I think it’s fair to say that the prospect of post-pandemic solo travel is on the minds of most of us.
One of the things I have missed most during the last year or so has been the complete absence of newness and discovery.
I miss looking at things for the first time, navigating unfamiliar territory, encountering unexpected sounds and smells. I long 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 all things I experience when I travel solo.
Having spent more than a year at home alone, I finally ventured out of my neighborhood on the weekend. We’re out of lockdown in Toronto, I’m fully vaccinated, and things are opening up.
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. 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've experienced, glued to our screens for a year or more. Post-pandemic solo travel will allow us to set that aside and look at the real thing with different eyes. We’re accustomed to being able to enlarge or move things about by dragging a finger across the screen. We can now 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’ve lost the plot after a year alone) it was looking right at me. The turtle and I stared at one another for several minutes. I pointed it out to some children who were nearby, but apparently a motionless head was not as entertaining to them as it was to me. 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 still and quiet, 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 Meet People While Traveling Solo: 2 Very Different Approaches.
Taking a Pass on Post-Pandemic Solo Travel?
I have heard some people say that since they have spent so much time alone during the pandemic, they are no longer interested in traveling solo, at least not for a while. That is definitely not the case for me.
There is a vast difference between spending time alone – as many of us have been doing in 2020/2021 – and solo travel.
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.
Post-pandemic solo travel will open us up to difference and discovery, the unusual and the unknown. We’ll be booted out of our routines, meet new people, encounter new problems to solve. It will stimulate all our senses, inspire curiosity, and teach us more about the world and ourselves.
I suspect most of you are looking forward to all of this as much as I am. Perhaps some of you are already traveling.
It Won't All Be Easy
Post-pandemic solo travel will not be without challenges. There will be a lot of things to learn and know about travel in this time – different types of masks for different places, different rules related to vaccination status, COVID testing, quarantining, social distancing, and mask-wearing protocols. It may not just vary from country to country, but from place to place within a destination – your hotel, the airport, restaurants, museums, public transportation.
Do your research. Plan ahead. Be prepared, as much as possible.
It will be confusing and frustrating at times. Summon all your patience. Be kind to everyone you encounter. Tip big when it comes to the people who do the work to ensure you have a great trip, and who have suffered greatly in the absence of tourists, from servers to housekeeping staff to tour guides.
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. There will be temptation to make the first post-pandemic trip an epic event. You can go big and spectacular and bucket list if you want, but you don’t have to. You can take a road trip, rent a cottage, explore a city or nature nearby, or go on a holiday.
Don't overwhelm yourself or set unrealistic expectations. I know we all have a lot of pent-up desire for travel, but we don’t have to do everything on our first trip or in this first year.
Slow down, open up, take it all in. Fall in love with solo travel all over again.
The great pleasures of traveling alone are often found in the small, quiet moments.
Don’t miss them.
When you're ready to start planning your post-pandemic solo travels, here are some resources to help you out: