SEMI SOLO TRAVELING
I love to travel alone. Every time I do book the one ticket please flight for any travels whether in this beloved USA or out of it, I have a sense of personal freedom. I came upon an article not too long ago, perhaps in the NYT or Medium about traveling as a lone female and the freedoms of the experience. I related instantly. There is an inner quest of exploring on my own terms, no compromising, no negotiating, no trying to read someone else’s mind or thoughts that makes traveling solo some of my most memorable.
Flying alone, finding my way to my hotel and figuring out where and how to spend my time and money is some of my most liberating experiences since I went on my first excursion to Paris when I was a mere twenty two. I say semi solo in the title because on that first trip semi alone, I flew with a friend whom I had been working with at a local bar for the summer. He haphazardly asked me if I wanted to fly over with him as he had found a flight for $400 to Paris. At the time, this was 1988–89, this price was a steal. Little did he know that I was in the dire need of leaving a relationship and this was a great chance to move on. In many ways, a trip that was out of my comfort zone, was the push I needed to end a young relationship that I had outgrown. I said yes, not sure if he had asked seriously, this was not a romantic relationship, just one of friendship and it seemed like a safe and great opportunity to fly to a foreign land with someone also headed that way.
This trip was from Boston to New York, New York to Iceland, Iceland to Luxemburg and then a train to Paris. Needless to say, it took a while, but when you are young and without much money to spare, the distance was part of the fun.The plan was he, his name was Chris, and I would fly over to Paris, look up some friend he had met at the bar that summer and stay with them for a couple of days, then he would head west to another friend’s and I would stay in Paris alone for a month.
I had discovered Rick Steves travel guides and had been studying it for months leading up to trip so I knew where I would be staying once I got there. Kind of a step up from a hostel right smack in the Latin Quarter the day after Christmas. It was magic at that time in Paris as it was the 200th anniversary celebration of the Revolution that I knew nothing about. When my friend Chris departed on the second day after we arrived after getting me safely to the place I would be calling home for the next month, I had my first moment of hesitation.
Parisians at the time were notoriously famous for low tolerance for the “Ugly American.” I did my best to practice learning French and had become pretty proficient at asking where something was or how much something cost, but had failed to think that their response would be in very fast French, a dead giveaway for the illusion of my French communication. Traveling alone in 1989 was a lot different for a twenty two year old girl whose previous travails had been a month in Israel and Italy under my grandparents’ care when I was only in sixth grade. Besides an occasional flight to Florida to visit said grandparents, this was a big adventure for me. There were no cell phones or laptops, no google, no apps, and no credit cards. If you needed money, you had to go to the American Express office and this was my place of feeling comforted when I had any moments of panic alone. Not panic because I felt in danger, but just trying to sort out my feelings that came up as this was the first time I was really alone.
I was trying to sort out the inevitable feelings and just get to know them get to reacquaint myself with me. I had taken a personal vow of no romantic relationships, no interludes, a vow of celibacy so I would not be distracted by a boy when I needed to be connected with my inner workings. Boys had been distracting me for most of my young life and I needed to find out who I was and what I was made of. And I was trying to live on the one thousand dollars for one month that Rick Steves had assured me was possible in his book titled something like Paris on Ten Dollars a Day.
I met this great young art student named Carl who was from Wisconsin within my first few days there and he taught me the streets by foot, the art because of his classes and how to navigate the city with a map and our feet. He refused to take the Metro because he was both frugal and he felt that the only way he could really see Paris was above ground. We became fast friends and I went along with him on his walks all over the city. I saw things in Paris I would have not likely otherwise seen because of Carl. A mass on New Years Eve at Notre Dame, which happened to be around the corner from where we were staying. An opera at the Palais Garnier, The Rodin Museum, the modern and newly opened semi controversial addition to the famous Louvre and drinking champagne at the Eifel Tower on New Years Eve also on the eve of the two hundred year anniversary of The French Revolution. Paris was a magical experience for me and gave me much insight into my own sense of self and female power. I have brought this trip into my own self serving luggage ever since.
Traveling semi solo this time to the beautiful Azores to semi be with a group of women was a little different then this first trip to Paris. First of all, I have a lot better economics and I wasn’t there to find myself. I have a great partner who isn’t as interested in global traveling as I am so off I went into the joy of abroad knowing that I wasn’t coming home to figure my life out, but rather missing the life I had figured out. Traveling solo helps me refine my scope. What I appreciate, what needs changing, what parts of me I can say goodbye to and what areas I want to revisit.
Though my semi solo trip layered over a few days with the ladies, because I wasn’t part of their planning party, I knew I could continue to do what I wanted when I wanted. I could lean in to their party or walk away with no hard feelings. This way of traveling is so satisfying to my personality and I recommend it to every woman. We are often told we are supposed to conform to certain preconceived notions on how we live our lives. I like to buck those notions and traveling solo is one of those great gifts we can give ourselves at least once in our lives. Don’t get me wrong, I love sharing new experiences with my man, but we don’t need partners to guide us; we can and should be on occasion, our own compasses. I have the luxury of a partner who allows this self guided tour I call my life without a moment of hesitation. While I am off and running, he is home and waiting with open arms. This has been a gift in my ability to buy the ticket and climb aboard. We only have one life that we know of and the challenges and risks we take are part of the party. I can’t wait to see where I land next.