For the last six days I’ve been on my own in Italy. This is not a bad thing!
I used to love to travel on my own, but I don’t do it so much anymore. I’m married to Mr. H, who is awfully fun to travel with and ready to go at the drop of a hat. As you might imagine, I’m pretty happy about that.
I started this particular trip with a friend, and I’ll end it with Mr. H, but in the meantime I’m on my own for about three weeks. And here’s what I’m learning:
1. Solo Travel Involves an Adjustment Period
The first time I traveled alone it was to London, many years ago. I remember those first few days of getting acclimated, feeling awkward and unsure, figuring out what my own personal schedule was, devoid of any other person’s wants or needs, figuring out how to do things, how to ask for things, how to get from here to there. I found myself doing the same thing again on this trip, after my friend left. This is actually part of the beauty of solo travel. It can make you uncomfortable, especially if you’re out of practice or doing it for the first time. But that is part of it’s particular charm. If comfort is your goal, you can stay home on your couch. Being uncomfortable is exactly what you need sometimes.
2. Solo Travel Can Be Very Contemplative
I find myself lingering much longer over art exhibitions and wandering more aimlessly. I don’t mind so much if I get lost (as long as I’m sure I can figure out how to get back). I notice things I might not notice otherwise. Textures, colors, smells and sounds take on different meaning, like an atmospheric background to my own personal movie. When I’m traveling with someone else, we chat and laugh and point things out to each other. When I’m on my own, the conversation is all in my head.
3. When You Eat Alone, It Makes People Wonder
In fact, sometimes I think it makes people worry. Maybe they’re afraid that I’m alone and unhappy, or sad, or heart-broken. In my case, nothing could be further from the truth. But I’m fascinated by how people want to “take care of me” when I dine out alone. The other night, the maitre’d went off to find me a book to read while I waited for my food. I really just wanted to people-watch. But it was a sweet gesture and he went out of his way to do it. Multiple restaurant servers have insisted that I take any leftover food with me. This is Europe – they don’t do leftovers! And it’s never happened when I was dining with others. Most restaurants don’t even have to-go bags. One waitress apologized for giving me my food in an H&M bag – but she was insistent that I take it with!
4. People Remember You When You’re Traveling Alone
Now, when I pass by those same restaurants, the servers wave or call out “Buon Giorno”. Again, this didn’t happen when I was traveling with friends.
5. You Have to Choose Between a Selfie-Stick or a Stranger
Call me old-fashioned, but I can’t bring myself to travel around with a stick. So if I want some travel pix with me in them, (other than those cool pix of my shoes on foreign streets) I have to find a trust-worthy looking stranger (or couple, or group of friends) and ask someone to take my picture. Often times this leads to fun and friendly conversation. A nice German couple took this picture of me overlooking the Grand Canal in Venice. We were all waiting for our food and wine to arrive and we had a nice chat, which ended up including the American couple at the next table who were celebrating their 25th anniversary. It was pleasant and friendly and we all seemed to enjoy it. So. Thanks for the photo, lovely German couple. And happy anniversary to the others!
6. Traveling Alone Can Make You Feel Closer to Someone
Mr. H and I have had great conversations on Skype. He’s on business elsewhere at the moment. And frankly, it’s like falling in love all over again. We share our experiences and laugh with each other over the details we each remember of our days. We make plans for when we’re together next. We send each other photos and videos. It’s actually quite romantic. Being apart has really made us look forward to being together.
7. It’s Important to Be Aware
Of course, solo travel also means that you and you alone are responsible for your well-being and comfort. So it does mean being aware of your surroundings and smart about what you share with people. Keep your cell phone charged and your SIM card up to date. Know how to find your way back to specific landmarks. Map things out ahead of time if you need to. If you feel uncomfortable in a specific neighborhood, leave. Don’t drink too much or stay out too late. Don’t share details about your schedule or accommodations with people you don’t know. Make sure you have someone you can check in with regularly. Know what to do in an emergency. You want to stay open and interested in what’s going on around you – and aware of any details that could affect your safety.
8. Everyone Should Try it Once
My friend Nicole added solo travel to the list of things she wanted to do before she had a baby. She did it, enjoyed it – and now she’s a mom and she won’t have that opportunity again for a while. My friend Beth just wrote about traveling alone – and the way she noticed details and connected with strangers in ways she wouldn’t have otherwise.
Traveling solo can really open you and change you – and if you get a chance to do it, you should.