Can We Just Accept That Some People (Like Me) Must Travel Alone?

by Scott Summers Dec 26, 2016

For one, I’m an early bird.

It doesn’t matter where in the world I am, if I’m acclimated to a region, I’m going to wake up at 4 a.m., local time. Doing this in a hostel is tricky, but I’ve determined that how quiet I am when I wake up depends entirely on how considerate the rest of the room was when I went to bed early the previous night. Yes, that’s right, that dude who wouldn’t shut up last night is the reason the entire room is waking up to a very loud and unnecessary alarm long before the sun can even get its act together.

For me, I can’t help it. I’m the antithesis of a night owl, and almost everyone hates it. Friends, romantic partners, family and travel buddies have all complained that I should sleep in, catch some rest, and rise with the sun. But I just can’t do it. By the time most people are getting up, I’ve already put in a morning workout and am likely en route to photograph a sunrise or explore a quiet city before it gets too crowded.

Our interests aren’t going to align.

I’m all about museum tours, bus tours, and walking tours, but if I have a choice, I won’t be in the city. I’ll be outside of it somewhere. Maybe in the woods or wandering along the countryside. This is a standard regardless of where I’m at, be it Paris or New York City. Urban lifestyles don’t appeal as much to me as fields, forests, and rolling hillsides.

The common argument I hear with this is, “But, it’s a field. They’re the same everywhere.”

That’s not untrue, but it’s still my preference. Inside the city, I might be interested in touring all the local bookstores or learning more about the regional history, but late night concerts and fancy urban clubs have never been the highlight of any travel experience I’ve ever had.

I’m amicable, but not always accommodating.

You could say that I’m passive when it comes to intervening in someone’s affairs. My general rule is pretty simple: If you’re not hurting anyone, I don’t really care what you’re doing. That doesn’t mean I condone it or will participate in it, but I’m not going to stop you. This rule covers everything from, “I want to do heavy drugs,” all the way down to, “Wouldn’t it be fun to go get completely smashed on a pub crawl in one night?”

No. No, it wouldn’t.

I won’t stop you, but I also won’t throw resources behind it. Get your own cab and do your own thing. I’ll be here when you get back, but that train we’re supposed to catch tomorrow? Yeah, I’ll be on it with or without you.

The best pressure is no pressure.

Some days, I just want to read. Or I’m working on something that I don’t want to get away from. If I’m on the road, there’s already some mild pressure to seize the moment and experience the local flavor. But honestly, why push it?

The problem I run into with group travel is that everyone hits their lull on a different day. I might be ready for a rest day on Tuesday, but you might not feel exhausted until Friday. Trying to line up those intervals can make everyone irritable, particularly if it stands to ruin two days of travel in a seven-day week.

When traveling solo, I can kick back, work on my projects at my leisure, and go out when I’m good and ready. That downtime, while alone, is a godsend for introverts like me.

Booking for one is easier than booking for two.

Yes, it’s more expensive sometimes if you’re traveling solo, but catching that last seat on a bus, that last bunk in a hostel, or snagging that last ticket on a tour is a thrill you only get to experience while traveling alone. Because group travel is so common, there are more opportunities than you might think to snipe a solo room or seat, because of how many people it exempts.

If you’re a pair or part of a larger crowd, your friends and travel buddies might get discount rates, but that little B&B you wanted to stay at? Yeah, you’ll have to pass on that unless you want to leave your friends out in the cold. (More appealing on some days than others.)

My responsibilities start and stop with me.

Let’s face it. Everyone has a high maintenance friend. You know the one: Maybe a bit of a drama queen, someone with dependency issues, or that one dude who can’t stand to be alone, much less navigate himself out of a paper bag.

I can’t stand traveling with people who can’t take care of themselves because I’m the responsible one. If someone gets into trouble, I’ll get them out. When it’s over, I’ll be pretty irate, but I’m not going to let someone get injured if they’re my responsibility.

