A lot of us take vacations because we need to get away from home. Winter is too long, work is too stressful, or we just need a change of scenery. But then there’s another kind of vacation: the one where you need to get away from being you.
Some vacations don’t get rid of those home-thoughts. You sit on a beautiful beach and keep worrying about work or how much screen time to give your kids, and then you get mad at yourself for not feeling at peace in that beautiful place. You feel like your vacation isn’t working.
There is one way to guarantee that your vacation will come with a mental restart: Travel alone.
In the U.S., 11 percent of adult leisure travellers go it alone. And in much of the world over recent years, solo travel for women has become something of a cultural phenomenon.
We talked with three frequent travellers about their motivation to travel solo and why they feel it’s so valuable to the modern-day globetrotter. Read on to hear what Kristin Newman, author of What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding; David Farley, author of An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town; and Elizabeth Carlson of Young Adventuress have to say about independent travel.
Kristin Newman: Newly single and ready to explore
The first time I travelled alone, I was 31, between jobs, and newly single after breaking up with a great guy because I wasn’t ready to settle down. If I was going to give up a relationship to keep my freedom, I figured I should do something with that freedom.
So I went to Argentina by myself for two months. I knew no one in South America, I didn’t speak Spanish, and the whole thing was pretty terrifying. Despite my fear of the unknown adventure ahead, I got on the plane, found an apartment in Buenos Aires, took Spanish and tango lessons, and met travellers and locals who took me in and became a new family of friends.
Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires
The overwhelming nature of just moving through the day when I’m on my own far from home completely took over, and that’s the special sauce that always delivers a new outlook.
I have learned that when you travel alone you not only get to think a little different; if you want, you can even be a little different. Finding that alternate version of yourself is hard to do when you’re travelling with a buddy. I’ve taken trips with significant others, and girlfriends, and had magical times on those, too. But they didn’t transform me the way my trips alone did, because they didn’t deliver the greatest vacation of all: the vacation from myself.
David Farley: Travels to learn about the world, and himself
During my first year of college, I had become infected with a desire to learn in ways that I didn’t have the opportunity to in high school. When my humanities professor announced a group trip to Central Europe over the summer, I begged my parents for the money to go. They agreed. And it changed my life.
When the group tour was over, I visited Paris for a few days on my own. As the train rolled into the city, I had my first look at the Eiffel Tower from a distance. I was star-struck. Or, rather, landmark-struck. I spent a couple of days wandering around the City of Light, never really terribly comfortable.
I was 19 years old, alone in the world for the first time, in a country where everything was foreign to me. – David Farley
It wasn’t until I got home to Los Angeles a couple of weeks later, with my friends circled around me, hearing my tales from Paris, that my time there seemed a lot more fun and stress-free than it actually was.
“Travel is glamorous only in retrospect,” writer Paul Theroux once said.
Solo travel is a great metaphor for many other aspects of life. You can’t just move through time and space like a sloth, hoping other forces will step in and take care of it. When things go wrong on the road – and they often do – it’s up to you to fix it.
That’s why solo travel is so important for our personal growth. When you’re travelling with another person or people, you’re essentially bringing your quotidian world, your comfort zone, with you across the planet.
When you’re alone, the habitual you is peeled away because your mind can’t rest in the familiar. Your soul is stripped bare, and you have to resort to being a child again, asking for help from others and using the rational side of your brain to figure out how this new world works.
When I’m on my own, I end up feeling quite lonely after a few days, propelling me to crack open my shell and talk to people. If I haven’t arranged to meet friends of friends in the place – always a great way to get to know the city you’re visiting – then I go to an event, like an English-language stand-up comedy show where you can chat about the performance with other attendees afterwards.
Elizabeth Carlson: Teaching English and falling in love with travel
I moved to Spain to teach English for a year when I was 20 years old. I didn’t know anyone there or whether my limited knowledge of Spanish would be more of an asset than a hindrance.
I was eager to plan a weekend getaway to somewhere in Europe. I was thinking Paris, but unfortunately – and surprisingly – none of the other teachers were.
Taking a chance, I booked a flight to Paris for my very first solo trip. I knew I was in for an exciting weekend, but I didn’t know how long-lasting its impact would be on me. Unbeknownst to me, a weekend exploring the streets of Paris until my feet bled, eager to see everything, eat everything and meet anyone, put me on a journey to self-discovery.
Since then, solo travel has been my main way of seeing the world.
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