I’ve never traveled by myself. I didn’t take one of those epic backpacking trips in my 20s, making friends on the hostel circuit. I’ve never jetted off somewhere on my own just because. Growing up, I traveled with my family, and since then, I’ve always explored new destinations (or returned to favorite ones) with friends.
So when I booked a vacation with Topdeck Travel — a company that organizes group trips for solo travelers — for a sailing trip around Ibiza, I felt nervous about joining the group without knowing anyone. Wouldn’t the experience be more fun if I had a buddy on board? Even if we didn’t click with anyone else, we’d have each other and tons of memories between us afterward.
But I needed an adventure, and I knew I would regret passing up such an incredible opportunity — so I took the plunge solo.
The benefits of joining an organized group trip like this were immediately obvious, especially as our skipper ferried us from the dock to the sailboat that would be our home for the week. My friends can hardly settle on a place to eat brunch, much less charter a boat, plot its course around the Mediterranean and somehow manage to get food and drinks — yes, even brunch! — on board.
Aside from logistics, there were boons to traveling with total strangers that I never would have imagined. Of course, it helped that we were in paradise. But each of us got there by virtue of our decision to dive in alone. We didn’t have to juggle schedules with our friends or families, waiting to agree on a time or destination that worked for everyone. We got to be selfish about doing something we wanted to do, and that felt good.
We were also granted the opportunity to be the best versions of ourselves. In a way, it almost felt like a mini first week of college — a chance to start fresh, free from the expectations and assumptions of people who already know us. In my case, I didn’t have to be the one who’s always a bit hesitant to go in the ocean (another reason a sailing trip was a big leap for me). I got to try on a side of me that’s just another fish in the water like everyone else, jellyfish be damned.
Because we were each carrying a blank slate upon arrival, everyone on the trip was on their best behavior, eager to put their best foot forward. I’m not so sure my friends would have been as gracious with one another as our group of five was, bunking below deck and sharing a single bathroom on a 50-foot sailboat. Of course, now I’m happy to count my fellow shipmates as friends too.
Proximity brought our group close, so to speak, but the adventures we shared really forged lasting bonds between us. A study published in the journal SCAN showed that shared experiences foster close connections, and in some ways, it’s obvious why — think again of how many memories you share with college friends. Similarly, emotional responses to experiences and events are heightened when we share them with others. So whether we were exploring Old Town or making a cameo at Amnesia where Paris Hilton hosts a DJ residency, our pleasures were enhanced simply by having each other’s company.
Travel usually means leaving our comfort zones, whether it’s exploring an unfamiliar culture, placing our faith in a TripAdvisor review or, for some, even climbing aboard a plane. Embarking on a journey halfway across the world with a group of total strangers was entirely outside of mine. It was also a week I’ll never forget — thanks in part to the connections I made along the way.