Travel in dozens, in mobs when you are on study abroad or a package tour for spry senior citizens; it is here that you will meet most of the worst people you will ever meet in your life, but a few of the best, and without the background of the former its harder to appreciate the latter. Travel in hordes that have to check to make sure they didn’t leave anyone on the metro, in groups where when two of you get lost in the Metropolitan Museum of Art together, it’s a quest to be reunited to your clan, not merely two, lost.
Travel in four when everyone wants the same thing but different ways. Pair off because sidewalks are not wide enough, and jibber-jabber with each other about the scenery and life back home and the problems that keep your mind elsewhere. Sometimes, let one pair jibber-jabber and the other take a rest, gathering some paltry solitude from the walk beside this person. Don’t think of it as silence; when you spend all your waking hours with the same people, just the lack-of-speaking is a kind of transcendence. You will be conveniently accommodated at tables in restaurants, not like those poor families with three children. Face each other then, and try to process what you’ve seen together over carafes of wine or clouding mugs of the local hot beverage.
Travel in three when they are your favorite people in the whole world, but you tire of them; with three, you will be a group small enough to attract the wanderers, the world-wise lonelies who dare to latch onto other groups for a night on the town or a tour of the Alhambra. With three, you will alternate speaking and not speaking, but sidewalks are wide enough for the three of you for the most part. Let the two talk and learn from them, and from what they see. Let one of them listen sometimes, to breathe in the closeness.
Travel in two with a lover, or another friend for whom silences are full and while you won’t lose each other in a crowd maybe you will lose each other in your minds. One companion is much more like a safe variation on travelling alone, so choose this person as someone you feel as comfortable as if you were alone. If you don’t, then train this person to join you with others; travel always seems to want more company, and latching onto other people’s wagons will give you perspective that your uninspiring single travel friend will not.
Travel alone in countries where you feel safe, at times in your life when you don’t doubt that in other places, people love you very much. It is easy, when not accompanied, to actually appreciate the grandeur of the world, but it’s just as easy to estimate, based on the non-representative sample, that everyone else in the world is happy and in a group and you are not. Travel alone when you want to wake up late, go to bed early, eat absolutely anything on the menu, read a book in a park instead of visiting yet another museum. Travel alone to look at the river without wondering whether your companions’ gaze has wandered.
Or don’t. You’ll learn just as much, other things that are different, from flouting these ideas as from following them.