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One is Company: Choosing to Travel Solo

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Christine has been a long time reader and commenter on this site, so I was really excited when she asked to write a blog post. As a big proponent of solo travel myself, I really like how Christine honestly weighs the pros and cons of deciding to go it alone. If you like this post, be sure to check out her newly launched blog C’est Christine.

I never intended to backpack for five weeks through Europe by myself. I spent months trying to convince friends to come with me, perfecting a persuasive spiel as to why it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up. I was greeted with a litany of excuses: the economy is bad, it’s too expensive, the need to get a job. My then-boyfriend rented Hostel, Turistas and Taken, hoping that those (rather graphic and violent) tales of backpacking-gone-bad would knock some sense into me.

However, I felt like this was my one last stab at freedom before being trapped by a cubicle, a serious boyfriend and never-ending bills.  Once I made up my mind, no one could talk me out of it—and once I booked my ticket, they stopped trying to.

While this wasn’t my first time traveling by myself in Europe—I had taken a few solo weekend trips while studying in Paris for a summer—it was the first time I had traveled by myself outside of English- and French-speaking countries.

Sometimes I felt lonely, other times I felt independent.  Sometimes I desperately missed my boyfriend and friends, other times I was proud at just how capable I managed to be on my own. It was a roller coaster of emotions, but in the end, it was totally worth it.  If you’re thinking about traveling alone, I highly recommend it—but definitely take a moment to consider both the positives and the negatives.

The upsides:

  • Have it your way. Without having to compromise with another person on destinations, schedules and travel preferences, I was able to plan my trip exactly how I wanted it. When you’re in the mood for a museum, you go. If you’re craving Thai food, you find it. If you’re an early riser, you wake up and go without having to wait for someone else to roll out of bed and get ready.  If you’re as independent (read: impatient and stubborn) as I am, this is easily the greatest part of traveling alone.
  • Make new friends. On a bike tour in Munich, I struck up a conversation with an Australian who was also traveling alone and staying in the same hostel as me. We ended up convincing each other to go paragliding over the Bavarian Alps the next day—a spur-of-the-moment decision that resulted in the most unforgettable sensation of freedom (and the absolute best views of Neuschwanstein Castle). Plus, Facebook makes it insanely easy to keep in touch with people you meet.  Now, I have a built-in travel guide for when I visit Down Under.
  • Instant street cred. There aren’t that many American young women traveling by themselves in Europe—honestly, there aren’t that many people in general who travel for pleasure by themselves. People were alternately impressed that I was willing to take the risk and horrified that no one had managed to stop me from placing myself in such imminent danger. Either way, you get an instant reputation as being a little bad-ass. (Disclaimer: I didn’t shout it from the rooftops that I was traveling by myself. I kept that tidbit to people who I met in hostels and tour groups who did not look like they were likely to rob, rape or kill me. I had a backup story about a sick boyfriend who was waiting for me at the hostel.)
  • The chance to do something crazy. I was excited but a little terrified to try canyoning in Interlaken, Switzerland (it’s illegal in America). As I was signing the waiver that cleared the company of any responsibility in the death that could result from my rappelling down 130-foot canyons or jumping off jagged rocks into rushing water, I briefly debated with myself if I was being completely insane. I realized that this would have been the moment when my friends and I would have looked at each other and talked each other out of it. But when you’re the only person you need to convince, it’s a lot easier to say “what the hell” and just do it.

The downsides:

  • The “now what?” moment. When traveling, everything is new and exciting. A beautiful painting, the realization that you’re standing where Julius Caesar once stood or that absolutely perfect sunset over the Mediterranean can take your breath away. Whenever I saw something that particularly struck me, I kept looking next to me for someone to share it with. It took some time to get used to taking a deep breath, soaking it all up, and enjoying the moment within myself.
  • The “in” group. It was hard to see groups of friends chatting, laughing and taking pictures together. It made me miss my own friends, and wonder if I would be having more fun if I was with them.  It’s also much harder to break into a group than it is to strike up a conversation with another lonely person.  And it’s hit-or-miss once you do get in the group. You can feel uber left out if they keep giggling over inside jokes and whatever they did last night. But it can also be strangely comforting to sit and chat with three other people and not be the awkward girl standing by herself.
  • Going out. I rarely drank, partied, went to clubs or stayed out late. For me, this is a personal choice for when I travel alone: I don’t want to lose my inhibitions in an unknown city with people I just met. I also didn’t want to be waste any time being hungover when I had limited time in each city. There were plenty of other solo travelers who all went out together and had a ton of fun, but I would urge anyone to take extra precautions if you’re planning on drinking (particularly as a young woman).
  • Duh- you’re alone. I’m an only child and I’ve always been extremely independent. I don’t have a problem eating in a restaurant with only a book to keep me company, and I don’t worry about going to a movie alone—particularly when I know I’m not going to run into anyone I know. I would urge anyone considering solo travel to think long and hard (by yourself) about if you’re OK with only having “me, myself and I” as a companion.
  • You look like a loner in all your pictures. On the upside, you do get really good at going up to strangers and asking them to take your picture to send home to Mom and Dad.

