Since graduating college and leaving my days of fraternity weekend formals and school-wide New Years Eve trips behind, I've found myself traveling increasingly often without a companion.
Whether it be an 8-hours-and-back solo road trip to San Diego or a 36-hour trip to Portland, I've come a long way since being too scared to eat alone in my college cafeteria.
Besides learning that Fiats do not in fact come standard with a spare tire, my solo travels taught me quite a few other things. Here are some of the most memorable lessons I learned over the course of my travels:
There is no greater place to sing than alone in your car. Forget the shower, windows up and radio on is the best way to test your vocal skills. Plus, it helps keep you awake and alert on long drives -- win, win.
You can visit the same place over and over again and see it differently each time. Many of my routes included driving down the Norcal-to-SoCal stretch of the 5 freeway, which isn't exactly known for being one of California's most scenic highways. But catch that road in spring or at sunset? The middle of nowhere suddenly doesn't seem quite so bad.
Technology rules. Whether you prefer an audiobook, a newly-downloaded album or iPhone games, I felt pretty damn lucky that technology has come far enough to keep me entertained 24/7 without a companion.
That being said, there is also a time and place to be without it. There is something magical about ditching technology and doing things the old-fashioned way -- one of my favorite stops was an hour spent at the beach, where I put my phone away and spent time writing by hand.
Nobody is judging you. Before I started traveling alone, I held onto my middle-school-era-inspired fear of being judged for spending time alone. Aka, thinking that people would assume not that I chose to travel alone, but that I was forced to do so (...because I had no friends). This is, obviously, not true. Those who do make note of your solitude are more likely to applaud it than to judge it.
Being alone does not mean you are a loner. I'm not exactly an introverted person -- I'm loud, outgoing, and prone to talk your head off. But traveling solo has allowed me to explore the less social part of my personality, and to embrace it. Bottom line: just because you might enjoy spending time alone, doesn't mean that you aren't capable of maintaining relationships.
Fiction is not reality. No, you probably will not snag an airplane seat next to a cute single guy that ends up being your future husband. And no, you might not want to go to a bar alone and power-drink martinis until you are the most popular person in the place (...but no judgement if you do). And no, you might not have an Eat, Pray, Love-esque adventure of self-discovery. But what you might get is even better than fiction -- it's reality. It's trying to pee in a plastic bottle during rush hour on the 405. It's indulging in airport and rest stop food. It's meeting Lyft drivers whose stories of earnest, hard work make you cry. It's taking a bubble bath overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It's pretty damn awesome.
Wherever you go, there you are. It's definitively not possible to run away from your problems (yes, I have tried) -- but that doesn't mean that a change of scenery can't help clear your head. You might not be able to rid yourself of your problems, but changing your physical perspective might help you change your mental or emotional perspective.
Travel is inspirational. There was not a single solo trip that I took where I didn't make it to my destination and immediately feel compelled to sit down, open my computer and write. Whether it be the time alone, the change of location or the people I met along the way, I'm convinced there's no better place to find inspiration than on the road.
Most of all, everyone should travel alone at one point in their lives. Whether it sounds like a dream or a nightmare, take the plunge and do it -- traveling alone presents opportunities to be challenged and grow in a way that is both unique and powerful.
So stop trying to find someone to come with you on that trip you're dying to take -- instead, take it alone. You won't regret it.