A trip of one's own: How to enjoy traveling solo
An only-child, now an adult traveler, writes about how to enjoy and get the most out of seeing the world on your own.
The Washington Post
Northwest Travel Guides
Maybe it's because I'm an only child, but I like traveling alone.
There's a special sweetness to solitude. It's less complicated. There's nobody to blame if things go wrong, nobody to accommodate, no schedule to stick to but your own.
When I travel by myself, the three things I always take are a black wool shirt, a journal and a scrap of advice from G.K. Chesterton, who was famous for missing trains: "An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered."
On my way home from Eastern Europe, I jotted down some things to remember about solitary traveling. My eccentric list:
• Live out of a small suitcase. Being alone is about being free. Lighter is freer.
• You don't have to have a plan. And if you do have one, why not change it on a whim? • Visiting a friend in an out-of-the-way village is going to yield more discoveries than checking in at one of the "1,000 places to visit before you die." Life is better with fewer checklists.
• If you have a choice, walk, don't ride. Traveling alone is about moving through places, not about getting to them.
• Trains are better than planes. Sit by the window. Talk to the person next to you.
• Drink less, think more.
• Traveling alone is partly about losing yourself and music is a good way to do that. Listen to what's local. Could be Mozart in Vienna or Used To Be Cyrus in Gaborone. And be generous when you pass a street musician. What are you going to do with all those coins when you get home, anyway? • You don't need to take the computer. Really.
• Since you don't have friends along, you'll be taking pictures of strangers. Ask before you shoot.
• Notice little things. Windowsills, doorknobs, sleeping cats.
• Everybody in the world seems to walk around with a backpack. You know what? They're uncomfortable. Be different. Slip a notebook into your pocket, clip a camera to your belt and go.
• You know a lot less history than you think. Set aside a quiet evening now and then to read a little.
Follow your hunches and keep an eye out for weird attractions. I've detoured for a spider museum, a toilet museum, a medieval apothecary museum and, my all-time favorite, the bat tower in the Florida Keys. Eccentricity carries itself with special grandeur.
• Take along a good paperback, and after you've read it, give it to someone you meet.
• Traveling alone will remind you how much you miss your parents. Mine traveled very little, but when I see something that would have caught their eye or made them smile, it doesn't seem as though it has been two decades since they died.
• If you visit a church, why not light a candle and absorb the stillness?
• Now and then, you'll come across a jerk — a nasty clerk, a spoiled child, a surly seatmate. Think of it as God reminding you to be kind to strangers.
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