I’d always wanted to go to Paris with a lover, but in 2010, I decided to go for it alone. After all, I was going with someone I loved – me! I visited a friend in Belgium, then a week solo in Paris. By chance, a family friend was in Paris for a wedding, so I was invited to be his ‘plus one’. Paris was an easy solo trip – I explored the city alone during the day, deciding which sites I wanted to see and how leisurely. Then, at night I had wedding activities and friends to meet up with. I wouldn’t say that I learned how to love, but it was a romantic wedding, and maybe I re-learned how to love myself. That counts, right? Read my travel blog entry about Paris here.
“To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance” – Oscar Wilde
Fast-forward several years and I experienced another gruesome break-up. This time I knew what the antidote would be: a sojourn! Admittedly Arizona and Paris didn’t feel quite like they counted as solo trips. Maybe because one was in the safety of the U.S. and the other crossed paths with people I knew. So, this one felt like a big step. I chose Peru because, again, I gave up on waiting for someone to go with. I researched to make sure it was safe enough for a female alone, then planned the whole thing and off I went. Two full weeks not knowing a soul! Here is my photo blog of Peru and Bolivia.
It felt strange that some of the memories on the trip were exclusively mine and many would go untold. How could I explain to someone the feelings I had sipping hot cocoa on a balcony over the Plaza, or the fear of getting caught in a storm and being chased by dogs, or getting lost trying to find the combi bus to Ollantaytambo? These small experiences would never get told because my stories would be dominated by the more obvious tales like the hike to Machu Picchu, etc.
“When you’re traveling with someone else, you share each discovery, but when you are alone, you have to carry each experience with you like a secret, something you have to write on your heart, because there’s no other way to preserve it.” – Shauna Niequist
Benefits of Solo Travel
After Peru, I felt like a pro at solo travel, and decided it was one of my favorite forms of adventure! You don’t have to compromise on travel plans; the trip is completely personalized to you and exactly what you want to see/do. Solo travel is also the most flexible since you don’t waste time with a discussion of what to do/where to go. If you want to race through an art gallery, or spend five hours at the Apartheid Museum, you can. Or, if you want to sit on the steps of the Plaza de Armas and people-watch for an hour, you can. Or, If you want to change your mind three times in a day about what to do next, you can! It also helps eliminate arguments about which direction to go. In Italy, I spent several minutes arguing with my then-boyfriend, ‘I think the hotel is across THAT bridge’. When you’re alone, you just go the direction you think. (This also means you have no one else to blame when you get lost.)
But… Don’t you get lonely?
It’s the question EVERYONE asks. Yes, as an extrovert, sometimes I crave some interaction. The beauty of travelling alone is that you make friends quickly! People are usually willing to take you under their wing, invite you to dinner, etc. My parents often discuss the concept of being a ‘group of two’. Even as a couple, many people will leave you alone. Eating at restaurants alone is when I usually made the most friends. And when there wasn’t anyone to talk to, I took the time to write in my travel journal about the experiences of the day. I think the times that are worst are when you are waiting (ex. waiting at the airport). This is when others generally don’t start conversations and it would be nice to pass the time with a partner. Though, internet access is the cure for these times.
“What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely being alone can be.” – Ellen Burstyn
South Africa 2017
The year after Peru, I planned a trip to South Africa. I didn’t purposefully want it be solo, as I had done in the past, but I made the decision to go, and started planning it. I invited people with the intention that if they come, great. If not, I was more than OK with it being alone. (Again, I made sure it was fairly safe for women). I stayed in hostels to try and be more social, though I ended up keeping to myself for most of it. At the end, a group of five (two couples and me) traveled on a four day safari, so we became close.
Before you say no…
Traveling alone may not be everyone’s cup of tea. And I respect that. But, TRY IT before you tell me you hate it. There are easy ways to start with baby steps – maybe head to Rome a few days early before a group trip, or spend a whole day doing a different activity than your travel partner. You just might surprise yourself!