I recently came across a reader’s question about why people choose to solo travel. Beyond the usual reasons of discovering new cultures and destinations, this reader was curious about why one would opt to board a plane sans partner or friends. As I reflect back on my solo traveling in Argentina and look towards my future solo trips to Morocco and Vietnam, I am remembering what inspired this desire to travel alone.
Last year, my life looked very different from how it does now – back then I was on track to be married, living in an Upper East Side apartment in Manhattan, working at an advertising firm in the city and rocketing towards a future that by all accounts looked comfortable, predictable but not quite right for me. I felt trapped in many ways, as though I had managed to crawl into the back seat of my own life. My job had become monotonous, my relationship had become strained and my wedding morphed into an event that I became increasingly disconnected from.
When life gets this confusing, sometimes we tend to let the difficult questions pile up around us rather than face them. I couldn’t quite pinpoint why I wasn’t excited for my own wedding or unhappy in my job and relationship, and so I tried to push the feelings out of my mind in hopes that they would simply fade (note: this never works). By the time July came, I felt I needed to escape my life in New York and reconnect with myself. Like a life raft being tossed into the stormy sea, I knew that travel was the perfect way for me to lift myself above the waters of my life and find some much needed perspective.
Thankfully, I had received an assignment at this time to write about the cafe scene in Buenos Aires and so decided I would head down to Argentina solo at the end of the summer, just weeks before I was set to say “I do.” Deciding to solo travel can be greeted with quizzical looks under normal circumstances, so choosing to solo travel before my wedding had people questioning my sanity. Nonetheless, I boarded an American Airlines flight bound for Buenos Aires and checked my emotional baggage at the gate.
As nervous as I felt to venture abroad without a friend or loved one in tow, it also felt like I could finally exhale when I stepped off the plane in a new city miles away from the mess I had gotten myself into back home. Wandering the streets of Buenos Aires, I learned to embrace my own company and love myself – complexities and all. Admittedly, at 26 I had yet to truly experience being alone and so found the trip to be life changing. On one particular morning in my Palermo hostel, I woke up to a grey, rainy day and felt an unexpected wave of loneliness grab hold of me. Loneliness is inevitable when solo traveling but after evading the sentiment my first two days, I was still caught off guard when it caught up to me like a Pinkerton detective in that private, hostel room. I sat on my double bed and realized that I could stay in that room the rest of the trip and no one would realize; I was alone in the city, the country, the continent and unless I picked myself up, no one would. At that moment, I pushed myself off the bed, hugged myself and kicked my funk out the door with an inner strength I had missed dearly.
Perhaps the most defining moment of that first solo trip came a few days later when I booked an impromptu flight to Iguazu and flew to the border of Argentina and Brazil to see the iconic waterfalls. Iguazu National Park is riddled with trails that wind through lush jungle to large waterfalls where rainbows dance across the waters; I found myself hiking through Iguazu with just my thoughts and finally – after months of hiding – I turned towards that pile of questions. What do I want? The first question (of course, the hardest) floated to the front of my mind and hovered in front of me. Out there in the jungle with no one else around me, I could be honest without fear of hurting anyone or disappointing family; and so I answered: I do not want to get married. I’m not in love. The words came out clear; spoken by that same inner voice that had pushed me off the hostel bed in Buenos Aires just a day or two prior. It was bittersweet to finally hear the truth – for while freeing, it also meant facing change when back in New York. The reasons for why I didn’t want to get married or was no longer in love are too personal to share here but let it be said that in this moment the only thing harder than going forward with my wedding and staying with my fiance would be leaving it all behind. He had been my best friend for years, my confidant, my rock but the realization that we simply weren’t a good match dawned on us in those final months.
When I came back to New York, I pushed through the storm that awaited me and called off a wedding, left my job, ended a relationship amicably and eventually moved to a new apartment and turned over a new leaf. Now, my life is very different but is more reflective of who I am and what I want to be; and more importantly I am happy. The pain from last year faded and my ex-fiance moved to a new city and found happiness of his own, while the called of wedding drama became old news–as always time is the best healing salve there is.
Now and again, I reflect back on my solo traveling to Argentina and know that had I not boarded that plane I may have never found the strength needed to change my life. While I did fall when I returned to New York, because of solo traveling I never broke.
Solo traveling taught me how to pick myself up when down, how to be honest with what I want and need in life, reminded me of how many wonderful people are out there and showed me the unwavering strength I have inside me. Now, as I look towards my next adventure to Morocco, my solo traveling is not about running away but about staying connected to myself. To answer that reader’s question, while I still will travel with family and loved ones; when I decide to solo travel it is to connect with myself and all facets of my personality. After all, if the relationship we have with ourselves is truly the most important, then solo traveling is like taking a trip with your best friend.
All photos by Nikki Vargas.Tweet