Getting Started: Traveling with a Partner vs. Traveling Alone

[I have made a post similar to this already, but this is the more ‘polished’ version of it. Before this prospective book is self-published, I will probably edit this section into two chapters for ease of reading.]

For the last 4-5 years, my partner and I have been traveling together. Before this, I spent a few years traveling solo. Because of my experience of traveling both with and without a partner, I thought this chapter could be important to anyone else who didn’t know if they wanted to go with someone or go alone.

It’s my own personal philosophy that everyone should take at least one trip by themselves. There are few easier ways to see your flaws so clearly than traveling alone. On my solo trips, I learned mountains of information about what my limits are, what my fears are, and how I respond to different problems under different stresses.

With a partner, you can mitigate some of these problems by splitting the load. But with one person, it’s on you. Waking up at 3am, catching a 5am flight, not arriving until the same time the next day, trying to find your hotel on 3 hours of airplane sleep. It’s difficult, but once you do it, you’ll think, ‘Now I can do anything.’

By and large, most people tend to travel alone, and pick up partners along the way if they happen to be going to the same place. 

But whether or not you’ve been traveling before, you have probably heard someone run down the list of why traveling alone is great. Amazing. So much better than bringing anyone. 

• Meet more people: This one has some merit to it. I’ve heard that people are more likely to approach you when you’re by yourself. However, I personally find it to be the opposite. I find that I’m trusted more while traveling with a partner (whether it’s because she’s a woman, or there are two of us, I don’t know). However, when I traveled alone, I was more outgoing, intent on meeting people and making the most of the experience. With Darcy, I find myself less outgoing, and less intent on making new friends, and not seeing it as important as it was when I traveled alone.

• Go where you want, when you want: Sure, this one is true. But we have never run into the problem of wanting to go to two different places at the same time.

• Save money: In my experience, this is categorically untrue. More on that below.

• Have a more unique experience: Eh. How can any experience be more unique? 

Although I think everyone should take at least one trip alone, I do think that traveling solo is lonely. If you’re an outgoing person who is used to easily making friends, you might find that’s not the case in Europe. If you’re in a country where you share a language, and more importantly, common ground, it’s easy to make friends. You can reference movies, tv shows, music, memes, jokes, politics, books, and pretty much anything else. But other countries usually don’t share all of those references with Americans. We have different media, different entertainment, and different politics. Because of that, it can difficult to find common ground with any strangers, Europeans alike. Additionally, even if you find someone who speaks a language you know, you will have to use far fewer idioms (if you’re speaking in your native language) or learn more idioms (if you’re speaking in their native language).

I’ve known a handful of people who end up coming home after a few weeks, telling me they just couldn’t handle it. And this is okay. Some people are incredibly well adjusted to traveling alone because they are okay being alone. They’re the ones who end up quitting their job and traveling solo full time, hopping from place to place. This isn’t everyone. If you find yourself floundering on your first solo trip, don’t panic. You aren’t alone. You can always go home.

And when you set out again, here are some reasons you might want to go with someone. 

• Arguments: Strange thing to start with, I know. But we had more arguments in that first month of traveling than a year and a half of living together back home. When you’re traveling with someone, and both stretched to your limits, fights and arguments happen easily, and they happen fast. But you learn. Not just about the other person, but about yourself. What sets you off. Behavior you have that went unnoticed by you. How you act when you’re tired, or hungry, or are faced with the prospect of having to sleep outside. And you work through it. I will say, after that first month, the arguments became rare and easier to manage because we had already been through so much together.

• Cheaper: Traveling with a partner is cheaper. Not half as cheap as by yourself, but pretty close. A hotel room for $70 a night is now the cheaper alternative to a $50 a night hostel bed. Even eating. When traveling alone, I always bought bread and cheese as a staple. And by day two, the bread would be hard and the cheese sweaty. But when there are two of us, we buy food more often, and therefore it’s fresher. Flights are sometimes cheaper when you purchase two at a time, instead of one. Rental cars are far cheaper split between two people. Of course, if you are going to rent a place privately, or through AirBnB, having two people is far cheaper. I used to spend nearly $750 a month while traveling. Now I average around $450 which breaks down to about $15 a day. So, not quite half, but pretty close!

• Security: With two people, once person can always be on watch. Whether it be taking turns sleeping on a long train, or using the bathroom in a dodgy bar, or even at airports when you want to walk around, you’ll always have someone to watch over your bags, and vice versa.

• Stress: Surprisingly, it’s far less stressful to travel with a partner. Not only are there two pairs of eyes looking over every reservation and ticket, there are now two people looking for those reservations and tickets. When traveling alone, it’s easy to make mistakes and not catch them until too late. I can’t count the number of times I boarded the wrong train, or bought a ticket for the wrong date, or went to the ‘Hotel Sacre Coeur’ and not ‘Hotel de Sacre Coeur.’ Traveling with someone else can reduce the stress simply by having the person there, and knowing the chance for mistake can be mitigated by them.

• Sharing the experience: This is probably the biggest reason to travel with someone, even for a short time. I can’t remember all the amazing experiences I had while traveling alone, primarily because there was no one else there to experience them with me. I found that when I returned home the first time from traveling, at the ripe old age of 18, most people didn’t care, or didn’t understand what I experienced. And that’s what I realize every time I go back to where I used to live. The only people who understand the rush of seeing the spice markets of some North African medina for the first time are the people who have been there. The only people who understand the stillness you feel when seeing a sunset over a foreign ocean, are the ones who felt that same stillness. It’s not necessarily gatekeeping, saying if you haven’t traveled, then you wouldn’t know. But if you haven’t traveled, it’s difficult to listen to someone who has talked about their travels. And, subsequently, the person who traveled (you, in this case) feels disillusioned by the whole thing. When you travel with someone, you can share all experiences with them.

I won’t say one way is better than another, flat out. However, I have found that I enjoy traveling far more with a partner than I do by myself. Now, I can stop and have a coffee or a drink in a dingy Parisian bar, and I know there was someone there to enjoy it with me.

So if you can, take someone. Don’t just go alone. 

But if you’re the type of person who appreciates being by yourself, then dive in headfirst!

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