Everyone has been locked up forever now, and I so want to get away. Anywhere.
I’ve considered renting a car and driving to a national park like Sequoia for a bit of camping—I’m not feeling OK with jumping on a plane yet—but then I start stressing about what might happen if I get sick, or if, with restaurants and bars being closed, I’ll still be stuck indoors much of the time.
How is it possible to be sensible about travel? Does this likely mean doing it solo? Here are the pros and cons of traveling solo if there’s a worldwide pandemic going on (I say go for it!).
For what it’s worth, I’ve already tried day-tripping with friends. There was so much back and forth over whether we should keep our masks on in the car, how to spend our time outside of the city, that we’re not sure we even want to go down that road again.
There’s just so much more than to consider these days.
The pros of solo traveling
The freedom to use my own judgment, to come and go as I like, is a huge part of my love for solo travel, and the ability to be flexible has never been more paramount right now. Rules and restrictions are changing daily, and it is so much easier to take things as they come when there is only one person to be accountable to – yourself.
There’s nothing like loading up the car at a moment’s notice for a weekend getaway in the Sierras, or buying a last-minute plane ticket to a place like Aruba (which is reopening its borders to American travelers, with restrictions).
Setting off solo gives me the option to really consider how comfortable I am with going to a particular destination and the choices I have in getting there (am I going to feel OK boarding a full flight when I return to flying? Is Puerto Rico really welcoming travelers, or this simply the tourism board doing the talking?).
Here’s another big perk of solo travel during pandemic times: It’s easier to quarantine.
Having a big hotel room or Airbnb space all to myself is in many ways a dream come true, especially since prior to the pandemic, I wasn’t always in the house, with someone else all the time. I miss using the bathroom with the door open, walking around in my underwear (I mean, I can do this in my room, but it’s not the same as having complete free-run of the entire space), and leaving dishes overnight in the sink!
That quiet time has its advantages, too. By the time I get out to explore, I’ll be ready to engage with people, enjoy a burger à la carte, and revel in some pandemic-era street art without feeling like I want to start social-distancing from my traveling cohort before the trip has even really begun.
It’s also a lot easier to limit contact with others. Trying to navigate friendships during this time (like, figuring out who’s on what page regarding social distancing, and whether it’s OK to embark on a weekend getaway to the mountains) has been a real challenge already. By going solo, I don’t have to be policing others.
If I don’t feel like the safety precautions are up to par, I just leave. That extra level of anxiety I’ve been feeling when a friend says, “YOU’RE NOT KEEPING SIX FEET!” goes out the window, and there’s only the serenity of my own lovely company.
Though there are cons…
Solo travel has the reputation of being lonely. Rarely is, solo travel never lonely. Sure, there’s plenty of alone time, but it’s so easy to meet people on a train from Frankfurt to Berlin or joining up with a walking tour in Madrid.
Or at least, it was.
Some of my favorite solo travel experiences weren’t solo at all; they involved strangers who became friends. It seems these same people might be looking at me more with the fear of contacting COVID-19 now than with the curiosity and friendliness that I’m used to. No more sharing rooms in a Melbourne hostel or pintxos on a San Sebastian bar crawl.
For the first time, solo might really mean solo.
Money is another, less obvious deterrent: The days of renting an Airbnb room in someone’s flat and experiencing Mexico City or San Salvador through their eyes are not returning anytime soon. It hadn’t even occurred to me that I’d be footing the bill for an entire apartment or house. It also means I won’t get to cook up meals with my host in their Puglia kitchen and split costs as we go.1
Then there’s the “new normal.” Each day, the world is looking at social distancing in innovative ways, from dining in outdoor “greenhouses” to drive-in festivals, but they’re just not geared to solo travelers. The days of recruiting fellow wanderers I meet on the road seem to be over—especially since strangers to my germ bubble understandably don’t want to get within six feet of me (and vice versa!).
Honestly, sharing a table with stuffed pandas at a Bangkok restaurant sounds fab, but it would be even better with a bit of human contact to go along with it.
Though I’ve never thought of myself as a germaphobe, there’s a full-on pandemic still happening. No one wants to find themselves in the Albanian Alps (currently open to U.S. travelers, by the way) alone when COVID-19 sets in, and realize that I don’t have a companion who can run and get help. (Not to mention taxing local hospitals and medical teams because of some selfish inclination to travel).
Never has solo traveling taken on such meaning, but even more in the age of COVID-19. Being my own best travel companion isn’t just an alluring option. It also might be the only one I’ll consider.
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