And as to my friends’ worries about the terrible economy? I landed my first-choice job within two weeks of coming home. And now I have a built-in interview story now about my personal initiative, independence and drive to get what I want. My advice: go travel, whether you can find someone to go with you or not. You’ll only regret it if you don’t.

After graduating from California State University, Chico with a degree in journalism, Christine backpacked for five weeks through Europe to get the travel bug out of her before settling into the “real world.” Alas, at 21, she’s not ready to succumb to cubicle life quite yet. After six months working in high-tech PR and social media in Silicon Valley, Christine is ready to embark on her next adventure: blogging, soaking up the sun and attempting to parler Français in Nice, France. You can read more at www.cestchristine.com and follow her at @camorose.

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73 Responses to One is Company: Choosing to Travel Solo

  1. Chris - The Aussie Nomad April 1, 2010 at 8:16 AM #

    Great post Christine, many of those pro’s and con’s I’ve weighted up myself over the last 6 months.

    So glad you got to take your trip solo and do it your way. I hope my trip works out just as well as yours did.

    When do you land in France?
    .-= Chris – The Aussie Nomad´s last blog ..Another Reason to Wander a City =-.

    • Christine April 1, 2010 at 12:06 PM #

      I’m sure you will have an awesome time! Honestly, the best part of traveling alone is the chance to do things exactly how you want to–and you’re way more open to meeting people and making friends.
      I’m landing in France on April 20–can’t believe it’s coming up so soon!

  2. Gray April 1, 2010 at 10:44 AM #

    Love this, especially: “People were alternately impressed that I was willing to take the risk and horrified that no one had managed to stop me from placing myself in such imminent danger. Either way, you get an instant reputation as being a little bad-ass.” Ha! I never really thought about it that way. But I like it.
    .-= Gray´s last blog ..Top 10 Reasons to Travel Solo To Disney World =-.

    • Steph April 1, 2010 at 10:52 AM #

      Yeah when I tell people I’m headed out alone I feel like it gives me a little street cred. A lot of admiring looks and “your so braves.”

    • Christine April 1, 2010 at 12:13 PM #

      Glad that it resonated with you! I’m getting the same reactions now as I plan my trip to France alone, but I don’t mind–it’s kind of a fun reputation to have :)
      .-= Christine´s last blog ..Dare to live the life you’ve dreamed =-.

  3. Katelyn April 1, 2010 at 11:17 AM #

    As one of the friends you tried to convince to come with you, I’m glad I made up an excuse so you could share your amazing story with the travel-blogging world :) This post is great and so insightful! I want to travel Europe by myself now…thanks to you! (Don’t know if Mom and Dad are so happy about that, but I sure am!)

  4. Rich April 1, 2010 at 11:59 AM #

    For me, the worst part of travelling alone is that you always have to make an effort. Sometimes, you want to relax and talk to someone who already knows everything about you, rather than repeating the same 5 minutes about your name, location, where you’re going etc.
    Having said that, it’s totally worth doing, as whilst I don’t mind my own company, not talking to anyone for weeks would drive me crazy, and you can meet some amazing people just by saying hello.

    • Christine April 1, 2010 at 12:16 PM #

      That’s a very valid point. The small talk does get old rather quickly. I will say, however, that I’ve met some people who turned into great friends while I was traveling- and we got over the small talk quickly and immediately were able to chat like old friends about any old thing. Those are the ones I’m still friends with today!
      .-= Christine´s last blog ..Dare to live the life you’ve dreamed =-.

  5. Laura April 1, 2010 at 12:15 PM #

    Great post Christine! You’ve touched on all of the points that I come across as well. But at the end of the day, solo travel is so freeing :)

  6. Christine April 1, 2010 at 12:41 PM #

    Thanks for the comment! I just checked out your site, and I absolutely love it! Can’t wait to add it to my Bloglines and follow your adventures :)
    .-= Christine´s last blog ..Dare to live the life you’ve dreamed =-.

