The importance of solo traveling.
When I studied abroad in Madrid the summer of my sophomore year of college, I took a travel journalism course. That course is actually how I ended up here, writing travel content. But that’s beside the point.
My professor at the time said something still rings in my head today. “You need to travel alone.”
He continued to emphasize this throughout the course, encouraging us to spend sometimes with ourselves and use the once-in-a-lifetime experience of being abroad to our advantage.
“Traveling alone is a completely different experience. You are on your own time, your own schedule without the distractions of other people,” he said.
Traveling Alone? It seemed to go against everything I was taught growing up. I was encouraged to be surrounded by peers for safety and protection. “Stay together when going places.” “Don’t leave the group.” But here was a well-respected, well-traveled adult standing in front of me telling me to disregard all of those notions.
So, completely terrified and thrilled, I listened.
It was June 26, 2019, my 19th birthday, and I decided to give myself the morning alone. No friends. No distractions. Just me, myself, and I. What better opportunity to spend some time with me than on the day I came into the world?
I decided to explore Chueca, a thriving, young neighborhood of Madrid. I had trekked through the narrow, cobblestone pathways before, but usually with one too many glasses of sangria sloshing in my stomach and some final destination.
There was always some plan, someplace our group had to see. I never allowed a moment to slow down and just exist in the present.
It was around noon. Couples passed by arm and arm as shop owners opened for the day. I wandered the streets, unattached to any plan or direction. It was freeing to turn each corner into a new unknown, with no set schedule and limitless possibilities.
After about 20 minutes, I stumbled upon a petite bar nestled into the corner of two streets. Lush vines twisted in strands from the ceiling, and warm wooden floors meet pale olive walls sprinkled with oak shelves and more greenery.
Light instrumental music blended with the sound of rushing water. Turquoise tiles covered the back wall, a thin film of water cascading down into a pool below. The beauty and tranquility pulled me. It was the perfect spot to lounge at.
The bar was relatively empty, which I should have expected for early afternoon. Besides the middle-aged tender, two older men lounged on stools at the back of the room, chatting amongst themselves.
I intentionally slide into a booth next to the window with an unobstructed view of the intersection. It was perfect for people-watching. You would be surprised with what you can witness when your eyes aren’t glued to a phone.
The bartender came over, and I ordered myself a nice bottle of sauvignon blanc. It was my birthday after all. The bottle came with a singular glass. It might have been a sad sight to any pedestrians walking past, but I didn’t care.
As I sat there, gazing out the window, letting the wine wash over me like a warm hug, I just thought, about my life, friends, family, future, everything. It was like my own little therapy session, and it was reviving. I was honest with myself for myself and didn’t try to justify any anxiety about the future or the present.
I was alone, yes, but not lonely. I think that’s what many people fear about solo traveling: they will get bored or lonely. We are the only entirely constant persons in our lives, so we might as well get comfortable with the person we are, and solo traveling is one of the best ways to do that.
It allows someone to become more connected to themselves, discovered who they are and what they want. It sounds terribly cliche, but it’s the truth. You cannot truly find yourself with the distractions of others, just like you cannot truly appreciate your surroundings looking at a phone.
Although my solo experience was an afternoon stroll, it was a start. We all need to start somewhere, even if that’s just getting coffee alone. You don’t throw a baby in a pool and expect it to start swimming. Well, some people do, but please don’t. It’s all about opening up to the world and yourself at a pace that’s semi uncomfortable but not overwhelming.