“I don’t want to have to negotiate the finer ways I want to explore a destination.” — Cynthia Drescher, Women Who Travel, Episode 1.
Shortly after revisiting older episodes of the Condé Nast podcast, I scrolled past an Instagram post calling for all “REAL” travelers passionate about “luxury traveling and inclusive stays.” I was bothered by the language used to describe who a real traveler is and the idea of luxury travel. That post was why I’m not fond of pop travel culture and why the words of Cynthia Drescher reassured my preference for solo travel.
That flawed, singular concept of a real traveler reinforces the idea that traveling the world is an exclusive practice. It involves walling each other up like some Poe-ish nightmare in an expensive resort avoiding authentic connections to the local people and land. Then, there’s another idea that traveling requires you to have “been there and done that” to possess any stories of value to share.
I’ve met many travelers who can only share superficial elements of their journey. They seek destinations through social media virality to spark interest in visiting someplace. While everyone is entitled to travel on their terms, this approach widens the gap between those who dream of seeing a destination and the reality of what else is affordable and just as worthy of experiencing.
And many times, an extraordinary journey begins at home. I am always delighted when I drive by or search for locations I’m curious about. I have no expectations and withhold my doubts. The difference between a traveler and an explorer is that expectations bind the former, not the latter. The best part of being a local or international explorer is feeling empowered to define an experience on one’s terms and not according to another’s interpretation of a travel-worthy adventure.
Another characteristic of pop travel culture is the idea that the best travel is when traveling with others. This pervasive mentality creates a fear that being alone suggests we are lonely.
Solitary travel is not a curse but a blessing of an often undervalued opportunity for introspection.
Depending on the location and safety precautions taken, solo travel can bring you peace and allow you to show up as yourself without explanation. I am currently planning four different trips, two of which are a group (one with friends and another with family) and the other two with one other person (both individuals are family). Already, I am finding it challenging to balance my travel needs and desires with those of others.
First, I have dietary restrictions and wellness practices I follow to ensure that, as a traveler with an invisible illness, I am healthy during my journey. When others ignore or sideline these needs in group plans, my frequent reminders appear as excessive accommodations. Mostly, it makes me uncomfortable that I must explain why those accommodations are vital for me to enjoy my trip.
Second, being around the same people throughout the entire duration of our trip is strange. We’re waking up together, waiting in the bathroom line together, eating together, leaving together, going out on excursions together, returning together, dining together, and doing it all over again. For this reason, I am allergic to the over-planners with crammed itineraries of social media-inspired excursions, forcing us to remain tethered to one another without the magic of exploration, spontaneity, or even a buffer for when shit happens.
Alone time and slow travel are healthy requests to make while group traveling. As a solo traveler, I can roam and process my adventure more freely and at my own pace. Because I’m curious about the things I have yet to see or know, I’ve found that if you’re planning for the unknown, go alone; if you’re planning for the expected, go together.
Third, when traveling with others, I need more time to replenish myself in ways most suitable to me before, in between, and after travels. For an upcoming trip, I’m preparing to balance my mental wellness while tending to that of a relative whose recent life events were traumatic. As a result, I’m already concerned about her well-being and enjoyment, and it’s stressful. Prioritizing psychological and physical well-being is always tricky when planning trips with anyone and under any circumstances.
“REAL” travel can sometimes be messy, imperfect, not always glamorous, nor best had in groups. Sometimes, sharing stressful travel moments with others can bring comfort. Other times, it can reveal frustrating idiosyncrasies in those accompanying that may impact your trip or your relationship with them. Solo travel, and to the unpopular parts of this vast world, are too a luxury; they’re enlightening opportunities to change the lens of how you see yourself now to gain a different view of who you become elsewhere.