I have a big network of people. This isn’t a brag, it is just a fact. So it makes sense that at least a few times a month, I get tagged in a social media post about solo traveling. Inevitably, there are always comments about how scary it is to solo travel, and these are the posts I am tagged in–as either congratulations for combatting fear, or expectation to combat this sentiment. I would like to provide some insight to how it feels to be a solo traveler.
Feel #1: Overwhelm
Summer 2005 I had spent working out intensely, in hopes of joining the Pittsburg High volleyball team when the school year started back up. In response to this, my thighs were solid, but sore, which meant I loved to wear loose fitting jeans (I was 14–no way was I going to wear sweats, eww gross haha and legging weren’t back in fashion yet). So when I went to my Grandma’s house in Oregon for the summer, I brought the only 2 pairs of pants that fit me to this liking, and a few shirts. I packed light for the 2 month stay. This was so relaxing–waking up in the morning with just a few options of what to wear. In a way, it felt like freedom to know that I chose these outfits, yet somehow wasn’t overwhelmed. Until one day, my step Grandpa wanted to take us on his boat to go fishing. “Wear clothes you don’t care about ruining,” he said. I was filled with panic. I cared about what I brought. Suddenly, I felt so limited.
Traveling alone is a fine line of narrowing down where to go, while not completely limiting the “go with the flow” options. Obviously, I pack a little more dynamically these days, same goes for travel. Before beginning this journey two years ago, I spent MONTHS researching the states on several different websites, through conversation, and via my road atlas, looking for all the options that truly piqued my interest. Up until a couple days ago, I forgot that this was meant to be a brochure, not an itinerary. I traveled through a state for a day using GPS to get to destinations I had researched, and while these destinations were awesome, I went to bed feeling cranky and anxious. It was the next day when I remembered that having direction in mind is helpful, but it is in the liminal “going with the flow” where the magic happens. Had I used GPS the entire time in 2019, I would have never made the connections in New Mexico that let me feel like I was visiting family this time around. Maybe this is a feeling that is hard to connect with, but traveling solo means having so many options, it is important to provide clarity and direction, lest the anxiety drain is what you seek. Remember, there is no one to tell you what to do when you solo travel. No one to negotiate with. It is ON YOU where you land. Which leads to feel number 2.
Feel #2: Fear
I know, I know, fear? Really? Yes, really. I follow several travel blogs and Instagram accounts, and often find myself jealous of male travelers. Somehow, when I’m fresh to the road once again, I feel that being a male would have the upper hand–stranger danger is less, the guard can be lowered, less people can mess with you, etc. While I won’t deny that I think this is true, being female has huge advantages as well–such as being seen as more trustworthy, being able to charm out of certain situations (have you read my El Paso blog yet?!), and ultimately, being a pioneer that earns respect. This doesn’t change the fact that I have to have a constant guard up. I am an attractive woman, from an overpopulated area that has taught me PEOPLE ARE UP TO NO GOOD. My trip in 2019 has taught me that this isn’t fully true, but this balance has queued my intuition on fear to a healthy degree.
In 2019, I wrote a post on van-life debates that contemplated curtains. While in Sedona, a male traveler told me no way would he use curtains, while a college female friend told me to block out view because she’s had guys mess with her dead asleep. I used curtains last time, and this time, I am choosing not to (my windows are fairly tinted, but still). I’ve felt more secure this time, being able to see out. Last time, I kept my taser by my pillow like a pet. This time, It’s only in arms’ reach because EVERYTHING is in arms’ reach in a car. Overtime, traveling experience means learning what is legit fear and what fear can be unlearned. But fear MUST exist.
