Are flashpackers solo creatures, or do they travel in packs?

By November 17, 2010 Featured, How To: 14 Comments

Do I go it alone?  With a friend?  As part of a group? This is a question of primary importance for your trip and will determine not only how your trip is structured, but much of your experiences along the way.  Traveling solo results in a vastly different trip than one where you’re traveling with a friend or with a group of people, such as an organized tour.  Here are a list of pros and cons to help you make that decision.

In front of the 9 Dragon Wall at the Forbidden City in Beijing.

In front of the 9 Dragon Wall at the Forbidden City in Beijing.

Solo Travel

When you travel alone, you are completely free to do what you want.  You’re the one making the decisions and determining your itinerary.  While this may be more intimidating for some than working on these decisions with a partner, this is what helps build your self-confidence.  You learn more about yourself by overcoming the hurdles that are natural on the road and getting into situations where you’re the one responsible for solving problems.

Just like any other social situation, a person alone is more easily approached than someone who’s part of a group.  It will be easier to start a conversation with a fellow traveler or be approached by curious locals interested in meeting foreigners.  When you’re part of a group, it is much easier to pay attention to the group instead of your surroundings, and much more intimidating for a local to approach.

A couple of travelers display their claws in front of the 9 Dragon Wall.

The wall awakens their inner dragon.

Without anyone there to distract you, you’ll have more time to spend writing in a journal, reading a book, working on your photography or appreciating the culture you’ve chosen to explore.  Self-contemplation is one of the enormous benefits of travel that can easily be lost when traveling with others.

Traveling alone doesn’t have to mean you’re always solo.  Most people traveling by themselves tend to join groups along the way for sightseeing, food eating, or beer drinking.  You might sign up for a group tour for a part of your trip, meet a group at the hostel, or go out for a drink with your couchsurfing host.  An added benefit to traveling solo is that you’re in a position to meet other single travelers, and a travel romance is nothing to shake a stick at.

Travel With Others

Travel with a partner is not any better or worse than traveling solo, it’s just different. If this is your first trip, you’ll be heavily tempted to travel with someone else.  There are two main reasons for this.  First, travel to a new country can be intimidating and bringing a friend along so you can support each other through many new situations and encounters can be beneficial.  Second, many people want to share their travel experiences with someone else, and who better than a good friend?  There are also more practical benefits for traveling with a friend(s).

Flashpackers and backpackers stand in front of the Giant Buddha in Leshan, China.

A mixed group of backpackers and flashpackers that met at the hostel and decided to travel together.

Travel is usually cheaper when done with a partner.  Double rooms and taxis are where you’ll see the majority of this savings.  Safety can also be a major concern.  Having someone to watch your back and deal with emergency medical issues is a huge advantage to traveling with others.

There are, however, additional concerns to keep in mind when traveling with others.  Constant, long-term travel can damage any relationship.  New environments, disagreements and months of twenty-four hour contact can cause all sorts of problems.  You’ll be compromising on where you want to go and what you want to do.  Good luck to both of you if one of you manages to find romance.

Which direction to take?

Your goals, destination, personality and experience will help dictate what would be best for you.  I highly recommend solo travel, even if it means splitting from your travel partner for a few weeks here and there on a longer trip.  The exceptional rewards of traveling alone are plentiful and difficult to obtain any other way.  How do you prefer to travel?

  • http://twitter.com/lilian_sg Lilian Loke

    Definitely with others…but I like small groups. too many people makes it hard to plan the trip…a small group of 4 is fine!

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, that’s about the right size. More than that and it isn’t just hard to plan the trip, it can also become a drain on the group if people aren’t clear on what the trip is about and what they’re in for. Everyone travels differently and has different expectations and interests. The group that isn’t willing to split up to explore those interests could be in for trouble.

  • Mari

    I’ve always travelled alone. It was really not that I chooce to travel alone, it was more a choice between travelling alone or not travelling at all, which to me is not a choice ;) I do agree with the pros that you wrote but I’d also add the con of sometimes feeling alone when there is no one around that truly understands how you feel about or experience something. Sharing something beautiful for example with someone you love and who knows you, makes it so much more beautiful than if you’re there by yourself. On the other side, travelling alone is better than travelling with someone just because you did not want to travel alone.

