My grandma arrived in Paris to visit me yesterday (83 years old and flying alone internationally? yes she’s cool as hell). It’s been fun so far having a travel companion for the first time in a few weeks! But having so much fun with her made me think of all the questions people have asked me about traveling by myself.
Isn’t is awkward?
The really honest answer to this is… yes, sometimes. Especially in a place like Paris where dinner is usually an event with other people. The sentence “for just one?!” said to you by a beautiful black-clad Parisienne when you ask for a table is, frankly, briefly mortifying.
But when you’re unsure (or awkward), you are really alive. This is a paraphrase of Søren Kierkegaard who would have added that awkward bit I am sure, because he was not exactly socially graceful.
In times like this, I remind myself to lean into the awkwardness. It’s weird: cool! Life should be weird and uncomfortable and out of your comfort zone sometimes. Otherwise, you’re just coasting. When was the last time something entirely in your comfort zone blew your mind?
Isn’t it unsafe?
For women, this is a very real question. A solo woman is subject to way more remarks and attention. But if you’re attentive to your surroundings (keep those headphones out of your ears!) and cautious especially at night, it’s not much less safe than being at home.
If I had a nickel for every terrifying man who screamed at me and/or followed me just going about my daily business in Boston, I would have many, many dollars (special shout-out to the guy who screamed “die, bitch!” repeatedly at me outside my gym at 5:30 am one morning).
Psychos are going to be themselves anywhere. Might as well be in Paris (where it’s worth noting not a single person has screamed at me on the street! Score!). The world is much less scary than you think it is, and people are mostly incredibly kind.
Isn’t it lonely?
Let’s get really existential and posit that much of life of lonely, whether you are alone or not. You can feel lonely traveling solo, sure. You can also feel lonely right at home, in a party crowded with your friends, sitting on the couch with your husband… the list goes on.
And also, yes, sometimes solo travel is lonely. When a little mouse is scrabbling around in your walls while all your neighbors have a bunch of fun parties and you miss your cat who always took care of the mice for you and your friends who are probably having fun themselves, yes, it can be lonely.
But it’s also freeing. Learning what you’re capable of doing on your own, like discussing a rental car agreement entirely in a foreign language, is hard and also thrilling. Doing whatever you want, like sitting through a 5 hour opera on a Wednesday because you love the story of Tristan and Isolde (including the shitty James Franco movie of it (don’t judge me)) is great when it’s exactly what you want to do at that moment.
And you meet so many people when you’re by yourself! At restaurants, in line for opera tickets, at the corner boulangerie, people feel more free to chat when you’re alone than when you’re in a twosome or a group.
And you get to spend time with an interesting and ever-evolving person: yourself. If that thought scares you, it’s an even better reason to travel solo at least once.