I’ve read quite a few articles about the pros and cons of solo and couple travel, but they don’t even begin to scratch the surface. For starters, there are no cons to either.
Well, there are, but the cons of each are really just the pros of the other.
Most of my time traveling was spent solo, but the last year has given me a lot of insight into the other side of the coin. I’d like to offer a more balanced look at single travel life followed by couple travel life. But I’ll tell you up front that neither is necessarily better than the other. Just as a relationship naturally turns into marriage when the conditions are right, solo traveling turns into couple traveling when the right two people meet. It’s all part of the natural evolution of life.
Doing New Things
As a solo traveler, you get to do exactly what you want all the time without considering the needs of or talking to anyone else.
The above statement sounds a bit selfish, but who was I even going to ask (other than my mom)?
One time, I was in Costa Rica and I had gotten to know a girl for the previous few days. She came up to me around 11a and said, “I’m headed to a beautiful beach on the other side of the country, would you like to come?”
Without hesitation, “yeah sure, when?”
“The taxi will be here in about five minutes.”
So I gathered my stuff, threw it in my backpack, and by the time I was finished, the taxi was waiting.
Sounds great, right? Well, it really is! For some people…for a little while. As a solo traveler, you’re constantly moving, looking for the next big thing. On that trip, I originally intended to stay in each place for a month at a time, but I ended up moving about every three days. The reason is pretty simple: doing/experiencing something new is always exciting! Staying by yourself, doing the same thing is (frankly) quite boring.
Always looking for something more exciting puts you into a certain mode of jumping from one thing to the next before the one you’re on becomes truly worthwhile. It’s hard to really invest in something when you can just stop, get up and walk away as soon as where you are and what you’re doing gets a bit dull.
Meeting New People
Meeting new and fun people, including a significant other, is much easier when traveling solo.
Whether you’re looking for love, a hookup, or just kickin’ back some cold beers with the guys on a warm night, meeting new people is easier when you’re traveling alone. There’s absolutely no arguing it. Great friends are an essential part of anyone’s life, especially those who are young and still discovering themselves.
However, being easier to meet new people comes with its own set of issues:
First, when you begin nearing the “marriage” point in your life, you begin to want different things. Partying with the guys until 5a seems a bit less appetizing than spending a quiet night in with your life partner. Hostels seem more and more cliché, and you begin wishing you really had a place you could make your own, or where you could at least have some privacy. Unfortunately, you will have to trade some flexibility for that comfort.
Second, after a while it gets tiring resetting your entire social life every time you move to a new place. You tell the same stories, meet the same kinds of people, and have the same kinds of nights out with the same boring lager (I understand there are some good beers out there, but let’s be honest – we’re all drinking pretty much the same -cheap- stuff). There comes a point when you want at least some consistency.
The first con you will probably hear regarding solo travel is that it’s lonely. It’s not.
“It can be lonely” should read, “while it can become lonely if you don’t do anything about it, traveling solo is your opportunity to become comfortable with exactly who you are by yourself, and learn to have fun completely alone, all while learning to make new friends as a self-sufficient and independent human being.”
Learning to be comfortable alone is an important life skill.
Now that that’s out of the way, you may be reading this sort of waiting for the right relationship to come along before you begin traveling. Stop.
The person you fall in love with may not want to travel as much as you do.
And there’s no better way to find your life partner than to travel the world. I don’t say this just because I found my wife while traveling. The reason she and I were able to get married and begin our lives together within a year of meeting each other is simple: traveling allows you to speed up the whole process. If you live in a city, you may only see the person you’re dating 1 – 3 times per week, but if the two of you are staying in the same hostel, you’ll see the other person from the beginning to the end of everyday, and even in different places as you travel to the same countries. You’ll see that same person under very different circumstances, which could take years to happen on its own in a “normal” relationship.
If you want to learn about yourself, there’s no better way than traveling alone. It’s one of the best things you can do for personal growth, and in my case, it was necessary before I was ready to enter into a lifelong relationship. I thought I knew what I wanted before traveling. That was my childlike naïvety speaking. I thought I knew exactly how the world worked, I was a lot better at spelling, and I was passionate about stupid things like what size of pencil “lead” you should use (it’s 0.5 mm, btw, but if you use 0.7 or 0.9, you’re not the devil, you’re just wrong and now I can accept that).
Traveling solo, you’ll naturally find yourself in uncomfortable or unknown situations and have to figure out how to make it out of them. You’ll learn to be alone and you’ll learn to enjoy your time in the middle of it. Traveling solo helps you realize just how big the world is and just how small you really are. Stupid things that irritated you before will seem insignificant, and the latest gossip will bore you.
