Why you should travel solo, even if in a relationship. If you could – where would you go?

I’m in Sarajevo as I write this after spending the last week visiting my mom in Budapest. The plan had been to go back to Split but Lissette had said to me “why don’t you take a bit of time for yourself? Go somewhere!”. *

I went on the internet and saw that Wizz Air (the Hungarian discount airline) had flights to Sarajevo. One way to Sarajevo ended up costing me $85 CAD (that’s $66 US). I found an apartment on Airbnb that costs $20 CAD/night (that’s $16 US). It was as easy as that. I’ll be here 5 days, might even prolong my stay for a few days.

* funny enough, when you tell something like that to someone they suddenly open up. I told my Airbnb host in Sarajevo that my wife had encouraged me to go somewhere and he sighed, muttered “women”, and started telling me about his wife and how they’re taking a break apart. He invited me out drinking. I now have a drinking buddy in Sarajevo.

The host probably thinks Lissette and I have some “issues”. Even people we know think it’s strange that Lissette and I have this arrangement. I can see them looking at us funny when one of us tells them “I’m going away for a week, I need some time to myself”. I can imagine the gossip.

Travelling solo is actually something we both want to do more of.

Years ago when we were both working it wouldn’t have been imaginable to take solo trips. We had limited vacation time (4 weeks) and have always enjoyed each other’s company. But for a bit more than 3 years now we’ve travelled full-time and have spent 24 hours out of every day together. I don’t care how much you love each other: 24 hours together every day makes you sometimes sick of the other person. And there are only so many new and interesting things you can say to each other when you’re always together. Sometimes we’ll be sitting there, having dinner, and Lissette will turn to me and say “you know, I really want to punch you in the face”. I get that. I really do.

So part of the reason for travelling solo is that you just need a break from seeing the other person’s face.

But sometimes you need to travel solo for more than that.
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Travelling as a couple makes you weak individually

I can see it with us. I organize and plan everything: transport, accommodation, things to see, how to get around. I’ll even read up on some history and recount it as we’re walking around. As a result Lissette is weak at that kind of stuff. She doesn’t know how to make an Airbnb booking, can’t read a map, and can’t orient herself. It’s no surprise. Last week in Budapest I was showing my mom around and I started to realize that she had no idea what neighborhood she was in. When I asked her why she said “because I trust you and I’ve just been following and concentrating on the sights”. Well, same thing with Lissette.

But Lissette is great at stuff that I’m weak at, specifically social stuff. She can talk to people and make them smile. Every single photo of people on the blog are photos that Lissette has taken. Most people we’ve met have been because of her. She’s the one people like. I’m the sidekick. People aren’t so sure of me. Lissette says I can be ‘intimidating’. It’s that face thing again. People also don’t always get my sense of humour (I mean my “sense of humour”). So we’ve needed Lissette’s charm to smooth out our travels just as much as we’ve needed my organizational skills. But it makes both of us weaker individually when we consistently rely on the other to manage the things that we’re weaker at.

Obviously if you’re travelling solo you have to do everything alone. So that’s one reason people should travel solo at least once in a while. It makes you stronger and more confident – once you’ve travelled solo (and independently) you’ll never travel the same way again.

Below: People love to pose for Lissette.

 

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The first ‘real’ solo trip I did was in the Dominican Republic in 2003. I went there with my backpack, stayed in hole-in-the-wall hotels, took the bus across the country, rented a motorcycle and discovered the Samana peninsula with it. I was 36 years old at the time (proving you don’t have to start travelling solo in your teens).  That trip forever changed the way I travel.
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Do what the heck YOU want to do

People usually have different interests and will compromise when travelling. When you plan a solo adventure you do it with only your interests in mind.

