It seems like everybody’s doing it and yet, I couldn’t get myself to engage in this liberating trend.
I had been in a relationship for almost a decade and during that time, it was unheard of that any of us would set journey on an airplane independently. Even if we had different destination dreams: we compromised. After we broke up, friends were the second travel phase of my life. Again: dependent on a universal compromise on where to go, what to do and how much to spend.
Lately, I’ve been aiming at being physically at work less and less. Meaning more disposable time to do all those things I’ve dreamed of rather than spending many months in an apartment. If you’re not in a relationship you can’t rely on someone to follow you blindly into the Moroccan desert just out of pure love. Or if you want to gather a group of friends, not everyone has the time and disposable income to tag along in your Parisian fine dining ventures plus a cheesy fun weekend in Euro Disney at the Peter Pan Hotel.
I’m in my late thirties and I’m starting to realize not everyone can travel all the time. And even if they can, it doesn’t mean they are in parallel with your destinations, your spending habits or just plainly travelling with you.
A friend of mine travels for work a lot. Afterwards she stays longer at her destinations than professionally required for the sole purpose of exploring. She even books flights to neighbouring countries to squeeze all the juice she can from every job destination. She’s ventured from Dubai to Oman with no ring on her finger and has found herself wandering the polluted streets of Guangzhou in heels and a carry-on in the middle of the night, searching for her hotel. And yet, she comes back exhilarated and plans the next trip with all the excitement of a 5 year old ready to play. Unbothered that nobody will be going with her and happy that that’s not stopping her from going where she wants to go. I envied her for this. I still do.
I wouldn’t consider myself to be an extrovert. I don’t easily go around introducing myself to strangers, even at a party. I don’t ever go to a bar alone and if I dine out by myself, I’ll dive my head in a book and never look up. I know I’m dining alone, I don’t need to look at every couples’ faces to realize that. The fact is I don’t have the self confidence and self esteem to go out and about without feeling judged in every social happening where people are expected to be accompanied. Or maybe nobody cares and it’s all in my head. Nevertheless.
My First Solo Travel
I’m politely entitling this Travelling Solo. However at the time, I called it Travelling Alone. Because that’s just how it felt.
COVID related borders were starting to open up but still in a very limited sense. Therefore I opted for a safer approach and booked a place within the European Union: Zagreb, Croatia. For any specific reason? None whatsoever.
I packed my bags and set off to my first solo traveling experience for 4 days - let’s not go wild on our first adventure.
I arrived quite late in the afternoon so, besides meeting up with the airbnb owner and setting down my belongings, I had very little time to wander around in the remaining daylight. So I opted for the coward’s solo traveling dinner: Bolt Foods. Which is just another version of uber eats.
Waking up the next morning was a whole different story: I was energetic and ready to do this. I chose what I wanted to visit, I picked out a brunch eatery and didn’t have to wait for anyone to finish taking a shower: AirPods in ears and out I went.
While walking and absorbing much of the surroundings, you also end up thinking a lot about stuff. Anything really. Probably not as in depth as with a silent retreat since your senses are being overloaded with new information and you tend to take many photos, but still… a lot of thinking.
I stopped at an amazing brunch place for breakfast and smiled because I didn’t have to ask anyone if this was okay for them, or if they would rather go somewhere else. I just sat and filled my face with whatever I wanted. Eating alone during the day doesn’t upset me. Many people are having breakfast and lunch by themselves and the expectation is that during the day people are working, so social gatherings and family outings tend to be less.
Walking around I decided to check out Tinder at the same time. Shoot me. There’s no crime in seeing what a place has to offer. INCLUDING its’ locals.
Also checked out some artsy places and niche shops that many of my friends would roll eye emoji if I was with them and asked them to spend this amount of time checking it out. So up to this point, my friend was quite right: it is very liberating to travel on your own. No dependents, no votes, no waiting, no discussions - you want to do it, you go.
The Unexpected Moments of Travelling Solo
It was 4 pm and I was hungry. I couldn’t wait for the dreadful moment of wanting to try out a trendy restaurant on a Friday night by myself, so I sat at a local cuisine restaurant and asked for the menu.
Unfortunately, English is not widely spoken by everyone in Croatia, especially the older generation. I was therefore struggling to explain what I wanted to the waitress / owner of the joint and suddenly, a girl from the table nearby stood up and translated our conversation until the waitress smiled and went away.
The girl asked me where I was from and what I was doing there. I explained I was travelling solo but I only know English and Portuguese so thanks for the help. She was from Poland but was currently working in Hong Kong as a sommelier and was now returning home before her next adventure, with a weekend stop by Croatia.
Suddenly she grabbed her plate, cutlery and glass of wine and sat down in front of me. I was intimately shocked that this was actually happening. In my country people don’t just randomly grab their plates and join another solo person at a restaurant.
Before any misunderstandings could arise, I managed to introduce early on in the conversation that I was gay. Very subtle. She didn’t even blink - I could have easily just said “what a great wine”. At this point I was really happy that she had joined me. It was so interesting to hear her professional adventures and in exchange I gave her a brief overview of my own. But many times while she was talking, I smiled thinking “so this is what travelling solo is about? Nobody would ever have sat down here if I weren’t on my own”.
I told her I had planned to get to know a trendy restaurant and that this was just a snack. We migrated. My trendy restaurant dinner on my own on a Friday night problem disappeared as she was willing to join me for dinner. We spoke and we drank wine, and we even ended up in a club. By the time I got home I was still shocked at the unexpected outcome of having a stranger join me for the biggest part of my day.
Social Media Tour Guides
The next day, I monetised on one of my Tinder matches who had offered to guide me through the city and show me some interesting spots. One of them was the Museum of Broken Relationships. Again, I heard about his interesting life and professional story and exchanged my own, had lunch and dinner at really great off the path restaurants and once again smiled to myself: this sort of new interactions could never have happened if I hadn’t decided to travel solo.
The last day I decided to roam on my own. I was still so happy with the unexpected outcome of this trip and discovered the magic of travelling solo and why my friend loves doing it. Even though there were other people involved in this trip (which I wouldn’t have met otherwise), all the solo moments were equally exciting and stress free.
Next Trip Planning: Check!
I arrived at my home airport with a genuine smile on my face.
If you have read this far, and tick any of my boxes:
- mostly an introvert
- panic at the idea of having to do chit chat with strangers
- hate the idea of dining alone (still a work in process for me)
- don’t have the highest self esteem in the world
- just don’t tend to do social things such as travelling on your own,
I have to tell you to try it. There is nothing more exciting than not knowing what’s coming ahead and just packing a suitcase, planning the trip and just follow your heart every single day. You will be positively surprised.