I’ve been traveling alone for nearly two years. And I love it. I can honestly say that I now prefer to travel alone than any other way (well how many ways are there really?). Of course, it’s always fun to meet up with a friend here and there, but going solo is, for me, the only way to go.
The funny thing is – by being alone you actually meet more people and in essence are never really even alone.
So the more I travel alone, the more people I meet. The more I travel with a friend, the less people I meet. It’s as simple as that. Many times I’ve been asked the question:
“Aren’t you scared being a woman traveling alone?”
Not at all. Yes, being a woman can certainly sometimes bring on unwanted attention, but this is rare and usually not threatening. To me the benefits far outweigh the negatives. As a solo woman, if I need help anywhere, friendly locals will help me. On the few instances I’ve really needed help with my bag or couldn’t lift it over my head to shove it in an overhead bin on the train, there is always a nice strong Frenchman waiting in the wings to help a poor helpless girl. If I’m out eating or at a bar, I’m much more likely to be able to strike up a conversation with a stranger – man or woman. I’m a woman so as a stranger I don’t seem threatening or dangerous. But if I was a man and started talking to random people, they may worry that I was some kind of weirdo or looking for something besides just conversation.
In fact, I meet so many people while traveling that I’ve joked that I have to stop. I’ve seemed to reach capacity in my brain for all the new friends I’ve made in such a short time – names, interests, families – it’s a lot to remember. I mean when in my life (except for maybe just during university) in just 2 years have I ever made over a hundred new friends that I keep in touch with on a semi-regular basis. Perhaps it’s my fault and I shouldn’t be so good at keeping in touch. I do have a tendency to be a super-efficient emailer who never likes to not answer someone’s email within a few days of receiving it, but it’s usually more like a few hours. This is one of my pet peeves of the modern world – people that do not answer emails or do not answer questions posed in an email. To me this is like not calling someone back who has left you a message. In fact, since I’m traveling without a phone, this is exactly what this is like for me. Why would I write you if I didn’t want you to respond? Why would I type questions out if I wasn’t genuinely interested in the answers?
My good friend Marsha had gone on her own extended travels alone and said to me before I left Chicago two years ago, “I was never alone more than three days.” And she was exactly right. There are rare times when I don’t meet anyone, but it’s usually because I don’t want to. Most of the time I put myself in situations where meeting people is somewhat inevitable: hostels, couchsurfing, working, volunteering, taking the occasional tours, and just plain smiling.
Here is just a small example of one day in my life as a solo traveler recently. And this is not atypical. Most days I meet someone.
Caen to St. Malo:
20:00 Train Station in St. Malo—Helen: I arrived at 8pm in the small shuttered town of St. Malo. I left the modern train station and headed outside into the dark chilly night to search for a bus that could drop me off near my hostel. Right in front were several shelters for bus stops. I studied the schedule and map posted and figured out which bus to take, but in this sleepy little off-season town, it seemed the buses were already done for the night. There was not a soul around except one girl standing on the curb, smoking a cigarette with a suitcase by her side. I approached her with a smile, “Bonsoir. Parlez vous Anglais?”
Yes she did. In fact she worked in a hotel in Paris so her English was quite good. I asked her if she knew about the buses. She did not. But she was waiting for a friend to pick her up and offered within seconds to just drive me to wherever it was I needed to go. Shortly after, her two guy friends screeched up in their car and were happy to drop me off at my hostel. They were all complete strangers, but, unsurprisingly, helpful.
21:00 Hostel—Amelie: When I arrived at my hostel in St. Malo I checked in to a shared room with 4 beds. There was only one other traveler using the room. Her name was Amelie and she was on holiday from Montreal. We proceeded to chat about our travels and then went down to the bar for a local Brittany beer and to hang out like old friends. The beauty of meeting people when you travel is you are all in the ‘same boat.’ No one knows anyone so it’s almost like an unspoken rule that you will become friends faster and easier than in ‘real life.’ This is another reason I like travel so much. People are just friends. No questions. No rank. No status.
12:30 In town—NJ kids: The next day I was walking around town and passed two teenagers sitting on a stone wall. I overheard one finishing his sentence with “…the tri-state area, ya know, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.”
I stopped in my tracks and said “I’m from New Jersey.”
They were traveling with their folks through parts of France and visiting an uncle who lived here. We chatted a bit, swapped respective NJ hometown names and then I went on my way with a smile and warm feeling of familiarity.
13:00 In town—folks from Little Rock and Baltimore: I was waiting for the tourist office to open after it’s ‘lunch break’ as some American tourists walked up. I alerted them that the Tourist Information office was closed for lunch and we proceeded to chat about each others travels for the next 15 minutes.
16:00 Café—UK man who had a few too many beers: I ended up being the translator between a café owner and a slightly inebriated man who was trying to find his way back to his hotel.
16:20 Café owner: After previously mentioned drunk man left, the café owner thanked me and we proceeded to chat in broken English and French as she told me she was a big fan of the soap opera, “The Young and the Restless.” That really meant absolutely nothing to me, but I obliged her in polite conversation just the same.
The very next day, I took two buses to nearby Mont St. Michel-perhaps the most famous image of Northern France of the spectacular Abbey on the hill surrounded by water.
During the tour, I met a lovely couple from NJ: Janet and Marvin. They offered to drive me back to St. Malo where they were also staying. For me a ride in the countryside was wonderful. I rarely, if ever, am in a car while I travel and it was great to take the scenic route along the ocean and chat with my fellow New Jerseyans along the way.
The best part? We stopped in a fabulous little seaside town called Cancale—famous for its huge oyster beds that line the beach. We walked down the small boardwalk lined with cute colorful restaurants, shops, and stone buildings. We breathed in the salty sea air and couldn’t help craving the local ‘fruits of the sea.’
So we sat down at an outdoor café, as the late afternoon sun dipped into the Atlantic drank the local cider and slurped down the freshest (almost still alive) and best tasting oysters I have ever had.