On a ‘Round-the-World Trip, Should I Travel Alone or With a Companion?
Ask Rolf: Vagabonding traveler Rolf Potts answers your questions about travel
11.27.07 | 11:13 AM ET
I’ve been dreaming about a ‘round-the-world trip. As I’ve been researching my future journey, I can’t decide if I should I plan to travel alone or with a companion. Any pointers on which is best?
—Bret, Dayton, OH
There is no universal answer to the “solo vs. companion” question, since it’s ultimately a matter of personal preference. I’ve traveled both ways and found them enjoyable. For my first vagabonding trip (eight months around North America), traveling with friends allowed me to share the challenges and triumphs of travel, and—in splitting costs—helped me save money. The team dynamic also made it easier to overcome my anxieties and hit the road in the first place.
All of my ensuing vagabonding journeys, however, have been solo, which I’ve found is a great way to immerse myself in my surroundings. Without a partner, I have complete independence, which inspires me to meet people and find experiences that I normally wouldn’t have sought. Plus, going solo is never a strict modus operandi for me: Whenever I tire of solitude, it’s always easy to hook up with other travelers for a few days or weeks as I go.
If you’d prefer to go with a partner from the outset, be sure to choose your company wisely. Make certain that you share similar goals and ideas in regard to how you want to travel. If your idea of a constructive afternoon in Cambodia is, say, identifying flora on the jungle floor, you probably shouldn’t pick a partner who’d prefer a seedy bar and a half-dozen hookers. If possible, go on short road trips with your potential partner before you go vagabonding together; it’s amazing what you can learn about your compatibility in just a couple days. Avoid compulsive whiners, chronic pessimists, mindless bleeding-hearts and self-conscious hipsters—since these kind of people (who are surprisingly common along the travel trail) have a way of turning travel into a tiresome farce. Instead, find a partner who exudes an attitude of realism and open-mindedness, since these are the virtues you yourself will want to cultivate.
Regardless of how compatible you are with your companion—even if your companion is a lover, sibling, or spouse—make no illusions about spending every moment together. Perfect harmony on the road is a pipe dream, so always allow your partnership room to breathe—even if this means amicably splitting up for weeks at a time. Thus, in your mental as well as your practical preparations, always be ready to go it alone—even if you don’t think you’ll have to.
If you don’t have anyone in your circle of friends who is up for traveling the world with you, there are a number of Web sites that allow you to find travel companions online, including Bootsnall.com’s Travel Buddies page, Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum, HospitalityClub.org’s Travel Companions page, and Travel-Companion.net. Naturally, all commonsense rules of caution and compatibility apply when finding a travel buddy online.
On a final note, I’ll cast my personal vote for going solo, even if this prospect seems daunting at first. If you aren’t used to the notion of traveling alone, you might plan a few short, solo weekend or holiday mini-trips to get used to it. Though it might feel a tad lonely or strange at first, I think you’ll discover that it’s a great way to travel—always full of possibility, flexibility and openness to new experiences.