Ridin’ Solo: A Wimp Travels Alone Already

Extras, Solo Travel — By on August 29, 2011 at 8:52 pm

My sister used her elbow to shift the gears of her little Mercedes. Her hands were occupied, see, holding a cell phone to her ear, flicking a cigarette out the open window, steering a bit. This, while speeding through maddening Italian traffic—a stop-go-stop-go crazy dance of tiny cars and swarms of dare-devilish motorbikers all carefully avoiding staying within any lines or lanes in the road.

We were on our way to the airport in Catania, Sicily, where I was about to catch a flight to London. After spending a week visiting my sister where she’s working overseas, it was time for Part Two of my vacation. So I was quietly riding shotgun, scared shitless, not so much because of the very likely prospect of being in an accident, but rather because I was about to go off on my very first trip—alone.

For a while, I’d been building up a foreign solo jaunt as an absolute must-do before this year is over. It’s a rare travel blog that touts the wonders of that kind of travel as anything less than life changing, a veritable religious experience, and I wanted a taste of that. But I realized, as my research (read: obsessive Googlings of alone + travel + crazy?) was well under way, that what I really wanted was to hear someone’s thoughts on the nerves beforehand.

I baby-stepped into it, I know. I chose a giant, English-speaking city to visit and only for about two and a half days—just to dip my toe in. So really, what was the problem here? Much wine guzzling led me to lay out all my worries to my sister the night before my flight—ridiculous worries that I hadn’t been eager to share. What if I got lost? What if no one at the hostel spoke to me? What if I found it was too dangerous to go out at night (a key test of the coolness of any city) alone? Come to think of it, I’d never gone for a drink by myself in my NYC neighborhood—what made me think I could hit the bars solo in another country?

After hearing me out, my sister suggested bagging the whole thing. Why go off to finish out my vacation alone when I could stay in Italy—on the beach, in the sun, drinking wine, eating? Maybe, she baited, I really didn’t want to go at all. What was I trying to prove anyway?

Having recently owned up to my flair for the dramatic and with half a bottle of wine down, I told her something along the lines of “If I can do this, I’ll feel like I can do anything.” All the reading up on solo travels of those who’ve gone before basically guaranteed a new level of self-awareness and capability. Right? Armed with no less than 1,567 pages of guidebooks, a tray of Italian butter cookies, and as a joke, a condom my sister slipped into my toiletries for good luck, I made her take me to the airport.

Two and a half days later, as I made my way back to the airport exhausted and broke, I thought about how I’d answer those who asked, “Well, how was it?”

Simply, it was a great time. Hovering somewhere between the hostel’s partiers and the sightseers, I ran around day and night with fellow travelers, a few locals, and on my own. My time was incredibly full with looking around, sipping afternoon tea, walking everywhere, dancing all night at clubs, navigating the Tube—and of course, getting lost. I found people were always quick to chat or offer their best directions. I loved having no real plan or schedule. The weather and the pub fare were perfect.

But am I a solo travel convert? I’ll definitely be traveling alone again in the near future—but I know it’s not to relive the sheer joy I may have experienced this first time around or the wild freedom to do anything I wanted, whenever. That’s more like the goal. When I go again, it will be to work toward becoming like those other (much) more fearless solo travelers—but I’ve got a long way to go. Almost-paralyzing nerves aside, I haven’t quite worked out exactly what I expected from this trip. But I did get on that plane. And I will again—but I’m leaving the guidebooks at home.

If you’ve gone on a solo trip, how did you feel about starting off? Excited? Scared? How do you feel about it now, with maybe a few solo jaunts under your belt?