How I Learned to Love Traveling Alone

(Image credit: Mosuno/Stocksy)

I recently spent a week in France with a friend of mine. We had a grand time laughing, gorging on croissants, and knocking back Champagne — forging such pleasant memories amid exceptional settings are, of course, why people choose to travel together. But I am just as content to navigate a foreign locale solo. In fact, I prefer it. On this sojourn, like any other where I am in the company of others, there were moments I yearned for solitude.

But this unbridled independence wasn’t always the case. Here’s how I learned to love the lone nomadic life.

When I lived in New York, for years I was terrified of dining at a table for one. What if I was spotted with just a bowl of chicken curry and The New Yorker and deemed friendless? Boarding a plane to another country, where I would be alone day after day, seemed even more menacing.

As I started frequently traveling for work, this fear dissipated and I began to grow enamored of luxuriating in quiet hotel rooms and savoring Gimlets on bar stools next to anonymous patrons. On your own, I realized, you can travel however you damn please.

There is no one to say you can’t splurge on the Michelin-starred restaurant’s tasting menu, and no one to judge you for the $50 bottle of Chablis you’ll relish all night. Likewise, if you’re more inclined to take advantage of the free breakfast buffet or opt for that pragmatic on-the-run slice of pizza, there’s no one trying to convince you to sleep in and order up overpriced brioche French toast from room service.

Of course, this freedom applies to all realms, not just food, although clearly that coveted lunch reservation ranks higher for me than excessive gawking at the Impressionism collection. The point is: Go your own way and there’s not an iota of guilt when you swap the afternoon tea spread or architectural tour for a nap. Solitude is one of life’s rare scenarios where you never have to give in.

I’ve also found that I’m more likely to make new friends when I travel alone. If you’re in the midst of a conversation (or having a tiff over the next day’s activities) with a pal, the chances to banter with someone new are slim. There’s also no one to consult about scrapping pasta plans at a second’s notice if attending, say, an animated craft-beer tasting on a boat with people you met an hour prior is more desirable. Alone, you might snag an invite to a sublime hole-in-the-wall bistro you would never have known existed, or chat up someone who has an intimate grip on the city (and who can steer you toward a quality doughnut).

But perhaps the most important reason I’ve learned to love going it alone is, ahem, personal growth. Yes, it’s corny, but the transformative effects are powerful, even more so when you’re flying solo. Doing so forces you to transcend your comfort zone through big, wide steps you take with no one else. Deciphering confounding metro lines, ordering a medium-rare steak in the native tongue and pondering life from atop a majestic castle instill you with a sense of empowering, unparalleled gratification.

Thriving on a lifestyle fueled by solitary jet-setting, last year I plunged even deeper into the unknown by moving to Budapest. Now my real life, it’s marked by comforting routine visits to the same cafes and dive bars, where I confidently swill Americanos and rosé by myself. It was traveling on my own that gave me the courage to do so.

Your turn: Have you taken a solo trip and loved it? Or hated it?