The Art of Traveling Alone

“It seemed an advantage to be traveling alone. Our responses to the world are crucially moulded by whom we are with, we temper our curiosity to fit in with the expectations of others…Being closely observed by a companion can inhibit us from observing others; we become taken up with adjusting ourselves to the companion’s questions and remarks, we have to make ourselves seem more normal than is good for our curiosity.”  ― Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel

As you will see from some upcoming posts, I’ve recently returned from vacation in Barcelona and Lisbon.  I met my dear friend and long-time travel buddy in Lisbon, but for four days in Barcelona, I was on my own.  I’ve never traveled alone before (aside from flying alone to meet other people), but this was something I’ve always wanted to do.  The freedom to do absolutely what you want to do at all times was so appealing to me.  I also didn’t want to wait for a boyfriend or work around a friend’s travel schedule – it was my trip, just for me, and I was 100% in charge.

For anyone that is considering traveling alone for the first time, and I highly recommend you do at least once in your life, here are a few tips from my experience:

1.  Go somewhere where you will feel safe and comfortable.

Obviously safety is key.  I wouldn’t recommend running around by yourself in the Middle East or some remote locale (though plenty of people do and are totally fine – I just grew up in more of a bubble where the only place I was allowed to go alone was the library – that’s right, I was nerdy at an early age).  You need to be somewhere where you’re not afraid to walk around in the dark (though, for certain people I know, that would be Dallas, the grocery store, the closet).  You don’t want to feel like you’re going to turn into a pumpkin and have to go hide in the hotel at the first sign of sunset.  Though I don’t speak Catalan, everyone in Barcelona speaks Spanish as well (doi), so my understanding of the language was fairly key.  It would be much scarier had I not been able to speak the language – you’re really putting yourself in the hands of (hopefully) helpful strangers otherwise (which is also not necessarily a bad thing – you do find that people are usually amazingly generous and open to helping you – you allow people to show you their humanity).  Barcelona was the perfect choice because it’s really safe (everyone squawked about the pickpockets, but that’s just a factor of being aware of your surroundings and not being a bumpkin idiot – general life rule – write that one down, guys) and easily navigable.

2.  Be open.

Be open to new experiences, be curious, wander.  I’m super type A.  I LOVE lists.  Like, a lot.  A lot, a lot.  You get it.  BUT, while I like to plan vacations, I think it’s very important to have space in your schedule to explore, wander, and just do whatever.  I think that it’s really important not to be overly scheduled on vacation, or you’ll miss out on the real heart and soul of a place.  Sit in the cafe and have a drink and watch the world go by.  Go down the side streets.  Get lost (don’t worry, I did that tons).  Find hidden gems that aren’t in the guidebook.  They make for amazing pictures.  Stop and listen to the random man with the guitar outside of the museum.  You can, because you don’t have anything else to do.

3.  Talk to strangers.

Sorry Mom, I promise you did raise me better than that.  BUT, unless you want to feel really alone, you’ve got to do it.  It probably sounds counter-intuitive, but I think being alone really is the best way to connect with the world.  You can learn so much about other people and places and hear some pretty incredible stories.

4.  Splurge.

This one may just be personal to my situation, because vacation is very sparse for me and I wanted to really make it worth it.  But I think if you can, it’s very important to be comfortable when traveling by yourself.  Stay in a nice hotel, in a good location.  Go to a nice dinner – if you’re eating alone, make it worth it man!  Rent the audio headsets at the museums (nerd!) – if you don’t have anyone to talk to, you might as well learn something.  Do something that is going to make the trip really memorable – I don’t think you’ll regret it.

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