Lonely Planet Writer

Travel debate: group vs solo travel

Is it better to have someone to share your travel memories with - or is travel all about me time in exotic locations?

Intern Courtney Cervantes is surprised to find herself arguing for travel companions:

It’s interesting I’m arguing this side of the debate considering I’m one of those people who likes to do things on their own (going to the movies, people-watching at a café, endless wandering - all solo), but when it comes to travelling I just can’t imagine not having a group to travel with, whether it's made up of two or ten or even a whole tour bus worth of people.

I certainly see the value in experiencing a place on your own, but when it comes down to it, travelling in a group is just heaps more fun. And isn’t that what travel is all about?

When you travel with a group, you have people who will convince you to do crazy things you would never do by yourself, people to take care of you if you get sick (or you know, drink too much at a club) and people to share your experiences and frustrations with (that eight-hour delay at LAX is much better with travel companions, believe me).

And if you go with the right group, you’ll feel comfortable speaking up when you want to do an activity and you’ll be able to have 'you' time. In the end, what do you want to remember at the end of your travels: taking self-portraits in front of a bunch of sights or laughing at meals and getting lost with your group? Don’t know about you, but I’ll pick the latter every time.

Writer Amy Gray, meanwhile, is all about doing things her way:

The true traveller heads out alone. They don’t need the buffer of friends to hold their hand because they know the truth: travelling alone is easy and it’s better.

When you travel alone, you are responsible for only one set of travel plans: yours. There’s no fight over which landmark to visit, where to eat, who first saw that guy in the hostel and who the hell was responsible for getting lost. It’s just you.

Solo travellers are also able to travel the way they like. Late starter? Not a problem when you travel alone. Enjoy shamefully indulgent food habits when you travel? They can’t judge you if they can’t see you. Can’t bear to take out your headphones? Well, you’re an insufferable jerk but that’s not our problem if you travel alone.

Things are just easier with solo travel – you’re more likely to get an upgrade, more likely to get a seat at the ramen shop and more likely to experience those crazy exchanges or encounters that happen when you travel.

But here’s the main thing: you get a more immersive travel experience when you’re on your own because there is no-one around to break the new cultural connection. There’s no in-joke or home-town reference to jolt you back. This is particularly true if you go somewhere you can’t speak the language.

Travelling somewhere without your native tongue reduces you to your senses. Not only are people more likely to come up and chat with you (other travellers or people wanting to practise their language skills), but you’re more open to chatting with them and enjoying what’s around you on a purely sensorial level.

Why would you need someone with you when you can experience all of that?

Courtney fights back: Yep, when you travel alone, you do what you want when you want. But are you enjoying yourself? Will you take risks? Won’t those shamefully indulgent foods feel more shameful when you’re eating them alone? Will you really have crazy exchanges or will you just worry more about meeting shady people? Not sure about you but travelling solo doesn’t sound easier, it sounds dull. And it will be even duller when you see a group of people laughing while you walk around with those headphones in.

Amy is still in solo travel's corner: Seriously, where is the fun in travelling with a group of people? Perhaps I’m debating the world’s most genial lass (and, to be fair, she IS adorable) but travelling with others often degenerates into a loveless marriage where you end up glaring at one another with nothing but contempt, willing them to get frisked by Customs (unless there is someone else to hate, in which case you have something to share and bond over). But generally it is a grim march towards either death or the arrivals lounge where you can take some time apart before laughing hysterically over that fight you had in Pigalle. Over coffee.

What do you think?