Call me stupid/romantic/naïve (you should know I’m a newlywed with little personal experience to draw from), but I believe finding your person, the one with whom you’ll spend the rest of your life, is just another natural step in your personal development. At a certain point, and only after you’ve become comfortable with yourself and yourself alone, that personal development becomes relationship development and you begin to grow as a unit, similarly, but distinct from the way you grew as an individual.
“I’m afraid to travel with my SO, because I think it will cause enough problems to break us up, and I want to keep going.” Yes, I’ve actually heard this one. First, traveling reveals (but doesn’t cause) friction in a relationship. My assertion is that traveling in a relationship that’s doomed anyway will end it sooner…better to get it over with. If the two of you can’t agree, can’t compromise, or consistently get angry with each other, it might be time to rethink the relationship.
On the flip side, traveling with your SO can bring the two of you closer faster. First, you’ll get to know each other in a more intimate manner, and you will be forced into compromising situations. If each person is willing to set themselves aside in an attempt to make the other person happy, congrats! You may be nearing marriage.
Either way, you will be making progress toward the ultimate goal: becoming better.
Back to solo travel, do what you want to do and become the person you want to become and the right person will come along. This is true whether you’re a traveler or not, and I can’t stress it enough. Don’t wait around for the right person to come around. Work on yourself and become the right person, and you will attract what you put your time into. If you love to travel or want to try it, do it. Someone will come along who likes the same things as you.
Joint Happiness & Experiences
Coming back home from my travels, I had one way of reliving them: telling stories. But some of my friends grew really tired of hearing them. Some even thought I was making them up. Eventually I quit telling them, not because they weren’t true, but because it made others feel I was “trying to be/sound better than them”. That was never my intention, but I see why it may have made some people uncomfortable.
I had done a lot of cool stuff, I had learned a lot about myself, and I had grown in my global curiosity. But, at a certain point, I realized that for fear of offending someone, I didn’t have many people to share with, and those with whom I had actually experienced were now just distant Facebook friends.
Sorry, this is a happy section!
Once Deborah and I met, I became we. This I-to-we change altered my perception of happiness. I really just wanted to be with her and make her happy. Seeing my wife happy makes me happy, thus ending that fear of missing out I mentioned earlier. I’m no longer afraid of not moving on, because I know that she and I are creating our own “next big thing”.
No matter what we do, I’m with her. I will try to make her happy and she will try to make me happy. Plus, I never have to tell one of my stories alone, because there’s always someone with me to help.
As an added bonus, I do things that I would never have done otherwise because it makes her happy. We got a photoshoot done in Cyprus (which is where that picture up and to the right came from). Do you think I would have done that by myself? I was terrified right up until the moment it was done, but we did it and the pictures are fantastic!
Being Together Forever
I’m going to go ahead and leave off with the letter I wrote to Deborah on our wedding day, because it describes what “Being Together Forever” means to me a lot better than I could ever fit into the context of this article:
Visiting a new city for the first time is a unique experience. You get to do things you’ve never done, meet people you’ve never met, have experience you’ve never had. Visiting that same city a second time is a sobering experience. You realize that the city still exists and has always done so without you. You realize that the people who live there meet new people other than you, do fun things without you, and live on with their lives without you. Your path and theirs may cross from time to time, but most people you meet, live their entire lives completely independent of you.
Only one year ago today, we were total strangers. We lived on paths independent of each other. Like thousands of others, your path officially crossed mine 364 days ago.
I remember the insane coincidence of your missed flight, by conversation with an Aussie couple, and the rest of the things that had to happen just as they did for us to land in the same space of the planet.
I remember the first interesting conversations we had. I remember my first attempt at getting physically close to you. I remember the first time I got jealous that someone else was dancing with you. I remember the earliest moment I thought I would kiss you. I remember the fear when I finally did kiss you. I remember both times I thought I might lose you (or that maybe I never had you). I remember continuing to press forward, even though I didn’t know why I should. And, I remember the exact moment in which I knew I was in love with you.
I had officially fallen for you.
I knew I didn’t want to live without you.
Love became a different word for me that day.
Until then, I thought love meant leading independent lives on independent paths, maybe coming together for meals once in awhile in the evening. I thought two lovers would have separate goals, and they would help each other when it’s convenient. I didn’t think my lover would ever be a real life (business, love, and everything) partner, yet that’s what we are.
I’m looking forward to a long happy life path that overlaps forever with my partner in crime, my partner in life, my xochi, my soulmate, you.