Being sick has derailed me! After months of travel feeling completely energized, I’m now home with zero physical energy. Also, the island is experiencing winter storms (snow on Mauna Kea!), and the rain has kept me inside. But I do have a nice keyboard, a big monitor and lots of thoughts weaving around, so I wrote this. Sorry – lots of words, no photos.
Table for One, Please, or Why I Travel Alone
One thing I know to be true: I am a travel addict. I am most alive in a place I’ve never been before, grinning at architecture, sampling local food, being surprised by flora and fauna I never knew existed: these activities toss my confetti. I crave the new and am thrilled by discovery. On the road, I’m drinking in the world, my preferred form of intoxication. (Okay, I admit to drinking lots of local wine, too.)
This experience-the-new addiction is precisely why I choose my preferred method of travel: taking off by myself; a travel companion requires attention, distracting me from my surroundings.
Ouch! may be your first response. Perhaps you are a person who thinks, “I need to be able to turn to my partner and say, ‘Isn’t this a beautiful sunset?’” You may feel that you need someone by your side to confirm the world’s specialness. For me, not so much: the satisfaction I gain from beauty never requires a second opinion. I can embrace an experience all by myself. You should try traveling alone, too, I believe, if not for the same reasons. Why? It allows for a richer travel experience. You’ll be experiencing something new every second of the day, with none of the pull of the ordinary. I predict you will feel fully awake and alive.
So far, I have visited 29 distinct areas (I don’t use the word ‘country’ because then I couldn’t count Antarctica!). The majority of my travels have been taken with just me, myself, and I. I once traveled solo for 13 straight months, around the world and to every continent: it was fantastic! Before the trip, a friend nicknamed me “Danger Girl” – he couldn’t believe I would do such a thing. Other people have called me brave, but I don’t think of myself that way: eager is a better description. I want to go when and wherever catches my fancy. I don’t like to be slowed down.
Traveling alone, I am free to change my mind and plans at the drop of the hat, upsetting no one. I have been witness to countless squabbles between travel mates over a day’s schedule. Traveling alone keeps things fresh and simple, with zero – count ‘em! – squabbles.
I should probably mention that I am not a kid. I am full-grown, and I caught the travel urge very early. It has only increased as the years have passed; I jump on a plane, train, or ferry every chance I get. I would travel non-stop if I could. By myself.
Some say it is dangerous to travel as a woman alone. To be sure, I avoid war-torn areas and countries known to tolerate subjugation or mistreatment of woman. Actually, I have discovered that people tend to look after women traveling alone. When dining solo, sometimes I’m invited to join others, even if there’s a language barrier. Sometimes I’m offered a nicer hotel room or steered towards trusted cabbies or guides because I am alone. Sometimes people want to take me under their wing. Although I don’t feel a need for protection, I always say yes to their invitations, or rather I say si or oui!
Plus, fellow wanderers relish meeting folks from other places, eager to share tips and travel plans of their own. When I started that long trip, I only had the first three months sorted out; I made up the rest on recommendations and invitations.
Maybe you are not convinced it’s a good idea to travel alone yet. I suggest this: spend some time writing down in great detail your dream trip. Then see if you can find anyone who shares the exact same idea. If you do, wow! If not, consider trying a solo trip. It doesn’t have to be far from home or for more than a few days. Just try it once and see what you think.
To get started:
- Subscribe to travel newsletters, like Afar or Lonely Planet; sign up for emails from Rick Steves, Backyard Travel, G Adventures, Intrepid or other fancier or more budget-minded companies. Plumb these resources for their recommendations. This will generate ideas for you and raise excitement. You may not know you want to do something until you see enticing photos or a great write-up of a place. Articles can also help you figure out what you don’t want to do. I’ve wanted to behold the Northern Lights for as long as I can remember, but after reading about the super cold conditions at the best spots, my enthusiasm waned.
- Get a credit card that gives you travel bonuses; I almost always fly with accumulated points. Check out The Points Guy for tips.
- Go to your library and peruse the travel section (the 910s in the Dewey Decimal System).
- Revisit that list you made: do you want to visit museums or the great outdoors? Swimming or hiking? Are you a foodie or wine lover? Get specific, and let those choices guide you to your destination. Example: Google “countries with best free museums.” Boom! There you go! Or simply check out Fodor’s Go List.
- Consider staying in one place for the duration; transportation eats up time and money. Going here and there lets you see more, but staying in one location fosters intimacy.
- Instead of staying in hotels, considering staying in alternate accommodations, like monasteries, which is a favorite of mine. Maybe that sounds awful to you, but that’s the point: explore alternatives, then go where YOU want to go.
- Start close by if that’s best for you. Pretend you are a Parisian visiting your area, buy a local guide book, and play tourist, with or without a fake French accent.
- Use travel rating systems with great caution; I learned this lesson the hard way. In user-driven platforms, examine the specific reasons people like or dislike a place as opposed to just considering the number of stars a place receives. Personally, I avoid travel sites that wish to advise or book me (hint, hint).
- Watch movies/documentaries and read novels/non-fiction set in your desired locale. Learning the history of a place vastly enhances time spent there.
- When you’re ready to go, the most important thing is travel light! Pack your stuff and then carry all of it around your house, especially up and down stairs; how does that feel? This exercise will greatly help with the elimination process. I only ever travel with a carryon suitcase and small bag, even on that 13-month trip. This allows me to move faster through airports and avoid baggage fees, and I never lose my luggage. Hand wash your intimate apparel when you shower and hang it to dry, reducing the amount you need to take. Wear dark clothes made of stain- and odor-resistant fibers (wool is a great choice, even in warm weather). Buy clothes at your destination if you need to, and then when you are home and someone comments on your gorgeous shirt, you can casually reply, “Oh, I picked this up in Rome . . .”
To be sure, my travels are not all happy happy joy joy. I experience down days. Places are not as I imagined them to be; marketing is deceptive; my expectations have been unrealistic. I get nervous, frustrated, and flustered, but I just keep going, and it is easier to alter outlook when there are many distractions right outside the door! If I find myself a foul mood, I go for a walk. Body movement can do wonders for a sour POV, and who knows what you’ll discover out in your new environs. As for travel hiccups, it is my experience that “challenges” often uncover treasures I would otherwise have missed out on.
I once read something that has deeply affected my approach to life: no one is better suited to make me happy than myself. I fully embrace that sentiment and therefore travel alone. So far it has been extremely rewarding. Anyway, the world expects us to go around in twos – be a rebel: try going as a one.
Enjoy your explorations, real, online, or in books. Feel free to ask me questions – I’ll answer as best I can.
Just don’t ask if you can come with me on my next trip. . .
Happy travels and bon voyage!