Lace-up your hiking boots, take a deep breath of forest air
By Robin Esrock
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard: “I prefer to travel alone” and “I’d never travel alone” my Dichotomy Jar would be overflowing. Although we often follow the same itinerary, travel has always been as personal as one’s toothbrush. Some people love sharing an experience with others. Others want nothing more than peace, space and solitude. Let’s explore some of the pros and cons of solo versus group travel.
Not everyone hikes at your speed, pedals at your velocity, has your physical ability or your “go-go-go!” spirit. Some travellers prefer to take it easy, stop, smell the lupins, and constantly capture photographs. Different paces can create tension on a group tour, although a good guide knows exactly how to manage the situation, and a great tour operator has already factored this into their itineraries. For safe and enjoyable outdoor active adventure, it’s important that everyone feels comfortable at their own pace. The speedsters can rush ahead, and if there’s extra time, use it to their advantage to explore even more terrain or add a few extra kilometres to the day. The stragglers can take their time, knowing they’ll all end up at the same place. Travelling solo gives you plenty of flexibility, but not much more or less than a well-run excursion that caters to all abilities. Still, it’s worth consulting trip notes and adhering to operator advice about mild, medium, or extreme physical pursuits.
Some people are not physically built for a rugged week-long wilderness hike. Others might be ill-prepared or over-confident. Regardless of whether you’re setting out on your own or joining a group, it’s important to check ratings (Great Canadian Trails have a grading system that ranges from Introductory to Challenging) to make sure you’re not getting in over your head. Outdoor adventures can be unpredictable; that’s what makes them fun. Joining a group, you’ll find a camaraderie settles in. Everyone inevitably encourages and supports each other, whether or not they knew each other before the start of a trip. There’s no doubt this creates a safer environment, with more eyes around. That said, the goal-orientated might prefer being responsible for their own journey and nobody else’s. Once again, everyone ultimately ends up at the same place, especially at dinner.
After a hard day’s paddle, trek or ride, it’s particularly rewarding to gather around the fire or table and share stories with your fellow travellers. Wine might flow as personal histories are uncovered, information is learned, stories are shared, and friendships are forged. It’s these meal times that bond groups and often become trip highlights. Having once completed a year-long solo adventure around the world, I recall some meals being particularly lonely, although there are usually locals or people about to engage with if one is willing to put in a little effort. That said, I’d often write or read during lunches or dinners, and I enjoyed the flexibility to ‘tap out’ of social conversation if I wasn’t particularly up for it. So much ultimately depends on the…
Any adventure is only as unique as the people you share it with…even if it’s only yourself. You can be on a beautiful island surrounded by loud, obnoxious idiots, and you can definitely have fun in a dive bar. One can be content and relaxed on your own or feel miserable and lonely. My maxim has always been: “It’s the people you meet who create the paradise you find.” If the company is annoying, I just excuse myself and find other people to engage with, or resolve to spend some time with myself. If I’m in a group of lovely people and fascinating characters, it enhances the experience in magnitudes. It’s important to note that travelling alone, or in a couple, does not mean you’re going to be isolated. Everywhere you go, you’ll meet both locals and fellow travellers. I’ve found that solo participants in a group often gravitate towards each other, with the flexibility to establish their own comfort levels for socializing.
Ultimately, going alone or joining a group is a personal choice, based on your personality, goals, time, budget, and whatever it is you want most out of your journey. A solo traveller hiking the Rockies or cycling across PEI will experience the same views as those travelling as a group. Either way, everyone wins.
Robin Esrock is a renowned travel journalist and the bestselling author of the Great Canadian Bucket List.
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