Solo travel is one of the many things in this world I believe everyone should try at least once. Traveling alone not only takes you out of your comfort zone, but it’s also a great way to get to know yourself a little more. You’re forced to do certain things you wouldn’t otherwise do- one of the main things is going out on your own without having the security of having those familiar friends there with you. You have to find the same joy you have with them , with yourself and that’s sometimes not easy to do.
I recently discovered this love/hate relationship with solo traveling through a recent trip to San Francisco with my niece as a graduation present.
I originally began traveling alone not because I wanted to teach myself these awesome life lessons, but because I never had anyone to come with me. It all began after my senior year of college. My sister promised me a trip to Hawaii as a graduation present, and to my dismay, she did not keep her word. I spent months with built up anticipation and excitement for the trip only to be let down in the end. I had began planning early with my sister, and when it came time to buy the tickets, she’d always come up with an excuse. After a while I realized that maybe the trip was never going to happen. And the thing that upset me the most was that I was going to buy the ticket myself and then go alone, but she talked me out of it, telling me to give her more time.
Fast forward to a few months after that particular incident.
My best friend and I, while venting our frustrations about needing to get out of Connecticut over a drink, planned a trip to California. And of course, when the time came to buy the tickets, she came up with excuses as to why it wasn’t the right time for her. However, it was just the right time for me; the tickets were dirt cheap, I had the time off from work, and once again I had this built-up excitement about visiting the west coast. In avoiding another Hawaii incident, I went ahead a bought the tickets. I did have a fear of going alone, but I refused to let that fear paralyze me. And so my first solo trip began and I had an amazing time! The thing I liked most about it was that I did things only I was interested in. Because I’m not one for doing only touristy things, but to actually get a feel for everyday life for locals, I knew I wouldn’t have been able to do half the things I did without a complaint from a traveling companion whose sole interest was to vacation on a beach in a resort (not that I’m putting anyone down, it’s just that my natural curiosity and frugality won’t allow myself to pay out of pocket to do the same exact thing I can do at a local beach in my hometown.)
The thing I love most about traveling, and traveling alone, is that you never know what you’re going to experience. All of the books in the world will not prepare me completely for what I would be in store for during a trip- and that’s the awesome part! Reading up on a place is helpful and all, but until you actually get out there and see for yourself, you will go through life expecting this and wind up experiencing that.
Now even though I’m a late bloomer when it comes to traveling so to say, I did have plenty of opportunities to get out there and see different parts of the country while I was growing up. For instance, I went to many family reunions in the south during summer vacations. We would take family trips to North Carolina, South Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, etc.
And during my freshman year of college, I would have to make the 16 hour greyhound trip from Winston Salem, NC to New Haven, CT by myself. The trip, of course was uncomfortable as one can imagine- the bus was always either too hot, or two cold; the babies sitting not too far away from me would cry all day and night; the smells of the toilet would make its way to the front of the bus, escaping the confines of the small bathroom; the lack of sleep-the list goes on. But when I was able to block all of those things out, I found an escape in reading, people watching at the different terminals, or engaging in conversations with the people around me. Just because your surroundings aren’t glamorous, doesn’t mean it can’t be glamorous within!
My extracurricular activities in high school and college also permitted me to see more of the country. Because I was an athlete, I often had to travel often for track and cross country meets. My favorite part of those trips was when the team had free time to explore the area. I remember falling in love with Charleston, SC when my collegiate cross country team visited for a meet. The weather was perfect, and the city was absolutely beautiful. I also had a temporary infatuation with NYC until I remembered that I lived about an hour away and have always hated “the city.” But somehow, my team and I explored the city off the beaten path and I found serenity in looking out its nightly view. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to have those specific experiences had it not been for athletics. Through sports, I also discovered that the best way to get to know a new area better is to run through the different neighborhoods (biking also have the same benefits). having the option to stay healthy while exploring at the same time is a set up for an ideal trip.
Because I was introduced to traveling throughout my upbringing, I think that’s why I love exploring different states and countries, getting to experience different cultures than my own. And as much as I love seeing different places, forcing myself to leave my comfort zone, pushing myself to be vulnerable to discomfort in order to understand a certain culture better, and meeting new like-minded people, there is also a downside to it.
Safety is the number one concern when traveling away from home. In a new surrounding, it’s not always obvious of the crime rate and which crimes are more prevalent in the specific visited area. Although I do tend to follow my gut feeling, or go off of positive vibes, its always smart to take extra precautions. And as a petite black woman, I usually have to watch my back-especially while exploring at night.
The random loneliness that creeps up on you at any given moment is also a part of this love/hate relationship. Yes, I’ll advocate until my last breath that spending time alone is a vital part of living, but that doesn’t mean you can’t yearn for a familiar friend. With the California trip with my niece, I noticed how comfortable I was (despite worrying about her safety at all times.) I had someone there with me, which eliminated the task of having to make new friends. It was also nice to do thing I wouldn’t normally do. On our first day in the city, she suggested we go see the Full House house, or the famous Painted Ladies. It was something cool to see, seeing as I love the architecture of the Victorian houses in San Francisco. And had I gone alone, I never would have thought to stop there. And that’s just one instance.
Traveling is one of the greatest teaching tools, in my opinion. There are many up sides to getting out there and see different things. There are also many downsides to it. Traveling alone is not for everybody, but trying it at least once will not hurt. Even if you want to explore the next town over from you, you will still experience something new and hopefully you will find a better understanding of a certain concept, find peace within yourself, or even just make some new friends. In the scheme of things, the world is a tiny place. Getting out there and seeing what it has to offer can prove to be very beneficial.
I encourage those who have similar feelings towards solo travel or have a cool travel story to tell, to share in the comments below!