This summer I did a trip that was on my mind for a while: taking the “El Chepe” train through Mexico’s Copper Canyon. I was there a week, hopping on the train, stopping in different towns along the way, and doing some hiking. I had been a bit nervous about it, but for me to really get excited about a trip I have to be a little anxious about it: it has to be different and challenging. I still remember taking the long bus ride from Medan to Lake Toba in Sumatra or the first time I flew into Colombia. In both cases I had no idea what I was getting into. Those trips were a long time ago and I’m a better traveller now – but I still need to feel there’s a challenge involved. Anyway, this year’s El Chepe trip combined adventure, incredible scenery, and was a unique way of seeing Mexico. I even ended up meeting a lot of interesting people and spent a lot of time chatting. It was one of my best trips ever.

 

Lissette also did a trip by herself this summer. She was tired and stressed out from work and just needed her space. She decided to go to Vis (if you ask a Croatian what their favorite island is many will say Vis). She booked 2 weeks and spent it sleeping, walking around and discovering, and talking to locals. 10 days into her trip she wrote me and asked me to join her. I saw a relaxed Lissette that I hadn’t seen in a long time. We spent the last 4 days seeing Vis together. Since then we’ve seen a whole bunch of other Croatian islands – but Vis is still her favorite.   

So we both had great solo vacations doing exactly what we both wanted. Sometimes you just need that.
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You’re happier to see each other when you come back

I’ve been in Sarajevo 3 days as I write this and I’m missing Lissette and home. I’ve eaten badly (pasta, Ćevapi, chocolate and beer). I’ve slept in a couple of times to 11 in the morning (I need Lissette’s early-morning cheerfulness to get out of bed). I’m looking forward to getting back and going to the gym and playing football with the Split Expats.  It makes me realize that we have a good life in Split.

And that’s the thing about being separate for a while – it’s good to have your own space but you’re happy to get back home to the one you love.
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Plans

We have no idea what’s going to happen in 2018 (still trying to figure out if we can stay another year in Croatia) but we will definitely fit in some personal solo trips during the year.

Me: I’d like to do a solo bike trip for up to a month, biking every day with stops along the way. Travelling light, with few plans. Still in the early stages of planning, but it might be a bike trip around the Adriatic coast covering Croatia, Italy and Montenegro. I’d like a “journey”, following a map with a goal in mind.

Lissette: She’s been interested in visiting Russia. She’s curious about it. Unlike me, she’d prefer to do it with someone, a “buddy” trip. Send in your applications now if you want to be Lissette’s travel buddy for Russia! Another thing she’d like to see are the northern lights in Norway.
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If you could – where would you go (or do) ?

If you could do the ultimate solo trip, what would it be? Give me some ideas!

Some things that have crossed my mind: hiking on the islands of Madeira or Corsica/ Seeing the Great Rift Valley in Tanzania / discovering castles in Scotland or Wales/ doing a road trip in Namibia/ doing a similar road trip in Northeastern South Africa. And also seeing Lesotho/ Finally visiting Vietnam/ Seeing the Bolivia Salt Flats / Doing a wine tour, maybe while seeing the countryside of Northern Argentina / Doing the Peak of the Balkans trail (Albania/Kosovo/Montenegro) / See the Grand Canyon and some of those national parks in Utah / The Trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Vladivostok / See Victoria Falls one more time (but this I prefer to do with Lissette).

 

Are you in a relationship and still manage to travel Solo? Why do you do it?
What’s your Ultimate Solo Trip?

 

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Comments

  1. Hi Frank, Wow! you just touched on my most incredibly touchy issue. If you remember, I mentioned to you that mostly I traveled alone. The last trip we met in Split with my husband, was because I was tired of peoples reaction and question why I travel solo. Some friends gasped when they heard I traveled in 2015, 2016 for a bunch of weeks alone all over. So when we did travel this year together, I still was the one making all the plans, airlines, air B&B, hotels, sightseeing etc. He will come along as long as I do everything, so he can just enjoy the sightseeing. He will say “I trust your judgment”. I am also used to traveling along since my early 20’s, so I am not scared like my female friends will say to me, “how could you, aren’t you afraid” . Planing this year trips (we might take two of them), I will go solo for one and both of us on the other. Mind you and I will admit, it is easier for a solo male than a female, but I love the challenges and feel life passes me quickly and I have so much to catch up to. When I traveled alone, I always spoke with strangers easily and less so when I am with my husband.
    Sarajevo! was my favorite place (after we left Split), loved it for it’s history (which I studied) and uniqueness. If you still there, I went on two “Free walking tours” the guide was superb and knowledgeable, and don’t miss out on the “Tunnel” tour by the airport, very interesting. I heard there are some very interesting spots outside Sarajevo, if you have a car. We would love to go back there, but it is a bit out of the way spot.
    Anyway, traveling solo is a great idea even if you are married. Maybe I should travel with Lissette and leave you behind. Stay well.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Great comment Sara. Actually you hit on a good point – it is usually easier to talk to people when you’re by yourself. I guess when we are with our partner we are talking to them and less open to others, plus other people less likely to bother a couple.

