A Creature of Comfort: Unexpected Joys of Long-Term Solo Travel

A Hindu water temple in Bali Indonesia for water purification ritual
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So much of being on the road is doing without my usual comforts: a shower curtain, a tea kettle, a familiar bed, more than four outfits. Cramming into hot buses or tiny upper train bunks, hoisting all my belongings into my back day after day, pursing my lips in the shower like an Instagram model’s duckface so no tainted water gets in.

Sometimes, I confess that I sigh with longing for those comforts I left in America, that most comfortable of nations. On more philosophical days I ponder what our national addiction to comfort says about our character, and mine. But my time traveling has given me a new set of comforts born out of life on the road.

Comfortable chic

I haven’t worn real pants or a real underwire bra in six blissful months, my shoes are all flat and practical, and I’m addicted to only natural fabrics in the heat. I just bought a caftan and I’ve never been happier. My silk sleeping bag liner and nightgown add softness to the density of the mattresses here.

In my old corporate life I yearned to be taken seriously, a difficult task when people frequently assume my baby-smooth face means I’m a little green youth (or a few years ago, the intern). So I armored my body in strangling sheath dresses and precarious heels and carefully applied makeup.

Now in my solo travel adventure I dress for my freedom. I wear clothes that allow me to crisscross Paris on foot, to survive in the heat and monsoons of Asia, to shield me from the tropical glare and the winds off Alpine lakes. I used to subscribe to Vogue and now I wear Tevas daily. It’s a style that’s more accepting of my body and its love of soft fabrics and steady footing and freedom from constriction.

A natural rhythm

I wake up nearly every day to the sunrise. Or sometimes the shifting of my upper bunk mate (#hostellife). For the first time since… well, probably childhood, my body has found a natural pattern without the blaring of a morning alarm or a bedtime reminder.

Sure, my sleep is off a lot because I’m a princess who finds a new pea under the mattress in every hostel, but I woke up most mornings in Bali alone in my big soft bed to the sound of monkeys crashing through the trees outside my door, dropping from high branches to low vines and screeching as they tumble over each other’s tails.

Then I get up and I spend most of my day outside. I’ve held jobs behind a computer screen for my whole working life. And I’m not the outdoorsy type so I have no secret longing to don khakis and set out as a forest ranger, protecting sharp-toothed animals that see me as a snack. But now I spend hours a day in the sun, tripping over city sidewalks or basking at a cafe table like a small lazy gecko.

And at the end of the day, tired in a pleasantly physical way from the walking and yoga and writing, I nestle into bed and drift off when I please to the scent of my lavender essential oil on my pillow.

7/11 sandwiches in Thailand backpacking solo female travel
When in Thailand, daily 7-11 visits happen for the AC and the toasties.

The release of anonymity

In nearly every place I go, I’m totally unknown. For my neurotic and endlessly self-conscious (and vain) brain this part of traveling alone as a woman is a restful break.

Feeling tired and introverted? Cool, no small talk with colleagues needed over coffee today. I’ll just chill in the corner of this dim cafe sipping my watermelon juice.

Slip on a wet tile floor and wobble like a little weeble? I’ll never see the witnesses to this again. Stand up straight, smile, and carry on.

Stomach bloated like I’m five months pregnant because some parasite is in there blowing it up like a Mylar balloon at a 4 year old’s birthday party? Toss on that caftan and sail billowing into the distance because I won’t suddenly run into an ex around the corner like I might in Boston.

Every man here seems to not have discovered deodorant and they natter on endlessly about manifesting and energy pathways and toxins. I don’t concern myself with turning their white-guy-dreadlocked heads.

A monkey in Ubud, Bali greets a solo female traveler
Monkeys are comfy (and naked).

This Teva-clad alarm-free lifestyle is new for me. And to be honest, I don’t see myself keeping it up when I’m not living out of a tiny backpack. I find too much joy in clothes for that, and I will go back to a normal routine at some point. Even if it’s just the routine of cat care.

But it’s taught me things I value outside of the routine of daily American life. Clothes that caress instead of constrict, a life lived outside of the shuffle from car to desk and back again, the freedom of being a stranger in a strange place.

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