There are lots of decisions to make when it comes to travel. Indeed, from the question of selecting your travel destination and duration, costing, baggage and beyond, travel can sometimes sound like a never-ending decision-making process. The decision to travel solo or in a group can be one that’s particularly tough, especially for a first-time traveler. And, though every man and his dog will have their opinion, I’ll suggest up front that there’s absolutely no right and wrong answer here. People are different, so the personal preferences and experiences for each choice vary accordingly. It’s about what’s going to be right for you.
However, it is always preferable to make a choice in complete understanding of its future consequences. So, for an aspiring traveler as yet undecided about traveling solo or in a group, it might be helpful to have an idea of the pros and cons to expect from both!
So, let’s look at both in turn.
Solo Travel vs. Group Travel
The Pros of Solo Travel
You have complete freedom and independence. A huge advantage of being alone is that you’re in total control of absolutely everything. Now, with no-one telling you what to do or how to do it, this might feel a bit daunting at first. But you will come to appreciate the feeling of liberation that goes with it. Want to climb that mountain on the horizon? Go ahead and climb that mountain. Want to eat the mouth-watering street food from the vendor over there? Go eat that street food. Want to stay all day and do nothing at all in the hotel or hostel? Go ahead and stay in the hostel. Simply, there’s no-one else dictating how you spend your time. You decide what you want to do and what you don’t want. You’re the captain of your ship. You make the rules.
There are time benefits.
This one relates to being in control of your freedom and independence, but it’s worth emphasizing. Travel solo and your time is your own. That’s a huge benefit when it comes to travel.
How often do we get to use our time in the way we choose to? It’s horribly rare these days to have complete charge of your time. Usually, there’s a boss, a teacher, a parent or friend who, for better or worse, take away from the time available to you.
Suddenly, traveling solo, you can spend your time exactly as you please. Decisions are far simpler. Being alone forces you to make your own decisions. Again, this can feel like a mixed blessing at the beginning, but over time the advantages become clear.
Aside from growing your ability to think for yourself and enjoying the self-confidence that comes with that, it also speeds the process of decision making up – after all, there’s no-one else’s opinions or ideas to take into consideration.
In a group, it is far harder to reach a unanimous decision that pleases everyone. Alone, this isn’t an issue.
It’s an opportunity to develop as a person.
I think this is one of the biggest advantages of traveling solo. There can be few better tools for self-development than being alone on the other side of the world, having an adventure. Priorities change, personalities mature, minds open, self-confidence increases; ideals and opinions alter in progressive ways. You improve as a person.
Travel has the ability to do this anyway, but going it alone puts things into overdrive. There’s something about fending for yourself, being outside of your comfort zone and having no-one to figure things out for you that forces you to develop.
It’s specifically the challenges of solo travel that make it so powerful. Embrace the hardships involved and reap the rewards.
There are tonnes of new friendly faces.
Solo travel’s a bit of a misnomer. Simply, unless you choose to, it’s unlikely you’ll ever actually be entirely by yourself. Now, sometimes you may feel alone but in reality, there are almost always other people around you. Whether you’re in the hostel, on a guided tour, on a night out, on the beach or anywhere else, there’s ample opportunity to be with others. This is awesome. Everyone (solo or in a group) can feel lonely when they’re on their way, and there’s nothing like traveling to let you meet new people and make new friends.
You feel lonely, so you reach out to someone, strike up a conversation and before you know it you have a new best friend. Some of my closest friends today are those that I met while solo traveling!
You have your own space.
This one might sound obvious but by being alone, you’re able to get away from the noise and politics that can accompany being in a group of people.
Instead, you can be by yourself whenever you wish- free to escape whenever you need your own space, with no obligation to anyone else.
Remember, this is your trip and you make the rules.
The Cons of Solo Travel
It can be lonely.
It’s true that being alone has its plus points, and travel surrounds you with new friendly faces. However, loneliness is always something a solo traveler has to contend with. This the first disadvantages of traveling alone. I’ll emphasize that being in a group doesn’t entirely protect you from feeling lonely at times, but it’s undoubtedly more of a challenge when you’re by yourself. It doesn’t matter how many lovely people might be around you, traveling by yourself can feel incredibly isolating at times.
Firstly, don’t beat yourself up – alone on the other side of the world, it would be weirder if you weren’t feeling lonely. Remember how traveling solo can be great for forging friendships. See this as an incentive to reach out and meet new people.
