What I’ve Learned From Traveling Alone

Adventures in Montana, hiking by a lake.
Happy to report my flexibility has improved since this photo.

“A woman is never more beautiful than when she’s traveling alone.”

I try to imagine what I look like travelling solo—what I actually look like. I can usually be found on a street corner somewhere in the world, sweaty and lost, holding a book in one hand and a tote bag heavy with snacks in the other. In my short adult life, I’ve been lucky enough to visit New York, Los Angeles, and Dublin by myself. Up next is Lisbon! (Get vaccinated y’all, it’s time to see the world again.)

One thing glossy travel magazines like to avoid in their dreamy travel content is that seeing the world solo is hard work. Hard work, with the caveat that it’s an incredible privilege to travel and feel relatively safe when I do, which I know is not a given for many. 

As I finished up a 12-hour micro-trip to New York City on my layover to Europe, I was a new level of hangry and exhausted. Finding ways to fill every inch of my day brought me a new level of self-reliance. Suddenly there was no one to watch my bag when I used the restroom or stand beside me on a dark street. At one point in the afternoon, I was so tired that I literally laid down and took a nap in Central Park. I can hear my mom’s outrage at how unsafe this technically is, but damn was it necessary to combat my decision fatigue.

Which Pret will let me use their bathroom? Do I have time to visit the MoMA, or am I cheating the experience by moving so quickly? Do I turn on this avenue or three blocks up? Is this glass of wine too expensive, and how much do I care? Should I stop at Duane Reade and buy magazines for my flight, or will those be too annoying to carry all day?

A few hours into my trip, seen here regretting wearing a wool coat in seventy degrees.

I arrived back at JFK dreading the upcoming seven-hour flight, and wondering if a 12 hour layover was worth it for my New York moment. As I rode the escalator up to my gate, the entrance to the Delta Sky Club seemed to lower down from the heavens. I had never been in an airline club before. I walked past at first—too expensive, not worth it. I was too young for things that nice. But as I searched for three outlets, a place to sit, a bottle of water and dinner…I began to reconsider. Ok, I thought to myself, if I have as much food as I can handle, a few glasses of wine, use their Wi-Fi the whole time, and charge all of my stuff, can I swing it?

Yes. Oh my god, yes.

While it might have been small, that feeling of being taken care of for the first time all day on my very first solo trip felt even sweeter in as I scooped loads of free-ish hummus onto my plate. In that moment, I realized the value of indulging yourself exactly when you need it. Isn’t that what being on vacation is about, anyway?

I’m the first one to scour for a flight deal or stay in a shitty hostel. I’ll see as many countries as humanly possible on a writer’s pay. But sometimes these little splurge moments the exact balance your trip needs. As I scrolled through photos of the day on my charging phone, it seemed much more meaningful and worthy of the day’s effort. I’ll also acknowledge that my first real meal of the day had much to do with this changed perspective.

There is grit and stamina to orchestrating solo adventures. And while the payoff is incredible, it is precisely because of the struggles it took to get there. Taking care of yourself along the way is equally important, too. That lesson was learned once again in Dublin when I dodged European rave girls through the hostel hallways, trying to get an open shower stall.

“A woman is never more beautiful than when she’s traveling alone.”

While I didn’t feel magical as I dozed off in Trinity College’s famous library (I have a serious problem with napping in public places apparently?), I did feel beautiful as I sipped a Guinness that night next to locals, swaying along to an Irish folk band.

trinity college library in dublin
In my defense, this might be the coolest place to fight off jetlag.

When it took 45 minutes for me to get into my Los Angeles Airbnb because the host was on a conference call and ignoring me, I felt insane bordering on murderous. But when I cobbled together a prosciutto sandwich and to-go cocktails for a dinner on Manhattan beach as the sun went down, I couldn’t have been happier to skip my trendy reservation.

As I’ve gotten more used to solo adventures, I’ve also grown to love dining alone. At first, I wanted to leave within seconds of sitting down. I felt like a spectacle—sad girl with no dinner date on a Friday night. Every glance my way felt like an insult. But a few minutes in, you become a wonderful and comfortable type of invisible. It’s easy to forget how much we’re conscious of ourselves and pretty much nothing else. And that’s exactly what happens in a restaurant. Your solo situation gets a three-second assessment before people move on with the rest of their lives.

This trip will forever have my heart. And so will this breakfast.

And here I am, still standing, not burned alive from embarrassment. Sitting at the corner table, and my glass of wine just arrived. I have a novel, pasta, and peace. Maybe that’s the elusive moment when women look beautiful when traveling alone. When they let go of everyone else’s worries and say yes to seeing the world on their terms.

4 responses to “What I’ve Learned From Traveling Alone”

  1. This was a fun read Emma. Hope you continue w/ your solo travels and keep sharing them with us!


  2. I love this!!! More women should be empowered to travel alone. Thanks for sharing, and I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts!


  3. I wish I had 10%of your writing talent and 90% of your zest for life. I am an extremely proud grandfather.


    Sent from my iPhone



  4. bgeary0183@hbci.com Avatar

    Emma – I sent your writing to several friends – one college friend who was an English teacher for 35 years – she enjoyed your writing & thinks you have a great future as a writer – keep sending your wonderful pieces!


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