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The Joy of Being "Just One"
So it was that I joined the grand tradition of accidental solo traveling. And I found what so many solo travelers have discovered: that traveling alone isn't lonely at all, that you find yourself open to different things and much more likely to make new friends as you go. I found myself staying at the famous Shakespeare & Co. bookstore in Paris, and while working my shift to earn my night's stay (yes, I was such a wild and crazy kid that I managed to find myself with a job) I met a fellow Midwestern 20-something who had expatriated to France and showed me the town. I found myself at an all-night dance party (breakfast and all) in small town Spain; I channeled my inner Madeline at a girls-only-former-convent in Venice; a Hawaiian goth became my best friend for few days in Granada; I spent a very strange overnight train ride listening to an Indian med student's techno in an Italian dining car. And when I wanted to be alone, I was, so that I could write and draw for hours in my journal and (sorry, but I was 20), discover myself. In other words, it was an entire summer of experiences I would not have had otherwise, and, I'm sure, never will have again.
But even I have to admit, the idea of doing something like this now sounds impossible, if not terrifying. Where did that youthful bravado go? Nowadays, I just wouldn't feel comfortable bunking in a co-ed youth hostel with rowdy Norwegian skateboarders. I have a mature person's fear of death, muggings, and not getting to shower regularly. And besides, a bit of adventuring is practically de rigueur when you're 20. What about when you're 40? or 60? or...80? Enter the great Solo Traveler blog. The site was born in 2009, when Janice Waugh found herself an empty-nester and a widow all at once. She decided to take what fate had handed her and run with it...all the way across the world. Now, as she puts it on the site, "I travel solo and I carefully observe how I do it."
If traveling alone sounds lonely or awkward to you (particularly as an older woman), this site might be just the inspiration you need. Waugh writes, "Solo travel is an experience like none other. It allows you to enjoy a place on your own terms—without the distractions or schedule of others. It gives you time for contemplation and personal growth." Contemplation? Is that like scanning restaurants and museums for the closest exits in case of a child's tantrum? Huh.
The blog offers some great advice for solo travelers and would-be-journeyers alike, paying expert attention to solo-travel-issues you might not have imagined existed. The latest post, for example, covers the art of dining solo, which "seems to be something that has the potential to cause people to avoid traveling solo altogether...In speaking with [a restaurant's owner] I made an unexpected discovery. She trains her staff to be sensitive to solo diners who may not be entirely comfortable. They can choose any table in the restaurant-in the center of the room, in a quiet corner, on the open-air deck or covered patio-or they can eat at the bar. Customers are never greeted with “Just one?” or “Only you?”"
Only you? Why should that question have such an accusatory ring? What's wrong with a woman, alone, wanting to take up space—not, as the post suggests, hiding behind a book or laptop, but just enjoying her meal? This post recalls the many subtle ways our society expects us to conform to certain roles. I remember this well from my solo travel adventure, the expectant air with which a single woman is greeted. Of course a single diner is waiting for her friend or partner. Of course an empty-nester/widow is bored and lonely. Not really, this site reminds us. We know how to make our own fun, and yes, even how to have adventures. And here is how we can do it.
Visit the site for advice on having your own adventure (and, for the armchair traveler, lovely travel-related poems and photographs).
How A Week Alone in Japan Cured One Woman's Shyness
The Allure of Traveling Solo
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