Skip to content

The Solo Travel Experiment

Six hundred and fourteen.

 

solo travelThat is the total consecutive days Pete and I had spent together before I left for Italy. No nights apart, barely even away from each other for more than a few hours in almost two years. We are not just each others spouse and best friend, we have become extensions of each other. Appendages even.

It has come up in past conversations that perhaps we should do some solo travel for awhile. Take a couple of weeks and go our separate ways, not only to get an entirely different travel experience, but to become a little less dependent on each other. It has been debated but usually quickly dismissed, as we just never wanted to be apart.

But then the opportunity arrived to attend a conference in Italy. It was a quick and inexpensive flight from Turkey, a great networking opportunity, and a chance to see old friends and meet new ones. We decided, in consideration of cost and our commitment to our housesitting job, that only one of us would go.

We decided it would be me. And I was immediately nervous.

I can hear the collective scoff of many of you solo travelers out there – those who have bravely and frequently explored the world on their own. Yes, I hear you. All I had to do was catch a bus to Istanbul, spend the night in a dorm alone (for the FIRST time), fly to Rome, go to a conference full of like-minded travelers and friends, spend another night in a dorm in Rome, fly back to Istanbul and take a bus home. Child’s play, right?

But I had to do it without that important appendage, one that I have become entirely dependent on. The one that kills bugs for me, carries my bag if it is too heavy or the distance too far. The one who is better with foreign languages, the one who carries the money, and shields me from any unwanted attention.

And what exactly do I bring to this relationship, you might ask? Good question, as I have asked that many times myself. (At least I write nice things about him.)

Once I arrived in Istanbul, I immediately noticed Pete’s absence. I walked out of the bus station, turned to my right and was about to say: “should we go this way?” but I stopped. I realized that my words would have fallen unobserved to the empty sidewalk beside me.

Poppy Turkey

 

I was alone.

 

My gawd, but what I wouldn’t have given to hear his voice, to have his help in deciphering the busy network of people and buildings around me.

I asked one stranger for directions. He guided me to his neighbor, who guided me to another who finally spoke English. I was steered around the corner and across a busy parking lot to the Metro which would take me into the heart of the city. I fumbled with the change in my wallet to purchase a token, letting the handle on my suitcase go and sending it tumbling down the slanted floor, almost striking the foot of a random man.

This was his opening. He picked up the suitcase and brought it back to me. I thanked him, and as I continued to ponder over the token machine in front of me, he began talking. He was too close, his dark brooding eyes studied every pore on my face. “Dutch? German? Italian?” he rattled off nationalities until I finally nodded (I am not even sure which nationality I admitted to being, I just wanted him to stop talking). “Ahhh,” he said, leaning slightly back to let his eyes roam my entire body, suddenly interested in taking me all in. I grabbed my token, put my head down, and sped towards the gate to the train tracks.

Once on the train, I stood with my back in a corner and built a protective wall with my two pieces of luggage in front of me. I felt overwhelmed, my heart raced, warm tears rushed to the corners of my eyes. Foreign words filled my ears, eyes lingered too long on me as they swept the train car.

Or did they, really? And was that man at the station really that creepy? Probably not. But in my heightened anxiety, I absolutely felt like I was the only woman who had ever traveled alone in the entire history of the world.

Clearly, even though I have traveled farther than most people ever will, I have actually led quite a sheltered life under Pete’s protective arm.

Clearly, this solo adventure would be good for me.

But that didn’t mean I had to like it.

 

65 Comments (Add Yours)

  1. I hear ya! I spent the first 3 years of my full-time travels with a partner, and although I still usually led the charge, there was a huge difference when I started going solo.

    I felt the pangs of loneliness again a couple of years later when I had a bit of heartbreak (oh yeah, and dengue fever too – that was fun) and had to make a go of figuring out how to live in Grenada by myself.

