Today I was reading an email that I received from a lovely girl I met in Italy last year.
|image via http://www.ilvillinodicortona.it/tour.htm|
We were lunching at at Caffe Degli Artisti in beautiful Cortona when I noticed her sitting alone at the next table, earnestly reading the menu.
My first thought was that she was waiting for some gorgeous Italian man that she was surely having a torrid and lusty affair with, but a couple of covert glances later I recognized her look. I had worn it many times myself in my 20’s, traveling the world alone.
She was hungry, running out of money, trying to decipher a menu in another language, and figure out what she could afford. She also looked lonely.
It turned out that she was traveling the world, and the friend who was supposed to meet up with her in Italy decided not to come at the last minute, so here she was, all alone.
We moved her to our table, bought her lunch, and had a really wonderful time laughing and drinking wine, talking about our combined travels, places to add to the must see list, fun things to do in the area, our lives at home in our respective corners of the world. It was a totally fun afternoon in a magical little Tuscan town.
Oddly enough, chance encounters like that can lead to friendships that last a lifetime. I’m still in contact with people I met more than 20 years ago, in my first solo trips around the world.
So it got me to thinking about travel, and why at least once in your life you need to travel alone.
Reasons To Travel Alone
At Least Once In your Life
1. It Will (Literally) Push You Out Of Your Comfort Zone
One thing I have learned in life is that the very best things, the most exciting, the most memorable, the most fun, all happen when you get outside your comfort zone.
Traveling alone pushes you out there. It forces you to take chances you normally wouldn’t take. It makes you see the world and its many wonderful peoples from a different perspective.
When you step (or leap) out of your comfort zone you really start to experience life. You don’t just watch things happen, you become a part of the experience, and the tapestry of your life becomes richer, more vibrant and more textured.
2. You Will Meet The Most Amazing People
You really will. And you will form friendships that will last your entire life.
When we travel with a friend or a group of others we do still meet new people, but the interactions are different and maybe not as fulfilling, because we have the group or the friend to lean on and go back to.
When you travel alone you need the social interaction, so you gravitate towards others, whether to help you find your way, or whether to just have someone to chat with over coffee in the piazza.
People generally are pretty fantastic. And most people really are very nice. Everyone has an interesting story to tell. Maybe you will become someone’s interesting story ~ the traveler they met in the piazza who is now their friend from country X. Regardless, if you open yourself up to the opportunity there are really amazing people to be found when you’re wandering the world.
3. The Fear – Courage – Triumph Triangle
You have to face your fears and your insecurities when you travel alone. Many people have never really been alone in their life, so the idea of being out there in the world with no one can be super daunting. Others have experienced being alone before, but the first time or two that you travel alone can still be scary.
The second part of the equation is that it takes courage to do it. Sometimes a courage you didn’t know you possess. But when you’ve muscled up the courage to take on your fears you then experience triumph. And nothing builds you as a person quite like accomplishments that are your own. Traveling solo can make you feel incredibly triumphant.
(The first time I drove from Florence to San Gimignano alone, without my bestie was incredibly scary. Of course I got lost several times, and she was on a plane back to the USA so I couldn’t even call her for help. But when I eventually got there, and in one piece no less, I finally understood why they erect triumphal arches, and seriously considered building one for myself).
When you travel alone you truly experience freedom. You are free from all that keeps you tethered. You can do what you want, when you want, how you want. Your plans can change on a whim. You’ll meet other travelers who will tell you about cool places to go and things to do, and you’ll either wind up going places with them, or venturing off solo. You aren’t beholden to anyone. For many of us it’s the only time in life we are completely free, and its incredibly exhilarating.
5. You Get To Do 100% What You Want
When you travel with someone else, or with a group, you have to give up a portion of what you want to do. There are things you are dying to to, places you want to eat, experiences you want to have, that you have to give up because the others don’t want to. Or there’s not enough time to do everyone’s everything.
Traveling with others means you have to compromise, and that can be a very hard pill to swallow when its a once in a lifetime trip, or somewhere you are not likely to go back to.
6. You Get To Be Selfish And Totally Indulge Yourself.
It feels really good to be able to completely indulge yourself and be selfish. Its wonderful to sleep in when you feel like it, get up at the crack of dawn if you want to, stop for as many coffees as you want, or stop for none. Just find every single thing that makes you happy, and take full advantage of it.
Life at home can be super stressful, whether that be from work/school/family – you name it, and most of us don’t really get much opportunity to totally and unapologetically spoil ourselves rotten, so having that chance and embracing it unashamedly can recharge your batteries like nothing else.
7. You Can Completely Re-Invent Yourself
When you travel alone you get to be exactly who you want to be.
For starters you can leave the tired/grumpy/exasperated/moody/sickly/over worked/stressed out/extroverted/introverted/people pleaser/whatever your poison is/ behind, and become the person you always wanted to be. Or never thought about being – however it plays out.
Explore parts of your personality you haven’t seen before, or haven’t seen in a while. When you travel solo there is no one to call you on it, so you have the freedom to be anything.
Some of the wildest people I ever met while traveling have turned out to be the church mouse type when we reconnect in their home country. Friends who live their normal life with military precision have lived out a free spirited bohemian existence while traveling alone.
If you could be absolutely anything, what would you be?
I used to always travel alone on all my international trips, and absolutely loved it. The past few years I have mixed up traveling alone with traveling with my best friend of 20+ years, who is the absolute best travel companion ever, or with my son, who is the 2nd best travel companion ever.
And the girl we met in Cortona? She emailed me that night saying how she loved hanging with us, and has kept in touch ever since. Next year she is going to travel to Australasia and stay with my family all over Australia and New Zealand. An opportunity that she would never have stumbled upon had she not embraced the adventure of traveling alone, at least once in her life.