“The man who goes alone can start today, but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.” — Henry David Thoreau
Imagine your favorite band is coming to your town to play live at your favorite venue. You bought two tickets so you could share this life changing experience with a friend or partner and have been counting down the days to the event. But on the night of the show, to your surprise, your friend or partner doesn't care about the band and are just standing limply next to you scrolling through facebook during your favorite song. Would your experience change? Mine would. I would be annoyed that I bought the ticket in the first place, but more than that I would have a hard time focusing on my own enjoyment with someone who obviously would rather be somewhere else. I would still enjoy the concert but I would definitely leave the experience wishing I had just went by myself.
While it is important to share experiences with others - it can be just as valuable to experience things all alone. There are a lot of things in life that I want to do and if I waited around for someone who wanted to do them with me (with the same amount of enthusiasm) I might be waiting forever.
I don't have time to waste so I almost always travel alone - and it's one of the things I get asked about a lot. People are always curious about whether or not I went somewhere to visit family or friends or with some mystery someone else. When I tell them I go alone there are generally three reactions: a long list of questions that begin with why, those who think it sounds amazing but something they "could never do" or those who - like me - understand that solo travel is full of opportunity and joy.
For those of you who may fit into the first two groups, here is the first in a series about solo travel: who is doing it, why you should, and some tips for enjoyment and safety.
Who's Flying Solo?
Solo travel is more popular than ever - specifically solo female travel.
According to a 2015 study, 24% of people traveled alone on their most recent vacation. While accurate statistics are hard to gather for this topic - according to the Travel Industry Association, 32 million single women traveled at least once last year with a third of them traveling three or more times.
You might assume that the majority of these solo travelers are young single adventurers but the average female solo traveler is actually 47 and just as likely to be single or married.
Over half of women asked in this study said that they were more likely to travel alone than they were five years ago and it's no surprise: 65% of them said that they feel more confident after a trip alone, 63% said that a solo trip made them feel more energized and refreshed, and 59% said they would travel solo again in the next year.
Social media, also unsurprisingly, has played a role. The same study found that social media has empowered women to find unique places to go and are inspired by the other solo travelers that they see. (obviously I can attest to this as well)
So while there seems to be a huge increase in solo travelers in recent years, there are still so many people who think they could never do it.
I think one of the reasons more people don't go on their own has to do with the natural human tendency to care about others perception of you. There is a stigma attached to doing things alone. Sometimes this manifests as the so-called "spotlight effect" - the belief that you are being noticed by others around you more than you actually are. The spotlight effect is what keeps people from doing things like eating at a restaurant, going to a museum, or a attending a concert alone - they have an (egocentric) belief that they are being noticed by others as the "loser who has no one to go with them" so they change their actions and don't do things alone.
Another reason people wait around for others to do things is that they just don't think it will be as fun alone. I get that. You want to share your experiences - we all do. But what if nobody wants to do the thing you want to do? What if they can't take the time off? What if they actually hate the thing you end up doing and then mess up the experience for you both?
But you shouldn't worry about enjoying a solo experience less. According to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, people consistently underestimate how much enjoyment they will have doing things alone. The researchers asked participants to rate how much enjoyment they thought they would have doing something alone and then how much they actually had. The study found no statistically significant difference between those who did things with friends and those who did them alone. Surprised?
So, are you going to wait around for someone who loves your favorite band just as much as you do before you see them play? No way. Then why wait to travel. There is no perfect time - just go. Solo travel - even just a day trip - promotes more enjoyment, productivity, reflection, and independence. Being alone gives you a chance to do exactly what you want, recharge, and make no apologies for it. So what are you waiting for?
Check back next week for Solo Travel - Part 2 Tips and Safety.