By Robin Enright
I’ve been to the beach in Tulum, explored the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain in Rome, mountain biked in Vermont, and hiked countless mountains and trails in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and in Rocky Mountain National Park. And I’ve explored all of these spaces solo.
I have been startled by a mama moose and her calves while hiking, explored back alleys illuminated by street lights, slept in an ocean-side cabana, dined solo at lots of restaurants, gotten lost in a foreign country, hiked in deep fog, made the decision to turn back after slipping and falling on ice on a summit, and discovered beautiful vistas via mountain bike. All solo.
My first real solo trip was to Petoskey, Michigan, where I attended the Bear River Writer’s Conference. I almost didn’t go on that trip because I believed I would flip out on the small plane I’d need to take from Detroit to Petoskey, but something made me go. Maybe it was the spurring of friends, maybe it was an awareness that I had reached a crossroads where one decides to either walk out onto the limb of trepidation and grow as a human being or succumb to letting life choices be dictated by fear. I’m not certain. I just know that I desperately wanted to go to this conference and the only way there was via a super small plane, and so I booked my ticket on a leap of faith. Faith in me.
I haven’t looked back.
Solo travel taught me that I am far more capable than I would have known had I opted to play it safe and wait for a companion to share my journeys. Every trip has included a moment or two of wishing I had someone to turn to and say, “Did you see that?” But the beautiful thing about being all by your lonesome is that you learn to hold your own hand when you most need company. You become your own best friend.
I’ve gotten lost and discovered how to find my way again, enjoyed the quiet of my own thoughts when everyone else was speaking another language, navigated customs, fought fear on mountaintops in bad weather, and best of all, I’ve survived. I learned that I can rent a car, can be all alone on a hiking trail and trust my instincts, can communicate without the benefit of a common language, and can treasure eating alone, whether as a necessity or as an opportunity to make new friends. It’s all about perspective.
My first dinner in Rome involved a dapper older man approaching my table and introducing himself, asking to join me. While I didn’t speak Italian and his English was broken, I had no trouble understanding that he was telling me; he wanted to sleep with me that evening. He was very gentlemanly and sincere. Insulted? No. I was flattered, and the conversation reminded me how much I honor honesty in male/female relations.
When we let ourselves explore solo, we often enjoy more native encounters because we are hypersensitive to what is around us and tend to be looking out rather than finding ourselves occupied in conversation with a traveling companion. We make our own rules about when to rise and when to sleep, as I discovered during two weeks in a cabin in Moraine Park (Rocky Mountain National Park) when I rose with the sun and fell into bed the instant the sun set. I learned to rely purely on me and while that has brought thoughts like Holy shit! What do I do now? the payoff of such experiences has driven my confidence to heights I would not have experienced had I not touched uncertainty’s fear. The experience of each trip is the foundation for my next.
I’m no longer single and today mostly travel with my boyfriend, but I suspect my ability to maintain joy in the midst of the unknown and my capacity for handling the inevitable adventure snafu today can be attributed to my years of solo travel. Adventuring alone has made me a better travel companion.
Tips to successful solo travel
If you find yourself with the yearning for adventure but without a companion, take a leap of faith and venture out alone. You are far more capable than you know.
- Know your goal: Want to simply chill? Have a new adventure? Explore a foreign place?
- Start with a long weekend if you’ve never traveled solo before and are unsure.
- It’s okay to bring your phone, but do your best to disconnect, to be present where you are, and to rely only on you.
- Try something new while away.
- Bring a journal and your camera; it’s fun to look back on trips you took a few years ago.
- Remember that it’s okay to feel frightened or lonely at times, but trust me when I say that learning to manage these emotions is what will grow your confidence as a traveler and be the foundation for all your adventures, solo and with companions.
Some of my favorite solo spots
If you can get away in the fall, go to Burke! There is little that compares to a New England fall. I stayed at the Willoughvale Inn on Lake Willoughby, which was a short ride from East Burke Sports where I got the low-down on the Kingdom Trail network and rented a mountain bike. Take advantage of the canoes and kayaks available at Willoughvale Inn. Hike nearby Mt. Pisgah or Haystack Loop trail and inhale the sweet scent of fallen leaves. Burke has adventure and solitude. Be alone or make friends. It’s up to you.
Tulum is my hands-down highest recommended spot for rest and relaxation. Sometimes the best adventures involve slowing down and looking inward. I recommend one of the simple but heavenly cabanas on the beach at Maya Tulum. Lounge or walk on the beach, take a meditative walk in the labyrinth, or raise your pulse with kitesurfing lessons. End your day with yoga. Keep your phone and computer in the safe and practice being in the moment.
Estes Park, Colorado
I was blessed to be awarded an Artist in Residency at Rocky Mountain National during the summer of 2012, where I had two weeks to not only write but also to hike. Hiking is my go-to for inspiration and problem solving. The park has hiking for all levels and the scenery is extraordinary. If you hike early, you won’t run into too many people, but if you prefer a bit of company on the trails, start out later in the morning. Camp or rent a cabin at YMCA of the Rockies. You’ll come home fit and chill.
This article was originally published in Women’s Adventure magazine‘s Fall 2014 issue.