By Bonnie M., 5-time traveler from Clearwater, FL
The thought of traveling somewhere without a companion is daunting to many (even if it's on a tour)—especially if it's outside our borders. I've taken tours around the world for 52 consecutive years, occasionally without a companion. Sometimes, it was by choice, but other times, it meant that either I bite the bullet and go it alone, or stay at home.
Most recently, my travel companion had to cancel because of her health. I guess most people didn't think it was a big deal for me to go alone, but there's a huge difference between making the choice to travel as a solo, and ending up that way. For one, if you plan on traveling alone, you only have your wishes to fulfill. However, when you're going with a companion, you plan things together. I'd planned to share the beauty of Croatia and Slovenia with my friend for years. I could see us sharing a coffee at one of the many outdoor cafés, or shopping for a special treasure. We'd stroll the walkways and narrow alleys of Dubrovnik, in awe of the history and beauty before us. As my departure date approached, I forgot how much—and how long—I'd waited to return to this area. I almost dreaded going; my heart just wasn't in it. But as I was waiting in the departure area for the overseas flight and I recognized the baggage tags of others on my tour, I started chatting with them. By the time we arrived at our destination, we were already bonding.
In Ljubljana, I strolled the streets alone after our guided tour. I didn't have to negotiate where I'd have lunch with anyone. The day was sunny, and the sky so blue. I found a bench in the shade and just people-watched as I took in the beautiful surroundings. By the end of the day, I realized that it was one day I'd never forget, and I even enjoyed not having my thoughts interrupted by anyone.
If you haven't considered traveling solo, and can't find a companion, perhaps the following suggestions will be of assistance:
- Find someone with whom you can feel a connection
Decades ago, I took an optional tour in Greece. I met a young woman about my age who was from Johannesburg and also on the excursion alone. We started chatting, and before you knew it, we spent the whole day together as though we'd known each other for years. She turned out to be a lot more fun than my travel companion, who preferred to spend the day at a beauty salon in Athens! I think most of us can tell within a few minutes if we meet someone with whom we'd like to connect.
- Look for opportunities to be of assistance
In 1978, I was returning from the Balkans and had a long layover in New York. I had come down with a cold and felt miserable. I noticed an elderly man, whom I discerned by his dress, was from Africa. He was trying to navigate the public telephone. I walked over, and asked if I could be of assistance. He held out his hand full of coins, and looked at me with a very puzzled expression on his face. I took the slip of paper he held with the phone number and started filling the phone as though it was a slot machine. The smile on his face warmed my heart—and I forgot how poorly I was feeling.
Another time, I met a young Asian woman who was traveling with her infant. We started chatting, and I learned that she was en route to Turkey to visit her in-laws. What a daunting trip that would be, without anyone to help with the baby. I found myself offering to accompany her to the washroom where I would hold her baby until she was finished. She was surprised that anyone would make the offer; I was surprised that out of all the other women sitting around us, no one would consider that perhaps this young woman might need a helping hand. When you step away from yourself to help someone, the you becomes two!
- Extend yourself to strangers
This goes along with connecting with other people. In 1973, I was on a boat ride in Rio the last day of a tour. The man across from me was dressed in a beautiful tan suit with a white shirt and tie and a handsome felt hat with a big brim—and a zebra strip around the crown. Well, who wouldn't take notice. I commented about his nice-looking hat, and asked where he was from. When he said South Africa, we began a conversation that lasted so long that I forgot to take notice of our surroundings until we arrived back at port. When I learned he was traveling to Chicago for business, I offered to show him the sites. In the interim, we kept in touch, and visited each other whenever either of us happened to be in the same city, and our friendship lasted more than 35 years.
Recently on a Volga River cruise, I became friends with the young man who worked at the reception desk. He served as an interpreter with the doctor who was tending to my leg following a nasty fall down the staircase. I still can't believe that someone young enough to be my son would be interested in sharing a part of his life with me. Our communications were real conversations—about his jobs, latest girlfriends, and personal issues he may be dealing with, such as the death of friends, of the fear of disappointing his parents.
In 2015, I fulfilled my wish to return to India for a fourth visit. I dreaded the long flights, but the emails I received from my Trip Experience Leader for Heart of India made me anxious to begin my journey. I knew there would be someone at the other end waiting for me. By the time I arrived, he knew where I'd previously traveled in India. We'd already made the connection, and he made me feel that I wasn't alone on the trip—I had someone to share my thoughts and impressions with. The flights home were more arduous when I missed my connection. I started to feel I'd never get home. But after a good night's rest, I felt absolutely invincible—I could conquer anything—and I was totally free. The experience of traveling solo was most liberating.
Inspired to travel solo with O.A.T.? Find out what makes our adventures so solo-friendly—and hear firsthand from travelers who join us either alone or with a friend.