Unlike most college-aged kiddos, my sights were never set on studying abroad. I never dabbled with the idea of taking time off to backpack around Europe or do a gap year in Asia to find my zen. Instead, I was that overly high-strung type-A personality that began saving to move to New York from North Carolina from age 15, worked overtime to graduate early from college and made the 800-mile journey sans job or apartment. I knew where I wanted to build my life and that I wanted to be a writer, so I didn’t consider a passport as necessary as my metro card.
I stayed on the straight-and-narrow path of becoming an established writer until an emotionally traumatic breakup with a guy 8 years my senior threw me for a loop. I had been living in New York for just over two years, and while everything was still glimmering with hope and possibility, my heart was broken from so many failed promises. It was after a night of restless sleep and wrestling with mascara-stained pillow cases that I remembered the map of the world that I’ve hung in every apartment I’ve ever rented. Just like there was so much love I had left to experience, there was so much of the world I’d never stepped on.
I decided it was time to take a trip, all by myself.
And though my first voyage was domestic – to Puerto Rico – my yearly tradition of exploring the world independently has taken me from Cancun, Mexico to London and many more destinations. I’m still holding out for that magical man, wherever he might be, but in the meantime, I’m working on exercising my passport and thus, my world perspective by traveling as much as I can. If you’ve considered taking the first step on a solo trip, let me be the first to tell you: every woman (and every man, for the matter), should travel alone, at least once or as often as they can.
Here are some reasons why:
You make your own rules – and friends.
When I visited London, I badly wanted to shop for antiques in the historic, colorful streets of Notting Hill, so I hopped on the tube and navigated my way through the various connections. After finding an old necklace to call my own, I settled in at a cafe for some reading and coffee, and was greeted by a group of friends who wondered where I was from. And when I did that first trip by myself to Puerto Rico, a threesome of local medical students invited me to drink with them, telling me all of their stories from the island. And when I was in Mexico, meeting friendly strangers was never difficult, especially when you share an affinity for snorkeling or parasailing. When you take a weekend by yourself, you get to call the shots and build your own adventure. There are no time constraints and no deadlines to meet – you get to experience the culture and meet those who create it, without worrying about anyone else’s opinions.
You can splurge on what means the most to you.
I try my best to save costs whenever I travel anywhere, thinking the more I save, the more places I can check off my bucket list. But there are certain amenities and experiences that I want to have in every region I visit, and to me – the keeper of my wallet and financial decisions as a single woman – those things are worth the cost. I often upgrade my flight for a small fee (or with the help of a travel credit card) to sit near the front of planes so I’m last on and first off. I always bring back a souvenir that’s locally made and can be proudly displayed in my home. And I dine at restaurants that are highly recommended. While in Mexico, I enjoyed a luxe meal at Porfirio’s, where the guac had grasshoppers and the churros were brought out on a mini-truck to the table. And yes, while the decor was incredibly romantic, with rose petals floating in fountains, I didn’t feel sad to be alone. I felt thankful to have the experience and the delectable food in my tummy.
It builds your confidence.
Likely my favorite part of solo travel isn’t even how I feel when I arrive, but when I leave. My last night, as I go to bed with the door open in Mexico, letting the waves rock me to sleep or overlook the skyline in London, in awe of it’s charm, I think of how far I’ve come as a person, as a woman, as a professional. The legs that get me to these destinations are my own, the journeys I go on are from my own savings account and doing. The dreams that I’ve made come true are due to my own hard work and spirit. The sense of accomplishment – and gratitude – is enormous when I pack my bags and look back on the hotel room one last time before hitching a ride to New York. It’s a reminder that while I might be single and I may crave a partner to share these experiences with, I’m damn proud of what I’ve created, without any man, any person, any help, at all.
And though he will come one of these fine, fine days, I hope I always have at least a weekend… just to myself.