Why Traveling Alone During the Holidays May Be the Best Decision You'll Make This Year
Holidays are not normally for alone time but when you're in your 20s, stuck in limbo between visiting the family you grew up with and being fully independent, it could be time to make a new holiday tradition.
In recent years, more and more young people have started traveling alone, finding it to be empowering and freeing. According to the MMGY Global 2015 Travelhorizons Study, millennials were more likely to plan a trip by themselves than any other generation, with 37% of them saying they intended to take a solo trip in the near future.
"I like the freedom of it," Alex Cooper, 24, told Mic. "I enjoy being in charge of myself and being independent in that way and just being able to plan what I want to do."
Constanza Bianchi, a professor from Queensland University of Technology's Business School, surveyed 24 people who had recently traveled on vacation alone to investigate what motivates people to do so during the holidays. She found that two of the main drivers of satisfaction were related to "personal feelings of freedom, relaxation and discovery (personal factors) and interaction with other people."
Kaveh Sadeghian, 25, spent Christmas and New Year's Eve traveling solo through the United Kingdom. Sadeghian is a frequent traveler, taking either a domestic or international trip at least once a month. For him, traveling alone is about confronting the fear of being by yourself without any distractions or support systems to help you.
"Every trip I've traveled alone, I was able to be 100% immersed in the environment I was in, and I was able to say yes to basically every opportunity," Sadeghian said.
Spending time alone can feel empowering for many. Bianchi found that those who chose to spend the holidays traveling by themselves received personal satisfaction by taking on this unique challenge.
"Traveling alone for the holidays also provided some participants with the feeling that they had more control over their lives and actions," Bianchi wrote in the study, published in the International Journal of Tourism Research.
During the holidays, when most people are with those that know them best, traveling alone is an opportunity for personal reflection and a chance to reinforce their independence. For many solo travelers, spending time re-connecting with nature by themselves can bring about those feelings.
"When you're doing things outdoors, traveling alone can be really wonderful." Christina Shintani, 23, told Mic.
Shintani, who studied abroad for a semester in Spain during college and has taken many solo trips, enjoys traveling alone because it allows her to connect with people and her surroundings in a completely different way than when she's with friends and family.
"What I like about being alone is that I'm not with people that I already know who have a preconceived notion of who I am," Shintani said.
At the end of her semester abroad, Shintani hiked the last 115 kilometers of the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. The Camino is a religious Catholic pilgrimage that people have been walking for centuries, though many non-Catholics walk the Camino for spiritual and personal reasons. Shintani walked alone, but met many fellow pilgrims along the way.
"It's a way that you would be traveling alone, but you're never alone because everyone is bonded," she said. "No matter how old you are or where you're from, you are bonded by this want to find something in your life that's meaningful."
While traveling alone can seem solitary at the outset, for many solo travelers meeting new people is one of the main reasons they crave this kind of adventure.
Francisco Enriquez, 25, spent a year traveling through Europe and Asia between high school and college. When traveling through Laos, Enriquez was reminded of the same connection Shintani found on the Camino.
Enriquez rented a boat and spent five days rowing by himself down the Mekong River.
"There was a group of people who were practicing some form of crew," Enriquez told Mic. "They were paddling down the river, and we paddled next to each other for five or six hours. It was really delightful."
Even though he couldn't speak to them while they traveled together, he felt bonded with these strangers.
"You have this strong shared human experience," Enriquez said. "When you have a shared experience outdoors with a person you can't communicate with, you still somehow feel a fondness for them."
Shintani believes it's best to travel alone when you're trying to learn more about yourself.
"You can't learn about yourself when you go with someone who already knows you," she said.
For some, learning about yourself comes through opening up to people you meet along the way. For others, traveling alone is an opportunity to reconnect with yourself by being completely alone. Chris Hatfield, 24, found hiking in Patagonia solo to be much more enjoyable than doing it in a group.
"I spent most of the day walking trails by myself with nothing but mountains and sunshine and zero cell phone service," Hatfield told Mic. "It was amazing. I could climb at my own pace, stop for lunch when I wanted and take as many photos of gorgeous mountain ranges without worrying about keeping up with someone else."
The holidays are one of the few times of year where the main obligation is to recuperate from the past few busy months and rejuvenate for the year ahead. Sometimes the only person you need to accomplish both of those things is yourself.
"It forces you just to think," Cooper said. "You're alone. You only have yourself. It's a time of reflection."