“Solo traveling?!” Eyes and mouth wide open, three women stare at me at a networking mixer. All of them are successful entrepreneurs, power ladies in every sense, who have kicked the one or the other challenge in the butt on the way to the top. Yet, this phrase very obviously still lets chills run down their spine. I nod and have to smile when confessing that I actually like solo traveling better than traveling with others, except for very few friends. “Really? Oh, how I wish I could do that. I just can’t be alone. What’s your secret?”
It is the one question I get asked in almost every conversation around both my travels and my lifestyle choices, by both men and women. What’s the secret? How do I manage to travel on my own? Why am I single? How do I not feel alone and awkward at a restaurant sitting by myself? How do I not get bored running the streets solo, not anxious without someone to fall back on, not scared to be by myself? And most importantly, how do I not feel incredibly alone in the evenings, looking at the moon melancholically, with a glass of red, thinking about life, love and all the things that matter?
Admit it. That’s the picture that comes to mind for many when thinking about riding solo, especially being an extrovert. Fun fact first. In every single personality test that I took over the years, I was always right in the middle of the spectrum between introvert and extrovert. A so called ambivert. At first I had trouble understanding what this meant. Indeed, I get a lot of energy from the people around me. But what is the introvert in me?
The one phrase that caught me when reading up on a Fast Company article on the double nature of ambiverts was this: “For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating.” Bingo! I can’t explain it better than this! But are introverts better at solo traveling? Well, no, they’re not. But one thing might be easier for them to realize: The path to happy solo traveling lies within! It’s the answer to a very simple question, and it has everything to do with personal development.
Do you like “being you” enough to hang out with yourself, and yourself only? And if not, how do you change that?
Don’t think I’ve always been like this. Doing a solo vacation was an impossible thought 5 years ago, and if someone told me I would be doing what I’m doing this year, I would’ve straight out laughed at them. But after having gone through some changes in the past few years, I now believe that the feeling of not being comfortable hanging out with yourself can only have the following three reasons.
- The person you have learned to believe you are exists on the outside and through others’ opinions. You define yourself through interactions with people, through how they react to you and see you, through the feedback you’re getting on your personality, your looks, your wit. A good day for you is fueled by appreciation, recognition and positive feedback. But if that is missing, the situation turns. You are fully dependent on your environment to feel good about yourself.
- You struggle being on your own simply because you don’t know yourself very well. And you’ve never really made an effort to change that. You’ve always been kept busy with things, had a lot of responsibility to carry, or just lived up to others’ expectations. You’re simply not aware of this amazing personality that is you, and that is experiencing every second and every minute of your life through your very unique eyes and perspective. So, when you pause, when you take time for yourself and are faced with your undistracted thoughts and emotions, it’s like being in a room with a complete stranger. One that you’ve never learned to like or trust.
- You just don’t like what you see when you look into the external or internal mirror. Maybe because you keep making the wrong choices. Maybe you feel like you’re not whole, or enough. Not successful enough, pretty enough or intelligent enough to be liked, loved and adored, neither by yourself or others. And likely, you can’t forgive yourself the imperfections, flaws and weaknesses that make you “you”. Your expectations are high, and you are incredibly impatient with yourself, and with anything that is not exactly who and what you want to be.
I’ll be honest with you. Without diving to deep, I can tell you that I’ve been in this place for a very long time, in a combination of all three of the above. And there’s still times when I fall back into these patterns. I didn’t like hanging out with myself back then. At all. I constantly surrounded myself with people and tended to over-attach to friends and partners, who I hoped would give me what I couldn’t give myself. Who I expected to just magically fill the cracks that I didn’t dare to look at on my own. Who would love me and make me feel good about myself.
Now you ask what changed? It’s quite simply two very basic things that I decided to do differently, almost 5 years ago. More or less over night. In a moment that showed me that I had to change something in order to live the life I believe I deserve to live. Two things that I think would get anyone to the point where they can take on anything on their own, be it traveling or life in general, putting you on a path of no return.
So here they are, my two pieces of advice for any aspiring solo rider, as simple as they are challenging to execute on.
Not from a cliff, but from the ten meter tower! Dare to take calculated risks. I’m not saying go crazy and completely turn your life upside down. But if you think through the worst case scenario of what could happen if you do what you’re hesitating to do, the absolute worst outcome, which isn’t even likely to happen – often times it turns out to not be that bad. At least not horrible enough to stop you from taking charge and living your life. There’s so many wonderful things out there on this journey that’s called life, and I dare you to find a way that makes you grow as fast as during traveling or living in different countries and cultures.
#2: Build a habit of introspection!
And I don’t mean getting an x-ray. I mean starting to truly understand who and what you are. And what not! It is a very liberating yet sometimes painful and emotional path, but it leads to freedom and happiness. I have taken (and continue to take) a two-prong approach; one being very left-brain centric, reading up on brain research, understanding how my subconscious works and decoding its patterns. The other one is experiencing mindfulness in meditation. Taking a step back, rooting yourself in the present moment and experiencing what happens. Embracing the feelings, thoughts and motions that suddenly become obvious after you have practiced for a while. A lot will surface, especially if you decide to go as deeply as I did. You decide the pace you want to go! There’s tons of resources, from original Buddhist Vipassana meditation to lighter meditation techniques like my friend Emily Fletcher’s Ziva Meditation that help you ease into it a little more comfortably. The key is not which one you choose, or if you feel like you’re being “good at it” or making “progress”. It’s just about doing it!
I can tell you I have come to really enjoy hanging out with myself through embracing this journey! I really do love it! Putting myself into situations that take a little bit of boldness. Experiencing my environment without distraction, being able to embrace the moment, seeing the world through my eyes and realizing what’s going on around and inside of me without constantly having to engage with someone or compromising your experience, taking focus away from it.
Yet, one thing is for sure – this doesn’t mean that I think life is lived best on your own. On the contrary! I could not (and don’t want to) imagine life without my close friends and soul mates. But you do get more picky about the people you invite into your life. And then love and appreciate them ever more deeply.
There’s this poem by an unknown writer that brings my perspective to a point. Summed up, its message is something like this: People come into your life for a reason, for a season or a lifetime. If they’re there for a reason, they almost seem god sent and provide you with guidance or support in a very specific moment in your life. When they disappear, it is ok – their work is done. Let them go! Some people come for a season and teach you something profound, change your life by doing it and can bring you an incredible amount of joy. For a season. You have to be able to let go when this is over. But lifetime friendships are as powerful as they are rare. You grow alongside them, with them, your stories are almost intertwined, and the lessons you learn from them are as profound as they are important. It is just about the art of telling who is who in this game called life.
In the end it comes down to one thing: There’s only one person that will stick with you for all of your life, from your first breath to your death bed, living through all the ups and downs, going through all the adventures, seeing you in your best and your worst moments, and that is yourself. Why not make this friend your BFF for life, never wanting to part, and loving every flaw and imperfection just as much as the beauty and strength?
So, in sum there’s two simple decisions to make. One takes gut, one takes a tiny bit of time investment. There’s really not much quick advice that I can give for feeling awkward in a restaurant as a solo traveler, other than bring a book if you need that distraction. I prefer to tackle the issue from the deep end and accept the personal development lesson it offers. Be bold. Jump. Get to know yourself. Start appreciating the world through your own eyes, without any distractions. Learn about the amazing person that you are, and forgive yourself your flaws and imperfections. Because only then will you be able to attract the people that will enhance and enrich your life, rather than just happening to fall into it.
Take charge, my friend! Get out there! The world, both within and without, is waiting to be discovered!