I don’t know how you do it.
You wake up in the morning with no plans, no schedules just a world of freedom, a new day to write unforgettable memories. You don’t check the time, it does not matter if it is sunrise or noon, you get out of bed when you are hungry or when you feel like a new day must begin. You don’t own a watch and you may well be in a place with no roaming and no internet. If the sun is shining you are a little bit happier, a bit smilier, a tad more energized. If there is a tropical storm outside you may well decide to stay in and watch the rain hit the glass, battle the wind.
You land in alien airports and face immigration officers with confidence. Your passport has too many stamps, free pages are running thin and you always ask the officer to stamp on a used page. Often times you travel with several passports stapled together, only one is valid but the rest have visas you need to keep.
Outside the airport you navigate your way through the usual tourist harassment area, suitcase in one hand, running through an obstacle race made of hissing sounds and “Taxi?” questions. You negotiate your fare with the chosen one and, if you feel you are being ripped off, you shout a firm “No, I’ll pay half of that” and threaten to walk away. You have learned to recognize the good taxis. The world does not intimidate you.
Taxi drivers always feel brave enough and too curious not to ask the recurrent questions. “No, I am not married. No, I don’t have children. Yes, I came here alone”. You are not sorry for yourself and you definitively do not miss the social validation that a relationship provides.
You check-in into hotels by yourself. The registration form does not have a second guest name.
You get escorted to your room but you do not need any explanations. You have slept in hotel rooms hundreds of times before. Last year alone, you spent over three months away. You know how the safe works, how to switch the AC to a more bearable temperature and you certainly know how to sign up for internet service. Your surname and your room number. YOUR surname. You don’t need a porter because you can take care of your luggage, you travel light. No fancy outfits, no heavy cosmetics, just simple clothes and two pairs of shoes. You may wear the same pair of shorts for 2 weeks but you don’t care about appearances. Regardless of how old, battered or simple your clothes are people are very curious to get to know you better – there is nothing more attractive and appealing than someone who exudes happiness and you do just that. I envy the genuine joy and serenity of someone who does what she loves. You are just like that every step of the way.
Being alone does not stop you from booking at the best restaurants or from getting tickets to the fanciest shows. You are here to immerse yourself into the culture be it a puppet show in Hanoi, an Island Show in Aitutaki, a Michelin-starred restaurant in London or a themed musical in New York. You are traveling by yourself, for a long time and do not feel lonely or scared. Most importantly, you have learned to be in the moment and not having someone to distract you or to talk to makes you a more observant traveler. Solitude allows you to take in everything that is magical about traveling, to fully come to terms with different cultures and ways of life. You are extremely open minded and you don’t judge, but you have an unlimited curiosity for everything that is not what you are used to.
At diner you will take a table for one and people watch or jot down your thoughts on your travel notebook. You will enjoy the silence of your voice and take in the surroundings. It is fascinating to watch other people’s conversations and to try to guess what they are talking about as if you were not there. You will smile at the waiters and ask for their recommendations, engage with them in silly discussions about the weather, inquire about anything which surprises you. The surroundings feel familiar and friendly, not a curse to your loneliness. You have no problems staring at other people in the eyes, you are not ashamed and this confidence invites others to chat to you or, at least, it earns you a smile.
On the evenings that you dine with only the night for company you will appreciate the beauty of the place and savor the food, it tastes so much better when you can focus on its favor. You will usually reflect on the day gone by and realize what an amazing day it was. Sometimes, you will wish some of your friends were there or that person you met on a trip could share in the moment with you and that nostalgia will put a grin on your face. How lucky you are, you will be reminded, to be able to pursue you dreams if only for a short period of time.
On many occasions, a couple, a family or a group of friends will unavoidably walk over and invite you to their table. It is one of the side effects of being a solo female traveller and it does not surprise you anymore. You will remain cool and politely accept the invite despite, many nights, you would prefer to have some time alone to assimilate the day’s learnings and experiences. You will happily converse with the unassuming openness of someone who does not have anything to hide and is proud of her life’s choices. And your excitement will come through. They will listen carefully to your anecdotes, your answers to their random questions. “Where have you been?”, “Why do you travel alone?”, “Do you feel lonely?”, “Are you scared?”. The entire meal will revolve around your adventure and your larger-than-life passion for travel. You will be flattered and reminded that solo travel is a feat in most people’s minds, one which provides with the most precious of life’s lessons: the opportunity to be free and exposed to other people’s life learnings. They will go back home and tell people about you, about the strong, independent and brave girl that is traveling alone. You will think to yourself that you admire the stories of the people you meet on the road as much as they admire your determination.
You will join group tours by yourself and chit chat with other travelers. They will pity you and wrongly assume that you have failed at life because you don’t have someone next to you to share the beauty of this world with. But you will know they are wrong, you have won. You have conquered your fears and have opened your heart to the world and when you do that, there is nothing to be afraid of, the universe will give you back only unforgettable stories, unique encounters and magical days filled with spontaneous adventures.
By the end of the day they will look at you with different eyes, they will have understood that you are a very well traveled person who simply chose for this trip to be with herself only. These tours will also be great opportunities to meet other fellow travelers and possibly even a companion with whom to share a few days on the road. For a short period, you will be best friends and build life-long memories.
I don’t know how you manage to always see the positive side of everything and believe that when a door closes another one opens. You see the goodness in everyone, you are open to anything and you do not judge. You want to try everything, you want to experiment with the world. When things turn sour you never lose your calm and your optimism, life is a beautiful place and the world is full of magic. A bad moment cannot ruin a day, a rude person cannot tarn an entire nation; the kindness of strangers always prevails. You have faith in humanity, an unlimited source of faith. And this constant smile is contagious, everyone wants to be with those who love what they do and who have decided that there is no room for pity or sorrow, life is too short to get lost in negativity.
To my travel alter-ego, I do not know how you do it. I couldn’t have the guts to face the world by myself and in the process, remind everybody that the ultimate happiness comes from doing what you love.
The hardest part of being alone is not the lack of company or not having someone to share the most beautiful moments with, I have learned that the right person will turn up at every occasion. The hardest part of traveling alone is having to constantly remind people that you chose to do so, that it is your decision to travel with yourself and that it is a decision that fills you with a sense of achievement, not with melancholy.
So to all those people out there who are looking at a solo traveler and giving them the “puppy face”, feeling sorry for them because they are alone:Your should be jealous, for that person has the courage and the strength to do what they love without worrying about social taboos or what the rest of the world will think about them. And, by doing so, is attracting the best travel companions to share the beautiful moments with.