Solo Living vs. Solo Travel

by Gray Cargill on August 20, 2010

Swan

Do you have a negative perception of solo travel because you’re single and spend a lot of time alone in your everyday life anyway?  Maybe you think “Why would I want to travel alone, I’m alone enough as it is!”   Don’t write it off so quickly.  Single living and solo travel aren’t necessarily the same.

I’ve been thinking lately about how ironic and odd it is that I love solo travel so much when I have also concluded, after too many years doing it, that I don’t particularly like being single.  (Though it’s certainly better than living with the wrong person.)  Still, you’d think if I like one, I’d like the other.  So why is the experience of living alone so much less fun than traveling alone?

When I  travel alone, the emphasis tends to be on the benefits of being able to focus on a fascinating new place and any new people I should meet along the way, not the drawbacks of living alone within the same four walls 365 days a year.

I love traveling alone.  I love having the ability to go where I want, spend what I can afford to spend, and focus on what interests me, without having to worry about whether my companion is having a good time.  If I want to stop and take hundreds of photos of something or sit at a coffee shop and write in my journal, I can.  If I want to spend an entire day in the same museum, I can.  I might have the occasional pang of loneliness, but usually, I’m too busy exploring, seeing, and experiencing new things to think about the lack of a companion.  Since I can only afford to travel three or four times a year, we’re only talking about a month of “alone time”; I think that’s a healthy amount to indulge in for anyone, partnered or not.

Unfortunately, at home, while I have the same ability to do what I want, when I want (outside of work hours, of course), I also have the burdens of being alone. There’s no one waiting for me when I come home from a lousy day at work, wanting to vent or just needing a hug.  There’s no one else to take out the garbage, cook, clean, or take the car to the garage.  Mine is the only income in my household, for better or worse.  I don’t have a built-in companion for those Saturday nights when I feel like going out on the town. Being alone for three or four weeks per year is a whole lot different from being alone fifty-two weeks out of the year.  Which leads me to. . . .

I’m better at meeting people when I travel than I am at home.

I can’t figure this one out.  You’d think the skill set would be transferable, wouldn’t you?  When I travel alone, I meet as many people to spend time with as I want to.  I chat up strangers, they chat up me, we talk about where we’re from and suddenly decide to share a meal together. If you’ve traveled solo, you know what I’m talking about when I say that, as long as you’re friendly, people find you more approachable because you’re alone instead of part of a couple or group.

At home,  it is the exact opposite. I have a core group of friends, of course, but most of them are married, some with kids.  They squeeze me into their schedules when they can, but it’s not usually on the weekends, when I have more free time. Trying to meet people and make new (single or otherwise) friends here is like slogging through mud. People almost never chat me up while standing in line or sitting next to them at the bar of a restaurant.  It’s always up to me to make the initial approach (which can be exhausting after awhile, especially for an introvert).  Rarely does it lead to an exchange of emails and phone numbers or a promise to keep in touch.

I’m not really sure why this is.  Is it Vermont?  Or is it me?  Am I a different person when I travel?  Am I  more approachable for some reason?  Or are people just so preoccupied with their everyday lives at home that they don’t have the time–or take the time–to get to know someone new outside their circle?  Is it due to the transient nature of our short-term friendships on the road versus the time commitment required for a long-term friendship at home?  Is it because when I’m on the road, I am a mystery, new and interesting to everyone I see, whereas at home, I’m like the painting on the wall:  Something that has been there so long, you don’t really notice it any more?  I really have no idea, and it perplexes me.

Ducks

When I travel alone, being single doesn’t bother me, and I don’t feel pressure to “pair up”.  At home, I am constantly reminded of my singlehood.

Almost everyone I know is paired off–especially those around my age.  Friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, and complete strangers–almost everyone I run across is paired up.  People who are coupled tend to spend social time with other couples, just as parents of young children tend to spend social time with other parents of young children. Like is attracted to like.  But what happens when you don’t know very many people who are single, like you?  You spend a lot of time alone.  Or at least, I do. Sometimes I feel like the more time I spend single and alone, the more people are going to convince themselves there must be something wrong with me.  Because why else would I be alone all the time, right?  It used to bug me that my mother would always ask me when I was going to get married.  About ten years ago, she stopped asking.  I think that bugs me even more.  (Just kidding, Mom. Don’t start asking again.)

