7 ways that couples travel is different (for better or worse!) than traveling alone.
Cost/Benefit Analysis of Solo vs. Couples Travel
1. On Places To Sleep
The biggest drawback to me of staying in dorms is not having the option to unpack. It’s great when my boyfriend is there to split the cost of a room so we have a private, locked space to spread our stuff out. By shopping around, we’ve often find hotel rooms, or private rooms at hostels, that cost the same as or less than renting two beds in a hostel dorm.
Although much more rare, we have also been in hostels that realize we sleep together anyway and have allowed us to share a single dorm bed. This doesn’t always happen because hostels want to rent as many beds as possible. However, if they are full (say, if it’s a holiday weekend) they might want to take the bed back so they could sell it to someone else for more.
For apartment rentals, couples travel is a no brainer. We love exploring instead of being shown around, so we only use AirBnb for entire apartments (vs. a private room in someone’s home). It’s a little more expensive, but worth it for us in terms of value (i.e. privacy, being able to cook meals in bulk, etc.)
Conclusion: Solo travelers can stay in inexpensive dorm beds, while couples have economies of scale and can split a hotel room that would’ve cost the same for one person. In terms of absolute cost, solo travelers are the winners but couples may get better value.
2. On Transportation
Having another person helps justify the cost for cabs and car rentals. We once procrastinated booking a group shuttle to the airport and found that all existing trips were fully booked. Since we had 2 people, they were willing to start another car for $90, which we haggled down to $80 by offering to pay cash—still less than the cost of an hour-long cab ride!
By the next day, the shuttle company had found other walk-ins to join ours, bringing our cost down to $25 per person. We took a risk that nobody else would need a shuttle for the same day and we would have to foot the full bill ourselves, a chance that I probably wouldn’t have taken traveling alone because the at-risk costs would have been too high.
In general, having a second person allows more customization for group plans. For example, any kind of tour (hiking, walking, etc.) will usually want to serve 2 or more guests per trip, and it isn’t always possible to join another group unless there are others who want to go at the same time.
Conclusion: Couples travel benefits from safety in numbers, economics of scale (e.g. when renting a car), and being able to split cabs or Ubers, among other things.
3. On Activities
Traveling as a couple, even normal things like eating meals and taking naps are fun to do together, so we don’t feel the need to pack our days with activities. Traveling alone, I definitely spend more taking part in group activities. For example, I enjoy hiking tours because it’s a safe way to do something I would normally do for free with friends or my boyfriend.
Often I’ll meet a group of new people at whatever hostel I’m staying at and tag along for whatever activities they’re up to (e.g. museums, bars) which can quickly add up in expenses. Obviously you can opt out of anything you don’t think is worth the money, but it can be a difficult thing to do when you’re having fun and enjoying the company of the people you’re with.
Conclusion: Traveling as a couple is cheaper for us because we don’t need to spend every waking hour doing activities. On the other hand, I engage more with other people and try more new things to pass the time when I’m by myself.
4. On Bar Tabs
Traveling alone, I usually limit myself to a glass of wine at meals to avoid being inebriated (for safety and because it’s just less fun getting drunk by yourself!). The tricky part is when you’re spending time with new friends while traveling. It’s much easier to think ‘I’m having fun and have nothing better to do so let’s keep the good times rolling!’ which can quickly lead to a bigger bar bill, especially if you refuse to accept drinks from men who are not your boyfriend.
As a couple, we never feel pressured to join a bar crawl to meet people. If we do drink while out, it might be a cocktail or two at dinner. Otherwise, we get a couple local beers from the grocery and drink by ourselves. Less social, but way cheaper!
Winner: Couples Travel
Conclusion: I definitely spend less time in bars when traveling with my boyfriend. Grocery store alcohol is usually much cheaper, and we’re happy to grab a couple of those to have while hanging out at “home”.
5. On Eating Out
For me, this is heavily skewed because I’m an adventurous eater. Especially in known food meccas (e.g. Paris, San Sebastian, etc.) I want to be able to try everything, but am limited by how much I can eat and how much I want to spend on food. Traveling with my boyfriend, we can get one of everything to share, and try twice as much for the same average cost!
On the other hand, my athletically built boyfriend gets hungry at least 4 or 5 times a day, and because I love food, we both just eat whenever one of us is hungry (sometimes late at night, which I would never do if I was alone!).
Deciding what to eat is also tougher with two palates to satisfy. My boyfriend gets “hangry” when he hasn’t eaten in a while, so another drawback could be when one person (usually me) is indecisive about what to eat.
Conclusion: At the end of the day, you’re still paying for however much you eat. Couples might have a marginal advantage because they can split big-ticket items (e.g. paella which doesn’t usually come in single-serve) but solo travelers don’t have to eat whenever the other person is hungry AND can eat whatever they like without regards to someone else.
6. On Access
There is something to be said about going on adventures with someone else, but doing things with my boyfriend, like going to a concert, usually means buying a ticket (well in advance if there is risk of it selling out) and taking care to look put-together so that bouncers let us both in. As a young woman, I’ve found there are few parties, clubs, or events that I’m not able to get into by myself, sometimes just by walking in like I belong there and not getting stopped.
Winner: Solo Travel
Conclusion: There are some instances where traveling alone helps you get into places (for example, Berghain nightclub in Berlin) but few where going as a couple will give you a boost.
7. On Supplies
For longer trips, being able to buy things like sunscreen, bug spray, and toothpaste in bulk and share responsibility for carrying them is a small advantage for couples travel. For example, I bring tissues, wet wipes, and nail clippers (which he never thinks to bring). Meanwhile, my boyfriend is always ready with first aid, like aspirin, iodine, Band-Aids, etc. (which I never think I’ll need!). It’s nice not to have to carry everything on my own, but this matters less if you’re traveling to developed countries where you’ll be able to buy anything you need.
Conclusion: It’s easy enough to find things like first aid and hygiene products almost anywhere in the world so the benefit of sharing is negligible.
At the end of the day, they’re very different experiences. I enjoy traveling alone because it reminds me that I am capable of finding my way. I love couples travel because my boyfriend is the person I want to share life’s adventures with and the more we travel together as a team, the more our relationship becomes a well-oiled machine!
Do you have a preference for solo or couples travel?
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