I think it’s pretty obvious from this blog that I love traveling. My parents instilled that gift in all five of us. When my marital status changed 3.5 years ago I had many choices, but one that challenged/scared me a bit was whether I’d still be able to pursue my love for travel….but on my own? Back in the day as our nest was emptying eight years ago I was looking forward to the spontaneous time to just take off, with no coordinating kid stuff while we were away. The was-band and I did get to do quite a bit of traveling for a few years and it was so much fun, but was definitely driven more by my desire than his. Could I still do it on my own? …would it still be fun? I can now say that “YES” I can travel alone and still love it!
I think the greatest joy I get from traveling alone is that I can wander aimlessly, stopping into little shops and cafes, wherever my feet take me. “Oh, there’s an exhibit at that museum over there! I think I’ll go in!” The time is all mine and the decisions are my own. What to eat, when & where. I, literally, get to stop and smell the roses…or enjoy that amazing view…or just sit in a park and read a book….without ever asking anyone’s opinion or permission. If I’m cranky or tired, I can take a nap and I’m not holding anyone back…or being judged.
I think my friends would, accurately, say that I do an awful lot of pre-planning when I go on a trip…whether with a group or by myself. Hot tip…Pinterest is your friend when you’re planning a trip!! I love the before planning, because it actually makes the wandering easier. Does that make sense? When I was in Paris, one day I wanted to eventually get over to the Ile Saint-Louis, and because of my planning, knew exactly how to get there by foot or by metro…but the beautiful thing was all the wonderful gems that I discovered along the way that were not planned as I spontaneously decided to walk the side-streets to my destination. I would never have lingered at an outdoor cafe for three hours, alternating reading with people watching, if I was with someone, because I’d feel like we needed to “get going” to the next place.
It’s not just the wandering and making your own decisions that makes traveling alone unique. It’s the difference in perspective that you get by NOT sharing it with someone at that moment, taking pictures, writing in your journal, and then sharing it later on. (helloooo, blog post!) You truly come away with a completely different experience and, in some ways, a deeper appreciation of a place because you’re constantly reflecting on that new experience.
In writing this, I realize that part of my love of wandering is probably rooted in my dad’s affinity for tours. Whenever we arrived at our destination (which were usually awesome) my dad felt it mandatory that we take whatever tour was offered in order to get a feel for the place and it’s history. Yes, we learned a lot, and maybe it’s easier to keep track of everyone when you have five kids, but it was so structured. We were the people at Disneyland following the lady with the flag…”we’re walking, we’re walking!” Ugh!! Hence, my aversion to tours. That being said, a tour I would recommend is a walking tour. They’re usually free, done by locals, and you get to chat with strangers taking the tour, while discovering some trivia or special place you didn’t know about when you arrived. And if you get bored with it you just skip out on your own…nobody is keeping track.
Solo travel has taught me that I can be with myself, surrounded by strangers, and love the place I’m in…and enjoy my own company. I’ve been proud of myself for walking into a restaurant for dinner with confidence…that I really didn’t have…and leaving that evening feeling a sense of accomplishment for successfully doing something a little scary in a foreign place and chatting up the server or my neighboring table.
Don’t get me wrong…I love to travel with my friends and family and wouldn’t trade that for the world! There’s nothing like sharing all those new experiences…the food, the architecture, the local customs….with others. My NY trips have been the perfect mix of wandering on my own and planned activities with my kids. The best of both worlds!! Given the choice, I’d travel with friends, but that’s not my reality right now…and so many people have asked me about solo travel, hence this post to share my perspective.
Solo travel means you can’t sit at home waiting for other people’s schedules to jive with your own. Let’s face it, most of my friends are happily married, so they’d have to understandably coordinate with their significant other. Because I’m single I don’t have to check with anyone before leaving town and can make last minute decisions…whether a weekend away or a last-minute home exchange. It might be a bit scary and daunting at first, but once you do it you’ll appreciate the different experience that it creates…and that you can be a pretty good solo traveler!
… this article has some practical tips on traveling alone
You cannot direct the wind, but you can adjust the sails!