    It’s a journey to be sure, and one that pushes those comfort zones in a good way. Hey – if it were all fun and games, we’d never learn anything about ourselves! :-)

    Here’s what I learned about being alone in Grenada, if you’re interested:
    http://www.theprofessionalhobo.com/2011/12/learning-to-be-alone-in-grenada/
    Nora – The Professional Hobo recently posted..A Week-In-The-Life of Sis. McCray in England

    • I remember reading that post Nora! You went through some tough stuff when in Grenada, for sure.

      Those first couple of days of being away from Pete were the worst – probably mostly because dammit, I just missed him! It sure gave me a taste of what all you solo travelers have to deal with – and my admiration for you has definitely grown!

  2. This is a great post! I think that it’s really hard to transition from being in a partnership to being on your own. Even if you are fully capable of doing things independently, there is a level of comfort in knowing someone has your back. I would imagine that even when you’re traveling, you have your own pattern and routine together, so suddenly being on your own is a big shock to the system!

    I think anyone who decides to take time to travel the world is incredibly brave, but the solo travelers are perhaps bravest of all! I am definitely glad that when August comes, I’ll be stepping onto a plane with my best friend!

    • I agree 100% – solo travelers have my utmost admiration, I can’t imagine doing that all the time!

      Funny you should mention the patterns and routines – I never really thought about that much until those first few days. I almost left my Kindle on the plane (Pete is always wandering after me, picking stuff up I’ve left behind – haha!) and all my electrical cords were a total tangled mess (he ties them so neatly all the time!) Little things, but stuff I had never thought of before!

  3. Awwww…how cute. I’m sorry, but I had to laugh at the theatrics of the lone flower photo. I don’t know how you guys do it. I think I would go crazy with little to no personal time.
    Ter recently posted..This Will All Make Perfect Sense Someday (plagiarized title)

  4. After nearly two years of living on top of each other and travelling together, my girlfriend just went off to Germany for a month for all sorts of family related activities, and I head to the UK to pack up a house. I can confirm that I continue to be awful at goodbyes, and generally not so good at the solo thing. (Not that solo thing). Lovely post as always :D
    Laurence recently posted..A storm time lapsed

    • Haha Laurence, you make me laugh!

      A whole month apart – yowza! Pete and I had to spend about 6 weeks apart after traveling around South America – that was H E double hockey sticks. Never, ever again. I hope things go well for you and the GF and that the time flies fast!

  5. Hey I’ve done the solo thing a hundred times and I still find it hard. It was really disappointing when I went to Kyrgyzstan back in November. I was hoping for a triumphant return but I was plagued with that feeling of loneliness :(
    Brooke vs. the World recently posted..Sunday Snap: Pat Doing What He Loves

    • I suppose it never really just gets natural and easy, hey (although I guess you then had no one to fight over peanut butter with, so that’s a plus)? That you solo ladies continue to do this all the time amazes me… :)

  6. I wonder constantly how Brian and I will react to this. I can’t imagine traveling solo, but I love my alone time so much. Will we split to travel solo for awhile? Will we become more dependent on each other? I traveled to Vancouver BC from Portland last year alone for TBEX… such a short trip, but it was eye opening to do it alone. It was thrilling, honestly. But at the same time, I’d wished Brian could experience it with me. Anyway, I’m rambling now!

    • We found the first few months extremely tough, getting used to being with each other 24/7. But now we couldn’t imagine being apart for any long period of time (obviously!) A dependency has definitely developed, not just emotionally, but also because we just have formed new routines and ways of working together when traveling.

      Alone time is a priority for us (but usually just for a couple of hours at a time), and we’ve learned to just ask for it, and to not judge when each other does.

      I’m sure you guys will work out what feels right for you! You’ll know when you get into it. :)

  7. The wife and I have been traveling together for 4 months straight now. In her prior life, she was a consultant and traveled on the road every week so this time together has been an adjustment. But I feel like I would worry so much if we were apart! How has Pete handled it? Is he worried about you?
    Tony recently posted..Fried Mackerel in Croatia – Foodgasmic Tales From The Road

    • I used to travel all the time with my work too, but around Canada and the US doesn’t count in my eyes – it was too easy! :) The adjustment to being together 24/7 is a tough one, it took us a few months to get the hang of it as well.

