The most liberating experiences I’ve ever had have been going solo overseas. I’ve travelled with friends, family and tour groups – some of my most treasured travel experiences have been in these arrangements. But there is something about going solo that offers that special something to me. I’ve travelled on my own in New York City, Memphis, Boston, London, Paris, Hiroshima and Tokyo, and I have loved every moment.
I’m not sure why people – family, friends and strangers – need to tell me I’m being “brave” for choosing to travel by myself. I’m not going off to war, I’m not saving lives nor am I risking my own. I find the sentiment condescending; that those around me don’t feel like I – a 27 year old, mature adult – can take care of myself and make smart choices along the way. It’s the ultimate back-hander: “it’s not that we don’t trust you, we don’t trust those around you”. I view travelling solo as simply enjoying life, like I would do in my current home town of Melbourne, but in another part of the world. Such is the concern for my wellbeing while overseas, my family thinks that I’m not particularly “street smart” or that I care much for my own safety. This is despite the fact I have never been in an unsafe or dangerous situation while travelling by myself – never.
I have come to understand that the “brave” label (or is it an accusation?) comes from the fact that I chose to approach my solo travel with a contradictory mix of brazen confidence and a laissez-faire attitude. Honestly, I’m not quite sure how else to approach amazing adventures. I am a deeply risk-averse and structured person in my daily life, but when it comes to travel – the pull to immerse myself in a different city or culture is too great to ignore, and it brings out the fun and carefree side of me. I didn’t know that was ever a bad thing, to explore all sides of who I am. And I certainly don’t believe that being carefree and fun automatically means becoming less responsible.
Though this concerned (and concerning) position is not just from people that know me and obviously love and care for me deeply – their intentions are well-placed. It’s also that I don’t especially appreciate the US customs officer looking at me like I had three heads when I told him I wasn’t meeting friends or family on my most recent trip to New York City. Or when casually chatting to fellow tourists (usually in couples, single males or groups of friends) about the city we’re both exploring that I get genuine confusion as to why I’m there on my own without a boyfriend or travel buddy. Or the wait staff at restaurants asking me where my date is when I ask for a table. I make no apologies for not having a boyfriend to escort me on my travels, I don’t know any different…but if it makes anyone feel better I can have Ryan Reynolds escort me in an imaginary-boyfriend kind of way.
Travelling solo also gives me the chance to be unashamedly selfish about my experiences. I don’t believe that selfishness is always a deadly sin, albeit contrary to popular belief. I do quite well in being selfish every other day of the week in terms of dictating how I spend my time, but travelling selfishly is the best. For me it is about appreciation. For example, when I travelled to Memphis in 2011 I visited Graceland. Even now, after travelling overseas for 6 years, being in the home of Elvis – seeing The Jungle Room, The TV Room, his tombstone was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I think I cried a little bit – amongst a crowd of senior citizen tour groups – I was so overwhelmed. I was living a childhood dream. The reason why I loved doing this on my own is because this was my dream, my experience. At the time, I didn’t know anyone that would have appreciated being there the same way I did. Certainly, any one of my friends or family who could have been with me would have appreciated that I appreciated it, the feeling you get from witnessing a happy moment in someone’s life, but that is not the same as having those feelings for the actual experience. I choose to have these often once-in-a-lifetime experiences the way that I want them: without having them diminished by a well-meaning “yeah, this is so exciting…for you”.
Travelling, in any capacity, is about making the most of the adventure without regrets. I felt I did that in Memphis, and every other time I’ve travelled solo. And I will continue to do so; with friends and family or in a tour but especially on my own.