When I first started travelling, all my concentration was on the journey and the destination. Never have I wondered how the experience of backpacking can be affected by the company you are travelling with. And I do not mean the people you meet along the way, I am talking about the person you are sharing your journey with. I have met many backpackers who support the idea of solo backpacking; I have also met those who showed me how great it is to go duo backpacking. So which is better – solo or duo?
I will state upfront that there will be no winner in this article, but I suggest you read about how they are different and what you will experience in both cases, as sometimes you do not even consider what can affect your travelling experience.
So first let’s talk about solo backpacking, which I have enjoyed a lot throughout South-East Asia. I think this is a great way to get to know yourself. It’s a lot scarier to do at first for most people, but it’s very addictive. I would even say that solo travelling gives you the real feeling of freedom and independence. On the other side, you give away a bit of safety, in-depth sociability and you risk of not having enough skills or knowledge that could be imperative on your journey. Here’s a bit of a more detailed explanation of my thoughts.
Benefits of solo backpacking
Freedom. Isn’t that what we all look for when we leave our “normal” lives and head out to the unknown? Solo backpacking is the experience that gave me the feeling of complete freedom. All the decisions, all the places you choose to go to, all the things you choose to do – all this is entirely up to you.
Get to know yourself. A lot of you might think that you know yourself best. This is true, I guess, but even you do not know your real personality if you haven’t been outside the frames of the regular society. When you get out of those frames you start to reveal your true nature. Solo backpacking helps you to get to know what you like, what bothers you, what makes you comfortable, what scares you. After a while, you actually get to know what you want to do with your life. I imagine for most of the backpackers it becomes travelling 🙂
Try your limits. What you can and cannot do becomes unknown after you leave the regular life. You need different skills when you are travelling than say when you work in marketing. And when you start using new skills you want to know how good or strong or creative you are. Mountain climbing, long hikes, diving or snorkelling, even testing your foreign language skills – you want to test how good you are because you depend on these skills on your trip.
Surrounded by people. When you do solo backpacking, you only think you are going to be all alone. The fact is – you never are. Solo travellers attract other like-minded people. Maybe it’s because of people wanting to be social. Maybe because travelling people are usually a lot nicer and more interesting (does not count when talking about hard party-goers and trouble makers who do not respect the people and the country they visit). In any case, solo backpacking does not mean you will be alone. It actually means you will get even more attention from everyone.
New skills development. Imagine yourself being out somewhere in a country which language you do not speak and you need to get from point A to point B and then to find a place where you will need to sleep. Getting the right directions, buying food and tickets, negotiating for the price, navigating and even budget planning. This and a lot more skills are needed to be able to travel. People usually do not have them at the start but they learn fast as they need to improve to travel.
The downside of solo backpacking
The danger of testing your limits. This was one of the things mentioned in the perks column. But testing your limits also means that you risk. And there’s no one else to tell you to think twice about doing something. We all heard about backpackers who died when hiking, mountain climbing, some that got into dangerous situations because they explored the wrong places, some that were swimming in places they did not know were dangerous. It is sad, but sometimes people think they can handle more than they actually can.
Surrounded by people. It mostly depends on how social you are. Personally, I am a very social guy, but even I got tired of the constant company. Of other backpackers approaching me when I am just reading a book next to my bungalow and trying to get some attention even if it’s just a polite conversation. You get tired. All the attention you get from locals and other backpackers can be a bit hard to cope with after some time of solo backpacking.
Lack of knowledge. Solo travelling means that most of the time you will depend on the decisions you make. So every time you need to find out something, get somewhere, find something – you will have to do it yourself. No one will do it for you. And sometimes two heads are better than one, as they can discuss better options, have more language skills combined, they can fill each other’s skill gaps.
Sharing the experience. For me, the biggest downside of solo backpacking was this. I did not have a person I could share the experience with. I am not talking about showing pictures or telling how cool the destination was. I am talking about the in-depth spiritual level experience sharing when you are with someone close to you. The eye-opening situations you want to discuss, the jokes you think of that only a close person would understand, the incredible moments you want someone to be there with you when you experience them. I was missing all of that.
