When You Should Travel Solo, with Friends or on a Package Tour
Is it better to be a traveller than to be a tourist? I don’t buy that nonsense. There’s a place and there’s a personality for every kind of travel, whether it’s going solo, a trip with friends or a package tour. How do you figure out the right style of travel for your trip? I have a few pointers:
1. When should you travel solo?
If you’re the only person you know who wants to see a particular ruin or museum, why wait? Why let others “punish” you for being interested in something different?
You’re comfortable with being on your own
Businesses and the media sometimes make it seem like a crime to be alone. In real life, however, no one judges you for dining out alone. It’s all inside your head. Is the view any less beautiful without someone by your side? Silence is a wonderful thing when you realise that mindless chatter adds no value. Some people may not be used to this; for them, it’s better to get acquainted with the feeling before jumping into the deep end of solo travel.
Women may be more wary of who’s looking at them, and it’s a different and legitimate concern. I shan’t pretend to know more about this than the female solo travellers out there who’ve written about the subject.
You are not afraid to interact with strangers
Being on your own forces you to turn to others for help, whether they’re locals or fellow tourists. Not being able to speak more than a few phrases of the local language shouldn’t stop you. In relatively developed cities, you’ll be able to find someone who can speak some English.
The bus, metro and rail networks are well-developed and affordable
If you don’t need to take a taxi, use public transport! Travel with the locals and save some money.
2. When should you go with a friend or friends?
Everyone in the group gets along, wants to see the same things and is happy to let one person take the lead
Group dynamics are really important, so it helps when everyone has a similar motivation for the trip. Besides that, however, there are many other choices to make. If the less-experienced person(s) are happy to live with the decisions that a more-experienced person makes, that can speed things up.
Tackling a trail on your own
I would be reckless to encourage anyone to go tramping or climbing on their own. ‘Let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back’ isn’t enough; it’s much safer to have someone watch your back (while you watch theirs).
There are countries where a taxi is still the best way for a tourist to get around. The fare stays the same no matter how many people board it, so maximising all the seats is the most economical way, not to mention the greenest. The same goes if hostels are rare and renting a travel WiFi router is cheaper than getting multiple SIM cards – maximise them!
3. When should you go on a package tour?
Examples: Bhutan, Iran (for Americans, Britons and Canadians)
You have no time to organise and do the paperwork for visas
One of the reasons that people go on package tours is to save the hassle of organising a trip. The internet has made things a lot easier but busy people may still not have the time to research how to get from the airport to the city, where to stay and eat, et cetera. If you’re not fussy and a tour itinerary includes the things you want to do, it can be worthwhile.
Not everyone has a passport as powerful as Singapore‘s, so that means more trips to embassies for those who require visas prior to arrival. A company that can take care of the process saves you precious annual leave.
As far as possible, however, go with a responsible company that engages only in ethical activities and gives back to the community. It won’t necessarily change what snobs think of “tourists” but it may change the locals’ views.
When your travel companions are not so mobile
While I’m young and have no issues taking the metro while carrying two massive bags, I can’t guarantee that I’ll be this strong or able-bodied in 30 years’ time. If I’m not, it’d be nice to have transport to take me from door to door. Those who travel with their aged parents probably understand what I mean.
If the only way to visit the country is with a guide
Politics. It happens and it’s a pain when it strikes. The two cases I cited above are examples of this.
4. What about travelling with a resident?
The reasons for travelling with locals are a mix of (1) and (2). There’s never a bad time to see a place with someone who lives there, e.g. through Couchsurfing. Of course, make sure you’re both clear about what you want to get out of your stay. Don’t disappear the whole day and night if they want to get to know you better.
Remember that these are not hard rules
Don’t let this article stop you from visiting Myanmar on your own and if you can afford it. You may serendipitously meet travel companions in your accommodation or even at the airport. Don’t be afraid to break off from your group for a day, or sign up for a guided tour when you reach your destination. The best part about travel is having a unique story to share!