      I don’t think Pete worried about me so much, he was confident in my being able to handle myself. He was just left alone in a small rural town without many people to talk to so he was very lonely overall.

  8. But you did so well. From the outside, I never would have guessed how hard it was for you to be away from Pete. I’m sure he missed you just as much, especially your dry sense of humor, I know you cracked me up!

  9. Not sure that I’m down for the solo traveler thing but since Shaun now has a job, I may be doing it more often now. :X

    We have the same relationship. We just don’t like being apart.
    Erica recently posted..Cemetery Tourism: La Recoleta, Buenos Aires

    • While I love that Pete and I have such a strong relationship, I also wonder if this dependence isn’t healthy either – haha! I have to say that once I got through the first couple of tough days, traveling solo actually felt pretty good, and I would do it again (spoiler alert on Weds post – ha!)

  10. Dalene, you picked one heck of a city to travel solo for your first time! Congrats on doing it. Since I’ve pretty much always traveled solo, I can’t really relate to how you are feeling, but you did a great job conveying it.

  11. Dader you are the strongest woman I know. You are quite capable of doing this on your own. I live thru you blogg and wish I was there. Love you guys so enjoy it while you can. Proud of you!!!!!

    • AH CHRISTY – thank you!! I’m glad I had that adventure to prove I could do it, although I do know for sure that I am stronger with my Pete at my side! Miss you…hope you and Geoff are well!

  12. Great post Honey but see why Moms worry…:) xo

  13. What a great honest post! Traveling Solo doesn’t mean it isn’t overwhelming at times. It just means we put our heads down and plow through the times we are feeling vulnerable.

    • Traveling solo means it is MORE overwhelming I think, at least for me! Plowing through was definitely a part of it, but I also found that I was able to enjoy myself too (spoiler alert for next post – haha!)

  14. I can totally relate, all the senses are heighten when traveling alone, the good and the bad. All the same, you are a champ and it sounds like this is an experience you are ready to embrace!
    Heathers Harmony recently posted..Saturday Snapshot: London’s Street Atmoshpere

    • Thanks Heather! It was something that I was both looking forward to and dreading ever since we made the decision that I would go. And now I am glad I did. (But may not do it again for a longgg time – haha!)

  15. Have I told you lately that you and Pete are freaking adorable? Because you are. Good for you for braving solo travel – I hope the rest of the adventure was much less dramatic and scary!

    I’m so used to traveling on my own, that I almost feel like it would be weird to travel with my significant other! Though I still would like to try it, because having a strong guy with me sure would come in handy sometimes…
    Amanda recently posted..Impossible Icelandic Words

    • Thanks Amanda. :)

      Pete is a great protector for sure, and he also ties up the electrical cords really nicely (mine are a tangled mess) and makes sure I leave nothing behind (I almost left my Kindle on the plane). Traveling with a partner can be really handy! :)

  16. I can understand the emotions in your words but I cannot relate to the actual feelings. I’ve always been a solo female traveller and never had a male partner travel with me. I don’t scoff at the difficulties you’ve had as a solo female traveller, as I’ve encountered many similar difficulties. I just don’t know another way of travelling. I can’t wait to read more about your solo travels and how everything worked out in the end!
    Chrystal McKay recently posted..When Faceplanting replaces Wakeboarding, Davao City, Philippines

    • Thanks for not scoffing Chrystal, as I did expect at least a bit of that! :) I have so much admiration for solo travelers, but as I did find out later, the rewards can be quite amazing as well.