Relationships don’t last. One more drawback of the solo backpacking is that usually the relationships and even friendships do not last if they were created on the road. Every person that leaves to travel usually has his agenda. You will meet people from all over the world. You will fall for some of them. Some will fall for you. But you can’t expect that the person will leave his own journey for you, nor you can expect someone to move with you to your country after you finish your trip. Same goes for you – will you want or even be able to move to a random country for a person you met?
Now let’s have a look at duo backpacking. For me, duo backpacking is when you travel with another person you are close with. It usually is your partner, but sometimes that can also be your close friend or a close relative. Duo backpacking allows you to experience everything together and to be able to share the moment with someone who will exactly know how you feel. But it also means being with someone all the time and testing out your relationship. I will try to elaborate more on the pluses and drawbacks of duo backpacking.
The perks of duo backpacking
More safety. This is an easy one – when there’s two of you, someone’s got your back. If you harm yourself there will be someone to get help. Also, two people are often a harder target for muggers and other bad people. And if you are in a fishy place and need some rest, you can take shifts in sleeping while the other one will watch your stuff. Pretty simple I guess, but safety is very important.
Test your relationship. When you have a regular job and you live with someone you get to know the person and adapt to the relationship so it would fit both of you. But if you are lucky enough to find someone who wants to leave everything behind to travel the world with you, you’ll need to understand that the whole relationship will be tested all over again. People are a lot more different when they travel. They start to get to know themselves better. They also start to get to know each other better. This might be hard at first, but when you learn how to travel together, you will be able to get to know your other half even better than before. And that’s an amazing opportunity to create a strong bond lasting forever.
Two heads are better than one. If you decide to do duo backpacking, you already have twice as much of skills and knowledge than when doing solo travelling. It works even better if you and your companion are from different areas or industries, or if you’ve been learning different languages. You’ll cope a lot better with difficult situations by helping each other and doing what each knows best. For example, I have noticed that I’m very bad with maps and orientation. I’ve found it hard to accept so I kept trying to lead my wife and myself to different destinations. Every time we got lost because of me we had an argument between ourselves. Now I never even touch the map. My wife is great at it, so I leave it totally under her control. While she’s finding out how to find the location, I am in charge of communicating and negotiating with people. It’s great to share responsibilities.
The minuses of duo backpacking
Testing your limits. It’s just my opinion, but duo backpacking has a drawback at the limit testing. If you and your companion are different, that means you both will like different things. Even the difference of your athletic form will mean that one will be able to endure more than the other. Now think if one wants to do hiking and the other doesn’t or can’t because he or she is in a worse shape than the other. That can really affect your travelling. Usually, backpacking is limited by time and budget and that means you won’t be able to do everything that you both want to do.
Compromising. Continuing the previous point, duo backpacking is also limited by time and budget. This means that two people who want to do different things will have to make compromises all the time to be able to do what they both like. There’s never time to do everything everyone would want. Sadly, this leads us to the next drawback of duo backpacking.
Relationships shatter. If making compromises is already a struggle for a person, duo backpacking might not be the right choice for him. It’s not only about that. When you travel together you will endure quite a lot of stress and stress might really ruin your relationship. I’ve met quite a lot of couples who have been in a relationship for years and they split up during their trip. On the other hand, I have met some couples who tested their relationship during the journey and they have been together ever since. And they continue to go backpacking together even after tens of years.
Meeting fewer travellers. When you are doing duo backpacking, you will have to spend time together. Solo backpackers attract other solo travellers, but when there’s two of you, people will tend to avoid you as one needs more courage to approach a couple. Usually, people think that couples actually want to spend more time together but from my experience, they really want to meet other travellers too. So if you decide to go duo backpacking, be prepared to spend most of the time together. For some couples it’s great, but some people could really feel the need to meet other people.
Whether you want to do solo backpacking or to go duo backpacking, do not take these points as a rule. It’s just an opinion of a backpacker. It all depends on your personalities, knowledge base and a lot more. Either way, I wish you all a great trip!