When I travel, on the other hand, no one knows my story.  For all they know, I could be traveling on business, I might have a boyfriend or husband at home, or I might be fresh from a break-up.  They might be curious about why I’m traveling alone–and I’ve certainly gotten quite a few questions along those lines–but in general, people don’t know enough of my personal story to judge me.  Many of the friends I make on the road tend to be couples, and they seem delighted to have my company and don’t make me feel the least bit awkward for being alone.

My point?  Even if you live alone and you’re not particularly happy with that arrangement, that doesn’t mean you won’t like solo travel.  Traveling solo is a lot more fun than living solo.  For one thing, you’re traveling to places you’ve always wanted to visit!  Isn’t that better than sitting home alone on a Saturday night…again?

Interested in long-term solo travel, but not sure where to start? You can now buy The Art of Solo Travel: A Girl’s Guide by Stephanie Lee, which contains all the basic information you need to get started on your long-term solo journey. Read my review of the book here.

Anonymous August 25, 2010 at 2:33 am

You should write a blog post, Jeff, that was lovely (including the great Kerouac quote). Thank you so much for lending your voice to the conversation. (And yay–another Vermonter!)

Jeff August 24, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Golly, I could have written this blog post. As a fellow introvert (and fellow Vermonter, actually) I understand perfectly the home alone vs. traveling alone comparison. I often feel as anonymous in my small home town as I do wandering solo through a major city—but the difference when traveling is the “mystery me” aspect, that I could be anyone, that I’m just someone on the street or the train and not “that guy who’s always by himself.”

I do tend to open up more to others when traveling (especially when I’m doing my trip by bicycle, since solo bike tourists are often a curiosity to people). It is a bit strange that I’ll remember people I briefly met on a trip somewhere so fondly it’s as if they were lifelong friends. It’s the fleeting nature of these encounters that does it, and somehow it leaves an outsize imprint on the heart. “What is the feeling when you’re driving away from people, and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? It’s the too huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” –Jack Kerouac

Traveling light and solo is a pleasure that keeps giving back. For me it hasn’t gotten old yet.

Anonymous August 23, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Likewise.

Anonymous August 23, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Ah, okay. I know some folks who *do* have other things to talk about, but will endlessly talk about a given subject.

Anonymous August 23, 2010 at 4:17 pm

When I say people must get sick of me talking about travel all the time, I’m kind of joking. I’m an introvert, so I generally let other people do most of the talking. But when they DO turn the tables and ask me about my life, I have to talk about something. I don’t have kids or a significant other. I don’t even have a pet any more. I don’t like talking about my job, because my job bores me. I don’t have time for hobbies or volunteer work. About the only thing interesting I have to talk about is my travels. It’s really no different than someone who talks about their kids all the time. If you’re a friend, and that’s the most important thing in their life, you listen.

Anonymous August 23, 2010 at 4:10 pm

It would be nice, yes, but the world isn’t easy. If you want to have conversations, you have to be willing to start them yourself.

Anonymous August 23, 2010 at 4:09 pm

It would be nice, yes, but the world isn’t easy. If you want to have conversations, you have to be willing to start them yourself.

Anonymous August 23, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Oh I do. It just gets exhausting always being the one who has to initiate a conversation (I’m an introvert). It’d be nice if other people started up conversations with me once in awhile.

Anonymous August 23, 2010 at 3:19 pm

There’s an easy fix for that: don’t talk about travel all the time! Ask your friends about their lives and try to engage them with their interests, instead of merely talking about your own. Trust me, this one took me a long time to learn!

Anonymous August 23, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Post-breakup is a great time to travel. It helps to clear your head.

Anonymous August 23, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Because you have to have openness while you travel, otherwise you wouldn’t experience anything. Open yourself to experiences while you’re home, and I think you will find that your openness to people returns as well.

Anonymous August 23, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Try to keep up your outgoing-ness when you come home. I think you will find it makes you a happier person.

Anonymous August 23, 2010 at 3:15 pm

So, when you’re at home, chat up people in line just like you do when you’re abroad! There’s nothing keeping you from being just as outgoing at home as you are when you’re somewhere else.

Anonymous August 23, 2010 at 3:40 am

As long as it takes. I don’t have a deadline.

Anonymous August 23, 2010 at 1:21 am

Hmm…yes, the “bubble” does tend to get in the way, doesn’t it?

