All By Myself

If you hadn’t heard, I love to travel alone.

wolfpack

It was not always this way. In college, I once stayed on campus to work for a week after everyone else had left for winter break. It was quiet and lonely and I was bored out of my mind. I called my dad and he suggested I go to the movies.

“ALONE?!?” I said, as if he’d suggested I buy a bunch of fireworks and light them before locking them inside the trunk of my car and driving home from work. He laughed and assured me that it was not, in fact, illegal to attend movies alone. So I drove to the theatre…and realized that going to the movies alone is one of the single greatest experiences on the face of the Earth.

Especially when the theatre is nearly empty and the only other viewers are quiet old people.

eating popcorn.gif

Thus began my venture into the world of “doing things alone”–because why shouldn’t I have fun all by my damn self? I can be pretty entertaining, you know.

Me, Party of One
When I was planning to move to Chicago. I had flown to the city for a few days to tour the school I would work for and search for an apartment. I was staying in a hotel downtown and downtown Chicago is not really a hoppin’ place at night (I honestly don’t know why I just said “hoppin’” but I’m going to go with it.)

In search of dinner, I found a place I’d been to a few years before called the Italian Village. It’s fairly well known, a group of 3 different Italian restaurants housed within one building in the Loop–and pretty much near nothing else. I went in, alone, and got a table for myself. I deliberately chose to put my phone away and just enjoy the meal. I ordered a salad, an entree, wine, and dessert–figuring if I was going to eat alone, I might as well do it up right.

me party.gif

I still remember that meal. Sitting and actually enjoying the food I’d chosen, instead of looking down to realize I’d already eaten it without noticing. Watching other people and wondering about their lives. Enjoying my own. damn. company.

It was radical, it was new, it was something I had to do again. So I did, and still do. I know many people who do, and have seen many others on my travels. Yet people are often still mystified when I tell them.

“You travel ALONE? Like, by yourself?”

And they ask the funniest questions

“What do you…do…?”
(All the stuff I would normally do, except talk out loud because that would be a little weird with just me.
But even still, sometimes I talk out loud too.)

“Don’t you get bored?”
(No, I think I’m pretty interesting company, but thanks for the compliment. I get bored being around other people about as much as I get bored alone.)

“Aren’t you scared???”
(Of having to have this conversation again? Yes.)

But of traveling alone? Hell no. It’s amazing. Everyone should do it. Here’s why.

Whatever, Whatever, I Do What I Want.
First, when you travel with people, you’re at the mercy of the group. I can only imagine what it’s like to travel with kids and have to be at the mercy of those tiny, cranky, dictators (I’m kidding, I love kids. But they must also be tricky to travel with…) When you travel alone, you can do whatever you want. Whenever you want to.

Whatever. You. Want.

Get up early, sleep in late, go out, stay in, eat now, eat later. Whatever. On no one’s schedule but yours. All of this outside the confines of your daily life, routine, and responsibilities. So you have an extra freedom because you literally have to do…nothing.

And the bonus is, if you make last minute changes in plans, it’s often super easy to squeeze in someplace. Restaurants almost always have space at the bar, and often there are random single seats at movies and shows, or on tours. It’s just little ol’ you, so it’s a lot easier to jump in than with a big full group. Slither, slither.

You Better Think…Let Your Mind Go, Let Yourself Be Free
One of the other major benefits of solo travel, in my eyes, is the “think time”. My teaching life is so full of mental “stuff”, I find it sweet relief to have time to simply think about…anything. Everything. I sometimes take the bus when I could take a taxi purely for this reason. I can tell when I haven’t taken time to sit and think and process for a while because my brain starts to feel like a shower drain that hasn’t been cleaned for a few weeks–gunked up and clogged (gross metaphor, sorry, but accurate).

Traveling alone provides a huge amount of time to think and process the experience. I lamented earlier this year seeing the Great Wall of China with other people. Don’t get me wrong–they were great people and I had a great time. But I was so focused on the group and everyone taking pictures and figuring out what everyone wanted to do and all that I didn’t really have time to take it in.

