For me, the most frustrating part about traveling alone used to come at the end of the day, when I’d call my beau at home. “How was Machu Picchu? I saw your tweet and it looked incredible,” he’d say, eager for a full rundown. I would have absolutely loved it if he could have been there with me in Peru, or at the Three Gorges Dam in China, or across from me at dinner in London. But he wasn’t. And if you’ve ever tried to express a life-changing experience after an exhausting day on the road, you know how impossible it is. “It was great,” I’d reply. “You feel like you can touch the sky.” “That’s so cool,” he’d say. “I hope I can go back with you.”
I’ve come to learn that it’s better to wait until I get back to really share my experience. That doesn’t mean I don’t miss my man, because I do, a lot. But my work and my wanderlust have led me to travel alone more often than not, and I’ve grown to embrace it, and even crave it. When I’m alone, extraordinary things happen on ordinary days all the time.
Here are three reasons I love hitting the road solo:
1. I am the master of the day. How often can you do exactly what strikes your fancy, and indulge every whim you might have? Traveling alone can be like a giant playground for adults, and there’s no one around to tell you when recess is over. I can stay up late and sleep in or call it a night at 9:00 p.m. and wake up to watch the sunrise. I get to linger as long as I want on a sunny day in a beautiful park, or talk to the cheesemonger at a local market for an hour. Or I can rush through five sites in thirty minutes. The experiences are mine and mine alone, so I’ve had to really learn to like myself, and enjoy spending time with me. Inspiration often strikes, so I have a notebook and pen at the ready. Sky’s the limit.
2. I become a braver person. New York is one of the safest major cities in the world, and I have never felt afraid walking the streets, even late at night, in quieter neighborhoods off the tourist track. Living in the city has enabled me to approach new places with a sense of openness to new experiences — to feel caution, not paranoia. When I’m alone, I tend to reach out to people and culture more than I might otherwise because I don’t have a security blanket to fall back on. In my experience, the world is full of good people who want to help you and show off the places where they live. There are exceptions, of course, but I trust the hairs that stick up on the back of my neck. Instincts are everything when you’re traveling, but especially when you’re traveling alone.
3. I get to eat what I want. I love eating at restaurants alone, wherever I happen to be. Many solo travelers prefer eating at the bar because it allows for the possibility of striking up a conversation, but there are times when I don’t feel like playing the “get to know you” game. I’ll sit at the bar if I really love the bartender (Walter at Hotel Cipriani in Venice is the best in the world), but usually I try to snag a table so I can experience the restaurant as most guests would. (If the host betrays a hint of disdain or sniffs “Oh, just one?” when I walk in, I leave.) And, on those days when you’ve run yourself ragged, there is no better way to soothe your soul than a little old fashioned room service. I usually limit myself to one night of indulgence per trip, which makes it feel more special.
- Nat Geo Expeditions