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The Pros and Cons of Solo Versus Couple Travelling

Posted on 29th November 2017

During my blog series on taking my proofreading and editing service on the road, one question that has come up in different forms is whether I would be happy to do this as a single person.

I have been with Pete for over 14 years so for me to envisage what travelling without him would be like is pretty tricky – I did live in Germany for a year as part of my degree and taught English in Poland one summer but since graduating, I've been with Pete and more or less all my travel has been done as part of a couple.

Because of this, I thought I'd bring in a guest perspective, that of Jo Amos. Jo's a travel writer who specialises in travel copywriting, as well as offering proofreading and copy-editing services. As a solo female traveller in a similar field, I thought it would be a decent comparison. We're both Liverpool fans too, for our sins, though not sure why that's relevant.

Anyway, this is going to be a two-way chat but I hope it's clear for you to follow.

What benefits do you see to travelling solo?

Jo: I think the biggest benefit for me is total freedom over where I want to go and what I want to do. Travelling with others means you need to make compromises and you sometimes end up doing stuff that really doesn't interest you. Of course, compromise isn't always a bad thing – it's an essential part of life and you can end up enjoying an experience that never would've crossed your mind before. But I relish the freedom and flexibility to do what I want, when I want.

Travelling solo has taught me a lot about myself, and my strengths and weaknesses. The three years I've been on the road have been a journey of self-discovery for me. I've pushed myself out of my comfort zone and done some really stupid bloody things, but damn have I learned some lessons! Personal development is a process we work on for our entire lives, and I'm definitely still a work in progress. But I've become a stronger, more confident person, and I've enhanced my decision-making and problem-solving skills. I'm also learning to trust my instincts and intuition, and follow my heart.

Kate: I think this is a really good point, Jo, and certainly one of the potential downsides to travelling as part of a couple. It certainly helps that Pete and I like (and love) each other, have similar hobbies/interests and compromise is easy, but I couldn't imagine living this lifestyle if the relationship wasn't like this. As I've already joked about in a different blog post, I am a little fed up with ethnographic museums, but then Pete's been dragged around book and kitchen shops in random parts of the world, all while I smell the items and look and stroke longingly, even though I can't even buy anything (where would the books or pans go?!).

Jo: I also think you make more of an effort to meet people when you travel alone too. When you travel with other people, you tend not to wander far from your tribe. But when you're alone you naturally find more opportunities to connect with other travellers as well as locals, which can lead to a deeper connection with a place.

Kate: I think that not only might a solo traveller be more enthusiastic/proactive about meeting other people, but also other people might be less threatened/scared of approaching a solo traveller. Pete and I are sociable creatures and sometimes do specifically head to bars or places where we think we're likely to meet other people willing to meet new people, but sometimes it doesn't work out. When it doesn't, at least we then have each other to chat to, rather than worrying we look like Billy no mates and running back to the safety of our hotel.

One issue with travelling as part of a couple that perhaps hasn't naturally cropped up as a response to your comments is the issue of time management with two people juggling work. It might be that we both aim for a certain week off, not necessarily with a traditional 'holiday' booked but hoping to explore the local area or just relax a bit more, but then one of us gets contacted by a regular client and doesn't want to let the customer down. We do have a lot of time off together and if a holiday is booked, we wouldn't take on the work, but if we were just planning on time off where we're staying, that might have to be sacrificed. We can't complain as it's a sign that our editing and proofreading services are in demand, but it is an extra consideration when making plans and scheduling things.

What drawbacks do you see to travelling solo?

Jo: One of the biggest drawbacks for me is cost. In some ways, I could've given this as an answer to your first question. Because travelling solo means you have complete control over your budget and you don't end up splurging on a meal or some other experience just because your travelling partner wants to. But in terms of accommodation, travelling solo can be a bummer! I prefer to rent my own flat because I'm working and I like home comforts when I'm travelling long term. But of course renting a one-bed flat as a couple means you can split the cost.

