Solo Travel: Pros and Cons
In August 2010 I took my first solo trip to volunteer in Costa Rica. I never consider bringing a friend. I attached myself to a large group of fellow volunteers that consisted of two best-friend duos and a trio of college roommates. After tagging along with them for the better part of two weeks I realized the value of exploring on my own, at my own pace. In a short amount of time I learned more than I ever thought I would as a solo traveler.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Being an International Lone Wolf:
PRO: I was forced to stumble out of my comfort zone, from the second I arrived at the airport. I had to rely on myself and only myself to problem-solve, whether it was trying to buy a bus ticket at the busy Coca Cola market in San Jose or trying to find a way home after my bus crashed into another bus. The confidence I gained from my mini-accomplishments was essential for surviving the trip and has stuck with me since.
CON: I didn’t have an important person to share the “moments” with. With every bizarre local I met, delicious meal I ate, or beautiful rainforest I trekked through I longed for my best friends to be by my side. Even though I met plenty of people on my short journey I began to miss my friends more than I had when we were separated for months at a time. When you travel somewhere unique and beautiful you realize that you want to share that beauty with someone important. Solo travel is empowering, but it is likely that you will wish your friends and family could be with you. This is just a part of it.
PRO: Time for introspection. On this trip, I was lucky to have a few minutes alone on a balcony overlooking a large coffee plantation. The early-morning sun was bright and warm and the plantation was misty, creating a beautiful setting for me to clear my mind, breathe, and soak in my own feelings. It was such a refreshingly serene moment that it brought me to tears. The solitude was incredible even if it only lasted a short while. The world was bustling away and I was alone with Costa Rica, just the two of us!
CON: You don’t always meet amazing, like-minded people. Before I left to volunteer I pictured myself interacting with other volunteers with the same travel objectives that I had. Unfortunately, most of my fellow travelers were focused on tanning and hangovers. That just meant that I had to A) Make better friends with myself, and B) Dig deeper to meet others.
PRO: Sometimes you meet amazing, like-minded people. While I spent most of my trip cringing at my fellow gringos, I did meet a few incredible individuals along the way. They loved to explore and embrace Costa Rica – unique country with endless resources for learning and growth.
CON: No matter how hard you try your friends and family will never realize the magnitude of your journey. No matter how many pictures you take, they will never capture the awesomeness of the real thing. No matter how many stories you tell, nobody will ever really “get it”. When you return, you’ll probably want to talk about your trip all the time. Understand that your friends, while supportive, may not be interested in watching your 500-picture slideshow. Share your experience, but don’t expect everyone around you to keep the conversation going.
PRO: Getting an outsider’s perspective on America is always interesting, especially when you’re the only American at the dinner table. It’s pretty simple: having access to viewpoints other than your own broadens your ability to analyze your own situation. Listening to a native Costa Rican share her opinion of American attitudes vs. those of her own country was very interesting and an experience that I value greatly.
PRO: You have a gem of an experience that none of your other friends have. Even though some of my friends have visited Costa Rica I know that MY experience is unique to me and I’m the only one that was on my exact journey. It’s a special thing to realize that the whole time you were alone abroad you were bonding with yourself and nobody will ever take the same trip.
And for those of you keeping score, there were more pros than cons!