From the moment the front door closes behind me, and I pick up my travel bags ready to plop them into a car, cab, train or airplane hold, an enormous sense of peace washes over me. I love to travel, and I cherish time spent alone, and to combine the two . . . well, that’s just bliss.
I’m not unique in this appreciation of traveling alone – more of us are choosing to do so, not because we lack friends or family to travel with, but by choice. According to travel marketing company, MMGY Global, ten percent of Americans with partners or children are carving out time to take solo vacations during the year. We need it – just a little time to ourselves, to go places we’ve always wanted to go, to do things without having to be concerned about another’s enjoyment, to be able to clear our heads, gain clarity and fresh ideas, or just to have the chance to explore without plans, to be quiet, to listen to and follow our own inner guide.
Remarkable things happen in solitude I have found. It is a rare thing today to not be interacting in some way by text, email, or phone. Add in the fact that we are sans a traveling companion, and we are invited into an even quieter world — one in which conversations become limited to pleasantries at check-ins or the ordering of a meal. Within hours of setting off alone, the mind seems to know it is no longer required other than for practical purposes. Suddenly, there is more room in our being. The senses start to come back online. We can appreciate the smell of pastries cooking, or the sound of cars honking or a conversation in a foreign language, and even though we may be standing in the middle of a market in Marrakesh, or among thousands of passengers in an airport, it can feel like being on a silent retreat. It’s just you, taking in the richness of life, and allowing it all to happen.
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It is in this quieter, calmer state of mind that we naturally become more adventurous. While we may make plans ahead of our trip, we often discover once we set off that we are more open to improvise and to experiment. We become more trusting of our instincts. Ten years ago I made a very rigid plan to visit friends and family on the east coast of Australia, but when I got there, I discovered I was more adventurous than I had given myself credit, and so instead, I adjusted my plans and traveled down the coast alone — hitching rides with other travelers and staying in hostels, extending my trip by two weeks. It was like I stepped into a new pair of shoes that I have never taken off because from then on in, I’ve always been looser around planning when I travel alone, and I trust that I can take care of myself and follow my intuition.
Curiosity also abounds when we leave the familiar behind – and when we travel alone, we have carte blanche to follow that curiosity. For me, it is food in particular that piques my inquisitiveness — sea urchins in Tokyo, hushpuppies in Louisiana, some sort of liqueur made with twigs, berries and quite possibly neat alcohol somewhere in the Czech Republic. Dining alone is indeed another gift of solitary travel. While I cherish meals spent with my partner catching up over our day, it feels so extravagant to be able to read a book with dinner, or sit by a window and watch the world go by at lunch, or just relish every opportunity to truly taste every mouthful and give thanks.
It is this opportunity to be so thoroughly absorbed in what is in front of us rather than distracted by interactions with another, that makes traveling alone a chance to get reacquainted with our creative spirit. In her book, Alone Time, journalist Stephanie Rosenbloom points out the myriad of writers, philosophers, and artists who have attributed their creativity to travel and time spent in solitude. In the state of presence, the combination of the two affords the opportunity for ideas to blossom readily and organically. It is this last point that is perhaps, the most significant gift of traveling alone, and the biggest paradox for me. From the moment I grab my travel bag, I never feel as though I am heading out the door alone — The Universe is always with me.
In the openness of solo travel, I am available for whatever the universe has in store for me. Where is it telling me to go? What shall I do today? What was that idea? I should write it down . . . When traveling alone, every step is imbued with serendipitous moments, magical encounters and a whole set of fresh ideas to revisit and ponder on from a new replenished state.
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