  17. Given my life-long penchant for utterly solo travel, the truth is – I honestly can’t imagine doing it any other way. Many seem to think it’s “brave”, but when you know no different and adore the freedom to wander at your own whim, it doesn’t feel any more scarey than…

    Come to think of it, I suspect it might well be precisely the somewhat “scarey” of it that gives me the adrenalin rush when faced with the many challenges of making my way around a foreign country all on my own. Indeed, I do believe it’s not all that different from the lure (and after-glow) of bungee jumping off a bridge, no? (which, btw, I’m TERRIFIED of , and will never, EVER do!)

    That and – more importantly – that supreme feeling of self accomplishment when you manage to land on your feet (…finally find the damn hostel, have the stupid train ticket to Beijing in you sweaty fist, etc.) ;)

    But good for you, girlfriend for deliberately testing your solo mettle. And though you may not like it as much as skipping ’round the globe with the Petester – tell the truth: Don’t you feel at least a leeeeetle bit proud of yourself for pulling it off all by your ownself?

    • It IS incredibly brave for you solo travelers to skip off around the world as you do. Over time I suppose it might not feel that way (as it is your “normal”) but for an outsider who has done so little of it, I am always in awe.

      I did miss the Petester dreadfully during those few days, but I was proud and found a different kind of satisfaction from it too. I might be inclined to do more of it in the future (although for no longer than a week or so – that would be all I could handle!) :)

  18. Way to embrace your fears!!! Solo travel can be challenging, but damn is it rewarding.

  19. I recently traveled without Mary for the second time this year (big cover story assignment in Bermuda), and I can relate, but probably more from Pete’s perspective. Mary is my right-hand when we travel, so without her things seem twice as hard– juggling still and video cameras, fumbling for a pen, trying to keep track of when I’m supposed to be where. I never traveled as much alone as I do with her, and for good reason: We make an incredible team. I’m certain Pete was missing you like crazy.
    Bret @ Green Global Travel recently posted..Immaturity, Redemption & the Death of Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch

    • I think Pete had the rougher end of this deal as at least I was able to do exciting things, while he was left in the countryside on his lonesome (thank goodness for Skype). And you pointed out something important – we DO make a good team and each have our tasks on how we travel together too. I was definitely missing that.

  20. I’ve done quite a few trips on my own, which gave me tons of confidence at the time. Now though, I just miss Andy if he’s not with me. My 5 month round the world trip was really tough considering I only saw him for 4 weeks total in that 5 months. I love being with him, and I don’t want to ever be away from him for a long period of time again. A week or so might be tolerable for a good reason, but that’s about it.
    Ali recently posted..One Day in Wanaka

  21. Gosh! What a fascinating read.

    It’s true, you do get so used to having one person around that being solo is unusual: and, yes, having no one to talk through the weirdnesses of travel is odd.

    Glad you enjoyed, though. And coped!
    Theodora recently posted..Siwa: A Wild West Town in Egypt

  22. Welcome to my world lady! I love solo travel but you know I’d love to have something like what you have Pete have, it’s really special and I can see why you would miss it.
    Ayngelina recently posted..Remembering the exiled of Hawaii

    • I, alternatively, could see why you love solo travel as well. It has a totally different kind of satisfaction to it. I think we may do more in the future, albeit for not very long still. :)

  23. hahaha oh no! I travelled solo for the first time in the Pacific Islands… and it is not that bad!! I actually really liked it!

  24. I hear you. I travelled to Europe and Asia from Australia by myself when 19 – 21). Even though everyone thought it very brave, I thought it incredibly easy. Met heaps of people (more so then travelling as a double). Since then for more than thirty years I have been travelling with my husband. He always navigates – I have given up even looking at a map – why bother? He looks after tickets also (but I won’t surrender my passport). I plan what we do, choose accommodation and/or house-sits and book things. I think we both do what we prefer doing. It certainly is comfortable. If I had to travel by myself I would struggle, for sure.

  25. Yeah, I kinda wonder how I would go travelling without John. We had a moment a few months ago where I was saying I might just go to New York without him if he couldn’t get time off but then I changed my mind, hehe.

