Venturing out alone doesn’t mean loneliness, so why am I so reluctant to do it?
Some might say I’ve done a lot of travelling in my life. I’m not sure I’d agree with that — there’s so much of the world to be seen — but it’s true that I’m always planning not just my next trip, but the next, and the next.
But what I haven’t done, in these past twelve years of squeezing in as much travel as possible, is travel alone. Not with any intentionality, anyway. I’ve crisscrossed Bosnia and Serbia in buses, trained my way to cities in Italy, found my way around the Netherlands, but there was always someone, or something, waiting at the end.
There’s something a little strange about this, because some of my happiest memories involve setting out on my own. After graduating university, I was set to meet up with friends for a two-week whirlwind tour of Europe. But a scheduling glitch meant I had to spend the first day in London on my own. It was during that tremendous heat wave in 2003, and all I did was wander from an air-conditioned cafe to Hyde Park, where I spent the rest of the day camped out under a tree, before getting asked for directions as I made my way to a pub for a pint. It was, perhaps, one of my proudest moments, as at the time my dream was to live in London, and it seemed like maybe I’d be able to blend in.
Then there was my day in Naples. After finishing a summer program in Florence, some friends and I decided to make our way to the Amalfi Coast for a few days. We stayed in a convent just outside Sorrento and drank limoncello and took a boat ride to Capri. But I wanted more. I needed to see Naples.
Of course, no one wanted to go with me. Naples has a rather ugly reputation, one of piles of garbage and pickpockets and begging gypsies and organized crime. But I’d always felt a pull, even before I adopted Napoli as my Italian soccer team. I like places where the beauty doesn’t slap you in the face, I like places that feel real. And that’s what I imagined Naples to be.
Turned out it was even better than that. And the beauty did slap me in the face. See, I was searching for the official Napoli store, so I wound up emerging from the metro in a neighborhood I’d never heard a thing about. It was gorgeous and it was, strangely enough, rich. Not a word I thought I would need in Naples. I never found the store, but I had a cappuccino and pastry while reading Corriere dello Sport, I wandered back to the center of town through narrow, winding streets, I reveled in all the Napoli gear, and I had the best pizza I’ve ever eaten.
And I got stabbed in a bathroom. It was by a poorly positioned nail, the pizzeria waiter brought me rubbing alcohol and a band-aid, and I was left with a great story. Especially since no one even blinked when I told them I’d been stabbed in Naples. It was, quite frankly, exactly what they’d expected to happen.
Which is why I ended up in Naples alone. And it was fantastic and fabulous and no one even looked at me funny, much less tried to rob me or stab me. I loved it and I loved London (although I loved it more when I did, eventually, get to live there) and I loved my day trip to see Antwerp on my own. I love the freedom of wandering a city’s streets, of choosing where to eat and where to sit and even where to turn without asking anyone else’s opinion. No one is bothered if I spend fifteen minutes snapping shots of light on a stone building, and no one is trying to convince me that I really must “see the sights”. So why on earth do I not travel alone?
It’s fear, I suppose. Fear of setting off for long periods on my own. There could be any number of traveling emergencies, from getting robbed to finding myself stranded somewhere. Then there’s the endometriosis, which likes to leave me incapable of walking even a couple of blocks at the most inconvenient of times.
But as I continue on this long journey of both re-finding out who I am and re-creating myself, I’m realizing I need to keep stepping out of my comfort zone. If I love the few, short moments that I’ve traveled alone, there’s no reason to hold myself back from doing it more.
So I am. I’m not quite ready to be as brave as my friend Britt, who runs seminars on how women can travel alone, was setting off for Turkey the last time I saw her, and most recently roamed solo around Indonesia. This is just a couple days, of me being alone with me, before I meet up with my friends for Oktoberfest.
It didn’t have to pan out this way. I could’ve bought a ticket to Frankfurt for Saturday, slept overnight near the airport, and met up with the boys to travel to Augsburg. That’s most likely what my parents would’ve preferred (sorry parents!). Instead, I head out on Friday and catch a train to Heidelberg straight from the airport. A night in the hostel there, a morning spent wandering the town, then a catch a train to Ulm. I’ve booked a hotel a bit outside of town where I can sleep well and have a decent breakfast…
Because the next day I’m on my way to Augsburg. There I’ll meet up with my friends for an intensive two weeks of traveling. We’ll first hit Munich, but we’ll be leaving before the hangovers even set in, on the train to Salzburg. Then it’s a couple days in Slovenia, down to Croatia, a spin around Bosnia. We head for the Dalmatian Coast before I show them around Montenegro, then fly to Istanbul from Tirana.
Those two days in Germany might not truly be considered “traveling alone,” then, as they’re just a tacked-on addition to the full trip. But I get to wander at my own pace for awhile. It’ll remind me just how much I love traveling alone. And maybe give me the courage to do it more often.