Photo: Pedro Ribeiro Simões
LATELY, MANY ARTICLES AND STUDIES have encouraged people (and especially women) to travel alone. Science confirms that traveling by yourself is healthy. It creates self-confidence, and provides necessary moments of freedom and self-discovery. An Australian professor who interviewed a sample of 24 participants who traveled solo found that most afterwards considered it a very positive experience.
I’ve always agreed and cheered female solo travelers every time I met them. And as a traveling woman, I’ve particularly felt proud of my independence: I’ve moved to cities without knowing anyone, and traveled on small trips by myself. The small trips I have done alone have always felt easy, natural, and manageable.
Yet curiously, as a naturally independent person, I’ve found that traveling with partners can be equally — if not more — valuable. In fact, much of my personal growth in travel happened not through my solitary experiences but through my moments traveling with others.
By not traveling alone, here are 5 things I experienced:
1. I tried things I never would have other otherwise.
People often love traveling alone because it blocks out all the constant influences from others, but sometimes, that influence can be great.
I have my travel partners to thank for many of the interests I now proudly call my own. Travel partners introduced me to rock climbing, to skiing, to coffee culture, and to whiskey. They persuaded me to mountain bike in the snow toward a town instead of simply taking a car, showed me the fun in spending a day bakery hopping searching for a perfect pie, demonstrated the art of a New York afternoon spent perusing Chelsea art galleries and then strolling down the High Line. They shared with me great books, great movies, great artists, and great ways to spend a Saturday.
I would have probably never discovered, or even trusted, any of their activities or interests if it weren’t for the partners who showed me firsthand how amazing they could be. They introduced me to experiences I would have otherwise assumed were inaccessible, or just “not for me.” Through their passion, I became passionate, and realized how many things I never considered trying without the persuasion of someone else.
2. I had conversations with people I could have never had at home.
When I traveled through Southern Africa with a group of girls from Seattle, New York, and Minnesota, some of the best moments of the trip were spent sharing beers and sharing stories of how Mozambique activated each of us differently based on where we came from. We had known each other for months before the trip, yet we had never shared what we shared during our trip. Without Mozambique to trigger new thoughts and connections within us, we probably never would have delved so deeply into conversations about our personal lives.
3. I recognized how two people can experience the same place in fundamentally different ways…and learned that’s okay.
Some of my favorite days traveling with my best friend throughout South America were the days we’d break off alone, explore the city in ways of our own individual liking, and then meet later for dinner or a glass of wine and recap our reflections of how the city made each of us feel. They were never the same things. What Ecuador did to me, it didn’t always do to her. But that’s what made traveling with her so interesting: the ways our minds reacted so differently to the same exact stimuli.
Traveling with different kinds of people (or to visit different kinds of people) also gave me the chance to see each place through their own perspective, in addition to my own. I liked experiencing Italy through the eyes of a travel partner from Wisconsin. I liked seeing Chamonix through the company of the snowboarding couple who let me crash in their apartment. I liked visiting Philadelphia through the life of my college roommate who now worked as a radio journalist. Through these interactions, I had the opportunity to view my experience through an entirely different framework than my own.
4. I became more assertive of my own needs.
Traveling alone gives me a chance to stop, block the outside voices and finally think “What is it that I want to do?” It’s a rare opportunity to remember my own needs.
But traveling with others then taught me how to assert those needs. By traveling alone, I learned how to recognize them; by traveling with people, I learned how to communicate them.
I learned how to turn down a day of exploring when I really needed a day of reading the newspaper and reconnecting with the “real world.” I learned when to spend an afternoon in a cafe to journal while a travel partner exercised. When I traveled with a vegetarian, we learned when to share meals, and when to eat alone.
Though it didn’t always work out perfectly, traveling with people helped teach me how to avoid slipping into a pattern of always acquiescing others, and then resenting them later. It made me better at confronting my needs each day, voicing them, and finding a solution, without necessarily causing conflict.
5. I learned one of my key values in all relationships.
A woman I met while traveling in England told me “My ideal partner in life would walk next to me in life, but still be on his own separate path.” That’s what traveling with others often felt like, and what I hoped to have in any relationship afterwards.
Traveling with others showed me that as two people together, though compromises must be made, you should never have to sacrifice who you are to make things work. There’s a way to both support each other fully, and fulfill your individual needs. There’s a way to walk next to someone, yet still be on your own path.