If freedom is scary, then maybe that’s exactly why one should travel solo.
For as long as I had been traveling, my very first solo trip wasn’t until the age of 30. An ex-boyfriend and I had just broken up, I was completely shattered. My friend Diane had a conference in Amsterdam, so we planned for a trip to Paris together. While she was in Amsterdam, I spent a few days in Portugal alone.
In 2015, Visa Global Travel Intentions’ study showed that 24% of people traveled alone, a 9% increase from 2013. The market research was conducted by Millward Brown across 25 countries. It seems, the percentage will continue to rise since solo travel is no longer confined to singletons. A stereotypical solo traveler today can be in a committed relationship, married, or have children.
As prevalent as the trend is becoming, I still sense fear exuding from women who often ask: “How do you eat alone?” “What do you do all day by yourself?” “Aren’t you scared?” If freedom is scary, then maybe that’s exactly why one should travel solo.
In life, regardless of who we are and what we do, we all have this one particular moment. For a mother, there’s a moment of desperate desire to have simply one hour by herself. This sentiment is shared by a girlfriend living with her lover, a single woman overwhelmed by her job, a retiree no longer having to deal with a boss, a college grad fleeing away from campus. Cruising solo for a few days or a few months is that one precious hour we’ve coveted in our most overloaded days…times 100. Once you’ve had a taste of it, you want more. Warning, it’s addicting.
During those few days in Portugal, my journal accompanied every meal I gormandized and words scribbled onto pages stained by surprisingly delicious wines. I’m a slow walker because I love peeking inside every store, hence how lovely was it to not be hurried by a travel buddy and inhale the local air just as lazily as I wished. I spent an entire afternoon getting lost in winding streets of the old town center in Sintra, taking photos of a cloudy sky and touching ivory fabrics of local textiles. I never spoke much, until I met a taxi driver in Lagos – a man who I ended up hiring as a local guide for 50 euros.
We started the day driving and stopping for photos from Praia Dona Ana to Meia Praia. I would stand alone and stare into strident waves thrashing against the algarves’ majesty. Somehow, nature’s aggression transcended peace throughout my being after the most depressing year I had endured. It was one true love which I lost, though it was the right thing to do, I remained soaked in masochism and guilt.
Manuel, the taxi driver, planned our spontaneous last stop for the day at the train station where I met his daughter and her boyfriend. To this day, I still have his business card tucked inside my journal. I never told Manuel why I was alone in Portugal, maybe I didn’t know either at the time, but I’m forever grateful. When you’re on your own and ready for whichever path destiny leads, a stranger’s kindness and his oblivion to your pain make one hell of a remedy.
After Portugal, I was hooked on taking off by myself. In fact, I prefer it.
It’s empowering to know that you’re in control of how you want to spend the day. From the ability to enjoy a fancy meal without an ounce of obligation to socialize, to the liberty of making new friends when you want…or not want to. You do you, just the way you like it. How’s that for running the world.
With age, solo trips also morphed from a form of escape into gifts for myself. A few weeks ago, I spent a few days in Scotland where numerous travel mishaps only proved to myself that: I AM A GODDAMN TRAVELER, I WILL SURVIVE ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING! And that I did.
Scotland was meant to be a precious few days that I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone or answer any calls. I envisioned myself wandering through the dungeons in Edinburgh and market shopping in Glasgow. Except, I selected a country with the gift of non-stop rain and wind blowing so hard that it cut my throat. Well, almost. Instead of being cooped up in my hotel, drinking pints of Scottish beer at a pub was a far more appealing idea. And that I did.
Similar to what happened when I solo traveled to Cinque Terre, Italy last year when I befriended a group of local bartenders who became my instant lifelong friends. The same occurred in Edinburgh where I chatted with the guys serving me Tennents until 4 a.m. and all the way until I left the city. This seems to be my pattern, and I like it. Because when you’re alone and never feeling lonely, your heart is, in fact, wide open for unexpected surprises. If you hate surprises, don’t worry, when you’re joyful on your own, all surprises are good ones.
There is nothing, and I repeat, NOTHING better than marching to the beat of your own drum. Try it, you might fall in love with it.
CEO/Founder, Jetset Times