How solo travel helped me unlock a new level of confidence
At this point, I honestly can’t remember where I traveled for my first solo trip. But I can remember the fear. Insecurities as I thought about checking into a hotel room by myself. The fear of sitting in a restaurant and ordering food alone. What would people think of me? What if I do it wrong? What if there is a problem and I’m not smart enough to solve it? I remember the feeling of getting off a plane and having to figure out the best mode of transport to my sleeping arrangements. No one at the airport to pick me up. No one in the city to make me feel welcome.
And then we flash forward to today, as I sit ordering a martini and oysters at a bar by myself during happy hour. As I take myself out to brunch alone in a crowded restaurant full of groups of friends and families laughing and hugging, and think to myself, I am so happy right now. Today, I absolutely love being on my own. I love not having to ask: “What food do you feel like having for dinner?” “Where do you want to go?” I feel the utter freedom of making my own choices and the power in deciding if I want to be social with the bartender or dive deeply into a book with a glass of wine.
I started traveling alone when I was in my early twenties after my book Perfect Chaos first came out. I had been asked to do speaking engagements all over the country. To be fair, many times there were people to help me figure out a ride from the airport—but many times there weren’t. It is scary going to a new city that you have never been to all on your own and having to make new friends with every single person you meet. No old acquaintances to rely on.
But those situations are where I found my voice.
“I love my alone time, but I especially love the version of myself I met along the way. I discovered a self-assured, fearless, friendly, doesn’t-put-up-with-bullshit woman inside of me that I never knew was there.”
I often felt, as a woman, that I shouldn’t eat at a bar alone. For fear of people wondering why I was there, but also for fear of being hit on with no friends to swoop in and save me. Today I find that I like sitting at the bar rather than at tables when traveling alone because it gives me the option to decide whether I want to talk to the stranger next to me or simply eat by myself. Now I speak up in those moments at hotel bars. I’ll order a burger and make friends with the other solo business traveler beside me. I have met some of the most interesting new friends when eating alone. I have learned so much about other cities I want to visit, about the world. And yes, I have found my ability to say “no,” or “I’m really enjoying my book and would prefer to eat alone.” I don’t fear making some overbearing person who has hit on me feel bad. I’ve learned to stick up for myself without feeling compelled to say “sorry.”
Today I have traveled to India, Vietnam, and all over Europe by myself, as well as many of the 50 states. I love my alone time, but I especially love the version of myself I met along the way. I discovered a self-assured, fearless, friendly, doesn’t-put-up-with-bullshit woman inside of me that I never knew was there. Now I love traveling by myself and spending time with that woman so much that I frequently take myself on mini-trips and mini-dates in my own city. I will take myself to happy hour after a long day and revel in good food, good wine, good books, and the ambience of a favorite bar. I will take myself on ferries throughout the Puget Sound to discover new towns for a day trip away from the stress of regular life.
I cannot recommend solo traveling enough. And it doesn’t always require money—you can do it in your own backyard. Find a local free festival in your city. Go to an art walk. Take yourself to the movies. Adventuring alone offers you the ability to see who you really are, and become the person you want to become. My voice is stronger now, louder now, and I apologize less. I am more decisive, which has even helped me advance at work. The ability to really sit with yourself can be scary, but in the end, who has better taste than you?