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!


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.


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!


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.

History in the making

What I learned from my Facebook experiment last week is that I have to have a good first sentence hook and an interesting first picture.  Alternatively, I should start my post in the middle or the end.  That said, here’s the end: We have to keep telling our stories because our lives, even at this moment, are history in the making.

National Archives and a great quote from Shakespeare

National Archives and a great quote from Shakespeare

History in the making

This week marked the 20th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination.  Bill came.  Yes, Bill “Shalom, Haver” (goodbye/peace, friend) Clinton.  He spoke at a memorial rally in Rabin Square (renamed to honor Rabin after his assassination there).  The week was filled with what-ifs:  What if Rabin had lived? What if Oslo had really worked? What if, what if, what if.

I’m a little cynical about what ifs.  The truth is that no one knows what would have happened if events unfolded a different way.  As an idealist, I understand the desire to spin what-ifs and wouldn’t-it-have-been-great-ifs.  But as a historian, I believe it is more important to analyze the past and learn lessons from it.  Otherwise, you end up in a spiral of history, revisiting in different ways the events of the past, and repeating them over and over.

This is not to say that I’ve analyzed the past and have come up with a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, but I’m pretty sure that if we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’ll continue to get the same results.  (A similar quote was attributed to Einstein, but apparently he didn’t say it.  “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”)

Viva la Revolution!

I’ve been thinking about history as a spiral because of the events in Romania this week.  Since I was there in September and I asked a lot of questions about the revolution in 1989, I was stunned to hear the news that the government stepped down this week after protests over a nightclub fire.  The fire was representative of the corruption of government agencies and the disregard the government has for its citizens.  I also spoke to a friend in Timisoara about it – not that I have a deep understanding about it now, but at least I feel a little more informed.

Here’s a video of the protest this week in the same square that the 1989 revolution took place in (and the square that I passed through every day I was in Timisoara).  My friend tells me that some of the chants and songs in the video were part of the revolution in 1989.  Here’s a LINK.

Telling the stories

I’m a historian by training, but the part of that word that is important to me is “story.”  Not just a collection of facts in a particular order, but an understanding of the events of the past that speak to us as human beings.

A few weeks ago, I saw a German film called “Labyrinth of Lies” about the guy who brought German citizens to trial in Germany for war crimes at Auschwitz.  This is not a Holocaust movie.  It is a story about having the strength, even when you barely have the will to go on, to tell the truth about the capacity of humans to be inhuman to each other. Here’s the trailer.

A documentary that caught my eye was “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom.”  Evgeny Afineevsky, the director, was in the middle of the uprising in Kiev and documented it.  When he spoke about it in the interview I saw, he said something that stayed with me: “The history is happening.”  Here’s a trailer.  And an interview with the director.

History is now

Film today is yesterday’s book.  History is remembered when it touches our souls.  And hopefully, we can learn from it and do things differently.

I remember the events of 1989.  I remember Rabin’s assassination.  These are events that took place in my lifetime that are now history.  We have to keep telling our stories because our lives, even at this moment, are history in the making.