“It’s not weird. Traveling alone. Just know that when you walk into a restaurant and sit at the bar by yourself, you feel conspicuous, but no one else is thinking that.”
These reassuring words came to me as a lifeline from a stranger I met in Puerto Rico.
My traveling companion had gone to bed early, and I decided to check out the bar connected to our hostel. Knowing that, in just a few short months, traveling alone would be my reality, I wanted to start practicing for the bravery of venturing out solo.
I made my way to the bar. After ordering a drink, I feigned interest in the basketball game playing on the television, rotating the cold piña colada glass in my hands and eavesdropping like it was my job.
A little while later (what was probably only five minutes felt quadrupled in my hyper-aware self-consciousness) two girls sat down next to me. They asked for a drink menu, and I handed it to them, introducing myself. Conversation came easily as we swapped stories about what had brought us to the island and where we had been. When I mentioned that I was planning on taking some time to travel on the west coast this fall on my own, they lit up, sharing their own stories of international solo trips.
Rachel from New York’s words have stuck with me. They’ve been my little shot of bravery, helping me step into this new season on my own.
Because I have moments of feeling like an anomaly. Like I’m some trailblazing pioneer loner, venturing far from the path of what a typical twenty-eight-year-old single woman “should” be doing.
But I’m not alone in traveling alone. Turns out, there are lots of others doing the same. And there are friendly people everywhere. Generous souls looking to connect.
I armed myself with that mindset as I hopped onto a shuttle at Zion National Park last week. It had been recommended both by social media and friends who travel. It was a crowded Saturday afternoon and I had built in some time to hike there on my way out to California.
The hardest time to be alone is in a crowd of people that are waiting. I stretched my new muscle of bravery and looked around for a friendly face, at the same time submitting to the probability of a solo hike.
As I sat down on the bus, a girl asked if the other seat was open. Small talk quickly gave way to animated conversation about our common love for traveling. Mirroring the conversation I’d had with those girls in Puerto Rico, she lit up as we talked about her experiences in solo-adventuring, full of reassurance and excitement for what lie ahead for me.
As we hopped off the shuttle, Erin invited me to join her in hiking up Angel’s Landing. We spent the afternoon sharing stories and laughing, punctuating our upward climb with frequent stops to catch my breath and take in the breath-taking vistas.
Here’s the thing. That probably wouldn’t have happened if I’d been traveling with someone else. When there’s no need to reach out, I tend to stay in my comfort zone. Exchanges with strangers don’t extend past pleasantries.
There’s something about traveling, especially on my own, that opens me up to the opportunity to connect with new kindred spirits.
For many people, an immediate red flag shoots up when they hear a woman say the words “travel” and “alone.” There’s been countless furrowed brows and adamant warnings to be careful. Which is absolutely what I must be. There is a sense of vigilance that I must carry with me, along with pepper spray and frequent sharing of my location on my iPhone. While there are certain places I don’t go at night and a careful tuning into my gut, for the most part, it has not been this dangerous escapade that everyone assumes.
No, it hasn’t been dangerous or isolating. Far from it. Braving this venture on my own has been such a connective and wholesome experience. Not that there aren’t stretches of time of being on my own. Those first few minutes of sitting down at a restaurant alone are excruciating. And I have moments every day where the pang of loneliness hits me right in the solar plexus.
But I’m learning that the true solitude partners well with moments of true connection. And traveling alone really isn’t all that weird.
**Photos by the very talented and lovely Erica Putze.