The occasional mixup, I understand. You’re stuck because you left your wallet at the hostel, or your card declined and you need someone to cover. I’m far less understanding when I get a call from your cell, and it’s a stranger telling me that you’re drunk and playing in downtown traffic.

Choose your travel partners wisely, kids.

No sensitivity issues.

I’m an atheist. I’m openly LGBT positive. I try my damndest not to play to racist stereotypes, to be openly accepting, and to treat everyone fairly. I try to understand where someone is coming from and, when I find myself holding an opposing view to the people around me, I try to come up with an argument for that side of things to better grasp an alternative point of view.

But I’m not really sensitive to anything. I think most things should be on-topic, barring an immediately traumatic experience, and I’m less inclined to dance around those conversations or ignore those perspectives just because of a personal or social taboo.

I don’t drink, but I don’t mind if you go to a bar. Likewise, if I want to attend a service at a mosque or talk with some temple monks to better understand their way of life, don’t have a religious freakout because I’m going to a “heathen temple where all those terrorists come from.”

Be chill, you know?

Logistics causes nightmares.

I have a brain for timing and logistics. Something about lining up check-in/check-out times with departure/arrival times just tickles my fancy. If you travel in a group and you have a person who handles this for you, thank them. They are the reason your trips go so smoothly — unless they don’t. (If that’s the case, blame them.)

When I’m traveling alone, this is made easily by my own willpower and flexibility. I don’t care about catching an early morning flight. Hell, I’ll take a red eye if it’s cheap and it gets me where I’m going. I’ve got no problems sleeping at 30,000 feet. Same for buses and trains, hostels, motels, and off-the-beaten-path lodging.

When I participate in group travel, I still prefer to handle the logistics, but playing to everyone’s interest is a huge burden. Also, I don’t need my logistics planning to go up for committee review so that everyone gets to weigh in on how they would’ve done it differently.

Why are we having a town hall meeting about whether we should take the 5:30 a.m. or 10:30 a.m. flight when one is $100 cheaper than the other? Sleep on the plane, people. All aboard.

I’ll get sick of you. (Maybe I already am.)

No doubt, group travel can be fun. Seeing something with friends that you wouldn’t have otherwise seen builds on shared experience and is a great way to bring couples and friends closer together.

We both experienced Denali from a bush plane at 11,000 feet and walked along the train tracks in the Alaskan wilderness. I’ll probably remember that fondly and forever. But I’ll also remember that time that a rainstorm kept everyone indoors and going a little stir crazy led to a big fight.

Plus, I get kind of sick of hearing the same repeat topics, political views, and withering opinions on social injustice and democracy. (As I’m sure everyone does.) Space, in these situations, is a good thing. If you’re traveling in tight quarters or trapped in a confined environment for an extended period, that might be enough to drive someone over the edge.

Thank all the gods for headphones and mp3 players.

Goals, not leisure, drive me forward.

I’m a goal-oriented person. My daily roadmap involves setting tasks or objectives and moving in a way to accomplish them. When I do it well, it’s a thrill to strike those things off my list. When I drag my feet and act like a procrastinating heathen (because I am), I’ll berate myself for my lack of enthusiasm, then get to work.

But there’s always a goal. Catch a sunset here. Hike five miles. Climb this mountain. Explore this national park. Read for an hour. Call family and endure a thirty-minute conversation. You get the idea. The notion that I’m going to just laze around and maybe sometimes get around to doing something? That’s foreign to me. If I don’t have a plan, a structure, it’s hard for me to orient myself in a specific direction.

When traveling, setting goals is easier when I’m alone. Early in the day, I can decide what limits I want to test, what needs to be prioritized, and what I need to do to accomplish those goals. When I’m with a group, everything is less efficient, and less task-oriented. Some people want to lounge on the beach and while away the hours. Not me. That sounds like torture.

Discover Matador