  26. Kali has traveled solo a number of times for work, but I’ve only done it once for a grad school interview. I literally didn’t have to do anything but get myself through the airport on my own (they picked me up and took care of the rest), but even that was nerve wracking!

    It’s funny how we can be so brave traveling with a partner, but heading out solo is such a scary experience.

    • Although, I think it only just took that one trip for me to build some confidence! I would do it again (it’s actually less scary then I thought), but not for long as I would just miss Pedro too much.

  27. Sounds like a big transition indeed. It’s like you’ve been leading on someone for so long and when he steps a way you stumble and fall. But I’m glad you survived it!
    Alexa Meisler recently posted..52 Tips for Responsible and Sustainable Tourism

  28. I hear you :)

    I spent my first six years or so, as well as the bulk of my time in Bulgaria, with my ex-wife and traveling partner. Took a bit of getting used to, but now I dig the solo approach a little more for the freedom it can provides, although I’ll certainly admit there are moments when you kind of wish there were someone there to share the experience with.

    I think there’s a balance in each type of travel. These days, I prefer the solo adventure far more than I did a couple of years ago when I was getting out solo for the first time. I’ve definitely evolved since then. There’s certainly more flexibility in terms of just getting out of the house at a moment’s notice to go do something rather than waiting to see if both people’s schedule’s work together or not.

    I think, for me, the primary difference is that I’m a hell of a lot more social now than I was back when I was traveling as part of a pair. I’m not sure about you, but it kind of forced me to be more outgoing. Before I was content to just trek around and enjoy traveling with the other half, so there really wasn’t ever a need to go beyond that bubble, but now that I do things on my own I find myself making connections and meeting people I never would have met before.

    I certainly think it builds character. When you know you can do something on your own, it makes you stronger…and it leads to more confidence. All in all, a positive experience for you, it sounds like :)
    T.W. Anderson @ Marginal Boundaries recently posted..Comment on My hiking trip to Milonovo by T.W. Anderson

  29. I’m always so reminded of how much we have in common whenever I read your posts. I still MUCH prefer travelling with someone else rather than being alone, but I can’t even imagine how you must have felt! Kudos for even doing it. :)
    Candice recently posted..Why you need a real vacation NOW

  30. Awesome! For some reason I’m not getting your posts, I’ll have to subscribe again, so I’m catching up now! Can’t wait to read more, I can so relate to this, planning a solo journey of my own soon…
    Sarah Somewhere recently posted..Moments Like These

  31. if it makes you feel any better, the first time I did extended traveled on my career break I started with friends for the first 4 weeks. Then I found my sister leaving me at the hostel in South Africa as she left to go home. I just stood there and cried – terrified of what was ahead of me.
    Solo travel isn’t for everyone! Looking forward to hearing about your time in Italy alone!

    • And now you are the pro! :) I actually quite enjoyed my time in Rome alone, and I think Pete and I should plan to do more little breaks every once in awhile! There’s an entirely different kind of satisfaction with solo travel!

  32. Funny, I had been traveling solo for years when I met my husband in 2005, and that continued through my career as a travel writer until 2011 when we took the whole year to travel together. Recently, I went on a couple trips without him for the first time in a year and a half, and it was HARD. I used to prefer traveling solo, but now I like having my appendage by my side!

  33. I can completely relate. Bret and I live/work/play together 24/7/365. Its a crazy life, but we live it side by side. Each of us spent a good deal of time alone in our previous lives and I don’t intend to do that again.
    Mary @ Green Global Travel recently posted..GO GREEN TIP #93: Attract Hummingbirds To Your Garden

  34. I think my wife Aiko and I will eventually get to the same point you are even though we just started our adventure. The only difference is, she moved from Peru to the USA by herself and I lived/worked in Rio de Janeiro for a while. So, at the least, we have a little experience traveling solo. Though, I think I like traveling as a couple, preferably.

Add Your Comment (Get a Gravatar)

Get a Gravatar! Your Name

*

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.

CommentLuv badge