If you’re eyeing that single mom struggling with her spitting up six-month-old in one arm and three suitcases in the other, praying that for just one instant you could trade lives, it’s time.
Unfortunately, the universe isn’t Freaky Friday, so you’ve no choice but to take matters into your own hands. Seize the opportunity to ditch your compatriots when “Rainbow,” that ironically black-haired hippie from the hostel last night, appears across the street from the umpteenth souvenir shop you got dragged into. Bribe your famished-looking tour guide with sodas and sweet treats and get a personal city rendezvous all your own. If odorous, pre-adolescent strangers are starting to catch your eye, there’s a reason for it. And it’s not just that you’re desperate — it’s that they’re probably more interesting than who you’ve been hanging out with.
It won’t take you very long to assess what your cronies have in mind for their own personal travel needs. If their list consists of chugging Coors Light and running out of cocoa butter when yours is more along the lines of seeing the Northern Lights and running out of buttery croissants, that’s a bit of a red flag. And no need to pass judgment. It’s not that your itinerary is any better than theirs, it’s just entirely different. Heck, it could be that you want to steal apples from your hostel’s complimentary breakfast station and they want to find as many Michelin stars as possible. Whatever it is, the two of you just aren’t jiving. Grab your apple and get outta there. You’ve got some seeing to do and some croissants to run out of.
We all travel with ideas in our heads. What we want to do, what we don’t want to do, where we want to stay, how we want to feel, the numbers of pictures we want to take — whatever. When it comes to your to-do list, what’s on it? Is it museum-hopping? People-watching? Lattes, pâté, and cloth napkins? Or cheese and the end of a day-old baguette stuffed in your pocket? If time is tickin’ and your to-do list isn’t getting any smaller, you’ll feel better — not to mention happier and more productive — if you just go at it alone.
We all travel with ideas in our heads. We’ve all got worries and fears. If you’ve never traveled solo before and the idea brings bulldozers to your stomach, it’s best to bite the bullet. You’re already not having a good time — could traveling alone really be any worse? You’ll get to do exactly what you want to do, you’ll meet other travelers in similar situations, and you’ll get home with a unique story none of your friends have. Your traditional “group vacation” just got turned into a hardcore adventure for one. And that’s the kind of story that will be recounted over countless beers for the rest of your life. That’s the kind of story you want.
Okay, okay, sure. Sometimes our traveling buddies are useful. They’re good with maps, they foot half the bill, they speak the language — sometimes. In these circumstances, they might be useful enough that they’re worth the grief. And other times? You’d be better off ditching them in a dark alley. Take a moment when the relentlessly dull conversation hits a new low to zone out and weigh the two. Is it worth the inner angst? Is it worth the quality of your trip? If not, take a hike. You can explain later.
How many days of your life do you think you’ve spent fantasizing about an upcoming trip, vacation, or just day off? What does it feel like when those days meet — exceed, even — those expectations? Pretty frickin’ awesome. It’s like our minds couldn’t even fathom the wonders the world had in store for us, and we’re left rejuvenated and with a renewed zest for life.
But when the trip practically makes you pray for premature death? Terrible. Not only did we waste all that time wrongly fantasizing about it, but we wasted time not doing anything to improve the situation — we wasted time not enjoying ourselves. That’s just a giant recipe for regret. So if your comrades are on the “I’ll-never-do-that-again” list, it’s time. High-five, future you. High-five.
Ditching your travel partners doesn’t mean you have to travel solo. If going at it alone ain’t your thing, that’s fine — you’ll just have to lay a little groundwork to find your new groove. Visit a hopping coffee house, hostel, landmark, museum, or even bus stop or street corner. As long as you’re armed with a smile, decent hygiene, and the will to put yourself out there, you could be that interesting foreigner someone else met on their trip, that who’s-that-again person in all those photos of theirs years later. Make yourself useful with information, tips or tricks for discounted rates, or even just have some food to share, and you’re in. Just promise to use your own judgment — you’ve seen Taken, right?