This is a guest post by Chris Christensen.
I don’t want to imply that my wife Joan and I have been together for a long time, but our first date was shortly after Ronald Reagan was elected President and we were married the same year as Charles and Diana.
Despite marrying my favorite travel companion for over three decades, however, I admit that sometimes I do enjoy traveling alone.
Alone By Choice
Not counting business trips and press trips where my wife is not invited, my default assumption is that if I am going someplace, then my wife is coming with me. For years, though, I had more vacation leaves than she did. She was OK with me traveling during those weeks, provided that I traveled to a place that she did not want to see or in a fashion she did not want to travel. And while I love to travel with her, there are pluses and minuses.
When I travel with Joan:
– I enjoy our time together
– We build shared memories
– I have to make sure she gets fed in a timely fashion or she gets cranky
When I travel without Joan:
– I get up when I want to; talking her into getting up to see a sunrise is less likely than staying up to see the sunrise
– Camping is an option; Joan’s idea of roughing it is slow room service
– I see twice as much
– I meet more people
– I get more lonely
My Solo Road Trips
One of my first trips by myself was a road trip to the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Parks, and to Antelope Canyon. I camped in a tent on this trip so it qualified as something Joan would not want to do. I could see the wisdom in her decision when in the middle of the night, I experienced a windstorm at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and the temperature dropped below freezing in Bryce Canyon.
Despite these minor inconveniences, however, I also got to get up at dawn to see the sunrise over Bryce Canyon and to trek solo up the Virgin River in Zion to the “Narrows.” That hike in Zion and the Navajo Trail at Bryce down into the towering hoodoos were two of the best hikes I have ever taken. I took some of my favorite pictures on that trip and did not have to inconvenience anyone else with how many pictures I wanted to take. When I travel with my family I feel more rushed, even though they always tell me to take my time.
I don’t mind a long road trip by myself with just me, my thoughts, and my podcasts to listen to. Driving through the Southwestern USA is particularly peaceful. At points in Northern Arizona you might not find a single radio station. The landscapes are barren and majestic. My longest day driving was 14 hours back from Zion. It was supposed to be a 2-day drive but at some point, I had had enough alone time.
Mexico on my Own
Some of my trips without Joan had included 15 volunteer trips with a group to build houses in Tijuana. But Tijuana, being right next to the U.S., is not a typical Mexican city. To really see the country, I planned a solo trip to Mexico City and Oaxaca. Joan was still wary at that time of going to a country where you could not drink the water, so this qualified as a trip she did not miss out on.
When I arrived in Mexico, I stayed a lot in hostels. The one in Mexico City was just OK in part because there was some confusion over which bed was mine. Coming into a dark hostel room and finding someone in your bed is definitely not fun! The hostel in Oaxaca was a joy with its $14 a night rate for a room for two (no roommate, though) and a great breakfast. I met people at the hostel and struck up conversations. I did not form any lifelong friendships but it did lead me trying crickets in the town square, so that should count for something!
I find I look for more interactions when I am by myself, perhaps just out of loneliness as a solo traveler. I am more likely to strike up a conversation with the cab driver about his guitar when I am by myself as I did in Oaxaca.
A solo traveler is easier to approach for others as well. A businessman in Mexico City sat down next to me on a bench and we talked for the better part of an hour in my broken Spanish about his family and mine. I had a stranger, who was a local Mexican weaver, strike up a conversation in the zocalo in Oaxaca and ended up with him as my tour guide the next day to some of the sites as well as his shop.
Perhaps the best thing that comes for me out of solo travel is the reminder that as much as I enjoy having control of my schedule, as much as I enjoy not having to make someone else happy, as much as I enjoy the interactions I would not have, I am part of a couple for a reason. Being apart reminds me I only want to be a sometime solo traveler.
About the Author
Chris is the host and founder of the Amateur Traveler podcast, an online travel show that focuses on travel destinations and the best places to travel to. He’s been married for 32 years to his college sweetheart, Joan. He’s based in San Jose, California where he works as a software engineer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.