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The Peculiar Pleasures of Traveling Alone

Solo travel is deeply soul quenching

Sophia Dembling
Source: Sophia Dembling

Do you like traveling alone?

I love it.

Traveling with other people is great too (as long as they’re the right people), but there are times when nothing will do for me but to leave everyone and everything at home and set out to see the world on my own.

Introverts know the necessity of stepping away from activity for a five-minute bathroom break, for an evening of unwinding, for a day of blissful solitude. It’s necessary mental hygiene for us. Multiply that by days, and with interesting new environments in which to replenish the brain, and the experience is deeply soul quenching.

Solo travel opens us up to places and experiences in an entirely different way from travel with others. In solo travel, we are free to take everything in without ever being required—beyond basic good manners and kindness—to put anything out. The solo traveler is self-contained, untethered from obligations and expectations.

There is special joy to settling into an airplane seat, all the frenzy and anxiety of packing and saying good-bye behind you and nothing but a flight, a good book, and adventure before you. Or loading your trunk with luggage, your back seat with snacks and drinks, getting into your car and cranking up the music while pulling onto the highway to wherever.

I love exploring cities on my own, wandering streets with and without a destination; finding benches, cafes, random steps or walls to park myself for hours, watching the locals go about their business. I poke around shops and buy nothing; picnic on street food in parks; wander museums at my own pace—sometimes leisurely, sometimes brisk—with nobody hurrying me along or holding me back.

I love solving the problems that arise in foreign travel, bumbling around as one will in another country, but without witnesses, enjoying the satisfaction of figuring things out when I do, and shrugging it off when I don’t.

Some people say it’s easier to meet locals and other travelers when you travel alone. This is surely true for travelers who want to meet people, but I am not that traveler. Having no conversation beyond ordering meals over the course of a trip is not unusual for me, and it is restful. Because I rent cottages with kitchens when I take writing retreats once or twice a year, I might not speak to anyone but my muse for days on end. If I do find myself craving conversation, I might join a walking tour or other group event for just enough human contact to sate my limited appetite for human contact.

I love hotel rooms by myself, falling asleep with the TV on, taking up the whole bed; drinking terrible in-room coffee at my leisure before heading out in search of better. I love finding restaurants that feel welcoming and returning to them over and over, creating very temporary rituals; or, conversely, wandering into places just because they look interesting (or I’m very hungry) and what the hell, if it’s terrible, nobody will blame me. I’m not shy about eating alone, although I might eat early or at the bar in nicer restaurants on date nights, to avoid feeling self-conscious in a full dining room. Occasionally I just grab something and eat in my hotel room, to let my travel-stimulated brain simmer down.

On road trips, I love stopping at that stupid-looking souvenir store just because it’s so stupid looking and let’s see what’s inside. If I pass a view and think “I should take a picture of that” but don’t, ten miles later I might turn around and go back for that picture. I love wandering old cemeteries and making up stories about long-dead people whom probably nobody has thought about for a very long time. I love getting out of my car in the middle of nowhere and feeling the middle-of-nowhereness of it down to my very marrow. And if I want to watch a wildflower dancing in a breeze for longer than seems sensible, there's nobody to complain.

I love choosing the music in the car to suit my mood or surroundings—Run DMC in Houston; Simon & Garfunkel at twilight; show music when I feel the need to sing loudly and off-key. I love getting sucked into podcasts on long, dull stretches. I love letting my thoughts unspool with the road, never sure where they will take me. (Just as I’m never sure where my terrible sense of direction will take me; I invariably get lost on solo road trips. But I always find my way back.)

It’s not that these things are impossible with other people. My husband, especially, is an excellent road tripper. (And I do not take for granted my good fortune in having a spouse who respects my need for solo escape and doesn’t grumble. Much.) But traveling alone is different. It’s a journey of both body and spirit. It’s a journey without and within. It’s both a deep dive and a shallow indulgence—I get to do it my way, start to finish, top to bottom, nyah, nyah, nyah. And I return home refreshed, rejuvenated, and often with the new perspective on life that distance and a block of uncluttered thinking time can provide.

All that and more is why I love traveling alone. How about you? And if you’ve never tried it, what’s stopping you?

  • Check out my books:
  • I got to do lots of solo travel for 100 Places in the USA Every Woman Should Go. Perfect for planning your summer travel.
  • Introverts in Love: The Quiet Way to Happily Ever After
  • The Introverts Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World
  • The Yankee Chick’s Survival Guide to Texas

Note that anything you buy from Amazon by clicking through from this blog post will earn me a few cents. Books are also available at Barnes & Noble. Or you can support your local independent bookstore; click here to find an indie bookstore near you. If they don't carry my books, ask for them!

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