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.

Obladee-Obladah

Life goes on.  And so it does in Israel.  We’ve had terrible events, we are having on-going debates about the future of our country, ISIS is standing at our gates, Iran, well, who knows what’s going on there.  And yet.

My first flatmate in Israel taught me one of the most important things I’ve learned about life in Israel.  Keep living.  In those days, buses and cafes were blowing up.  You learned that one or two sirens passing by was fine, but if you heard a third, there had been an attack.  He never let attacks on public places ever stop him from going anywhere.  My newly arrived self thought it would just be better to stay home and stay away from public places.  He wouldn’t let me and I am so grateful that he didn’t.

A few days after the Hillel Café bombing in Jerusalem, I was supposed to meet a friend for coffee.  He thought perhaps I would want to cancel.  “Are you kidding?  We are absolutely not cancelling.  We are going to Emek Refaim and we are going to have coffee in whatever café is open.”  He was surprised, but if I wasn’t afraid to go out, then he shouldn’t be either, right?

To this day, he still remembers that coffee in an empty café on a nearly empty street.  I think we even ordered dessert.

Israelis are resilient – not crazy.  There is usually a day or two of caution and then life returns to its usual rhythm.  People may be more alert, but they are not staying home cowering in fear.

This week in Jerusalem there was a Thai evening at the train station.  It was packed with people including many children.  The international arts and crafts fair started this week and I assume it was packed as usual.  Last night there was a night market on Jaffa Street.  I was too tired to go, but I still have a chance next week.  In short, this is life in Jerusalem in August.

Thai Drama

Thai Drama

Standing room only!

Standing room only!

In preparing for this post, I took a look at headlines to find out what happened this week.  There was the usual: Iran, Temple Mount, UN, Russia, Greece.  But then I saw this little headline near the top of the page.  “Yerushalmi Café Culture.”  Turns out it’s about my local café!  Even with all the “big” news, there is a place for a write-up about a sweet little café.  The small things matter.  The small joys are what make life worth living.

So I’ll end here with two quotes that I think sum up this week’s email:

“A life lived in fear is a life half lived.” – from the film Strictly Ballroom

Still Here by Langston Hughes

Been scarred and battered.
My hopes the wind done scattered.
Snow has friz me,
Sun has baked me,

Looks like between ’em they done
Tried to make me

Stop laughin’, stop lovin’, stop livin’–
But I don’t care!
I’m still here!

Wishing you all a Shabbat shalom and in the spirit of the most famous Jewish toasts, L’chaim!  To life!