      Yeah, people judge. Firstly, people are scared shitless of their own shadow and have all these ideas about the dangers in other places. Secondly, doing it as a solo woman is just plain nuts! Thank god for people like you Sara. You know, my mom retired 15 years ago and has been travelling solo since then and has also settled down for periods of time in Thailand and Mexico. The worst thing that ever happened was in Thailand when a motorcycle thief pulled at her purse and knocked her down in the process. Apart than that, nothing has ever happened. I have no patience for those people who stay in their apartments fearing the outside world. Ignorance. And in the end they’re the ones losing out because of irrational, ignorant fear.

      I did that tunnel tour today and it was excellent. Our don’t mind plugging the tour company: http://sarajevofunkytours.com/ Just really great info. I don’t know about you Sara, but visiting Sarajevo is depressing.Some of the worst examples of everything human. And they’re not even close to ever reconciling anything, this presidency (which is shared among 3 members: A Bosniak, a Serb, and a Croat) couldn’t even decide the country’s flag given 3 years (The UN decided it for them). Nothing gets done here. Utterly, totally depressing.

      Thanks for the comment Sara.

  2. Second feedback Frank,
    I didn’t see the comment about Lissette and Russia. It’s on my bucket list, but mostly to visit St. Petersburg and see the Kirov Ballet performance, it’s been a dream.
    Sara Y.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Ha, you could have a great conversation with Lynn who commented on having been to CS. Petersburg and loving it.
      I don’t know if/when Lissette would visit Russia but I hope she does.

  3. Lynn Finateri Silbiger says:

    I agree that to appreciate “couple time” you need “solo time.” I left my husband home for the entire month of October while I traveled to St. Petersburg, Amsterdam, through Belgium and then Paris; some of the time I was with friends, some of the time I was by myself. I loved the time away, but I appreciated coming home and missing him. He goes on a two week trip each summer with some of his friends as I’m not much for camping/roughing it. We absolutely love traveling together, but we also value our alone time. Several of our friends voice their objections about one traveling without the other, but I choose to think they are jealous. If Lissette needs a travel buddy, I too want to see the Northern Lights in Norway and loved St. Petersburg (haven’t been anywhere else in Russia yet). Of course, she is a little closer geographically for both than me (Dallas, TX). Love your posts!

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      I think you are right about friends being jealous Lynn. I think they’d probably LOVE to do the same as you but are afraid to bring up the subject and/or afraid of what other people will think. And many women talk about a solo trip but never carry through. I think it’s great that you’ve established this routine with your husband.
      Who knows what the future holds? But if a trip to the Northern Lights ever imminent I’ll mention to Lissette your interest!

  4. HaHa! I totally get that “punch in the face” as we’ve both wondered out loud, “Remind me again why we got married?” One of our biggest worries when we retired early and then traveled full time for 3 years before setting up a base was that 24-7 dilemma. We’d always worked different shifts, traveled a lot for work and had our own friends in addition to shared friends. At the beginning of our travels, we relied totally on each other, splitting up the travel details like you and Lissette but we’ve tried to do some ‘cross-training’ as well (my favorite phrase carried over from my work days) so that we each know what to do in case of a sudden illness or emergency. This post comes at a great time as I’m currently planning my first foreign solo trip to Vietnam and Cambodia for 6 weeks with a 10-day bike tour in the middle. I alternate between giddy excitement and bouts of nerves and my biggest fear is (as usual, since I have a poor sense of navigation) ‘What if I get lost?” The challenges of traveling alone are real but hey, meeting challenges is always a huge rush and confidence builder. As for future travels, let’s talk some time, Lissette!
    Anita recently posted…Fall Traditions: Aljezur’s Sweet Potato Festival and Giving ThanksMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Actually I saw my mom last week Anita and she had mentioned to me about your upcoming bike trip in Vietnam/Cambodia. Nothing to be worried about, you’ll have a fantastic time. I’m actually envious! On a previous trip to Laos Lissette and I met some Dutch travellers who were doing SE Asia by bike. Just a husband and wife. They raved about it, the landscapes, the people who would wave as they passed by…so you’ll love it as well.

