For two weeks now, I have been touring Italy by myself. Actually, when thinking about it on the larger scale, I left America alone and traveled to Florence alone, but at least I knew I would make friends at my school. Now that my new friends have gone their separate ways, I really am a lone traveler. To be perfectly honest, it has its ups and downs. Over all, I find that traveling alone has several perks that families, friends, and couples who travel together tend to miss out on.
1. You plan your own itinerary. I go where I want to go. If I want to go to a history museum, the only thing that would stop me would be time and money. Because I am the lone traveler, I take charge of that. When traveling in a group, you tend to do things you do not want to do. If you don’t want to see another Renaissance art museum – you don’t have to.
2. In general, it’s easier to travel alone. There are many ways to get from point A to point B. When traveling alone, you get to choose the best option for you. I find that taking slow trains work best for me. I only pay one ticket for myself and hop on. When traveling with a group, there are other factors you might want to take into consideration. When a group takes a train together, there is a chance that they will have to sit separately. Then everyone needs to know exactly what stop they need to get off at. Trains, metros, buses, and planes can get crowded, hectic and it is easy to lose track of the others. When you are traveling alone, only you need to know where to go. On the flip side, it is nice to be with someone who does know where he or she is going. When you are lost, it can be nerve-racking. This leads to point number three.
3. Your sense of direction improves. I will admit that I never have been good at directions. I have always been dependent on other people and technology for telling me where to go. Traveling alone forces me to quickly understand the train and metro system. When I first tried to find Florence about 6 weeks ago, I had to learn fast before I missed the next train. You also have to understand the layout of the city you are in quickly. Some people naturally have the gift of direction. I never did. Now I feel more confident about my navigational skills – at least more confident.
4. You control the budget. This is both a perk and not a perk. Managing a budget of any kind is difficult. Traveling alone in Europe and maintaining a limited budget is not an easy task. However, it is a valuable learning experience, which makes it a perk in the long run. When you are traveling alone, you are the only one you can blame for the money you lost or congratulate for the money you save. I don’t have a friend or significant other to blame instead, which can save heartache. Besides, it feels good to blame the government, high exchange rates, and vendors for emptying your pockets instead. They are not your loved ones. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to have someone plan the budget for you, but when giving that power over to someone else then you have to follow their limitations and not yours. When you are sharing equal control over the budget, then there will inevitably be bickering and disputes. I am my own woman. I am financing my own journey.
5. You can relax and take it easy when you want to. I know this is related to point number one, but I really want to emphasize this. Many of us who traveled in groups or even pairs have been in situations where one person just wants to take it easy while the other wants to go sightseeing. When traveling alone, I can go back to my room and take a nap whenever I want to.
6. You meet new people more when traveling alone. This is the biggest perk. During the two weeks of traveling alone, I have met so many different people from different parts of the world. Most of them were in hostels since four or five of us have to share a room. When visiting sites, I am open to talking to other visitors and asking them about their travels. Sometimes I will join some of my newly formed friends to see various places or have lunch together. When traveling alone, you eventually want someone to talk to. This encourages me to put on a friendly face and actually meet new people.
There are also many cautions one must take when traveling alone, especially a young woman such as myself. For instance, I give myself a curfew and do not go out alone at night past eleven. When I do walk around in the dark, I make sure it is in a well lit area with a lot of activity. I also travel with a lock on my suitcase and carry a satchel bag with actual buckles. During the day, I carry a small backpack in the front instead of the back. Unfortunately it brands me as a tourist, but I rather look like a dorky tourist instead having someone pickpocket me. And then there are the accommodations to worry about, but I will write a separate blog about staying in hostels. I will just say that if you decide to stay in a hostel – be smart and keep your belongings locked up.
I will admit that as I visited places like the Rome, Pompeii, and Venice I wished I had my family or my best friends with me to enjoy these amazing places. Still, I enjoyed these places by myself. It has given me a chance to learn more about myself, discover new abilities, and meet new people along the way. I believe that everyone should take a solo trip at some point. There is always something new to see, do, and learn when traveling alone.