Why You Should Travel Solo (At Least Once)

“Shoot. I forgot to put ‘travel solo’ on my list.”  That was my thought when I woke up the morning after I posted last week’s blog entry, How to Travel Well. But then I thought it might deserve its own post.

This will not be about the Eat-Pray-Love journey of self-discovery that solo travel will allow to blossom in the heart of your true, authentic self.  Who has time for all that navel-gazing self-absorption?  There’s a world out there waiting to be explored!

Also, I’m not advocating throwing caution to the wind and trusting your sacred aura and charged crystals to protect you in every situation.  Take a self-defense class and be aware of your surroundings.

But definitely, at least once in your life, travel solo.

I’ve experienced group trips and traveling as a couple and the truth is that I like traveling solo best.

Get out of your comfort zone

Traveling solo pushes you to talk to strangers, try out some foreign phrases, and try new foods.  Your comfortable rut is no longer your anchor.  Every moment of every day when you are on the road is a new experience.

I don’t greet people in my everyday life by bowing with my hands together in front of my heart and saying “Sawadee-ka!”  But in Thailand I do!

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A temple in Thailand

Step out of the familiar

This is linked to getting out of your comfort zone.  When you travel as a couple or with a group, you surround yourself with the familiar and you travel around the world in a bubble.  Shared thoughts and opinions with your partner or friends will not give you a new perspective. You might just as well watch something on TV and discuss it.  But as a solo traveler, talking to strangers and being exposed to different points of view, you may just come across something you never thought of and see the world in a new and unexpected way.

People tend to be proud of where they are from and they love talking to you about it.  I learned a lot about the revolution in Romania in 1989 and how proud the people of Timisoara were of being the center of such a dramatic change in the history of their country.

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The opera house in Timisoara (r), the heart of the revolution

Celebrate self-reliance

In the dark days of my divorce, my soon-to-be ex-husband said to me, “Who do you think you are divorcing me? You’ll never get along without me.”  My reaction? I raised my left eyebrow and with icicles in my voice, I said, “Really.”

In the early days of traveling solo, every “tourism win” was just more evidence piling up proving that indeed I can get along perfectly fine without him.  I rarely think of his mean phrase these days. I just celebrate my own independence, competence, and ability to rely on myself in any and every situation.

Savor freedom

You wake up in the morning as the mistress of your destiny.  You can march forward to follow your plan for the day. Or you can change it 12 times in the first hour, or change the plan in the middle, or throw out the plan.  And all the while the only opinion that matters is yours.

On my first day in Paris, I was enjoying the view over the city from the top of Sacre Coeur and suddenly I remembered that I wanted to take the free walking tour. I whipped out my phone and checked the internet site for the tours to find out when the next one was.  Oof, 45 minutes.

I ran down the winding stairs and raced down the hill to find a subway station – Google maps!  And then I bought my week-long subway pass – research done earlier so I knew what to buy – and immediately ran into some inspectors checking tickets. Voila! Week-long pass!  Hopped on the train that arrived just then and made my tour with minutes to spare!  For the win!

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View from the very top of Sacre Coeur

Solo traveler at home

And when the solo traveler comes home, she has cherished memories and a few tools in her pockets for her everyday life.  She no longer needs to stay in her comfort zone, she can immerse herself in the unfamiliar and take pride in her self-reliance, and she can embrace her freedom. Life at home can also be an adventure.  It just depends on your perspective.

Festival of Freedom

One of the names of Passover is the Festival of Freedom (Chag Herut).  This is no surprise since the main story of Passover is how the Jews left slavery in Egypt.  But if you take the meaning a bit deeper, it can be

Political freedom

Personal freedom

Spiritual freedom

Emotional freedom

Freedom to choose

Freedom from fear

Emancipate yourself from mental slavery,
None but ourselves can free our mind.
– Bob Marley, “Redemption Song”

The list goes on and on.

The story of Passover ends with the crossing of the Red Sea, but that’s where the real story of freedom begins.  The Jews gather under Mt. Sinai and, after the golden cow incident, they agree to a covenant with God.  They go to the land God promised Abraham and send spies to report on the situation.  The spies lie and the former slaves get scared, start complaining, and start making plans to go back to Egypt – “it would have been better to die in Egypt!”  God gets annoyed – no surprise there – but Moses talks Him out of killing everyone as it would be really bad press to kill the people you promised the land to.  God agrees, but says that they have to wander for 40 years.