  7. Ashley April 1, 2010 at 12:45 PM #

    You’re one of the most independent people I know Christine, and you did such a great job expressing/weighing/working through the concerns so many people have when they’re thinking of traveling.

    I’m so glad you had this experience! I’m even more inspired now to make sure I come visit you in France :)
    .-= Ashley´s last blog ..Back to the real world! =-.

  8. Abbie April 1, 2010 at 1:33 PM #

    This is a great post – I’ve traveled solo, and totally agree with your points!
    .-= Abbie´s last blog ..I’m Back (Kind Of) =-.

  9. Sofia - As We Travel April 1, 2010 at 2:23 PM #

    “My advice: go travel, whether you can find someone to go with you or not. You’ll only regret it if you don’t.”

    Totally agree. I feel lucky having found my soul mate and travel with him, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to travel with someone ‘just to have someone to travel with’.
    If you don’t have anyone you’d love to travel with, you will probably have a lot more fun by yourself.

    • Christine April 1, 2010 at 3:14 PM #

      Exactly! I would have loved to travel with friends, but my point is not to NOT travel just because you can’t find someone to go with you. Glad you enjoyed it!
      .-= Christine´s last blog ..Dare to live the life you’ve dreamed =-.

      • Steph April 1, 2010 at 5:02 PM #

        THIS! so much this.

  10. Becs April 1, 2010 at 5:00 PM #

    Totally agree with everything except the picture part! Or maybe I read it from the wrong angle. Even if I was travelling for a few days with some randoms, I would never want them in my pictures, as I am never going to see them again (or remember who they are), so who cares? I took a few group tours in Australia and I always excused myself from group shots (I don’t have facebook and didn’t want my picture ending up there) and never added my camera to the stack because I wouldn’t remember anyone anyway.

    Everything else, totally agree! In fact, I do so much travelling alone, when I even fly with someone I know, it feels so weird for me!

    Never ever let the lack of friends wanting to travel stop you. That is my mantra.

    • Steph April 1, 2010 at 5:03 PM #

      At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old lady, I really hate flying with other people. Much prefer to do it alone.

      • Kim April 6, 2010 at 8:19 AM #

        I have the flying alone habit too – it was really weird to have a boyfriend by my side that wanted to talk and I couldn’t just ignore him and read my book!

        You are right in that traveling alone is better than no travel, but traveling is very personal and just because you’re friends at home doesn’t mean that you’ll travel well together.
        .-= Kim´s last blog .."Two Times Kim" Strikes Again =-.

        • Steph April 6, 2010 at 10:50 AM #

          haha exactly. Flying is my time to read and be quiet and not feel obligated to be social.

    • Christine April 1, 2010 at 5:17 PM #

      My point is that I was alone in all my pictures, which is sometimes awkward- I don’t really like taking pictures with people who I’m never going to see again. And you can’t do really crazy, fun stuff when it’s a stranger taking your picture.

      So…I think we’re on the same page?
      .-= Christine´s last blog ..Dare to live the life you’ve dreamed =-.

      • Becs April 2, 2010 at 1:06 PM #

        Sounds like a personal feeling. I don’t mind being alone in my pictures at all.

        And with the help of my digi cam, all my pictures are from the same outstretched arm slightly above angle. I am so used to seeing my angle like that, when people volunteer to take my picture for me, most of the time, I decline!

  11. Emilie April 1, 2010 at 6:42 PM #

    Christine, you never cease to amaze me and are truly one of the most inspirational people I know! It takes guts to travel solo, so hats off to you! And sometime in these past few weeks, you’ve passed a serious travel bug my way… can’t wait to read all about your French escapades!!!

  12. Runaway Juno April 1, 2010 at 8:00 PM #

    Nice!
    and haha i totally get “you look loner in all of your picture” thing.
    I am really a fan of alone travel. it just felt so natural to me from the beginning.
    making new friends, freedom, excitement, love all that
    yeah now i realize even i had so many friends during past few years, I look like such a loner in many pictures.
    But i don;t think i can handle long term trvel with someone just right now.
    Nice article :)

    Juno.

    • Christine April 2, 2010 at 11:37 AM #

      Thank you for reading! I put together a really cool travel scrapbook after my trip, but I feel like it’s a little egoistic: just full of pictures of me and the places I went! Still a fun memento :)
      .-= Christine´s last blog ..Dare to live the life you’ve dreamed =-.

