Backpacking: alone, with friends or with a boy/girlfriend?
This is one of the first questions you come across as you plan a gap year or backpacking trip.
Backpacking alone – For girls
For most girls the answer to this question can be predetermined by the importance of staying safe, but having said this, I’ve definitely come across plenty of girls who do decide to travel alone. They tend to be very assertive and confident girls, who wouldn’t be easily intimidated. There are certain countries where solo female travellers would not be advised, and this website is a good site to check. In general, countries with an established backpacker trail tend to be safer for women. In any case, the solo female backpacker is likely to meet others and travel around in groups, so the risk of danger is reduced. I haven’t personally backpacked alone but I’ve been told about the many benefits it brings – it allows incredible freedom and flexibility. You only go where you really want to go, so there’s no compromising to satisfy someone else’s requests and no arguments either. Backpacker hostels are immensely sociable places and you’re bound to meet people, so loneliness shouldn’t really feature.
Backpacking alone – For guys
Guys are lucky in that travelling alone is infinitely safer for them than for girls and there are plenty of guys that do just head out on their own, and enjoy all of the benefits mentioned above.
Backpacking with friends
This is my ideal situation. Too large a group of friends can get difficult to co-ordinate, for example if hostels or B&Bs only have space for two of you, or if there are only three spaces left on a bus when there are five of you. However, when I travelled round Cuba in a group of four, it made it worthwhile to hire a car, which is by far the best way to travel! You can choose exactly where and when you want to go and you can stop off at all the hidden and untouristed spots. But more important than the number of people you backpack with is who they actually are. If you’re going to be spending 24/7 with them, often falling asleep on each other and having the occasional squabble or difference of opinion, then you need to know them really well before you leave! If one of you wants to just stay on the beach and the other is pining after exploring Angkor Wat or hiking Machu Picchu, then it might not be too perfect a matching. If one is very picky and will stay in nothing less than a 5* hotel and the other’s budget doesn’t quite cater for that, then there are going to be problems. So choose very carefully.
Backpacking with a boy/girlfriend
Before setting out on a long trip with a boy/girlfriend, everyone will ask you what the chances are that you’ll break up. Why everyone is so sceptical is a mystery to me, because presumably if you’ve handpicked this boy or girl to be your boy/girlfriend in the first place, then you must be pretty keen on them and know them pretty well. There is always the risk that an argument over whether to go to Hanoi or Hoi An will tear you apart irreparably, but that’s something you just have to try to get over. Friends will argue as well, but it may be easier to patch up a friendship than a relationship. The advantages of going with a boy/girlfriend include not minding cramped sleeping spaces so much, and some of the places you’ll see on your travels will be so darn romantic. On another important note, it’s especially useful for the girl as the boy will always be there to wrestle and kill the various cockroaches, spiders and poisonous ants you come across. One disadvantage however is that it’s harder to meet other travellers as everyone else thinks you want some alone time together. After several months travelling, alone time is the last thing you need!
You basically just have to travel with people you feel you have a lot in common with, and who you know well enough. There will always be the odd disagreement but as long as you don’t let it get to you then it’ll be ok.