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In the Bible the explanation ends there.  However, if we analyze it a bit, we can see that 40 years is about 2 generations, so the people who will inherit the land will be the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of the slaves.  This generation will have lived in freedom their whole lives with a faith in God who provided them manna every day.  They will have never known what it feels like to have a master and even the stories of their grandparents will be far removed from their experience.  This is the generation that will be strong enough and confident enough to have their own country in their own land.

Passover and Politics

A lot of crazy stuff is happening in the world.  Just this morning I woke up to news of US Tomahawk missiles fired on Syria after Syria attacked its own people with chemical weapons.  Syria has been in a civil war for the past 6 years with hundreds of thousands of dead and probably millions of refugees.

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I wonder if the story of the Festival of Freedom could inspire the people of Syria.  They need to continue to struggle to be free of tyranny and fear.  But it won’t be an instant change.  Like the Israelites, they will need practice living in freedom, making choices, and learning how to be responsible for their own nation.  It’s going to be tough, but ultimately it will be worthwhile.

There were those who saw the parallels of the breakup of the Soviet Union with the story of the Jews in the desert for 40 years.  A people who had known only a tzar with total authority moved to a system with a Politburo with total authority to a dictator with total authority.  After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, there were people who wished for the return of Stalin – and they were the ones who remembered Stalin! – at least they would know what to expect and how to maneuver around the system.  This is a perfect example of slave mentality.  So far it’s only been 26 years.  Let’s check back in 2031.

Pharrell Williams’ music video “Freedom” reminds us that all human beings deserve to be free.  Happy Passover!

 

How is it Passover already?

It happens every year.  I know Passover is coming.  I see the introduction of Passover foods at the supermarket and then, BAM, it’s already here.  Passover is in a week, but people have already started and finished their major cleaning and are stocking up on Passover foods.

“Cleaning for Passover” means a lot of things to a lot of different people.  If you keep kosher, then “cleaning for Passover” means that you have cleaned all traces of bread, leavening, and any of the other forbidden grains out of your home.  Often that entails moving large appliances and being shocked at how much dirt and grime is under there, so then “cleaning for Passover” turns into a major spring cleaning effort.

Then once the house is “clean for Passover” you can’t bring any bread products into your house until after Passover.  If you’re like me, the idea of not eating bread makes me crave baguettes, sandwiches, cake, and every other flour-based product on the market.  I’m sure people manage to not eat bread (Atkin’s Diet anyone?), but around Passover, I can’t think of anything I want to eat except bread.

No bread

Some years I clean for Passover and others I don’t.  Interestingly, I found that if I don’t clean for Passover, I tend to have more ants in and around the house.  I imagine that our ancestors noticed that they had fewer bugs if they did some spring cleaning and the cleaning frenzy was conveniently timed around Passover when they weren’t supposed to have any bread products around anyway.  Coincidence?

Some thinkers take the idea of leavening into the spiritual realm.  What is bread if not substance filled with air?  How does a person who is puffed up with himself or herself appear to others?  Passover cleaning can also be done within to rid yourself of arrogance.

Another spiritual avenue gets to the heart of who you are as a person.  At first Moses didn’t have courage.  After he killed the slave master, he ran away to the desert.  He could have had a fine life, but then a burning bush spoke to him (and was not consumed).  If a burning bush tells you to go to Pharaoh to demand that he free the people of Israel, are you going to do it?  If you have a speech impediment (Moses did), do you think to yourself, “yeah, I’ll just clearly tell Pharaoh what’s what.”  Luckily, Moses had a brother (Aaron) who was willing to stand up with him and demand freedom, but Moses himself (and Aaron) had to have the courage and faith to do what needed to be done.

Standing on the shores of the Red Sea, the people of Israel bitterly complained.  They had Pharaoh’s army chasing them and the sea in front of them.  They wailed that it would be better to be slaves than die out here.  Moses assured them that the path would open before them, but they had to see it with their own eyes.  So the sea parted and they went forward.  But was it enough?  No.  After all they saw and experienced, they still felt the need for a golden calf so that they could have physical thing to worship.  Forty years in the desert would be enough time to raise up a new generation who only knew freedom, who would be courageous, and who would have faith.

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The Exodus is a Hero’s Journey for Moses as well as for the nation of Israelites.  We can be inspired and re-inspired by the story.  Each year we have the opportunity to find something new.  Are we going to find courage within ourselves?  Will we demand to see everything with our own eyes before we have faith in something?  Will we be courageous and free and then fill ourselves with our own arrogance about how fabulously enlightened we are?

In the meanwhile, I think I’ll move my refrigerator and clean underneath it.  I hope not to find anything new there, but perhaps I’ll find something that I lost in the past year.  Ah, well, that will be a spiritual story for another day.