  13. Bobbi Lee Hitchon April 2, 2010 at 4:24 AM #

    Great that you did the trip solo rather than not at all. It can be scary, but it’s worth it!
    .-= Bobbi Lee Hitchon´s last blog ..Can’t sleep when you’re living the dream =-.

  14. Bobbi Lee Hitchon April 2, 2010 at 4:27 AM #

    Also I totally understand the “going-out” dilemma. I would rather spend my time out in the day than at night as well, but I always found most people in hostels got to know each other going out at night and some people go out EVERY NIGHT! It’s hard to find a balance.
    .-= Bobbi Lee Hitchon´s last blog ..Can’t sleep when you’re living the dream =-.

    • Christine April 2, 2010 at 11:39 AM #

      It is a dilemma! I partied plenty in college, but I’m not much of a “going out” person anymore and honestly, I didn’t want to waste any time being hungover/tired when I was in such cool cities. I think the next time I travel solo I will make more of an attempt to make friends and check out a city’s night life–having a boyfriend at home also definitely affected my decision to stay in.
      .-= Christine´s last blog ..Dare to live the life you’ve dreamed =-.

      • Steph April 2, 2010 at 12:27 PM #

        I find I am usually just exhausted by the end of the day! I really have to make an effort if I want to get myself out into the nightlife and not be a wet blanket.

  15. marta April 2, 2010 at 10:13 AM #

    great post!
    i have been traveling with my sould-travel mates, which as sofia said is just great, but there is also pros and cros when traveling as a couple, although not as much as traveling solo. however i don’t think i could ever be so brave as you girls and traveling alone. glad that you have a great trip!

    • Christine April 2, 2010 at 11:41 AM #

      Thanks! It’s really not as scary as it seems–traveling with a boyfriend or best friend actually scares me a lot more than traveling alone. I think I would drive the other person crazy or get sick of them after a while! Kudos to you for making it work :)
      .-= Christine´s last blog ..Dare to live the life you’ve dreamed =-.

  16. ayngelina April 2, 2010 at 6:07 PM #

    I’m on Day 3 of my solo trip and I totally expect it to be a rollercoaster of emotions. Day 1 really sucked and I felt lonely but Day 2 I met a ton of people.

    Oddly enough there seems to be heaps of women traveling alone which is nice to see.
    .-= ayngelina´s last blog ..The Night Before My Life Changes =-.

    • Christine April 3, 2010 at 11:35 AM #

      That’s awesome to hear! Traveling alone can definitely have its ups and downs, but either way–you’re traveling and experiencing so many new and amazing things! Have a great time on your trip :)

  17. leslie April 2, 2010 at 8:03 PM #

    I personally don’t like traveling completely alone. I do not mind going on a trip with a group of people who started out as strangers, as long as I have some group that I am a part of. I definitely want to be able to share my experience with people as I go.
    .-= leslie´s last blog ..Save Money and Borrow! =-.

    • Christine April 3, 2010 at 11:38 AM #

      If traveling in a group works for you, go for it! I don’t really like being tied to a pre-set itinerary or having to wait on other people–I’ve tried it, and it’s just not quite my thing (read the part about me being stubborn and impatient!). But I know plenty of people who have loved their time on group tours, so to each his own :)
      .-= Christine´s last blog ..Why I should listen to my mother =-.

  18. Matt April 3, 2010 at 5:30 AM #

    Terrific post Christine, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    I’ve not done much solo traveling – it’s always been with a good mate or my girlfriend. I did spend about two weeks traveling through Italy and Greece alone. I enjoyed the thrill of going at it solo, yet there certainly is something to be said about having someone there with you to share in the experiences.
    .-= Matt´s last blog ..Franz Josef New Zealand Travel Video =-.

    • Christine April 3, 2010 at 11:41 AM #

      I absolutely agree! I would have loved it if my friends or boyfriend would have been able to go with me, but that just wasn’t my situation. I think I learned, however, that you don’t necessarily NEED other people to travel. There are ups and downs to traveling with friends, too. I went on a short trip with a girlfriend recently and we spent the good chunk of our morning waiting for her to get ready in our hotel room, but we also had a great time checking out local bars that night. It’s certainly a tradeoff!
      .-= Christine´s last blog ..Why I should listen to my mother =-.

  19. Dan April 4, 2010 at 7:31 AM #

    The instant street cred is a funny one, on the road its true but when people at home find out I travel alone they look at me like I’m crazy and just can’t understand how or why I would want to do it.
    .-= Dan´s last blog ..TripIt: iPhone App Review =-.

    • Steph April 4, 2010 at 11:07 AM #

      haha I get a lot of “You’re so brave!” coupled with a look that says “You’re so crazy!” Definitely sets you apart anyways.