    • Anonymous

      Mari, you’re totally right. The odds of finding even one more person willing to travel with another over long periods through many countries is almost impossible. While I never expected any of my friends or family back home to do the whole trip with me, I’m still trying to get some of them to come out for small sections, and have had minor success.

      I do sometimes regret I’m not able to share some of my experiences with good friends, and that there’s no real way to describe or share something with someone who isn’t there, but that’s the way travel works. Some of those experiences are for you, and you alone.

      One area when traveling alone really sucks, though, is during illness or injury. Not having someone around to talk to or help take care of you can really be a downer.

      -T

  • http://www.glampacker.com Natasha

    I love traveling alone but also enjoy the company of a close friend. A good travel partner is one who is flexible and can compromise on what you both want to do/see/eat. It becomes a lot like teamwork! And depending on how long you travel for, is a real test of any friendship!

    • Anonymous

      I agree with you 100%. I’ve managed to get only a couple close friends to join me on trips, including this one. It’s great when they’re there and everything is working well. I do know, however, that there are certain people I just wouldn’t be able to travel with due to expectation and flexibility issues :P

      -T

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/benr1978/ Ben

    I love to travel on my own, I have done Rome, Isle of Skye, and part of Oman (even though I went to see a mate out there, he was working so had to do things on my own).
    When travelling on my own I can go where I want when I want.
    With Rome, I did a fair amount of planning before I went so I knew what I was going to do each day, this allowed me to go and do rather than spending part of each day thinking what to do – I also made friends in the hostel I stayed in and went drinking / eating with them.
    With Skye I was able to drive around and simply see a turning and take it with no one saying “I dont want …”
    Oman was slightly different as my mate told me the best places to go so I took his advise.
    I am hoping to travel a lot more over the coming years on my own.
    photos of some of my trips can be found here http://bit.ly/cHlFD4

    • Anonymous

      In my opinion, that’s the #1 reason for solo travel – ultimate control and being able to do what you want. Same reason I steer away from tour groups. I’d prefer to go my own way.

      That being said, I do like mixing it up with old friends from home, new hostel friends or the odd small tour.

      -T

  • Sarah_toogood22

    The thing that I miss about travelling solo is not having someone on tap at home to reminisce about the trip with. Whilst it is easier to stay in contact with your travel buddies nowadays, it’s not quite the same as turning to someone and saying “this reminds me of…” or “do you remember when…”.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, I have a buddy back in San Diego who spent 3 months with me in Europe a while back. I miss being able to do that as well, but that just means motivating friends to come join you for portions of your longer trip. Best of both worlds?

      -T

  • http://twitter.com/AnjaniLadki Saadia S. Shamsie

    After years of traveling with different friends and family, not only have I weeded out the people I can and cannot travel with (thank god) but I have also concluded that nothing, absolutely nothing, beats solo travel. I couldn’t have described it better than you did in your post. The sheer learning experience, not just of the destination being visited but of oneself is unparalleled and could not be obtained any other way. Having said that, there is a time and place for group travels and like you said, its not so much that one is better than the other, but that its different.
    I however do not recommend long trips with groups unless there are portions where one can split up, it DOES take a toll on that relationship. There is something as too much time together.
    I think everyone should take just one solo trip in their lifetime, even if its not their thing. Until you do it, you don’t know what you’re missing out on.

    • Anonymous

      Well put. Thanks for the great comment!

      -T

  • Albert

    Well written and balanced article, Travis. You show the upside and downsides of both solo and group travel. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to do some of both. I enjoyed the freedom of the solo journey and the social aspects of my GAP group.

    “Traveling alone doesn’t have to mean you’re always solo. Most people traveling by themselves tend to join groups along the way for sightseeing, food eating, or beer drinking.“ So true. I met you in Chinatown, Bangkok through semi-organized Lub-D hostel Chinatown excursion.

    • Albert

      …and because of it, I have made another friend that takes me around the World through his awesome photo essays!!