My trip to Europe is coming up in less than a month, and I’m starting to feel both the excitement and anxiety that comes with the territory of traveling alone.
It’s not like this is either the first trip I have taken alone, or even my first trip to Europe alone. I went to Europe in 2000 when I was 29 and traveled to several different countries (France, Italy, Switzerland), before people were even smartphones for navigation. I also went to Iceland alone in 2014, although I do think it’s easier when you only go to one country — and it was just for 4 days. I also went to New Zealand alone, although most of the trip was part of a REI tour, and it’s a lot easier when English is the main language.
Either way, it ain’t my first rodeo. So why do I feel particularly nervous about this trip? I think it might be a 3-part reason. The first is that the older I get, the more comfortable I get with being, um, comfortable, know what I mean? Another part is that bad news from around the world is being pounded into our brains constantly via every media outlet known to man. And lastly, I’ve been feeling a bit of personal and professional self-doubt since the beginning of the year, i.e., I’ve lost a bit of self-confidence somewhere.
That self-doubt has made me, on occasion, think, “why the f*ck am I putting myself through “vacation stress,” when I could easily, and probably for less money, plop my *ss down on a beach in Hawaii somewhere and read a book, and not have to “think” so much?” And that is precisely why I have to go…and go alone.*
Why Traveling Alone is Important
Just like any other muscle in your body, confidence is a muscle that has to be worked like any other. Most of the world (especially the U.S.) has it so easy compared to anyone else in the entire history of the planet. I think overall this has made us soft. We can’t handle having to really work through a lot of problems, which is why we tend to like comfort at all times.
Waking Up Your Brain
Traveling to a different country, especially alone, throws you out of your comfort zone. Yes, I’m even talking about being in civilized Europe. Your neurons (the same ones that help you drive your car to work, even though you spaced out and can’t actually remember how you got there) go, “whoa…hey now! Where are you? We have to think and sh*t now.” Your neurons have to literally dust themselves off and create new pathways, i.e, you learn new skills! Hurray!
You Pay Attention More
Have you ever dined alone? I have. Sure it’s awkward. “How many in your party?” “Um (sad face), one.” But then you sit and something really fun happens. If you put down your book (or nowadays) smartphone long enough, you start to really take in the ambience of the restaurant, and pay attention to fun little details you normally don’t notice when you’re dining with other people. “I wonder if that couple is on their first date?” “I wonder how long that couple has been married?” “I wonder what that douchey looking dude does for a living?” It opens you up to creativity. And the best news? You don’t have to share your dessert…with anyone!
You’re More Open to New Opportunities and Meeting People
I remember when I went to Europe and there was a creepy guy on the train staring at me. I got up and found two American-looking girls, and asked if I could sit with them. Maybe it’s because they were already “coupled,” or maybe it’s because they were stuck-up a-holes, but they were kind of snotty to me.**
Conversely, the most open and friendly people I met on my trip were also solo travelers. Whereas here in LA in my cozy cocoon of comfort I’d think it would be weird (or uncomfortable) if someone just randomly asked me to go on an excursion. When you are traveling alone, it’s totally normal.
Case in point: I was in the small town of Beaune, France one afternoon, just strolling the village looking for a place to eat dinner after a wonderful day of going on a wine tour. As I was scanning a menu outside a bistro, and older man started talking to me, and telling me he was a wine buyer from the states, looking for new wines for his store/restaurant. He said if I’d like to accompany him to dinner, he would give me a lesson in wine pairing. Granted, he could have been hitting on me, but when in
Rome Beaune you say “yes.” Just in case I threw into the conversation something about my (imaginary) extremely tall and muscular ex MMA fighter boyfriend who just got out of jail into the mix, in case he got handsy, but it turned out to be an amazing experience. We drank a lot of great wine and had the most delicious meal…and he paid for the entire thing! At the end of the night he gave me a hug goodnight and that was that.
You Have Time to Listen to Your Inner Voice
You know why meditation is hard? Because you have to sit and be quiet and just be with yourself (get your mind out of the gutter). But it’s so good for you! When you are traveling alone, there is a lot of time spent on trains just sort of thinking…or maybe even writing. Yes, I love a good book when I’m on a train, but there is something to be said about just stopping the “doing” and just daydreaming. Ahhhhh, isn’t that nice?
Yes Virginia, Solo Travel is More Expensive
OK, OK, I know there are travel hackers out there rolling their eyes ready to give me a lecture on how my trip to Europe could have been free, but for the sake of argument, let’s just assume that travel hacking is not possible, or not as common as you #FinNerds like to think. If you take that away, in general, it is more expensive to travel alone.
The biggest cost of course is lodging.
But there are also smaller, hidden costs that might factor in as well. For instance, two brains can probably figure out directions better than one. If lost, there might be extreme temptation to hop in a cab or Uber (do they have those over there?).
I even, admittedly, hired a car service to pick me up from the airport in Croatia to take me to my tiny hidden apartment in the maze-like streets in Split, Croatia…something I might not have done if I was traveling with a friend or lovah.
But overall, I think the pros outweigh the expenses, as long as it, of course, is in your budget. Don’t give me this “I’m in debt” crap but I still “deserve this vacation.” You won’t get any sympathy from me.
Have you ever traveled alone? What lessons did you learn from the experience?
*In all fairness, part of the trip is a tour with Intrepid Travel
**Note to anyone traveling with someone else. If a solo travelers wants to talk to you, be kind to them.