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I’m wrapping up a quick solo birthday trip to Paris, the continuation of my annual tradition of traveling to celebrate my birthday. While this was once a trip I tried to recruit others to join, I have more recently embraced the idea of traveling along to celebrate the milestone.
When I mention to many who I encounter that I’m traveling alone (and more so, doing it on such an occasion) I often get looks of pity. “Oh, that poor dear… she must have no friends.”
But that’s not it at all. Rather, its a conscious choice I have made to spend the time alone (and occasionally upset friends whose attempts to invite themselves along have been rebuffed).
My desire to be alone is not a snub to my friends – rather its a display of self-care. By taking care of myself and my needs, I can be a better friend (or family member or colleague or partner).
Here are eight reasons why I enjoy traveling alone:
- Control of my plan. One of my favorite things about traveling alone is the flexibility to do what I want, when I want. If I want to spend all afternoon window shopping, I can. If I want to linger at a café over my morning tea while reading my book, I can. No one but me is keeping me on a schedule or suggesting alternative uses for my time.
- Total immersion. In foreign lands, traveling alone requires a certain amount of full immersion. Dining alone in a Paris bistro means you eavesdrop on conversations in French and people watch with great intent. It’s amazing what you learn when your focus is on others!
- Special treatment. Some people (unnecessarily) feel sorry for solo travelers. I’ve received prime tables, free drinks, and special tasting samples because I was alone. Not bad!
- Self-care. Traveling alone means I can sleep when I need to, take time to deep condition my hair or apply a rescue mask to my face, and watch Al-Jazeera at 3 am while eating cheese in bed. I can do yoga in my room, meditate, or read. It is sometimes the little things that nourish the soul.
- Owning my experiences. I love wandering alone because it means I can own my experiences exactly as I remember them. If I loved a meal, there is no one else to invalidate my impression. I sometimes value the small cultural experiences like seeking out balik ekmek in Istanbul or getting cupped in Beijing. My recollections are entirely mine!
- Self sufficiency. There are few things more immediately ego boosting than negotiating a good bargain in a market, ordering food in a foreign tongue, or figuring out a complex transport scheme. And the occasional adrenaline rush of “oh my gosh, what am I doing?!” is a rush too.
- Meeting new people. Despite my love of traveling alone, one of my favorite benefits is the people who I meet when I’m not occupied with those who I already know. I’ve made dear life friends in hotel or airline lounges, as flight seatmates, or sharing space on a tour.
- Reconnecting with my relationships. One of my favorite parts of solo travel is coming back to my friends and family. The conversations we have as they ask me questions and have often helped me process bigger issues in my life and make some key life decisions because travel often reflects our values and priorities. Traveling alone can highlight those or help magnify areas that are out of balance.
Traveling alone all of the time is not realistic for my lifestyle… but even when I cannot sneak away for a solo trip, I will often insist on a few hours of alone time to wander on my own agenda. I encourage everyone to try traveling alone for at least a portion of some trips.