Kate: I think as a rough estimate, travelling solo costs 70% of what it costs for a couple (assuming they sleep in the same room), so this does of course add up. Tying in with the meeting people pro, I do wonder though whether renting a room in a house as a single person is easier than for a couple, and usually cheaper (though perhaps not 50% cheaper). We've done the private room in a house option via Airbnb once and though it was great, I did feel like we were imposing. I don't know if I would feel like less of an imposition if there was just one of us though. As a couple, Pete and I budget 50/50 and see the money as pooled, so we don't personally tend to have the issue with feeling like one half wants to splurge when the other doesn't. However, I can see that might be more of an issue if it's two friends travelling, especially if the incomes/budgets are not the same.

Jo: There is a loneliness factor sometimes. I've very comfortable travelling on my own, I'm very happy with my own company, and I'm confident going out and meeting people. But sometimes I long for a bottle of wine and chat with somebody who knows me really well. Skype and FaceTime are lifesavers, but they're a poor substitute for spending quality time with your friends and family. Although on the plus side, it makes your relationships extra special when you do meet up.

Kate: I think this is probably the same issue whether one is travelling or not, and I can certainly see why travelling solo might get lonely. I do think that certain parts of the world are easier for people to meet other travellers (South-East Asia springs to mind), but it's not always easy to meet someone on the same wavelength or who you really connect with. I could get mean and say I sometimes wish I could have some solo time, but Pete and I do have our own hobbies and things to do and sometimes I do just ask for space or head off on my own, but it's nice that it's an option, rather than what I have to do.

Jo: The safety factor can be an issue. You're always watching your back – I never drink a lot when I go out on my own as I'm super sensitive about walking home alone if I'm not fully alert. And there are silly little things, like it can be more difficult working in cafés, as you have to pack up your computer and personal stuff every time you want the loo! First world problems, I know.

Kate: I hadn't even thought of the loo dilemma! That's it – I could never travel solo ;-) I will also add here that Pete and I have different phobias so that helps too: Pete deals with spiders and general creepy-crawlies but I deal with all flying insects. Also, being in a pair means you can have a bad day or just need a day off, especially if in a country where neither of you speaks the language and just ordering food or using a weird ticket-buying service can be draining.

How do you think travelling solo has affected your choice in where to go and how long you spend there?

Jo: It definitely can make a difference. In my first year, it meant I always booked a minimum of a month's stay in places, as I mainly stayed in Airbnb accommodation and many people offer good monthly discounts. However, I soon discovered I prefer to stay in places for 3 to 6 months in order to explore properly and keep up with my client work and travel blog (which has been a little unloved at times), so that's not so much of an issue now. I've definitely become an advocate for slow travel.

But it can affect where I go. I've mostly stayed in Europe these three years. I love Europe, and there's so much to see and do that it will take me years to see it all properly. Plus, there's also a feeling of wanting to travel here while we still have the freedom to do it permanently – something we're in danger of losing. But I also feel safer here.

That doesn't mean I won't go further afield on my own. Three years ago I was nervous about doing this – in some ways I was waiting to meet somebody who wanted to travel with me. Then I realised I couldn't put my life on hold, so I took a deep breath and jumped. And I don't regret it for a second.

Central and South America are high on my travel wish list – I'm so jealous of you right now! But I am more nervous about travelling there alone. Right now I'm working on building my business – changing to focus on travel is a fairly recent thing and I'm building up a new client list. Once my finances are more secure, then I'll probably take another deep breath and leap again...

Kate: Really interesting answers, Jo, thanks. It makes me realise I'm lucky to be travelling with Pete, though we still stay streetwise and try to avoid the dodgy parts of towns. Though we've not done this yet, having two of us means we could arrive somewhere without a booking and either stay one or two nights in a hotel and then search for somewhere longer term, and if one of us has to work while the other searches, that would be fine. Alternatively, if we've just arrived in a transport hub, one of us could sit with luggage and grab a drink while the other goes off to find somewhere suitable, without having to lug luggage and looking like a prime target for hawkers (or worse).

I suppose the question of solo versus couple travel is probably not really an option: either you're in a relationship (be it romantic or with a friend who wants to travel) or you're solo, but if you want this travelling and working lifestyle to work, I think you'll find a way.

Jo Amos, Wordsmith, at the Berlin Wall

Jo runs her travel copywriting business, The Wandering Wordsmith, while roaming the world and living a location independent lifestyle. Follow her travel adventures on her blog, The Road to Wanderland, or connect with her on Twitter and Instagram.