      Lissette and I ave always got along fantastically but I’d be lying if we weren’t at all nervous (before starting out with full time travel) as to how it would affect our relationship. I think it is the biggest test you can ever have. Before that we had been together 9 years while both working, but that’s a honeymoon compared to being together 24/7. I wish more people who write honestly about how it can at times be difficult instead of the constant rosy “how everything is so superbly wonderful 100% of the time”. It can be difficult. We met another couple recently and they said some of the same things. It’s good to talk about and to know that this is normal.

      I think you and Lissette would get along superbly Anita!

  5. I hear you! I’m the planner and he just shows up. I was just back in Nigeria by myself for 5 weeks and it was great. He had to make his plane reservations to Dubai and Rome by himself and had a devil of a time with it :-). Frantic messages :-). I have never worried about what people, including my family say when they see he’s not with me. Telling them to cough up the 600 euro fare for him usually shuts them up :-). Time apart is a good thing. When l did it at home, I just tell him so. One of the reasons l love a big apartment … I miss him when we’re apart , but l still enjoy my time alone. Spanky picked a couple of places not on my list :-(.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Yes, who knew booking tickets was so difficult! 🙂 Everything is soooo easy until they have to do it, right? Logistics is lots of work and people don’t always recognize it.

      Exactly. “Oh, you want to pay to bring him here? Be my guest”. Yeah, that shuts people up. People love to complain about something until they have to pay…

      Glad you made it back from Nigeria. I know that last visit couldn’t have been the easiest…

  6. It’s healthy for your relationship to take separate vacations now and then, especially when you are full time travelers. Also, like you mentioned, traveling solo makes you stronger by getting you out of your comfort zone. I recommend you to go to Wales to see the castles. Now that I’m around internet I’ll be posting more about them. I’ve been to 8 out of 100, in Wales, and counting. This weekend I’ll be going to one just outside of Cardiff that most people don’t know about. Yes, I’m addicted, it doesn’t matter if it’s in good shape or ruins; castles are pretty darn cool😎
    Paula recently posted…What’s In My BackpackMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks Paula, actually I’ll be looking at your Wales posts with interest. I used to have an English teacher (he’s the one who taught me English) when I lived in Zambia called Tommy Thomas. Very nice man.

  7. I agree with the ‘travelling as a couple makes you weak individually’ statement. I have no idea how to book flights, accommodation etc as that’s Kirsty’s ‘job’. I’m sure I’d work it out pretty fast if I was on my own but currently I don’t need to, so I don’t bother. When we return to the UK it’s common for us to go in different directions for a couple of weeks at a time in order to visit our respective family and friends. It works out fine and dandy. Overall though, I prefer travelling with someone. You end up having to talk to some real idiots in order to have a bit of company (which we all need) if you are on your own or, alternatively, you meet someone that you really connect with and they bugger off in a different direction a couple of days later and all you are left with is a friendship via social media.

    Regarding Lissette’s plan to visit Russia. It is also very high on our list for 2018 but I won’t be sending in an application for travel buddy as I assume Soviet-era buildings and huge monoliths probably aren’t high on her agenda! Did you know that if you buy a ticket for the World Cup, you get the visa thrown in. All the info is on FIFA’s website.