    • Christine June 10, 2010 at 5:29 PM #

      I think it’s so crazy because I don’t really feel like I’m doing anything that brave or special–but people are always so shocked/impressed/horrified.

  20. Johnny Vagabond April 7, 2010 at 12:44 AM #

    Solo is the way to go! As a fairly introverted person, it forces me to climb out of my shell and meet people. Then, if it turns out that I don’t like them, I can go my own way ;)
    .-= Johnny Vagabond´s last blog ..Photos: Ruins and Roots in Ayutthaya =-.

    • Steph April 7, 2010 at 9:44 AM #

      Yes, I used to be a much shyer person before I took up traveling. Really forces you out of your comfort zone.

    • Christine June 10, 2010 at 5:30 PM #

      That’s my favorite part–if I meet awesome people, great. If I meet awful people, I just stick in my iPod and continue on my way!

  21. Sheila May 2, 2010 at 9:20 PM #

    I absolutely love this post! I’ve actually been working on a blog regarding this topic as well.
    I’ve been a solo traveler off an on for months in Europe so I can relate to a lot of it. At the end of the day, I like traveling solo too! I’m also an only child, so it doesn’t bother me to have “me” time, but it’s definitely something most people should consider before committing to it.

    • Steph May 2, 2010 at 10:10 PM #

      Glad it’s working out so well for you!

    • Christine June 10, 2010 at 5:31 PM #

      I think being an only child totally helps–you’re used to being able to entertain yourself and have lots of alone time :)

  22. Paul May 25, 2010 at 5:04 PM #

    Great post and you touched a lot of the key pros and cons of solo backpacking. I’ve done it on three trips (3 weeks, 7 weeks, 8 weeks) and it just might be the best way to backpack. I think the biggest takeaway is really just finding who you really are.

    I also recently wrote an article on solo backpacking and my advice is to definitely do it if you’ve never done it before.

    http://lifeinasack.wordpress.com/2010/05/16/backpacking-solo/
    .-= Paul´s last blog ..5 Things to Bring on a Backpacking Trip =-.

    • Christine June 10, 2010 at 5:32 PM #

      I definitely think you learn a lot about yourself–especially if you like yourself! When you’re your only companion, I find that I become a much better person. No one to blame bad behavior on!

  23. Justin May 26, 2010 at 2:51 PM #

    awesome post! canyoning was SO amazing! i did the same one @ interlaken in 07.

    ever since going solo, i’ve been going on a lot of trips by myself, and i love it! you definitely learn a lot about yourself and get a different perspective about life. i agree with your 2nd downside bulletpoint – seeing others in the “in” crowd. it took some time, but after while you get more comfortable with not always being part of the crowd, which i’ve learned has carried over in my relationships in general. i notice i don’t seek acceptance as much as i used to, which is a good thing.

    • Steph May 26, 2010 at 6:59 PM #

      Definitely a good lesson for life! And man, canyoning is totally going on my to do list.

    • Christine June 10, 2010 at 5:34 PM #

      Thanks for commenting! I totally agree with the seeking acceptance thing. I’ve found that if people like me, that’s fabulous–and if not, it doesn’t really matter!

  24. kat June 25, 2010 at 5:27 AM #

    really glad i found this….sitting at my desk at work in a call centre with my soul slowly dieing at the impending and scary trip i just booked by myself due to lazy/unwilling friends and boyfriend…super excited at the same time but just wondering about the drinking as im heading to oktoberfest this year as a solo young woman with not so good german, not drinking seems ludacris, any suggestions from experience?

  25. Alana May 12, 2012 at 10:03 AM #

    Christine-great post. Your writing is so honest and true. I did a solo trip to Thailand and Bali last year and loved every moment of it. Your writing inspires me to continue more trips solo and to not fear being alone while on the road.

  26. OCDemon April 1, 2013 at 3:07 AM #

    Wow, your boyfriend rented Hostel and other “travel” movies to scare you away from following your dreams? That is a tragedy of epic proportions. Angry rant time!

    If you’re planning on murdering people, the LAST place you’re going to do it is in a hostel full of able-bodied young men and women in the peak of their physical condition, half of them experiencing dulled senses due to alcohol-induced intoxication. That is an indestructible hive mind no idiot would mess with.

    You know what that movie should have been called? Hotel. A big empty room with no one around and thick walls for sonic privacy? Perfect for evil deeds! They could have called that movie Bed and Breakfast and it would have made more sense.

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