The pros and cons of travelling solo

Journeying alone offers a sense of freedom and an opportunity for introspection – but are shared experiences sweeter?

The writer on a horse-riding safari in Kenya. Photo: Selina Denman
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From the souqs of Sanaa to the deserted beaches of Mozambique, I have been lucky enough to travel to some truly incredible places.

After 20 years as a journalist, predominantly covering the worlds of travel and luxury, I still have plenty of pinch-me moments, where I can’t really believe it’s my job to explore far-flung corners of the Earth.

Much of this travelling has been done solo, and I have always loved the freedom that comes from going on my own adventures. Being able to set my own schedule, unencumbered by the needs, wants, likes, dislikes and foibles of others, has been liberating.

Unfettered by the sometimes blinkered holidaying styles of others, I’ve garnered a mixed bag of experiences ― some high-end, some low-end, and everything in between. There have been horse-riding safaris in Kenya, wellness breaks in Thailand, beach holidays in Greece, trips to the opera in New York and hikes in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains.

Solo travel can be a contentious topic. I have plenty of friends who would never dream of doing such a thing. But for me, it means I have the time and space to take everything in, at my own pace. If I want to while away a whole afternoon in a curbside cafe in Baku, or make my seventh trip to the Colosseum in Rome, or explore a vintage book shop in LA, I don’t have to worry about anyone else’s boredom levels. I also don’t have to stop and take pictures of them every five minutes, so they can show all of Instagram what a wonderful time they are having.

I am comfortable with my own company and not afraid of a little quiet and introspection. And as long as I have a trusty book to hand ― and I always have a trusty book to hand ― I’m golden.

As a woman travelling alone, I can’t deny there have been moments where I have felt unsafe. A missed late-night flight connection in Rome resulted in an impromptu stay in a grimy airport hotel that felt all wrong ― particularly when I realised there wasn’t a single person on the planet who knew where I was. Wandering through dimly lit alleyways after dark in Marrakesh’s medina, trailed by a gang of cat-calling teenage boys, also felt like a bad move. And the time when I got caught in flash floods on a Kenyan safari and ended up seeking refuge in a nearby Masai village also felt ill-advised ― until we broke through the language barrier and I realised I had stumbled across the most hospitable people on the planet.

And often, although I am travelling solo, I am not really alone. Unexpected connections occur all the time. On a solo safari at Kenya’s ol Donyo Lodge, I spent hours chatting to my guide, Jackson, learning as much about his life experiences as I did the wildlife around me. On a wellness retreat in the Philippines, an unexpected friendship was forged as myself and a fellow guest lamented our severely restricted calorie intake. Over dinner in Lamu, the formidable female owner of the hotel I was staying in regaled me with her life story, which included, among other unexpected twists, a relationship with a Somali pirate.

And so, no one was more surprised than me when, on a recent trip to Thailand’s Golden Triangle, as I sat watching the sun go down over the mighty Mekong river, I found myself wishing someone was there with me to share the moment. It occurred to me that after 20 years of largely holidaying on my own, I may actually be a bit bored of my own company. Turns out, I’ve read plenty of books and done a lifetime’s worth of introspection. Perhaps Charlotte Bronte had a point: “Happiness quite unshared can scarcely be called happiness; it has no taste.”

Travel companions might slow you down. There might be disagreements about where to stop for lunch. They might not want to go to a book shop and they might hate the opera. They might insist on stopping every 100 metres to take a selfie … but they might also offer a different perspective on new experiences.

Perhaps it’s time to recognise that sometimes, sharing an experience does actually make it better. Maybe there’s a time, place and person for both.

Updated: February 03, 2023, 6:02 PM