Five days, 8 museums, 44 miles. The statistics of my recent trip to D.C. fail to depict the most important lesson I learned: I love traveling alone.
While a solo trip is something I have wanted to do for a long time, the closest I had gotten, before this spring break, was traveling with friends to a new city and spending one day alone.
From the disapproving questions of Uber drivers to the silent but incredulous looks I received from some friends and family, I have come to the conclusion that I need to defend traveling alone as a mode of vacation. And maybe in the process, I will convince others to embark on their own solo trips.
The most obvious benefit of traveling alone is that you do exactly what you want to do whenever you want. Eating at atypical times, visiting bizarrely specific exhibitions for hours and walking to the point of exhaustion without hearing any complaints are all possible. Of course, you can travel with people who have similar interests, but setting the entire itinerary on what you want and how you feel is a new level of freedom.
Despite my usual highly structured planning, I endeavored to keep a fairly open schedule, and this change, coupled with being alone, allowed for seamless improvisation and exploration. Wandering down random side streets or switching up the restaurant for dinner required no group consultation.
While freedom to do anything or go anywhere on a whim is the clearest benefit, the more profound one is that you can meet new people more easily. When traveling with a friend or in a group, you are insulated from the other people around you. Even if you are open to meeting strangers in the new place, you look less approachable if you are already talking and walking with your significant other, friend, or group. Connecting with strangers was such a small thing in terms of time and effort, but one of the best parts of my trip when I look back on it.
At a bakery in Columbia Heights, I met a commuter who lives in Baltimore and works in D.C. As she shared about her extensive backpacking trips, some of which she had done alone, I learned the enjoyable feeling of connecting with a like-minded person in a new place.
Other people I otherwise would not have connected with included a British photographer at the Lincoln Memorial, who shared his passion for film photography, and my AirBnB host, who shared her interesting career path along with her space.
Traveling alone allows you to take in a place without another person’s filter or commentary, and it is easier to be more engaged with both the locale and the locals. Additionally, all the time to myself waiting in line, on the train or at restaurants meant getting caught up with my favorite podcasts, music and books.
The effects of solo travel spill over into everyday life as well. I am now more confident about doing things solo at home, and I am making an effort to meet strangers and explore Atlanta in an unstructured way. While no one may be around to take that perfect Instagram photo of you, solo travel is invaluable as a way to learn more both about yourself and your destination.