Ridin’ Solo: 5 Pros and Cons of Solo Travel

solotravelWhen I lived in Paris, one of the most important life lessons I came away with was a love and respect for solo travel. I learned that whom you’re with has just as strong an impact on your experience as where you go and what you see. To illustrate, let me tell two short stories.

oktoberfestFor Halloween weekend, I went to Prague with a classmate (whom I knew from Boston, as well). She’s a wonderfully nice girl, and had figured out a hostel and how to get to and from said hostel—for which I was immensely grateful. But once we were settled, she had no opinion about how we spend our first night, priorities about what to see, etc. And she had a limiting budget. In essence, I ended up being a tour guide. And when I once suggested that we spend an afternoon on our own, she looked at me in a way that said “please, no.” That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy Prague—I did—but I would have gotten much more out of the experience with a more involved travel buddy. Or alone.

Now onto Dijon… I bought an impromptu ticket to Dijon one weekend in France. Then I missed my train. I had no one to blame but myself, and yet, I just read until the next train, got to Dijon an hour late, and explored nonetheless. Walking through the town’s streets, I heard a band playing in the courtyard of a gorgeous building, so I stopped and listened. I sat in the most beautiful church, I stopped to stroll through a market selling antiques and old French books. I stopped to sit in a park and watch a man talk to his dog in French. And I still went to museums and explored the city. I bought mustard. But I was free to change my plans on a whim. And I love Dijon—I’ll definitely be back.

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Given those stories, one might think that I inherently like solo travel better. And that’s not necessarily true. But I think it’s a safe bet. When I travel solo, I know the trip—for better or for worse—is all mine. But when I travel with someone else, there’s a lot up in the air. Traveling with someone can be immensely rewarding. You just have to pick the right person(s).

And now to delve a little deeper, I thought I’d share what I consider the five main pros and cons of solo travel. Let me know what you think! Continue reading

Slideshow: Reflections on Paris, one year later

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Inspiration from mom…

This one’s another mom-inspired post (What can I say—she knows me so well?). But it also seemed like a good prompt/opportunity to reflect. One year ago, I was living in Paris, traveling every opportunity I could. Ever since I read Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and learned about Santorini, I was a travel junkie. Later fueled by Under the Tuscan Sun and Eat, Pray, Love, I made a commitment to myself that traveling would forever be a priority. And it has: I went to college 3,000 miles from home, went on a (mostly) self-funded tryst throughout western Europe, moved alone to a new city for my first co-op, and studied abroad. I can pack a mean suitcase, navigate the French consulate, and eat anything. But I thought I’d reflect on some of the things I learned in Paris, specifically, that still ring true one year later.

I prefer to travel alone. This is the most valuable thing I think I learned. Just like I’m not the biggest fan of group projects, I don’t like traveling with others. Think about it—traveling is like one massive 24-hours-a-day, group project, complete with language issues. But mostly it’s about clashing travel styles. I can travel with my mom easily: we both want to wake up early, mozey through museums, picnic in pretty parks, and splurge on great food. But other people muggy up my travel zen. With all due love and respect, I don’t want to hear about how tired/hungry/poor/bored you are. Nor do I want to plan my day around your eating/bathroom schedule. And I especially, especially do not want to be your tour guide. Pick up a guide book and figure it out. ‘Tis not my job, homeboy.

Traveling costs. The above traveling alone stuff being said, I do know that travel costs. It costs time, money, energy, patience. I get it. I just try to ignore it when I’m traveling. Because museums and picnics and the druggie-like dreams when I pass out after a day of walking around are totally worth the exhaustion. And the food?—TOTALLY worth it. But when I’m literally living in a travel-ish, foreign environment, it’s overwhelming. There were days (dare I say weekends?!)  I never left my apartment, because I was sleeping 16+ hours a day. AND I WAS IN PARIS, arguably the most beloved and beautiful city in Europe. I never picnic-ed on the Pont Neuf, never left a lock on the Pont des Arts (I love Paris’ ponts, or bridges), never saw the catacombs. Again. Traveling is costly, and sometimes I just can’t afford it.

I can always go back. This is the most incredible thing about traveling. Too often, I witness people glued to their cameras, stocking up on cheap China-made souvenirs, trying to commemorate their trip without actually enjoying it while they’re there. That isn’t to say I don’t like trinkets here and there, but they’re small; I like postcards, which I stick in my journal and which boast better pictures than I’d ever be able to capture. Knowing there are postcards for cheapcheapcheap in the store frees me up to see the beauty of some new place without peering though a camera lens. But in some cases, appreciating the beauty isn’t enough, so I confort myself with a tiny little promise: I will come back. I don’t make make this promise lightly, because I have neither the time nor means to travel much in the near future but some places are worth it.

Paris, itself, was the perfect example of one of those little promises. When I first visited Paris in May 2010, I promised myself I’d come back. And in my hotel in the 14th arr. one night, I switched my fall courses and changed my study abroad plans from South America to France. On that note, I decided to compile a mini slideshow (I’m working on the whole multi-media thing) of places I visited last fall that I promise I will return to.

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