In Defense of Vacationing Alone
The first solo trip I ever took was a nerve-wracking experience. I had just broken up with a boyfriend and had a non-refundable plane ticket to a foreign country and figured, YOLO!, I'm going. (Except this was before the days of "YOLO," so whatever the 2006 equivalent of that was.)
Granted, the "foreign country" was Ireland, and there was really nothing for me to worry about outside of finding a bar in Dublin to celebrate St. Patrick's Day -- yes, the Irish celebrate it too -- but I was still terrified. Hell, until about two years before that, I had never ever flown by myself… or, really, much at all. Like, twice maybe. Ever.
Today I fly so much that I forget about flights ("What's this reminder email from Southwest? Oh, shit."), and I almost ALWAYS go alone.
Obviously, people travel for different reasons. I travel for different reasons. As a travel writer, I go on press trips and to conferences, events, and whatnot. I visit friends and family, and I travel back and forth between two home-base cities on opposite ends of the country. I also just go away by myself, to fun cool places. Basically, I travel a LOT.
And nothing beats vacationing alone.
"Egads!" says you. "Aren't you sad and lonely? Don’t you feel like a pathetic loser with no friends? Don't you hate yourself because no one likes you enough to go somewhere with you?” Thank you for your concern, oh unrepentant extroverts, but no, I’m quite fine thanks.
Don't get me wrong, I have had wonderful trips with friends, but I've also had some terrible ones: boyfriends already on my nerves four hours into a long weekend; the wrong mix of personalities on a group getaway; resenting people you otherwise adore largely because you only ever see them in short, infrequent bursts. Sartre famously mic-dropped the world with his profundity bomb, "Hell is other people," but what you have to remember is that those "other people" are often your dearest friends.
Maybe it's because I'm an only child and never learned to share, idk. Maybe it's because I just want to do what I want to do when I want to do it and reserve the right to change my mind at any moment without notice or apology, and that can be annoying to some -- or, ummm, most -- people. Or maybe it's just that I have very little patience for people, ANY people, even my favorite people, over time. Who knows. What I do know is that I’d rather hit the resort buffet when I’M ready to get off the beach, and not a moment sooner.
Now I'm not going to sit here and preach about how "traveling alone will change your life and make you a better person," because that's a crock. If you suck before your two-week trip to Thailand, then you'll still suck when you get back, except now you're going to start every sentence for the next seven years with, "When I was in Thailand…", in effect making you suck even harder. Traveling alone doesn’t make you better or smarter -- let's not romanticize it -- it just forces you to pull your head out of your own ass.
When you're by yourself, you meet everyone. And not because you're lonely and desperate for people to talk to; just because, you know, you're here, so you might as well make the most of it. You meet bartenders, hotel guests, friendly locals… okay, so mostly bartenders, but hey, you get in good with them and suddenly you're into all kinds of excitement -- going out on strangers' boats, rolling up to some random person's house party, bar-hopping until 4am with people whose names you can't remember but you are absolutely, 100% best of friends with now...
… OF COURSE SAFETY FIRST and exercise caution and stranger danger and all of that, OF COURSE. (Sidebar: it's amazing I'm not dead.)
Or maybe you don't feel like going out hard. Maybe you just want to wander around a museum all day and read every single placard in every single room, or go day drinking before buying yourself a pair of wooden clogs, all followed by a quiet dinner and an early bedtime so you can get up at 7am and going hiking the next day because, dammit, that's just what you want to do. Guess what? You can do ALL of it, and you can do it without someone else bitching or silently pouting.
And even better, should find yourself getting cranky and stressed (‘cause finding the right pair of clogs is never easy), it doesn't turn into a fight that will take the better part of the rest of the day to resolve. You just have your moment of internal tantruming, and then continue trying on wooden shoes. It's beautiful, really.
Look, there’s a "social stigma" with the idea of traveling and vacationing alone. I get it. I mean, most people struggle to do even the simplest of things by themselves, like dining out or going to a movie, let alone spend an entire week playing shuffleboard on the promenade deck with nobody to talk to except your newly retired friends from Sheboygan.
But here’s the deal, when it comes down to it: NO ONE FUCKING CARES. It's all in your head. You know what they do care about, though? Pretending to be having fun on a beach vacation with friends who are grating on their every last nerve but they can't show it because that's admitting defeat so instead they drink more and question all of the life decisions they’ve made to this point. Or something like that.
Traveling solo, on the other hand, is about living in the moment of your own self-entertainment. So really the question is not, "Why would you travel alone?" but, instead, why wouldn't you?
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Nicole Rupersburg is not a misanthrope, she just hates people. Follow her often-solo adventures on Instagram at @eatsdrinksandleaves.