If possible, take action.
Contact home, talk to friends and family- distract yourself with a book. Remind yourself why you decided to travel in the first place and of all the positive things you’re doing. Know that you’ll get through this and that it will make you stronger as a person. Remember growth through adversity. It’s exactly this sort of challenging situation that will turn your travels into such a positive experience in the long run.
It’s More Expensive.
With no-one else to share costs with, traveling solo can become a more expensive endeavor. Food, accommodation, and transportation can often be cheaper with group travel. But of course, this is not an option for solo travelers. If you’re on a budget, try to cultivate simple and cheap tastes in order to compensate for the added expenses of solo-ing. Remember, you only have your own tastes and requirements to budget for, which can save you money compared to traveling with someone who enjoys a more luxurious lifestyle. Embrace the easy and minimalistic lifestyle that travel gives you with. Treat it as a challenge: how cheaply can you do this?
You’ have to cook for one.
Where it’s usually a sociable affair, dinner time is one of those moments where loneliness and homesickness can rear its ugly head. With no-one to share a meal with, cooking can feel a little pointless. It is tempting not to do it, eat something quick and unhealthier than a home-cooked dish. Having to pay for all the ingredients yourself, cooking for one can also increase costs. Again, this is another great reason to get talking to someone wherever you’re staying. Use it as an excuse to cook someone a meal, get chatting, share recipes from your country of origin, split meal costs and make a new friend in the process.
You have to take more selfies.
This is more of a personal bugbear I have with solo travel – I just hate selfies and will avoid taking them where possible! However, traveling alone often leaves you with no other option! When you’re by yourself and the situation calls for a photo, a selfie is sometimes the only way to go! Again, as a more objective issue with this, an enforced selfie is another great way to highlight the fact that you’re by yourself, which can be an emotional challenge.
When everyone around you has friends and buddies to take a picture, having to take a selfie can feel depressing. And yet, it’s also another great excuse to ask someone to take a photo of you, strike up another conversation with yet another stranger, and hopefully reduce those feelings of aloneness once more.
There are potential safety concerns.
Safety is usually the ‘biggee’ for anyone concerned with solo travel. And I suppose there’s truth in the old adage that there is ‘safety in numbers’. There are awful, awful cases of solo travelers who have the misfortune of being caught up in a tragedy; staying safe physically and mentally should be an absolute priority for any traveler.
However, think of the sheer number of people traveling alone each year compared to the minimal number of issues that occur. If you’re sensible, follow the usual safety precautions (as you would at home), research regional challenges ahead of time and speak to locals to get to know the parts of town to avoid, you will be fine.
The Pros of Group Travel
It creates a sense of companionship & togetherness. Experiencing travel with a group – whether that’s a group of people you’ve never met before or a bunch of friends you’ve known for years – is unquestionably special. Going through anything characterized by extreme highs and lows fosters friendships that wouldn’t otherwise develop. Travel is no exception.
Despite all the ups and downs, group travel connects and brings people together within the experience in marvelous ways. Furthermore, the loneliness that can be a hugely negative feature of a lone traveler’s experience can be less of an issue. It is unlikely to disappear entirely, but having people there to pick you up when times are tough can be exceptionally helpful.
That sense of companionship and togetherness that arises from group travel serves to enhance relationships in amazing ways. People you’ve known for a matter of days and weeks feel like life-long friends and often go on to become them in reality afterward. Likewise, friends who’ve known each other for years become even closer. Travel binds people around particular memories, forges unspoken bonds from the rigors of the experience and elicits long-lasting positivity between all who go through it together.
Sharing the experience creates something to reminisce about. Going through something so incredible with another person, or a group of people only serves to enhance the experience through the memories created. That sunset on the beach at the end of the day, the meteor shower at night in the mountains, getting lost in a random town somewhere, the cold beer next to the hostel swimming pool – they’re all made that bit more special when there’s someone there to share the experience with.
In years to come, long after the journey is over, there will be a some of the people you can call up to remember with about those special moments on your trip that you experienced together. Only the people who accompany you can ever fully understand and appreciate the magnitude and significance of what you experienced. It’s incredibly difficult to articulate it to people who weren’t there and who have done nothing similar.
You can save money.
