Last weekend, I was trying to explain to someone why I travel alone.
I went to Montreal a few months ago, and I went completely on a whim. My friend asked me if I knew anyone there. She asked me why I went. I told her, straight faced, honest, that I went because the tickets were cheap and the weight of New York City was pressing heavy on my chest.
This is when her eyes grew wide, an expression I’ve grown to know oh so well, and the phrase I was expecting came tumbling out of her mouth: “Oh, wow. You’re so brave. I could NEVER do that.” And all I wanted to say was that you can.
You really, really can.
When you travel alone, you belong to everyone and no one at once. There is so much to be said about walking the streets of a place where you’re absolutely certain that no one knows your name. The anonymity sinks into you, settles under your skin, and you realize that you can be anybody– if you wanted to.
No one will know the difference. No one will ever tell.
In those first few hours, maybe you’ll get lost and the sweat will build at your temples and you’ll wish you had brought a friend or you’ll wish you could go home. Maybe you won’t know the language and the street signs may not make sense and you could have sworn you just passed that sign five minutes ago.
This is when the magic happens, when you stop to breathe in the smell of the town, notice the feel of the streets under the soles of your shoes, listen to the chatter of the locals. That’s when you realize, when it hits you, that you are completely your own and whatever happens next, whatever you decide to do, it’s your choice, there is no one there to stop you and every step, every moment, is yours to create.
And that, my friends, is when the adventure begins.
If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like to be alone for long, that’s okay, because the beauty of solo travel is that you’re not likely to be alone for long, especially if you don’t want to be.
When traveling with friends or family, you’ll find yourself in a bubble, a comfort zone that’s difficult to get out of. There isn’t much of a need to meet new people when you’re already surrounded by familiar faces. Or, if you do want to meet other people, you run into the possibility of whoever you’re with being unwilling to do the same. Maybe they want to stay in that bubble or they just want you to themselves or they’ve already made other plans, but either way, the bubble isn’t going to pop.
There are so many negotiations, so many plans, a sense of cliqueness that just doesn’t happen when you travel alone.
When you’re alone, whether it be at a hostel or hotel, in a bar, or even just sitting in a park, you’ll start to notice that other people are noticing you. They’re intrigued by you, and in so many cases, they want to know you.
When I was in Montreal, I was sitting at a bar, being completely anti-social, when an attractive Australian man came up to me and asked me if I’d like to join his table for a drink. He said, “It’s always a shame to see someone sitting alone and we’ve got a whole pitcher of beer, would you like to join us and have one?”
And I said yes. Of course, I didn’t have to say yes. But I did.
After years of solo travel, I’ve realized that it’s these moments, these singular, common, tiny moments that have taken me on the best adventures of my life.
That night took me to two different karaoke bars, filled me with laughter and spirits, and left me starry eyed as I watched the sun come up, the reds and pinks soaking into the cobblestone streets of St Catherine.
It’s those kinds of memories that I don’t think I could have made if I wasn’t alone.
There have been so many cities I’ve gone where I didn’t know a single soul and left it knowing more than one.
So many people have told me about the friendships and romance they’ve found in places they’ve seen solo. Sometimes those connections are fleeting, but often, you’ll keep them tucked with you forever, the memories of them a constant reminder of how you learned to be alone.
Of course, people may say, “My God, but going with those strangers could have been SO dangerous!” And they’re not incorrect, it could have been. But every moment could be dangerous, every decision a possible wrong turn.
Why should anyone live life like that, though, constantly terrified of the unknown?
The thing that people don’t seem to understand is that traveling alone makes you more aware of yourself, of who you are and what you want. Even the most spontaneous decisions become calculated. You have to be smart and you begin to learn more about yourself in the process, about formulating your very own Plan B and getting yourself out of a situation in a pinch. You learn to trust yourself, when to be selfish, and when to say no. Not every trip is going to go exactly as planned, not every decision the best one– but you’ll learn that that’s okay.
You’ll learn that you’ll survive.
Traveling alone allows you to gain a sense of independence that you may have never had before. As you pack to leave, you’ll be packing so much more than clothes and souvenirs. You’ll take with you a new sense of accomplishment that you did it, this trip was yours, and you made it yours.
It’ll always, always, be yours.