I read a blog post recently that said, “If you’re a writer, there’s only one way to travel and that’s solo. Travel with a companion and you come complete with an invisible wall around you.”
This is not the first time I’ve heard this sentiment stated, but rarely is it flouted in such an absolute form, as gospel. Well let me go on the record, as someone with nearly two decades of experience, to say “Bullshit!”
You could argue solo travel is good for some certain types of writing: the Theroux-style narrative that requires lots of conversations with strangers. The soul-searching “I’m going to find myself while hiking across Africa” tale. Or the grueling guidebook work where every hinderance to your breakneck schedule could throw off the whole plan. Being alone is a big advantage in those cases.
Solo Travel is Mostly Armchair Travel
In most other kinds of travel writing though, you’re better off traveling like normal vacationers do—with a significant other. Or with friends, with family. Part of the joy in travel comes with sharing the experience and those you share it with often provide valuable insight from another perspective. Who wants to read a family travel article written by some cranky solo traveler who is the only single person in a resort full of families? Is that person really going to tell me how successful the kids’ club is or whether the kiddie menu is working? Is she going to try out the waterslides…by herself? How do you write about family adventures in Belize all by yourself?
I travel alone a lot because I have to for time purposes, but only occasionally are those stories better because of it. Frankly my wife is much better at finding 10 new friends the first night of arrival than I am, so I meet a lot more locals when she’s along. Traveling with a child has opened up conversations with local mothers that I never would have had without a kid at my side: few mothers anywhere want to talk to a single man traveling alone.
It’s also a whole lot harder to evaluate a restaurant you’re dining at if you’re eating by yourself. You can only order and eat so many dishes. If you’re with a few others, you can try a lot of different things and better evaluate the service. I’m not too likely to spend time at the spa and gym when I’m at a hotel. But my wife sure is, so she can give me the lowdown when I’ve gotten back from doing other things outside the property.
You’re Not That Interesting By Yourself
Even when we get away from service writing and turn to narratives, it’s not cut and dry. Sure, you can point to a lot of classic ones and note that most of them were written by someone traveling alone. But there are plenty of others—especially in the last two decades—where the narrator is not the only main character. One of my favorites lately was The Sinner’s Grand Tour by Tony Perrottet, where his family was along the whole time while he researched the sexual history of old Europe. It made the book much funnier having that juxtaposition. Often these tales are more enjoyable to read because…they seem like real people instead of divorcers/divorcees with bonding issues. Reading about just you and your impressions can get tiring in a hurry. It’s a lot easier to “show, don’t tell” if there are regular characters besides you for the duration.
So go it alone if you want to. Sometimes it’s easier to get a good story when you don’t have to compromise with others on the schedule. You can be more flexible. But don’t feel it’s the only way to go. Plenty of award-winning stories each year come out of jaunts with friends and loved ones. After all, that’s how most people around the world really travel.