I'm not an introverted person, infact I'm the most social chatterbox you've ever met. I love to be around friends, but I prefer to travel alone.
2011 was a rough year for me. I had been battling Lyme Disease for over 3 years and I had just gone through a gut-wrenching breakup. In a cliche Eat, Pray, Love kind of moment, I quit my job, packed up and went to Italy, Greece, Egypt and The Netherlands... all by myself. I learned a lot of things on that trip, like I'm stronger & more brave than I thought, you can never run from your problems (but a trip half way around the world can certainly change your prospective). Most importantly, realized that my best travel experiences happen when I travel alone.
1. Life is Too Short to Wait Around
This past year, one of my best friends (a healthy, vibrant young woman) suddenly passed away. Between that and struggling with Lyme Disease there is only one thing that I know for certain, and that is we are not promised tomorrow. We aren't guaranteed to be healthy, and we aren't guaranteed to be alive. Morbid? Maybe, but knowing that has added a sense to urgency to my travels, and I want to see everything, and squeeze everything I possibly can out of this life.
If I didn't go alone, I wouldn't have been to a fraction of the places I have been to. If I had a dollar for all of times I have passed up a travel opportunity because I waited on someone else, I would have enough for a flight to Japan. I have seen almost every wonder of the modern world, I have traveled to places with civil unrest, I have dined with locals and made friends around the world. All of this when my friends had reasons they couldn't come. Thats fine, I'm not mad. I love my friends more than anything and I can see them when I'm home.
2. Openness to New Friendships with Likeminded Individuals
When you travel alone you are more open to different experiences and more chance encounters. If you are with friends at a restaurant, you will dine with them and be more closed off to others. If you are alone, you will sit at the bar, make friends, or learn about local secrets from the bartender or other patrons.
The people you meet during your travels are always far more interesting than your friends back home. Not because friends at home aren't amazing, but because the friends you meet traveling bring a different and refreshing prospective.
When I went to Turkey alone on a whim for my fall break during college, I came across two guys eating ice-cream and speaking English. Feeling a little lonely for some new friends and excited to hear my native tongue, I quickly said "Where did you get the ice-cream?" (not that I cared for any ice-cream) and we instantly started to chat. Ben and Brendan were cycling from Shanghai to Dublin and they were currently in Istanbul for a few days. Talk about interesting new friends! We grabbed a bite to eat and went to a hookah bar, and traded travel stories. To this day I still keep in with them, and I have even seen Brendan a few times here in LA. We talk on the phone at least a few times a month about our travels and adventures, and I know that I have a friend for life. If I had a friend traveling with me, there would have been much less of a desire to reach out and ask about that ice-cream and I would have missed out on two great friends that share my same sense of adventure and thirst for travel.
3. My Friends Aren't as Adventurous as I Am (and My Boyfriends Are Stupid)
When I travel with the people I love, I realize how different we are. Diversity is great, it makes the world go round - but it makes it difficult to plan an adventure when your friends want to relax poolside. My girlfriends' idea of a great trip is the beaches of Cabo or Ibiza or an exhausting (but super fun) weekend partying at Coachella.
Don't get me wrong- those are all really fun- but I am looking for more out of my travels. Where my friends see a relaxing vacation, I see an opportunity for travel and there is a big difference between a vacation and how I travel. I want to experience a culture. I want to go to a place no one has discovered yet. I plan to get dirty, and get into the meat and bones of a country's culture.
My friends want a vacation, and I tire them out. While traveling I prefer to adventure. I SCUBA dive, I'm an extreme skiier, I fish, I waterski, I surf, I'll dive with sharks, I hike mountains, I jump out of planes, I hang glide... you get the picture. My friends just want a margarita and a massage, and I can't blame them... it's just not how I choose to spend my time or my money when I'm away from home.
Traveling with a significant other is another option for a lot of women, but not for me! I once went to Italy and France with a boyfriend and that was the end of that relationship. I know Rome like the back of my hand, I get around with no map and I don't need to stop and ask for directions. So when the boyfriend constantly asks me "How do you know?" when I say the Vaticans this way... or dinner is that way...its a little frustrating. Additionally when someone wants to see one thing and you want to see another, and you have to play tour guide, it can get ugly. I prefer to do things on my own and not have to live up the the expectations of my friends or boyfriends.
4. Self Discovery Can't Happen If You're Not Alone
You know that cliche Eat, Pray Love journey I took after my breakup, that doesn't work if you bring friends. Elizabeth Gilbert didn't bring friends along in the book, and Julia Roberts didn't bring friends along in the movie. You need to learn to be alone. Being alone with your thoughts is good for you. It's amazing what you discover you like and dislike when you don't have others to influence you. Additionally, traveling alone, seeing new places, different people and cultures, it lets you reassess your own values, priorities and beliefs.
You have the opportunity to leave it all behind and go on a truth seeking journey. It's hard to have time to absorb all of the life lessons coming at you if you are distracted by your friends and where they want to have dinner. If you allow everyone you meet along the way to be a teacher, you can learn quite a bit about yourself and the world around you. Traveling alone is an opportunity to face some harsh realities about your own beliefs, culture and most difficultly, yourself. I strongly believe that travel is the best form of education.
5. It Builds My Confidence.
(Bonus: it impresses the hell out of just about anyone including guys)
Last week in Portland I met a really cool and adventerous guy, you know how we got to talking? He heard me discussing my solo trip to Cuba with someone else and became interested in what I had to say. Impressing guys is not the reason I travel, but it's a great added benefit.
There is an added sexiness and confidence that you exude after traveling solo. I can read a map, I can navigate a foreign land, I can (occasionally) speak foreign languages and communicate with others even when I can't. I can make new friends, I can protect myself from harms way in dangerous cities. I can explore, I can discover, I can be my own best company.
I experience so much more and travel more efficiently when I travel alone, and that boosts my confidence as well. I feel incredible knowing that I can do all of this on my own.
Traveling alone has made me realize all the incredible things about myself, like my natural ability to make friends with just about anyone. When I come home, all of that self-realization turns into a whole lot of confidence, and that is a beautiful thing.