One of the ways I satisfy my need for solitude is through solo travel. Traveling alone gives me the choice of being introverted or outgoing, and summons more magic moments — those chance conversations with strangers, enchanting experiences in nature, or long-awaited epiphanies. These moments resonate deep within, leaving me with a lingering feeling that I’ve experienced a cosmic alignment that transcends space, time, and coincidence. Back on earth, it refreshes my sense of self, replenishes a need for individuality, and solidifies my marriage even more. Here are eight takeaways I’ve collected through my experiences as a solo traveler.
Love Your Own Company
It’s important to always travel with someone you love — and in this case, that means you. When traveling solo, you’ll quickly discover how much fun it is to let your inhibitions go and just be yourself. You play many roles in your life — spouse, parent, child, friend — but when you step back from those responsibilities of being someone to somebody, you catch a glimpse at yourself, untethered and free from labels. “From midday to dusk I have been roaming the streets,” Henry James once wrote in a letter to his brother William from Rome. “At last — for the first time — I live!”
Plan, Plan, Plan
I’m a planner by nature, and this trait makes everything go smoothly when I’m traveling solo. It’s important to know your destination (and how you’re getting there), and know where you’re staying once you’ve arrived. Book your plane ticket, rental car, and lodging well in advance, and start planning the highlights of your trip. Think of your schedule as a series of slots that need to be filled. If you want to book a special event — a day cruise, a hard-to-nab table at a popular restaurant, a spa treatment — always book it ahead of time.
But Don’t Plan Too Much
I just told you how imperative planning is, but here’s the catch: don’t over-plan your trip. If you have micromanaging tendencies, shush them with the reminder that unscheduled time can be the most magical time. Don’t bog yourself down with an over-scheduled itinerary. Lodging, transport, must-dos, and highlights are great for pre-scheduling, but remember to keep time open for exploring.
Take Your Time
While traveling with a companion has its perks, it also has its drawbacks. I often feel rushed or impatient when I’m traveling with someone else, hyper-focusing on how my pace and needs are meshing with theirs. When I’m alone, that worry is nonexistent; I grant myself the time to slow down and take it all in. Whether I want to spend 30 minutes at a museum or two hours people-watching on a park bench, I’m only concerned with one itinerary: mine.
Keep in Touch
Traveling alone doesn’t mean you’ve cut all ties with your regular life. Because solo travel can be eyebrow-raising or downright worrisome to loved ones, keep them updated on your whereabouts, your arrivals at your destination, and where you’re headed next. They’ll appreciate your communication.
First, I want to dispel the myth that traveling alone is dangerous; it’s not. What’s dangerous is poor judgment and bad decisions. By appearing confident and alert, you’re exuding an air of “don’t even think about it” to unlikely deviants. Walk tall, look ahead, be aware, and look like you know where you’re going. Need assistance? Seek help in shops or well-populated public places. Need a moment to fumble with your map? Rest your feet and get your bearings inside a big city church; they’re quiet, cool, and most importantly, safe.
Take Yourself to Dinner
Don’t give into your grab-n-go tendencies because you’re alone — this is a crime against cuisines everywhere. Heed the Take Your Time tidbit above and treat yourself to a nice meal. By enjoying your own company and the flavors on your plate, you’re creating memories that are unique to you.
Itching for interaction? Sit at the bar — you’ll likely strike up a conversation with the person next to you. At Nobu in Malibu, I chatted with a real estate broker on my left and a financial advisor on my right. By the end of the night, I’d heard a CSI-inspired story about a mission to retrieve a stolen iPhone, and learned which is the best table at the Calabasas Starbucks to spy on the Kardashians.
Indulge in Self-Care
Solo travel is fun, but it can also be tough — living out of a suitcase and a toiletry bag can get tedious and stale. Be sure to take care of yourself while you’re traveling. Seek out the city’s best yoga studio, book a relaxing facial, or find a quiet spot in your hotel room where you can sit quietly for ten minutes. These moments of indulgence can recharge your batteries when you’re feeling weary.
For me, solo travel is a way to connect with aspects of myself that don’t get enough attention in the day-to-day grind. It’s as if these ephemeral glimpses at my many layers give me a view into another life. I’ve often referred to solo travel as the pursuit of my sister life. Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild and advice columnist for Dear Sugar, gave this advice to an inquirer once, and it latched onto me:
“I’ll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”
Photo by Laura Hobbs.