultant. The very best is Helen Jordan of Jordan Luxury Travel! By the way, I’m booked alone for a cruise tour of Tierra del Fuego in 2023 since none of my friends seem to want to go to the End of the World!

  8. I’ve traveled alone. I like it and the freedom to do as I please. Only 2 negatives:
    1. Most trips and hotel rooms are priced for 2 people and charge more for a single.
    2. When I arrived at the Barcelona airport the car rental agent asked me if I was alone. Sure enough,
    I was robbed in the rental car parking lot. Thieves target singles.

  9. I’m a dedicated solo traveler. My very first long trip at age 20 was to Europe. Went with my sister who was 18. She had not saved as much $$$ as me so went home after 1 month. I stayed another month and had so much fun. No more compromising on what to visit and how long to stay. If I want to spend 6 hours in the museum, I can. While I was working, I also traveled a lot for work – pretty well always alone. I find being alone forces me to meet locals, who are great sources of spots to visit that are not in the guide book.

    While travel is off the books right now, it will return. I love doing road trips, and when flying I am the queen of carry on. Did 2.5 weeks in Australia with carry on.

  10. Alone let’s you follow your own agenda. Together means you must compromise constantly. A good book solves the problem of eating alone although I have often been asked to join others when by myself. New friends and tips…

  11. I am twice divorced and not likely to be committed to any relationship in the near future so I travel single. This limits where I can go affordably but I have managed to find a few that make me happy. I generally always meet some people who are like minded to hang with or go out on a excursion with. I am also quite content with my own company after a few years of living single. Like “K” above says, solo travellers get dinged for double occupancy in most cases. And as “L/ Thompson” says, “together means you must compromise constantly”. This was the case with my last wife of 20 years. Although we enjoyed many like things, when it came to travel, we were like oil and water in many cases. She was content to lay on the beach sleeping the afternoon away and although I could handle a day of that, there is plenty of time for sleeping at home or when you are dead. Going to a foreign place really stimulates my curiosity and I want to go out and see / do things, especially off the beaten path stuff without all the run of the mill tourists, tours and tour guides. Travel agencies, companies or whatever you want to call them should focus way more on offerings to solo travellers at affordable rates. I love Cuba and have had great experiences living among, hanging with the locals and arranging guided tours with private individuals but would really like to see other places as well – problem is, I am not in the financial position to just pony up and pay near double occupancy rates to do so.

  12. Sharon–Well said! I’ve made some of my best friends traveling solo. I meet people, of course, traveling with friends, but not as many.
    I only travel with friends–internationally–perhaps once every year, or every-other year. Sadly, my friends are not adventurous enough to travel to Asia or Africa.
    I don’t mind playing tour guide on occasion, but dislike major discussion over where and when to eat. I like having breakfast–at least coffee–on my own.
    My favorite travel companions are those who don’t feel they need to be together all day, every day. It’s nice to pursue some different activities/interests, then meet up for drinks & dinner, share those experiences.
    I cannot share a room with anyone anymore as everyone (?) over… 40 snores!
    It’s fun to travel with younger people–share their reactions to new places. And they’re energetic!
    REALLY have a PROBLEM with cruise lines who charge singles full fare. And warning! Unless you do not wish to be stuck with mainly octogenarians, do not take cruises longer than 14 days! (Make that 12?)
    Also have a problem with high-end tour companies who charge single supplements, then give solo travelers smaller rooms. Hello! Internet?! We can see what the prices and room sizes are! For cyclists, I recommend Ciclismo Classico. Screw Backroads!

  13. I have traveled both ways. Other than family vacations to the same place every year, I had never really traveled. Thirteen years ago I changed that! My children were on their own and I was single. I signed up for a trip to Europe (first time going across the pond). I was with a group of people that I did not know and had no travel partner with me. I had my own room and bath, and yet the comfort of being with others that would introduce me to international travel. One of the best memories of that trip was my son telling me how proud he was of me for taking this huge step! I have since traveled a great deal. I still want my own room, like the freedom of choosing to see what I want, but don’t mind meeting up with friends at day’s end to share experiences. Having to pay extra to travel single is my only negative.

  14. I am married to a man who has almost zero interest in history, architecture, art. I love traveling but not alone, though. When there is a problem, I prefer to have someone else to share the aggravation.. So I have traveled abroad with a girlfriend, with my son, with my nieces. Germany every year (where the girlfriend lives), London, Paris Amsterdam, Southern Spain & Tangier, Zurich, Milan, Venice each once. I’ve been all over the US with my husband, however. He sleeps in and I am then the solo traveler for the first half of the day, visiting museums, historic houses, cemeteries. When he has breakfast, I have lunch, then we’re off hiking, both urban and in the wild, dune buggy tours, dolphin and whale watching trips, watching sunsets, walking on the beach. I prefer to plan my own itinerary, make my own reservations. Said husband often doesn’t even know where he’s going or where he is when we get there. 🙂 Oh yeah, we also have to have a suite, so he can stay up until the wee hours, often wandering off and getting lost (thank goodness there is now GPS), while I read, then go to sleep. And he’s terrified of COVID. Won’t even let me visit the MET with one of my nieces when it reopens next week (Members only days! Masks, sanitizers, limited occupancy.) We travelers will survive this. Stay safe, everyone. And thanks for letting me vent. BTW, I DO love him!

  15. It’s all completely personal and depends on one’s situation. I loved to travel with people closed to me, but after losing that oportunity for a number of reasons, I now prefer to travel solo rathet than share my experience with someone foreign to me. Therefore, I can vote for both opinions! Whatever works for you, just go places! 🙂

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