It’s not all exciting and can sometimes even be boring. Waiting for travel connections, killing an extra day or any number of other travel related time consuming scenarios can be taxing. Eating at restaurants alone can be pretty boring too. I’ve tried reading a book or doing something on my mobile phone, but those just seem desperate to me. I prefer to just look around. Restaurants can be interesting but for the most part, eating alone is not a fun part of travel.
It can also be lonely. Especially in countries where I don’t speak the language. I’ve become a master as listening to people’s conversations around me looking for English and can generally recognize my native tongue from at least 50 paces. I’ve been desperate to speak to someone before. There are many times when I wish a friend had joined me. Fortunately these days with the Internet I can text friends and family and feel a little connection. Often that’s all I need, but other times it’s not enough. So the obvious question is, “Why do you do it? Why do you travel alone?”
There are two very good reasons that make the loneliness and challenges of traveling alone completely worth it. The most important reason is I meet way more people when I’m traveling alone. Think about it. Who would you rather walk up to talk to, someone sitting alone looking like they could use a chat or two or more people sitting together talking and laughing and having a good time? I’d rather talk to the solo traveler and that’s what happens to me. Some of the best friendships I’ve started with people while traveling were people I met when I was traveling solo.
The second reason is just pure reality. If I waited for a friend to join me on every trip, I would never go on trips. Or certainly I’d go on far fewer trips. And I get it, not everyone can travel as much as I do. I’m not criticizing my friends in any way. I’m just stating a fact. Even if half of my friends could take a trip with me in any given year, that would still be less trips than I’d want to take. I learned a long time ago that if I wanted to take a trip, I might have to do it on my own. Friends are always welcome, but I’m going regardless.
Looking back at some solo travel tips, I don’t think many of the most amazing travel experiences I’ve had would have happened if I had been traveling with anyone else. In Lima Peru I went to an odd German bierhalle, complete with leiderhosen on 4 foot 5 inch Peruvians, liters of beer and a polka band. After I’d discretely sat down at a table in the back of the establishment, the owner of the restaurant hurried out with a big smile and insisted that I move to a table up front. Apparently he wanted the 6-foot, blond-haired blue-eyed German looking guy in full view. After a beer or two in full view a big table of young Peruvian professionals insisted I join them. Turned out they were all lawyers working for the government and out for an extended happy hour. I ended up drinking with them for hours that night at the German place and later yet at a nightclub arriving back at my hotel early in the morning with barely enough time to sleep an hour, shower and get to the airport for my flight to Cusco. That was an amazing night and I don’t think it would have happened if I hadn’t been traveling alone.
So don’t get me wrong, I’m mostly having a good time. Sitting on a beach in Rangiroa, French Polynesia drinking an ice cold beer, listening to some tunes and watching the sun shimmer off the impossibly blue turquoise waters is good. I’m enjoying myself even when I’m alone. But it’s usually a little better with someone else. Maybe I should go talk to that girl over there in the bikini.
I stumbled on your post while figuring out an itinerary for French Polynesia (wondering if I would get bored doing ~5 nights in Nuku Hiva). I’m pretty much in the same boat as you when it comes to travel. I’ve learned that people don’t take as many trips as me or tend to be less adventurous. So my travel has tended to be solo and overall it’s very polarizing. There are moments that have stuck with me for years that I know I wouldn’t have experienced if I was traveling with someone. Then there are moments where I was so exhausted, bored, or lonely that I wish there was someone else around. The hardest part is travel has become a big part of my life. My experiences have sort of isolated me in my everyday life. A lot of people can’t relate unless they travel a lot themselves. I’ve found it makes it a bit harder to connect especially when I was younger and doing much bigger or more frequent trips.
Over the years I’ve tried to incorporate my friends and family in my travels. Those experiences have been polarizing in their own way. Taking my elderly parents for their first visit to Hawaii and seeing my stepmother so amazed at snorkeling that she wanted to do it every day we were there. It still makes me smile seeing how happy they were but the trip itself was a bit stressful and exhausting for me. That said after a few really bad trips traveling with another person I’m going back to solo travels for a bit.
The more I’ve travel the more I’ve realize there are destinations that are great with people, great with certain people, and ones that might be better solo. It’s not always easier to figure that out.
Any recommendations for French Polynesia? I spent two weeks in Nov 2019 split between Fakarava (diving) and Bora Bora (boring). I enjoyed the remotness of Fakrava but after 5 nights I was getting a bit lonely and bored. I’ll be (hopefully) spending 3 weeks in Aug/Sept. Thinking some mix of Nuku Hiva (something different and unique), Raiatea/Tahaa, Huahine, Maupiti, Rangiroa (diving), and Moorea.