Anonymous August 23, 2010 at 1:20 am

Good point. There is more of a commonality amongst travelers that makes it easier to connect.

GRRRLTRAVELER August 22, 2010 at 4:43 pm

Very nice article. Hooray for solo-soloists. Been thinking about this recently also… I tend to be more outgoing when I’m traveling. I agree with Connie. It’s a relaxed environment and we’re all talking about something that we’re mutually passionate about.

For instance, just been thinking- I always feel like I meet the “most interesting people” when I travel, but if we met at home; them in their bubble, me in mine.. we’d probably have nothing in common! We’d probably bore each other & wouldn’t know how to relate. “Oh, you like to travel? Me too.” End. On the road, the conversation would definitely continue.

Connie Hum August 22, 2010 at 4:39 am

I find that there’s something about traveling alone that makes me more out-going and sociable. Maybe it’s the relaxed inhibitions and the general feeling of instantly having something to talk about that we know we’re mutually interested in: travel. Travelers sure love to talk about travel and it leads to hours of good company.

Anonymous August 21, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Yeah, I hear you. I don’t understand why we don’t have the same openness at home that we do on the road.

Sarah Walker August 21, 2010 at 5:43 pm

I have always wondered the same thing ( in regards to the meeting people when I travel)!!! I can feel a difference being abroad and feeling more open to possibility and people but I never can hold on to that feeling longer than 3 days after I return. I try really hard too, but it always disappears. Which means I have to go on another trip to get that amazing feeling back. Sigh. It never ends.

Anonymous August 21, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Oh I’m so glad! Wow, 2 months! That’s awesome. I’d have to sell my house to do that. LOL.

Slap Thatbanana August 21, 2010 at 6:27 am

somehow i always wanted to bring my boyfriend to Tokyo, one of my favorite
cities as we both love to travel. since we’ve just broken up, i’ve made a plan to go and even landed an opportunity to work in hokkaido for two months.

however it is my first time travelling alone, but everyone has been telling me how great it is. you’ve just assured me and now, i am excited!

Anonymous August 20, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Hey, Zoe! Nice to see you here. Yes, I shared this video a few weeks ago here on my blog and my Facebook page. It’s one of the most beautiful videos I’ve ever seen. Believe me, I’ve actually lived contentedly alone for over 2 decades, it’s just that I’ve now gotten to a point where I’m ready for something different. It’s kind of like my job: After 2 decades doing the same thing, I’m just sick of it.

Anonymous August 20, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Yes. And honestly, that’s probably why a lot of us started traveling solo–we had the time and money and our married w/kids friends didn’t.

Anonymous August 20, 2010 at 5:24 pm

How indeed? I think sometimes I must drive people around me crazy talking about travel all the time. 🙂

Anonymous August 20, 2010 at 5:23 pm

Except for about 6 months, I’ve lived alone for 24 years. It’s only been in the last few that I’ve started to grow really restless with it. I suppose that’s not a bad track record. I’m glad you find my blog useful. I think you’ll enjoy solo travel. How long will you be gone for?

zoe zolbrod August 20, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Nice post.

This You Tube video for a poem about being alone has been making the rounds. It’s lovely, and speaks to some of these issues:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7X7sZzSXYs

Anonymous August 20, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Great article. I just finished living on my own for a year. It took a lot of getting used to, having never lived alone my whole life. I consider myself somewhere between an introvert, and an extrovert; don’t really enjoy my own company, but can handle it.

Anyway, my advice would be offer up the email, phone number exchange when you approach people in your home town. There’s no reason why you can’t be just as friendly as when you travel. Sure, they may be a local, but everyone has a great story to tell, not just travellers. I get the whole career/marriage/renovation thing with the friends, I really do… but there are friendly, adventurous people out there like you too. Its just a numbers game.

I am a little anxious about starting my own solo travel adventure next month, but happily read all the advice I can get on your blog. Keep it coming!

Azxplorer August 20, 2010 at 12:47 pm

This make me think about my own perceptions and assumptions. I love the flexibility and freedom of solo travel, yet I do miss sharing new and interesting places and things with someone. My home friends are sometimes put off by me trying to play travel lecturer after my travels. How do we share our experiences in a meaningful and fun way?

SingleOccupancy Blog August 20, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Here, here! In fact, I think solo travel enhances the single life. It reaffirms a freedom that I possess that my friends who are married with kids just don’t have.

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