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

Rolf Potts

Dear Rolf,

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

Dear Bret,

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.

Send your questions to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). If you want to know whether Rolf has already answered your questions, see the Ask Rolf archive.

Tags: Solo Travel

Columnist Rolf Potts is the author of Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, and Marco Polo Didn't Go There: Stories and Revelations From One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer. His stories have appeared in National Geographic Traveler, the New York Times Magazine and Conde Nast Traveler, as well as in “The Best American Travel Writing.”


10 Comments for On a ‘Round-the-World Trip, Should I Travel Alone or With a Companion?

Ellen 11.28.07 | 5:04 PM ET

I vote for going solo, not that I’ve done a lot of long-term vagabonding. Last fall I spent a week with a friend in Buenos Aires. I realized the day we agreed to go separate ways until evening that I hadn’t gotten the lay of the land because she was the one who was always reading the city maps for us. And I wasn’t seeing as much of the city because we were chatting as we walked. The day she relaxed in the hotel and I was on my own, I finally had “real” adventures. I chatted to a pharmacist in my limited, but improving Spanish. I observed people on the trains and tried to make out the ads in Spanish. I took a ride on an old wooden subway that she hadn’t been interested in exploring when we were together. I walked as quickly as I wanted to walk and never had to turn to someone and say, “Do you want to eat here or somewhere else” and then have to go eat where I wouldn’t have chosen. I like being with people but I find it’s better not to have the same person or people come along with me wherever I go, if that makes sense. My attempts to be considerate of the other person’s desires casts a shadow on my spontaneity. And it limits who else I might meet.

anthony 11.30.07 | 3:19 PM ET

I planned a trip to asia with a girlfriend, and then we amicably broke up, but went on the trip anyway. it was difficult, we fought the first night in bangkok (our first fight), and had a tough time. once we seperated, though difficult at first, we got on with our lives (travel lives) and, i think grew a lot from the experiences we had.  traveling abroad can be stressful, interpersonal stress needn’t be added.

Aqui_c 12.02.07 | 6:53 PM ET

Hi!

I agree with the solo decision. It’s great meeting people during the trip, and going with a companion (not always, of course!) but in general makes you being more closed, avoiding meeting people along the road.

And I think (many may disagree) that traveling is about that: meeting people.

Yvonne Trevino 12.04.07 | 3:47 AM ET

I don’t know if you can answer my question or direct me to the right person or website.
I am a senior and I am ill. My doctors gave me 2 years but I want to prove them wrong. My daughter wants to take me to see the Virgin Mary of Lourdes France where the holy water is and see if I can be healed. I need to know if I can get oxygen there or if I can get a mobile wheel chair. I don’t if it is far to walk or how I can get to Lourdes Fance to see the Virgin Mary of Lourdes. Can you please let me know how it is to get to Lourdes France and if I woldn’t have a problem getting there. IF not can you let me know where I can get this information. Thank you so much
Sincerly
Yvonne Trevino

sammiey 12.05.07 | 10:53 AM ET

does wellington have nice weather always

Johanna 12.10.07 | 11:30 PM ET

For Yvonne Trevino about Lourdes, France.  Go to http://www.lourdes-france.com for information on invalids visiting Lourdes.  Yes, there is a way for you to visit the site in a wheelchair as many people do.  Enjoy your journey.

Renee 12.13.07 | 4:57 PM ET

I prefer to travel alone, I’m the type of person who doesn’t like to fill up silences with unnecessary chatter, and traveling with others I always feel as though I have to accommodate to what others want to do. I’ve traveled half of the United States and parts of Canada with and without people and I have to say that I enjoyed the solo trip so much more. Now if I go on a trip with a friend I make sure that they are comfortable with having days on their own, so we can each do our own thing. A friend and I went to Mexico a couple of years ago on a trip through Baja, we only saw each other in the evenings, and we left our rooms at different times and came back whenever. It was a wonderful experience, we both had an amazing time, and financially it was beneficial to both of us.
Lucky for me I always travel with a guy; just in case, as a girl it tends to make me feel a little bit better, even if I’m not always with him.

Sue Ellen "Life is an Adventure" 12.18.07 | 6:38 PM ET

Two trips to Mexico, both in my car. First was with a girl I knew from high school and her boyfriend. We had a great time, I knew NOTHING about Mexico,(especially the language), and we stayed at her boyfriends’ parents home. I would not have gone had someone not been able to act as guide, protector, and interpretor. The second trip was 15 years later, alone, with much Espanol under my belt, and I had a great time then too.
Reccomendations: If you’re not familiar and have no help in your back pocket, do NOT take children, valuables, nor expect to be back within a time frame.

Jake 01.04.08 | 4:27 PM ET

Great post!  I think it’s really fun either way, and I think that everyone should take the opportunity to travel alone and with friends.  You can always have a great time and make great memories.  Kinda like in these videos:  http://www.roomforyourimagination.com.  My favorite video is from room 223 called Labels. It’s so hilarious! Gymnasts is good too! You need to go check it out! These videos are awesome…I work with them so I have the inside scoop!

E. 02.28.08 | 2:53 AM ET

I definitely recommend traveling solo.  Just recently, I returned from a 3 month trip through a couple of cities in Europe, and S.E. Asia. I traveled with a friend for 2 weeks, other then that I was on my own. 

The most memorable events of my trip were experienced when I was alone.  I found that when you are traveling with a buddy it is much harder to strike up conversations with locals or other travelers and they are less likely to encounter a couple as opposed to a single traveler.  I felt more challenged and independent on my own because I did not have someone else helping with the decision making.  Also, it is very difficult not to feel rushed when traveling with another, you always have to consider the other person, it’s hard, I always wanted to run off and do my own thing.  You might want to, stare at a statue for an hour, flirt with a cute guy(or girl), stop to eat at every chance you have, or save some cash and stay at the cheapest hotel/hostel…etc…these things might not sit well with your partner.  I felt that I was constantly having to compromise, which was time consuming and frustrating.  Though, there is also an upside to having a companion, you automatically have a partner for activities, and years later will have someone to reminisce with. 

All in all, solo is my preference, though, there is no harm in mixing it up.  But, remember, when alone and feeling pangs of loneliness there is always another single traveler, or local close by to strike up a conversation with and maybe even a friendship!  I was constantly meeting new travelers to explore locales with, I was hardly ever alone, even if I wanted to be!

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