Thanks for your comment. I’m glad I went to Nuku Hiva and the Marquesas. The people are very nice, but definitely different than Tahitians. The language is different too (Marquesian and not Tahitian). But overall I didn’t care for Nuka Hiva. It was really brown and dry around the airport and closer to the water on the other side of the island (their rainy season is in July and August I believe). Also, all of the waterfalls were dry. That was a bummer after hiking way back into a jungle valley to see them.
There aren’t lagoons so you don’t get the spectacular turquoise waters like the other island chains further south and it lacks that tropical paradise feeling. For swimming, the water looks muddy near shore due to the volcanic soil but since it’s water right from the pacific, it’s cool and refreshing compared to the sometimes bathwater warm lagoons in the other chains. It’s also extremely empty right now during COVID. There is hardly anything open and no people around. Feels pretty strange. All that said, I think you could definitely keep yourself occupied for 5 days with tours. I really enjoyed horseback riding up in the caldera on top and checking out the ruins on the northeast corner of the island, but I think those were the main highlights for me.
Traveling with people can have pluses and minuses for sure. I agree that it depends on the destination and the travel partner. As far as meeting other people that have traveled and connecting with them, I guess that depends on how much importance you place on that. If it’s super important that people you spend time with have traveled extensively, then you’re going to have a hard time finding people to hang with, but when you do it will likely be very rewarding. I personally have friends who have and haven’t traveled much and don’t seem to have any problem finding something in common.
For your 3-week trip in August and September, I’d suggest staying in the Society and Tuamotu islands. There is so much to see there. Huahine is great. In fact I have 4 more weeks to kill while being stranded and just booked a flight back there today for 2 weeks. I really liked it. Last month I was in Raiatea and Tahaa. They were ok. I preferred Tahaa for sure. Smaller, more relaxed and very friendly people. Moorea is spectacular. Cook’s and Opunohu bays are hard to beat. I think Moorea might get overlooked sometimes because it’s right next to Tahiti, but it’s worth a long visit. And you can’t beat the convenience of a 30-minute ferry ride from Tahiti.
I tried many time to schedule a week in Maupiti but it was always difficult. They only have flights on Fridays and Sundays (if I recall correctly) and finding/confirming accommodation was frustrating (no hotels, only pensions/guesthouses). But many people have said Maupiti is an amazing place, what Bora Bora was 60 years ago before it got so commercialized. So I may still try to get over there. I’ve heard the ferry to these islands (Huahine, Raiatea, Bora Bora, Maupiti) is running again, so maybe I can catch that from Huahine.
The other option for you would be to spend all 3 weeks in the Marquesas and really give it a solid effort. That might pay off too. I will say, I met a French Couple that spent a couple months in the Marquesas and have been all over other parts of French Polynesia. They said it was the best place they’ve ever been. So maybe I need to give it another shot, but more than just a week on Nuku Hiva. There are lots of other island to explore in that chain and from what I understand, they’re pretty empty and spectacular. Read Fatu Hiva by Thor Heyerdahl. Maybe that will inspire you.
Keep me posted on what you decide to do. I’ve got a flight home scheduled 4 weeks from today. I hope it doesn’t get cancelled. I’m very ready to head home, but there are no flights for the month of April. I’m getting very little sympathy from friends and family. Apparently being stuck in paradise sounds like fun to them. I’ll be honest, it’s got its upsides.
Appreciate you getting back to me. I originally wanted to go to the Marquesas because they were something different than the other islands. I read that people recommend at least 5 nights but after looking into the things to do I started to think that I might get bored for that long (love to hike but not much for horseback riding or hunting).
Given the cost and time to get there I might instead just spend more time on Moorea. A friend also gushed about how much they loved it. I was only there for 1 short night last time I was in FP (didn’t realize the ferry left later on Sundays). After not being able to travel for over a year and spending 90% of my time inside I’m ready for something easier and relaxing.
Good to know about Maupiti’s flights. Might try to schedule it in but if it’s too difficult I’ll focus on something else. Typically I’ll spend a lot of time researching and planning a vacation (but a lot less the older I get and the more I travel). I didn’t bother trying to plan anything for any upcoming trips because it was so up in the air.
True about finding people to travel with and finding people to connect with. I think a lot of that was also when I was younger (college) and the people I knew didn’t travel as much. Also I would save my money for trips which meant I couldn’t budget a local trip very easily. Most of that has improved.
Also it sucks that you’re stuck. It could be worse but it also isn’t a vacation like others think. After a while you just sort of want to go home to something familiar and simpler. Hopefully things change in FP and they open up in May.