(Photo: Courtesy Courtney Colwell)
Are you one of those people who say they could never work virtually because they’d miss being around other people?
Not me. When I tell, friends that, they look at me in bewilderment. “But if you were stranded on a deserted island…” and I cut them off with, “Wait, where is it?”
I’ve been looking for that island for years.
No, I don’t need to go 100% off the grid, and it’s not that I don’t like people. It’s just that sometimes I prefer solitude. I find travelling alone, even in a crowded city, can give me some sense of “alone.” About 10 years ago, I took my first solo trip — on my way to visit a friend in Hong Kong, I decided to go to China on my own. It was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken, but eventually, I forgot that part of what I had loved was being on my own.
Then, a few years ago, a friend bailed on a trip to Prague about a week before we were due to leave. Stressed out from a terrible job, I decided to go anyway. I came back from that trip deciding that the job’s hours were not worth all of the perks, and I quit. I believe that had my friend been with me, I would not have done the soul-searching needed to come to that decision. Having that time on my own allowed me to truly relax and refocus. Sometimes, you need to get a little lost in order to find yourself.
While I do enjoy traveling with friends, I also try to take a trip on my own every so often. (As I write this, I’m packing for a safari in Botswana.) Beyond just getting away, I look forward to some additional benefits:
You’re on your own schedule. If you want to sleep past noon, you can do it. If you don’t want to go out in the rain, you don’t have to. There’s no waiting two hours for someone to finish getting ready while your stomach, which was expecting dinner in an earlier time zone, slowly digests itself.
You own your itinerary. If you want to visit that obscure museum, go for it. If you don’t, you don’t. And you can avoid waiting for hours in line to overpay for a tourist-trap you had no interest in seeing. I mean, have you been to Alcatraz?
You set your own expectations. This means greater flexibility with accommodations and transportation, as only your opinion matters. There is a vast difference in the amount of time I spend researching a hotel for myself versus one I’m sharing with friends. My approach is pretty simple: When traveling somewhere new, I find out where the Four Seasons (or the Mandarin Oriental or another top hotel) is located, and then find a nearby hotel within my budget. I can’t afford the Four Seasons, nor do I want to spend that much on a room I’ll barely spend time in. But I know the Four Seasons is never in a bad neighborhood, so I can expect a certain level of safety. What I don’t expect is to be staying at the Four Seasons… for $200 a night.
You’re more likely to meet new people. This may seem counterintuitive, but I always find that by taking a day tour or two early on in a trip, I’ll meet other travelers. For example, when I went to Beijing, I joined a group tour of the Great Wall and met an Australian. We met for dinner that evening and then toured other parts of the city the following day. On a walking tour in Prague, I met a couple of Brits and we went for drinks afterward. And if you don’t hit it off with anyone, you don’t have to see them again. I found some of my best stories are from meeting people along the way, like a guy I sat next to on the ferry from Punta Del Este, Uruguay, to Buenos Aires, Argentina. He had just sailed solo from Spain to South America, waking himself every two hours with an egg timer to make sure he was still on course. Like Robert Redford in All Is Lost, but crazier.
It can build confidence. Travelling alone (and I mean to more far-flung locales than, say, Jamaica) has helped to remind me that I’m more capable than I sometimes give myself credit for. I can figure things out; I can find my way.
And while I haven’t found my own island, yet, I’m getting closer.
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