First of all, let’s be clear. I think everyone should try to travel alone at least once in their life, even if they don’t like contemporary art.
Solo traveling is one of the most amazing experiences you can do. I know it feels scary and it is definitely not for everyone, but I strongly believe everyone should at least give it a try. There are at least a million reasons why you should consider a trip on your own, some are pretty obvious and others are very personal.
As for me, I have to thank my parents for teaching me how to travel alone. It might sound strange, as usually parents don’t want their kids to get in trouble, but my parents showed me I could do that and be very happy and safe at the same time. They encouraged me and even sort of forced me, sending me to summer schools. And at first, I was scared but it really helped me to feel confident, independent, and self-reliable and ultimately to develop my insane passion for solo traveling.
When I started getting interesting in art – and contemporary art especially – I discovered traveling on my own was not only fun, challenging and stimulating, but also a great way to fully enjoy my passion for museums and galleries. I guess we can call it a real epiphany, and I can date it back to my first trip to the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, as I explain in this article!
Ever since my first contemporary art “solo experience”, a lot of things have happened, a lot of places were visited and a lot of art seen, I can now point out 5 reasons why you should definitely consider traveling alone if you love contemporary art.
1. No time limits
This is probably the first thing I learned from traveling on my own. When you don’t have to stick to someone else’s schedule, you don’t even have time limitations.
Let’s say you are in London with some friends, and you want to visit Tate Modern, but you only have a couple of hours because the group wants to go shopping. What should you do?
If you travel alone, you can decide to spend a whole day in a museum, revisit an exhibition if you feel like you need more time there. Or, on the contrary, you can take a quick tour and just leave, because you don’t have to wait for anyone else.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying solo traveling is the ultimate form of selfishness, but sometimes you just need your own amount of time to visit a museum, take a gallery tour or visit an exhibition, and there is no better way to do so than being alone!
2. Freedom to plan (or not plan) your trip
This goes hand in hand with the previous point. When you travel alone, you can decide to just go with the flow without planning much. Or you can meticulously plan everything if that is your thing, and stick to your detailed schedule. No need to squeeze in things you don’t like, no need to wait for other people, you can follow your schedule and get the best out of your trip.
Or, since you are alone and you probably have plenty of time, you can just plan a few things here and there, and then relax and improvise for the rest of the time. You might find yourself visiting a museum you were not planning to visit, or possibly one you didn’t even know existed. Or you might pop into a gallery and discover a new amazing artist. When you travel alone you are free to take your time, go wherever you feel like going, and all you have to care about is getting the best out of your trip!
3. Stepping out of your comfort zone
Again, this is somehow related to the rest. Whenever you are traveling on your own, it is much easier to step out of your comfort zone. It happens sort of naturally because you have to adapt faster and better to a new environment. Sometimes you just need to take a leap of faith and jump straight into something new, trying new food, or just overcoming your shyness and asking for directions. But it can also mean you can take your time to explore things you wouldn’t consider otherwise.
When you travel alone, you have the time and the chance to do things you would skip in a more strict schedule. For example, having more time for yourself could translate into visiting a museum you would not visit on a normal trip. Or getting to know a collection of an artist that works with mediums you don’t usually like.
When I was in South Korea, for example, I had the chance to get to know a lot of Korean artists, both young emerging talents and older masters. Since I was alone, I could dedicate a little more time to discovering something new, and it translated into a new passion for Korean contemporary art. Sure, you could do it with friends or your significant other as well. After all, discovering things is always a great pleasure. But I feel that when I am alone, I am more curious and willing to open up to new experiences.
4. Meeting more people and networking
So, you really want to visit that Ai Weiwei exhibition in Paris, but none of your friends or acquaintances want to tag along. You finally decided to go on your own, you planned a few other things to visit, but 24 hours after landing in Paris you realize you haven’t talked to a single human being yet – if you don’t count your mum calling you to make sure you are still alive. What should you do?
Well, first of all, put your phone in your bag and look around. I am quite sure there are people around you (maybe not too close if we are still social distancing), but if you are visiting a museum or a gallery there is definitely someone there. And you know what you have in common with these people? Contemporary art, at least. And possibly a few more things.
I have visited and worked in art galleries for long enough to know that those people sitting behind the desk, obnoxiously writing on their MacBooks, are eager to talk to you too. Ask them about the artists they have on display, ask them about the gallery, or ask what is their favorite exhibit around town. Talk to them, we don’t bite!
You never know who you could meet or where you could end up. It is part of the fun, and definitely something easier to do if you are alone.
5. Guilty pleasures
Last but not least, solo traveling is the perfect chance to indulge in some guilty pleasures. Do you dream of buying that expensive exhibition catalogue? Buy it, it’s your money. Do you want to visit that foundation out of town? Go there, you don’t need to ask for permission.
Basically, when solo traveling you can afford everything you always dreamt. You don’t have to be budget-conscious if you can afford it, you can splurge in a private visit to a collection if that is something you always wanted to do. Or you can sleep in a hostel and take part in a free walking tour if that sounds new and exciting for you.
You can even decide to spend a whole day away from art and culture to dive into the local shopping, food, or club scene, without the pressure of being judged by your artsy friends!
So should you never travel with other people? Of course not!
All I am saying is, when you travel alone you are the only one responsible for your fun, enjoyment, and fulfillment. This of course means a little bit of stress, but it is so liberating and so self-empowering that it’ll soon become your favorite drug of choice. At least for me, the rewards coming from a great solo trip are all worth the few moments of stress or weariness. Going back home and telling everyone how great my trip was, what amazing new things I tried, and what experiences I made, is by itself a pure joy, a reminder I am stronger than I think. And contemporary art has a huge part in this. It is not only a great way to pass the time, but also a great way to meet people, discover places, or familiarize me with the city I am visiting.
So fellow contemporary art lovers, book a trip, get on that plane, and give solo traveling a try!