I was standing on the frickin’ Great. Wall. of China. Something I never, ever thought I’d  see in real life. And like a flash, I was done and gone and it was over. Yes, I went and I remember seeing it–I wasn’t comatose–but I like to really appreciate a place when I’m there. I watch people while I’m traveling (one of my all-time favorite travel activities, people are *fascinating*) and more and more I see people do what I call “the drive-by”:

They swoop into a place, let’s say, a museum. They take approximately 8 billion photos. Photos of each exhibit. Photos of the plaques by the exhibits. Photos of their family in front of the exhibit. Selfies in front of the exhibit. Photos of the cafeteria. Photos of the floor. Photos of the bathroom (yes, I have seen all of this.) Then they leave.

They never stop and look.

They see the entire experience through the lens of their camera or phone. And, honestly, you could have done that at home. When I went to Paris and saw the Mona Lisa, I wasn’t so much impressed by the painting but to stand in the presence of the most famous piece of art in the world. It felt holy. I didn’t jam my way to the front of the crowd, shoving and pushing to take a photo I’d rarely look at, and that would likely be bested by 10,000 others on Google. Instead I stood to the side and just tried to take in the experience. Maybe this type of travel isn’t for everyone, maybe some people enjoy the drive-by. But I still remember how I *felt* standing in front of that painting and I don’t think I’ll forget it any time soon.

Stop. Hammock Time

There’s an undeniable freedom in being able to change your plans at the drop of a hat, without having to consult anyone. To suddenly decide to walk down that random street because it looked like it might be interesting, to turn around after walking 10 blocks because you’d really rather read in that hammock by the beach, to stay in that bookstore five minutes more without worrying someone is bored and waiting for you. I’ve traveled with a few rare people I could still do these things with, but they’ve been few and far between. I don’t mean to disparage those I’ve traveled with–I truly enjoy group trips as well. But generally, it’s when I’m on my own that I feel most free to truly explore and see a place.

People often seem bewildered when I talk about traveling alone, as if I’m traveling to Venus, not just on a holiday. Which I suppose speaks to a whole slew of other issues–such as the perception of being alone = lonely or the idea that a woman *shouldn’t* or *couldn’t* travel alone–but for now, I’ll simply say: just try it. It’s super fun. All the cool kids are doing it.

It can be uncomfortable at first, sitting at a table alone or asking for “just one” ticket–especially because people might look at you strangely (rarely happens to me, most people in the service industry are nice and cool.) You’ll probably wonder if other people are looking at you or if you look sad and lonely. And sure, sometimes it would be nice to have someone there to share a story with or make a snarky comment to. But it’ll pass. Lean into it, choose to enjoy the experience, and eventually you will. Sitting alone won’t kill you. And no one is really looking at you, they’re wondering if you’re looking at them.

(And you should be because people are SO interesting.)

One of my simplest pleasures in life is a book, a cup of coffee, in a cafe somewhere around the world. I usually take a photo of such moments to remind myself that it really can be that simple.

Just me, a book, a cup of coffee, and the world. Doesn’t get much better than that.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. SP
    May 31, 2018 @ 23:30:00

    After reading a few of your blog posts I hope this message reaches you in a good state of mind 🙂

    …I stumbled across your blog while perusing the internet looking for people willing to share their real experiences of teaching in China.

    I have been offered a contract from one school in Pinghu and I have an interview with another school in the coming days. If you are up to it, I would enjoy getting your input as I go into this process…So what do you think, can you make a few moments in your schedule to give a fellow teacher some input?

    Respectfully,
    SP

    Reply

    • kateesposito
      Jun 12, 2018 @ 02:05:44

      Hi! This got a little lost in my email filters so apologies on the slow response. I’d be happy to share more about my experience in China if it’s not too late. If you want to shoot me an email at kateatwork35@yahoo.com with any questions you have, I’d be happy to share some thoughts 🙂

      Reply

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