Flying solo

June 1, 2012 – Fellow WordPress blogger Hanny B’s “The Art of Traveling Alone”, in which she chronicles her solo journey through Greece and details the joys and challenges of going it alone, was a satisfying read.

Her goal to travel to at least one foreign place a year by herself is admirable, and although I’m not as seasoned as she is – she began her quest in 2007 – it is a passion we share.

As a traveler who has taken two vacations alone, not to mention the countless business trips where I’d add a day or two on to explore where I was, I’ve greatly benefitted from these solo experiences. Still, most of the places were within U.S. borders, or at least to places were English is commonly spoken. It’s a truly different experience to travel alone to a land where you don’t speak the language. More applause for Hanny!

My second solo vacation to visit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, N.M. was purposeful in several ways. I was older and wiser, in my thirties by then, and had planned to go alone to finally use some of those frequent flyer miles and hotel rewards I’d been accumulating. It is my first vacation to Puerto Rico, when I was only 18 and became an accidental solo tourist that came to mind after reading Hanny’s blog.

The trip was originally planned with a friend, who had to cancel about a week before we left. I had every intention of cancelling too, until my father told me I had to cancel because as he said, “you can’t go alone.” His words awakened something in me and suddenly I decided I’d show him that yes I could go alone, and I would go alone, even though I really didn’t want to.

The flight to San Juan was insane and I cried the entire way wondering what the hell I had done. I was certainly out of my comfort zone, petrified of what the next five days had in store for me without any friends or family, or anyone even slightly familiar. In the end, it became one of the best experiences of my life and I’m glad I didn’t pass on the opportunity that life had presented.

In her blog, Hanny points out that one of the best things about traveling alone is that you can do what you want without having to worry about anyone else. While that certainly is appealing, for me the best thing is meeting interesting people; as a solo traveler, I believe you are much more approachable.

In Puerto Rico, for example, I was hardly alone. The first night, a charming elderly gentleman who turned out to be a European diplomat had asked me to join him for dinner. He probably saw me sitting at a table alone and took pity on me, and I’m glad I accepted. I wish I could remember more about him or what we talked about – I used to be so careless about important details and have since learned to write them down – but I do remember he told me I was brave when I explained my situation.

After dinner, I attended a flamenco show in the hotel and sat with a lovely English couple probably near my parents’ age, who also told me I was brave. I was beginning to like that!

The next day, while walking through Old San Juan, I met a family from Oklahoma who were traveling with a son and daughter about my age. They took me under their wing for several meals and side trips to St. Thomas and St. Croix. They even took me to my first casino.

Of course, when traveling alone you have to be careful about who you talk to and what you say. I knew better than to leave the resort with anyone I didn’t know (although I did get on a plane with the family from Oklahoma). Instinct told me that was OK.

I learned an interesting lesson, however, when a young Italian man (I think he was a tourist) asked me to have a drink with him by the pool. I agreed, and later when he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, he followed me back to my hotel room. He then knocked on the door for several minutes as I ignored him before exclaiming, “You are full of shit my American Friend!” and was on his way. I was lucky he was harmless, and I still chuckle when I think about what he said to me. Without a doubt, those words reign as the funniest any man has ever fed me.

On the flight home – and part of me was happy to be finally heading home to familiar territory – I realized that I would have missed many if not all of those wonderful experiences if I were traveling with a companion.

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