As I was traveling through Oklahoma (spoiler! There will be a post on Oklahoma coming out), I stopped at a state park on my destination list. After parking, I looked around (ALWAYS be aware of your surroundings–this isn’t fear, this is street smarts). At a bench was a man, and while he looked normal enough, I got the strangest feeling in the pit of my stomach while looking at him, and I did all I could to avoid him seeing me. I continued down the trail, out of his view. I got halfway down the trail and thought suddenly “who else is here? What happens if I get hurt? I should turn around.” And while I was bummed to not see what I came to see, I had to listen to that voice. My heart wasn’t racing like anxiety, it was trained intuition speaking. As I was almost to the trail entrance, the man began walking down the trail and asked “are you from around here?” I kept my wit and strength to me, and walked further up the trail when he stopped and began talking more–about being part of a gang in Mexico, witchcraft, trying to spread prophecies, racism. I stood there politely but with an unengaged, stern face, one foot ready to lead me to the parking lot swiftly.. I hid my anxiety and used my brain. He was jumping from topic to topic, but was clearly sober (the fact that he didn’t seem like a druggie rambling, this set my stranger danger alert HIGH). This was a tactic I notice people use in sales and more grave situations to get people to let their guard down. I nodded and he began asking about me, what I was doing. “I’m heading north to meet up with an old college friend.” This one line I knew is the right thing to say. If he means no good, he knows someone will notice I’m missing before he has a chance to flee. He tried to invite me to his car to check out “documents” on info he was trying to spread, to which I quickly retorted “naww you gotta check out this trail and I gotta get going to my friend before he starts to worry.” He reluctantly agreed, so I quickly got back to my car. Only, I noticed that while he was parked on the other side of the parking lot before I entered the trail, his car was now right next to mine. I got out of there. Fear is healthy to acknowledge when it comes up.
There will always be moments of fear traveling solo. But this could have happened with a friend, as well. It’s group psychology to be a little less attentive when you have someone with you. And I know personally, I’m less likely to engage with others when I have a friend around. This is more dangerous. Light interaction is often disarming, as fear is what most bad guys feed on. In this situation, it took a little time to shake it off. If a gal pal and I experienced it, I know the anxiety would be heightened, as we would feed off of one another and wait for the other one to have some input. In a way, it feels a little safer to travel solo. That is, with plenty of people checking in on my daily (shout out, you know who you are!).
Feel #3: Ego Death
Ok Ok Ok I don’t love this term. The ego works with the ID otherwise we’d be off of our rockers. But hear me out on this (and please suggest a better subtitle if you have one after reading the description). Traveling solo means introspection. Self Reliance. Lots of solitude and time to think. I feel like a completely different person by the time I return–in the best way possible. It feels like accelerated growth.
When things happen on the road, and I have a drive ahead of me, I can’t help but to toss around every perspective possible. Time really is on my side here. One thought can lead to another and to another until one circumstance has created a domino effect of connection. So far on this trip, I’ve had to taste the bittersweet flavor of bidding farewell to loved ones returning home to leave me behind, of running from comfort, of forgiving an action that wasn’t even intended to hurt me, of noticing ways of interactions when a loved one would call, of seeing personal reactions to intense situations. I’ve felt fear, anger, joy, gratitude, love, peace, paranoia, frustration, confusion, exhaustion, anxiety, impatience, serenity. You name it, I’ve felt it. And that is probably the best part of solo traveling–getting to experience it all, and process it without worrying about how it will affect others.
Today, I drove. A lot. Since leaving 10 days ago, I’ve driven over 3000 miles. I felt tired, cranky, and unsure of what to do. I honored that. Went to a park, did yoga. Listened to an audio book. Drove down roads in silence. Felt it. All. Have you seen that Reese Witherspoon movie where she hikes the PCT and there is a scene where she is screaming out her demons? Well my screams may not be audible as I keep pace on the freeway, but I am definitely releasing demons by having nothing but time to sit with it all. And it feels great. I know I am finally letting some bags fall to the wayside, bags that are not meant for me to carry any longer. It’s exhausting and worthwhile, seriously.
You never know what is going to happen on the road. I could have placed bets on what this trip would have looked like, and would have been broker for it. The most important part is to be open to experience, queued into intuition, and friendly. You never know when a local can become a friend or at least a guide to the next best experience. Or when someone will offer to take your photo, so you have one less selfie and more real photo of your experience. What I’ve learned so far is that the people you meet will really help determine the trip–life is really about connection. There are beautiful states I’ve been through, only to feel unwelcome. I don’t like those states. There are places where I felt connected to people, and now I know I have a “home” to go to whenever I’m around. Those places become more beautiful each time I return. Traveling solo can be as lonely as it is healing, as frustrating as it is freeing, and as exhilarating as it is scary. I won’t take in a movie alone at home, I’m a social human, but I definitely recommend solo travel to anyone and everyone, especially if it frightens you. You’d be surprised the inner doors that open when you take the solo journey.
Thank you for reading this post! Hopefully it has provided some insight into the real feels of solo travel. As always, if there is anything of particular interest to you, please reach out! I’m also open to writing gigs, editing work, and just good hearted conversation. Much love, @thelostqueenofatlantis