So said a divorced mom of two to me about going through life a bit solo right now. I am always surprised when otherwise outgoing people suddenly become needy and clingy when confronted by an adventure that they have to undertake alone. Just this week, a certain senior adventurer in my life expressed doubts about an upcoming trip to Europe, to a country she has visited before. She’s going on a tour and is even departing with her group. Yet, this is her first trip where she won’t be accompanied by a family member or friend. I want to shout, “Just get on the plane.”
Too afraid to walk into a bar unescorted? Then go to a restaurant instead. Not quite ready for a solo trek across Europe? Sign on to a group tour.
I’d be willing to bet that every solo traveler was fearful at one point. I was nervous, too, when I hopped on a plane and headed to Italy for a month without benefit of a single hotel reservation. How did I gain some courage? It helped that a friend had done something similar first, just a year before. Traveling for work also required that I undertake more activities solo.
Each time I did something unaccompanied by another, I became better at it. I even got to the point where I actually preferred it: I was so much more efficient when going alone. I could see more of museums, walk further faster, maintain my focus for a good part of the day. I’ve had some of my best adventures when compelled to talk to strangers in strange lands because, otherwise, I’d be spending all of my time alone.
I still like to travel alone and dine alone and go to movies alone. Sure, sometimes, I’m not in the mood to walk into a place on my own, either. Sometimes, for who knows what reason, I have to screw up my courage to walk into a place. Super-crowded venues don’t particularly appeal. Sometimes the friendliness of people who assume that anyone by herself would surely prefer to be talking to someone, anyone, can annoy when I really, truly do want some personal space. Sometimes I still feel shy.
More often than not, though, I make myself go in. Starting slowly worked for me. Go to that first restaurant, to that first museum, on that first train ride, on that first bus. Bring a book, a smart phone, a journal, a headset. Think about the worst-case scenario: a table in the corner, a ticket vendor sneering just one?, the prospect of being seated next to a stranger. Realize that the worst isn’t all that bad.
Even if something negative happens, take the bad with a good. One time on a ferry from Naples to Palermo, I couldn’t even successfully order a Coke because my Italian language skills were so poor. I was tired and cranky and gave up the fight and went back to sleep on that long ferry ride. I could live with one less soda. Yet when we arrived, I thrilled at seeing natives kiss the ground with happiness for being home and I am still charmed by a waiter who, unable to understand what I was ordering in a restaurant, led me back into the kitchen to point to my selection. For every bad time comes a good one; for every less than rosy outcome I gained just a little bit more backbone.
Walk into the bar, the restaurant, the plane, the zoo. Or stay inside and keep wishing.