Sunday, January 21, 2018

The beauty of solo travel

I have been a travel writer for six years, which requires not only frequent travel but frequent solo travel. I have explored France alone, Mexico, several Caribbean islands and nearly 40 U.S. states.

When someone asks about my job, one question always comes up: "Don't you get lonely traveling alone?"

The answer is simple: no.

I relish the comfort and camaraderie of travel with friends, family or a significant other. But we spend so much time insulated in the familiar — people, places, routines, even the same route to work every day — that solo travel can force us to act and think with refreshing clarity. Not only do we find excitement and adventure when traveling alone, we discover what adventure mean to us.

Whether it is a road trip across the state or wandering around an unfamiliar continent, solo travel jars us in a way that isn't always comfortable but that can bring growth, knowledge and a bravery that lasts much longer than a refrigerator magnet.

Traveling solo is a beautiful monarchy; we do what we want. If I don't want to go to the Louvre in Paris, I don't. No negotiation, no explanation. Compromise is inherently necessary in a civil society, but a little selfishness can be liberating.

But my favorite part of traveling alone isn't solitude, it's being exposed to the new: new perspectives, new experiences and new people. Because we are largely social creatures, traveling alone inevitably leads us to form new relationships.

On a recent trip to Hawaii, I was preparing to hike a trail on an obscure island when I met a couple from Oahu. The female half of the couple asked if I was hiking alone. I said I was, and she said, "Great, we'll hike with you!"

The three of us spent that day bounding through the lush jungle, chatting, laughing and learning about people we didn't know existed 24 hours earlier. Would I have met them if I were traveling with someone else? Maybe. But I doubt I would have spent a joyful day with them. I probably would have retreated into the familiar.

Weeks later, the couple alerted me that they found jobs in the city where I live. Now they're my new friends at home. And I only met them because I was traveling alone.

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