My first real solo trip was a 4-month internship and backpacking experience in Chile. I went into the trip as the brazen, foolhardy 22 year old that I was. I felt like I could conquer anything!
Then the initial reality of solo travel set it. It was lonely and challenging. Honestly, I didn’t love it at first. I became tired of sitting alone at restaurants. I missed my boyfriend.
But then, slowly, I started to like it. My Spanish got better. I made new friends. I learned valuable lessons as a young adult. I became a better version of myself.
Now, solo travel is one of my favorite ways to see the world. I value what the experience does for me and I actively choose to pursue it. This feeling certainly didn’t change on September 10th, 2016 when I put a wedding ring on my finger.
My story of solo travel
I dated my now-husband Sam for 11 years before we got married, during which I traveled solo often. On my own, I backpacked in South America, spent 4 months in the Middle East and Asia, and took trips around the US. I’ve also traveled to Cuba, Jordan and Egypt on Intrepid Travel trips as a solo female traveler.
Only now with this new title of wife have I noticed the different, and often negative, opinions people have about my desire to continue traveling alone. Acquaintances will ask me things like “Is Sam ok with you traveling?” or “Don’t you get lonely without your husband?” or even “Did you ask your husband permission before traveling?”. It is as if marriage = merged.
That couldn’t be further from how I view my marriage.
For me, relationships were never about “finding my better half” or becoming a single joined entity. The successful marriages I’ve witnessed actually thrive on two people being autonomous but complementary. They make each other better versions of who they already are. They benefit from the individuality that they each retain in their relationship.
One of the things I value most about my marriage is that my husband supports and encourages me to continue traveling, both with him but also on my own. I’m currently planning a solo trip to Europe for spring 2018! He understands that traveling is a part of who I am and I celebrate that aspect of myself too. I would never allow marriage to suppress my love for travel.
I need to explore the world solo sometimes and there are five key things that I value most about traveling alone.
Travel has this amazing ability to create personal growth. I think it’s one of the things travelers value most. I wouldn’t be the person that I am today without the confidence and perspective that I’ve gained from traveling. I remember a specific moment in Chile when I was on top of a mountain (I’m aware this sounds clichéd) and a realization dawned on me — “Megan, you’ve got this. It’s all going to be okay.”
Unfortunately, that growth isn’t as significant when you travel with someone. You are more likely to stifle or not notice the changes travel creates. The challenges are less challenging but the rewards are less rewarding.
Traveling alone forces you to depend on yourself. You have to be resourceful and creative in the face of challenges.
When I accomplish something like a complex conversation in the Spanish with a Cuban woman or navigate a chaotic change in plans midway through a multi-leg trip through Asia on my own, there is such a sense of pride, joy, and accomplishment that swells inside me. That triumph is no one else’s but mine.
Experiencing a destination differently
When you travel as a couple, people treat you differently. You’ll find that previously social spaces may be more stand-offish. I experienced this at a hostel with my husband during a trip to Istanbul. We did our best to interact with other guests, but found that when people saw the two of us eating breakfast together or about to leave for a walk, they wouldn’t ask to join or tag along. They say us as a couple and assumed we wanted alone time.
When you travel alone, you’ll experience a different side of that destination. Solo travel can feel scary at times. In South America, I felt out of my comfort zone, and I was always hyper-aware of my surroundings. I planned bus routes that dropped off during the daytime and always called the hostel reception before arrival to make sure I wouldn’t be stranded for a night.
That kind of trepidation is normal, but solo travel can also open the door to unique experiences. I’ll always remember the time I was invited into a local home in Ghana and long conversations over tea in a Jordanian rug shop, that might not have happened to me with my husband by my side.
Making new friends
When you travel solo, there are lonely moments and you don’t have the security blanket of someone to chat with. I can’t tell you how many times I have just randomly cried in public… It happens! To fulfill the natural instinct to socialize, you will be forced to interact with new people more openly than if you were with another person.
This is especially true in group travel situations. Every time I’ve participated in an Intrepid Travel group trip, I’ve done so solo. If I had gone on those trips with my spouse, I would have roomed with him, sat with him at meals, and explored with him. Instead, I did that with other people and it led to new friendships which I still keep up with to this day!
Having a spouse is undoubtedly amazing companionship, but sometimes, you just need some alone time. It can be challenging to create separation but regardless of how wonderful one’s relationship is, alone time is critical. I believe that maintaining “apart time” is key to staying together long-term.
My husband and I have had several bouts of long-distance, sometimes with months of separation. While it was challenging at first, it gets easier each trip. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder! On my 4-month backpacking trip, I found that the separation made our relationship significantly stronger because we learned how to communicate better and were more grateful for our time together.
It’s an adventure!
I think one of the key differences between solo and coupled travel is that you are inherently more vulnerable and open to chance encounters and interactions when you’re alone. There is more adventure! You are beholden to only yourself. You can make each day what you want it to be.
Some of my favorite travel memories are the random moments when I said yes to a new experience — hanging out with a group of Argentinians, staying in a traditional Nepali farmhouse — and while I have cherished travel memories with my husband, I know that I may not have had those other random moments if I was traveling with him.
I understand that every relationship is different, but for my marriage, traveling alone makes me a stronger, better and happier partner. This is why I will not be giving up solo travel any time soon. Try it, and you might feel the same.
Read to take on the world solo? Intrepid has a range of trips solely for solo adventurers!
(All images c/o Megan Arzbaecher.)