The list of things that bring me joy when traveling alone is very long. Among them would be Freedom, Independence, and Personal Growth, the top three identified by members of our Solo Travel Society on Facebook.
But the thing I missed most while being grounded during the pandemic was the complete absence of newness and discovery.
I missed looking at things for the first time, navigating unfamiliar territory, encountering unexpected sounds and smells. I longed for those moments of confusion when my eyes see something that my brain doesn’t immediately understand, followed by the satisfaction that comes once the information has been processed.
These are the things I love most when I travel solo.
Remembering the Joys of Traveling Alone
When the world started opening up again after our successive lockdowns in Toronto, I ventured out to explore another part of my city. I spent a couple of hours wandering around the Don Valley Brick Works Park. Home to a large brick-making and distribution center for 100 years, it was subsequently taken over by the local Conservation Authority. In conjunction with the City of Toronto, restoration work was begun about 25 years ago. It is now home to wetlands, wildflower meadows, public art, forest, hiking trails, boardwalks, and, I discovered, a very large turtle.
As I meandered, I noticed myself doing things that I do when I travel alone. I hadn’t been there before, so I consulted a map. I took a lot of photos. As there were lots of benches around, I would sit in different areas and observe my surroundings, whether it was people, animals, art, or plants. All my senses were engaged.
I listened to the sounds of nature: a bee buzzing around the flowers, the breeze moving the grasses, the little “plop” of a fish breaking the surface of the water. I thought about how many virtual tours, movies, and video calls we'd experienced, glued to our screens for two years or more. We’ve become so accustomed to being able to enlarge or move things about by dragging a finger across the screen. One of the joys of traveling alone is that we return to looking at the world in a holistic, three-dimensional way.
As I gazed at the lily pads, I thought I saw something moving in the pond beneath them. I couldn’t tell what it was at first as it was obscured by the plants.
Then, slowly, something began to emerge from the water. It was a huge turtle, and (you’d be forgiven for thinking I’d lost the plot after all that time in isolation) it was looking right at me. The turtle and I stared at one another for several minutes. After what seemed like a very long time, the turtle winked at me (I kid you not!) then slowly descended back under the water.
If I hadn’t been taking my time, hadn’t been listening, watching, observing the world around me, I would have missed this delightful encounter altogether.
When I traveled to Bermuda a number of years ago, I had another experience that involved being still. By sitting alone on a bench by the water, I met two very different people and one special dog. You can read about that in How to Meet Amazing People While Traveling Solo.
There is a vast difference between spending time alone and traveling solo. At home, we understand our surroundings. We know where we need to go and how to get there. We speak a common language and we know how to get help if we need it. These things do not challenge us as we go about our days.
For me, the great joy of traveling alone is being confronted by difference and discovery, the unusual and the unknown. We’re booted out of our routines, meet new people, encounter new problems to solve. It stimulates all our senses, inspires curiosity, and teaches us more about the world and ourselves.
Enjoy the Pleasures, Big and Small
Among other benefits, I think of solo travel as a form of self-care. It’s good for our physical health. It’s good for our mental health. It exercises our brains in different ways. It soothes my anxiety and lifts my spirits. It takes me out of my head and into the world.
I offer this as a reminder – to myself, to you – to keep in mind the things we value most about solo travel. Not every trip has to be an epic event. You can go big and spectacular and bucket list if you want–and sometimes that's exactly what we want–but you don’t have to do that every time. You can take a road trip, rent a cottage, explore a city or nature nearby, or go on a holiday and still reap the benefits of traveling alone.
Slow down, open up, take it all in. Fall in love with solo travel all over again.
The joys of traveling alone are many and often reveal themselves in unexpected ways.
Don’t miss them.