    As for ultimate solo trip – how about walking from one side of Nepal to the other? It’s called the Trans Himalayan Trail and it would be incredible. If you want to forget the solo bit and go with a travel buddy I’d be interested. Kirsty and I are NOT compatible trekking partners – she goes too slow, I walk to fast blah, blah, blah … but I really want to give it a go.
    Mark recently posted…The House of Revolution (Dom Revolucije) in Niksic, MontenegroMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks Mark. Never heard of the Trans Himalayan Trail (which I’m linking here). Wow, 6 months. I’ve meet people lately who want to do the Pacific Coast Trail in the US, also a 6 month trail. I’ll keep it in mind if ever Lissette needs a 6 month break from me. Thanks for mentioning that. Are there beer stops along the way?

      Also thanks for the Fifa mention. Lissette not at all a football fan though, but Soviet era stuff she does like. I really at this point have no idea how 2018 will break down but we’ll all these options in mind…

      I’ve always been independent, no brothers or sisters, so travelling solo and just being in my own head is easy for me. Lissette is the one person I can travel with for a really long time. I’ve never done it with anyone else and I don’t know how I would do. Maybe the social pressure would be too much. If I ever did a long trip with someone else I would need a lot of solo time in between to explore, just the way I am. I’ve had a few shorts trips with friends and they can be clingy and get insulted when you want to do your own thing. Which is why I don’t travel with friends anymore.
      So you keep Kirsty around so you don’t end up talking to idiots? Ha!
      Its interesting other people’s preferences.

      • I would love to attempt but it needs to be sooner rather than later before I loose my fitness! And yep, there are beer stops along the way. The price is more expensive than in the lowlands but when you see porters humping crates of the stuff up into the mountains, you will understand why!

        I didn’t know Lissette is a fan of Soviet-era architecture. She might like the new Architectonic page on our website (plug, plug!). Regarding the football, you could always opt for the cheapest ticket, forgo the match and simply treat it as a visa fee? Although we are also considering it (and we like football), what is putting us off is the inevitable hike in accommodation prices for that period. You would kind of have to avoid the major cities and where the games are being played in order to avoid the mayhem that goes with a World Cup and that would almost certainly mean missing out on Moscow and St Petersburg. That said I think the visa is valid for around eight weeks and the World Cup only lasts a month so those cities could be visited away earlier or later? We are more delaying our visit to Russia because, in all honesty, we don’t know where to start given our preferences – I need to do the research!

        • Frank (bbqboy) says:

          Sounds like you guys have given Russia some thought! We don’t know yet how 2018 will fall but I’m sure we’ll be much more active than we were this year. Have you guys planned out your year? How far in advance do you plan?
          We’ll stay in touch, maybe this will be the year we finally meet the two of you.

  8. Your post made me laugh, Frank, because it’s so true. I’ve always said in order to travel with someone you better not only love them, you better really like them a whole lot. Cuz let’s keep it real, you do in fact want to punch that loved one in the face at times. When it’s 102 degrees in Budapest and you’re trying to navigate without GPS to find your accommodation and you just want to lash out at the person next to you, you need to know you can trust the relationship.

    I’m trying to remember if I’ve ever traveled completely alone and the fact that I have to think so hard means it’s most unlikely. I’ve definitely challenged myself and pushed myself way out of my comfort zone, i.e. walking the Camino de Santiago and traveling in Iran for 3 weeks, but I’ve always had Abi at my side because I can’t imagine not sharing the experience with him. But at the same time, I completely understand what you’re saying. I know I could travel on my own, but I haven’t yet found a reason to do so. But more importantly, I need someone to kill spiders that find their way into places where they should not be, which is any room I am in. 🙂

  9. Couldn’t agree more Frank. Great post. I still like to travel on my own, to organise it all, to have to think on my feet. With our last few trips and next year’s my wife and I start apart and then meet up somewhere.
    Andrew Boland recently posted…Cities on Sunday – TokyoMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      That’s a nice way to do it as well Andy, meeting up somewhere. Lissette and I did that once in Italy, best of both worlds.

  10. Travelling solo is an ultimate experience and an unforgettable one. I definitely agree with your post, Frank. Although I am not in a relationship, this topic is food for thought. 😉

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