3 Unexpected Joys of Traveling Solo
I travel so much for work (which I love!), and when I’m not traveling for work, after just the shortest downtime at home, I need to be off again, exploring, experiencing, seeing, tasting, feeling new things. So I travel more. It can be a short road trip for a ski weekend in Vermont or a few weeks in Spain to take a language course. But no matter the purpose or the plan, traveling alone offers unmatched opportunities for fun, freedom, and fascination...here are three highlights as I have lived them.
1. No need to ask opinions—or permission.
So much of life is consensus—working with a team, asking a partner’s thoughts about a new idea, even picking a restaurant with family. Since my work is in hospitality, I often find myself prioritizing the comfort and preferences of others far beyond my own, simply because I genuinely like to make people happy. Sometimes, though, it’s good to be completely in charge, your own leader and follower, indulger-in-chief. To ask yourself honestly, “What would you like to do, my dear?”
I once drove across the United States completely alone, in a car that belonged to a doctor who was moving to L.A. I had two weeks to get the car to him in California (from New York), and the rest was up to me. I made a basic plan, but I deviated regularly when things appealed. I took that back road that called out to me and stopped to watch wild horses running in New Mexico. I held a whole day for Vegas but discovered I didn’t love it and just kept moving. I slept late in Texas because, well, I felt like it. I went to the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame. I ate breakfast for dinner and wore my glasses all day with bright red lipstick. I blasted the a/c—and my favorite tunes—all without a care as to what anyone else desired, without responsibility to someone else’s satisfaction. And it felt fabulous.
Have you ever spent a few hours—or a whole day—without speaking? I have. Traveling alone sets you apart and gives you a chance to sit, to observe, to meditate, to reflect. For some reason, this never feels lonely to me. It feels like a gift rich with promise, a chance to notice the sky, the buzz of a city or the slow hum of somewhere green and lush. Silence is space and space is freedom. Freedom to sit with the textures and colors that surround us or just with new ideas that are bubbling up. Silence, when welcomed with gratitude, always inspires good things.
3. The Kindness of Strangers.
Don’t let the title of this section mislead you. I’m not saying you should talk to every creepster you meet at a rest stop. I’m not even alluding to a tall/short/dark/blonde/exotic/exciting stranger you might hope to meet. I’m simply saying that when you travel in a pair or in a group, you tend to stay in your group. You are less vulnerable, yes, but you are also more insulated, a bit less approachable. If you’re in a restaurant, sitting at a table for two or four, you are less likely to strike up a conversation with someone than if you are dining alone at a bar. I like to put away my phone and spend time looking around, noticing details, sounds, people. Inevitably I meet someone interesting. Depending upon how interesting, I may exchange info, but that’s not the point. The point is connection to new people, new thoughts, new backgrounds, new cultures, new possibilities. I once had a heated debate about literature with some French intellectuals in a bar in Paris’ chic Le Marais neighborhood. They weren’t exactly kind about my grammar mistakes in French—or my taste in novelists—but they pushed me to practice thinking and expressing myself in a language I was trying to master. Another time I met a mysterious stranger on a ship crossing from England to New York. We struck up a conversation because we were both alone. Twenty-plus years later, he is still one of my closest friends. Just two years ago, the elegant proprietress of an Airbnb I had rented in France invited me to her private social club because she knew I was alone. It was an incredible afternoon of tea, pastries, and beautiful French ladies chatting about this and that. By that point, my French had improved significantly, and I was popular because they all loved New York City, where I live. If I hadn’t been a woman traveling alone, I am confident I never would have received that invitation, nor lived that fabulous moment.
Don’t be afraid to travel alone. Be aware, yes. Be safe, yes. But be open, and be brave. Be willing to look both outward and inward and what you discover may be much more interesting than any tourist attraction...