A little over a decade ago, a novelist named Elizabeth Gilbert set out on a one-woman journey towards self-discovery that took her through Italy, India and Indonesia. Her resulting memoir became one of the most popular beach reads of 2006, and Gilbert’s solo quest around the globe was described as emancipatory and inspirational.
The world has changed vastly in the last 10 years, and the landscape of travel has come a long way from the height of “Eat, Pray, Love” popularity. Traveling alone is no longer a radical notion, or a decision made only by the boldest among us.
Solo travel has become not only a mainstream trend, but also a rite of passage for many young travelers. The case for traveling alone is that it provides a sense of empowerment, of independence, and a depth of experience that cannot be achieved by traveling with a companion or a group.
A 2015 study conducted by Visa found that one in every five people who recently traveled overseas, did so alone. The rate at which individuals choose to travel alone continues to rise each year. In response to this expanding market, travel agents and tour groups have begun to customize their services to suit the specific needs of lone travelers. Cruise ships and destination hotels are offering room-sharing options; some are even choosing to abolish their single supplement, an additional fee incurred by individuals who book single rooms.
The major logistical advantage of traveling alone is that you are in complete control of the trip. The specific sights you see, your sleeping schedule, and the modes of transportation you take, are all details that will be determined by you, and you alone.
Want to see seven different sights in one day? No problem. Want to spend four hours perusing a single gallery? Sounds reasonable. Want to scrap your schedule and sleep on the beach all day? Do it. When traveling alone, you will never have to compromise on your vision or do something you do not explicitly want to do.
A misconception about traveling alone is that it is a lonely, isolating experience. The truth, however, is that traveling alone forces you to become more open and more willing to connect with the people you meet along the way. When you open up to the possibility of connecting with others, you will be shocked by the overwhelming kindness and wealth of interesting people that exist all over the world.
Traveling with a companion can be a rewarding way to build memories and strengthen a bond between two people. Unfortunately the comfort you receive from traveling with a partner can also limit the depth of your personal experience. When you travel alone, there is no buffer between you and your destination, which is arguably the richest, most intense way to see a new place.
Traveling alone is the most effective way to escape from the noise. The modern world is filled with distractions that numb our actual, lived experiences. We are constantly surrounded by little and big screens that dispense non-stop stimuli to our brains. In a world saturated by social media and the 24-hour news cycle, there is a renewed importance to unplugging our brains and focusing on having actual, real-life experiences.
Between work, family, friends, and a myriad of personal responsibilities, a moment to one’s self is rare. It is crucial for strong mental health and personal well-being that an individual makes time to become willingly and happily alone. Only when the distractions fade away and you are truly alone can you become introspective and learn to trust your inner voice. This is an important form of self-healing that everyone requires from time to time.
Solo travel has different historical connotations for men and women. While men have been traveling alone on business trips for many years, women are just two generations removed from a time when they were prohibited from traveling without a male companion or an elder, female chaperone.
This historical significance may very well provide an added element of liberation to the experiences of the solo, female traveler. That being said, men stand to gain just as much personal empowerment by choosing to travel alone for pleasure. No matter who you are, or what your background is, striking out on your own adventure will not only empower you, but will also bring you closer to your true self. That’s reason enough to hop on a plane.