Then there are the practical advantages of being in a group. Think split costs of food and transport, room sharing, group discount deals on activities and so on. You can divide up luggage to share weight, support each other in tough times (e.g. accompanying someone to the hospital), divvy up travel gear to save everyone taking more than one of the same item unnecessarily. And so on and so forth. Being in a group can be incredibly helpful for these sorts of reasons and open up opportunities that would be far harder for a solo traveler on a budget. This is the top benefits of group travel.
There’s safety in numbers.
In new and unknown parts of the world, being in a group of people can be lovely and reassuring. There are others to highlight and protect you from potential dangers, as well as pooled resources that can serve the same function. For the odd bad egg you’ll come across on your travels, a group of people will be far less of a target than a solo traveler.
You always have someone to take your photo.
Again, a personal plus point for group travel! There’s always someone there to take your photo and save you having to pose for a selfie. At the end of your trip, there are others there to swap photos with, look back on the experience and reminisce about those awesome times you shared together.
Also, where it’s impossible to take photos of everything as a solo traveler, you can rely on others in the group to have footage or photos of that one special thing you might have missed.
The Cons of Group Travel
You have less freedom and independence.
The more of you there are more opinions and desires to take into consideration. You may want to do ‘x’, but your friend wants to do ‘y’ and someone else ‘z’. Who wins? Traveling in a group is a definite exercise in negotiation and compromise. At a very basic level, you can’t all do everything you all want to do, all of the time. This can be a hard pill to swallow when you have appropriate plans in mind for ‘your trip’.
Thus, it can be helpful to start defining things as ‘our trip’ rather than ‘my trip’ and to know that even if it wasn’t your first choice, whatever you end up doing is likely to be amazing.
You may dislike someone in the group.
In larger groups it’s almost inevitable there will be someone you don’t see eye to eye with at all times, which can make things awkward, uncomfortable and downright un-enjoyable. At this point, if you’re lucky, there can be another decision to make: to stay or go. Remember, if someone you’re traveling with is having a detrimental impact on your trip, you could always make the bold call to go your separate ways. If at all possible, spend an extended period of time in your group before you actually go on the trip itself.
If you’re planning on traveling with a bunch of your mates, take a long weekend together somewhere closer to home first. This will test the waters, expose any potential friction and clarify specifically whether this is the most suitable group to go with on your travels. For pre-planned, organized trips this can be harder (such as with a voluntary organization).
However, you might be able to interact online beforehand to get an idea of the kinds of people you’ll be with and who you might want to spend your time with. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of getting on with the people you’re traveling with. If there’s anything you can do to ensure you’re the best possible match before you go, it won’t be wasted time.
Less privacy and an opportunity to be alone.
Group travel makes it far more difficult to get your own space and it can be intense being around so many people all the time. I’d inspire anyone to improve time alone when they travel, exceptionally if they’ve been travelling in a group. By taking a break from each other’s company, it serves to protect the relationships in place, which can often feel stretched otherwise.
Decisions get more complicated.
More people and more opinions equal more complicated decision making. Make sure you make your opinion and voice heard, as all too often someone with a big personality can take charge of the situation and before you know it a decision has been made for you. As important as it is to be a team player and make compromises, sometimes you need to stick to your guns and, if needs be, do your own things,
There will always be arguments.
It’s inevitable that disagreements happen in group travel. You’re tired, things get stressful, it’s an intense experience and you’re spending a lot of time in close proximity with each other. This is a perfect recipe for arguments to happen. Again, taking breaks from each other’s company and getting some personal space can be hugely helpful when it comes to safeguarding from disagreement! And, if they do happen, try to clear the air as quickly as possible. There’s nothing worse than traveling in a group where the atmosphere feels tense and toxic. Like I stated at the start, the decision to travel solo or in a group is presently a very personal one. Knowing your preferences and the way you operate is a helpful starting point from which to make the final call. And, as you can see, there’s no easy answer here.
There are pros and cons for both solo and group travel: for every pro there’s usually an equal and opposite con to even things up, and vice versa. I actually find this reassuring: no right answer means there’s no wrong answer either, right? So, whether you decide to travel alone or in a group you can rest assured that there will be both highs and lows. Know yourself, consider the options, be flexible with your plans, open to compromise and change.
Then take that leap into the unknown. There’s no way to know how things will turn out, without taking that first step.
Alone or in a group, go, travel, and have the time of your life!