Getting Comfortable Being Alone
It used to scare the crap out of me to do things alone. I always was scared that other people would judge me if I did something that’s not socially acceptable to do solo. For instance, grocery shopping is ok to do solo, but eating out is “weird”. I was worried that the strangers in the restaurant would think I had no friends. Which, of course I had friends – they’re just busy!
Getting comfortable being alone is one of the best things I’ve ever done to prepare myself for solo travel. It wasn’t intentional, because I could never have predicted living this lifestyle 6 years ago. Getting comfortable being alone came out of necessity as I moved away from my home in California to pursue my career. During this time, I learned how to not just do things by myself, but BE by myself. Two very integral things that have helped me on the road. It didn’t happen though without a few heart breaks along the way.
In college, I was surrounded by people constantly. I was an active sorority member and also had a group of friends outside of sorority life. I could always find someone to do something with, from eating, to drinking, to studying. Someone was always down to hang out!
After graduating from college, I decided to move outside of California for graduate school. My reason: I wanted to see the seasons change. Did I ever see seasons change living in upstate New York!
In Syracuse, I lived with three roommates. Immediately, we bonded as we commiserated about the trials and tribulations of grad school. We would come home from a full day of classes and our graduate assistantship to complain about the crazy thing an athlete or coach said. We made each other feel better after a staff member lost their tempers with us. We studied together, partied together, and worked together. Even though I’d moved away from home, I still had a community of people around me who had my back.
Moving Where I Know No One
Upon graduating from grad school, I returned home to California for a few months while I looked for a job. Eventually, I landed a position working in Detroit. In the summer of 2011, I moved to Detroit where I knew no one outside of my four coworkers.
I joined a gym because everyone said it’s a great way to meet people. I didn’t meet anyone at the gym, or at yoga class. Occasionally, I’d go out with my coworkers when our schedules overlapped. I joined Meetup and made a few friends through those events. But, I spent the majority of nights on my couch watching Friends reruns.
There were things I wanted to do and see, but I couldn’t muster up the courage to go alone. At times, I couldn’t even find the courage to ask someone I’d met to go with me.
A few months after I moved, my best friend visited me for Halloween weekend. We went out to a bar near my apartment and had a blast. I also met a guy that night. We fell fast in love and suddenly I had no more time alone. All of my spare time was spent with him. I forgot about cultivating friendships with those I’d met at Meetups. I didn’t care that the balance was off, I was just happy to be in love and not alone anymore.
Waiting for the Right Person & Time
I’d told him of my desire to visit Ireland. Every now and then we would nonchalantly discuss traveling there together. One evening he asked me point blank to go and I said no. I didn’t have time to take off of work. Which wasn’t entirely true. I did have the time, but it was my first year at this job and I was already taking a considerable amount of time off to visit home and for family weddings. I could’ve made it happen, but I was scared to pull the trigger.
That relationship ended and I was alone again. When our relationship ended, so did my relationship with my friends, or should I say his friends. So, I had to start from square one with small steps to get out of my apartment.
Back to Square One
I reached out to the friends I’d made through Meetup. I realized if I wanted a friendship with them, I would have to ask them to hang out. I also began doing other activities by myself. Starting with going to coffee shops. I would bring a book, drink my tea, and leave once I’d finished my drink. I never lingered and I didn’t make much eye contact.
Then, I added in lunch, always sitting at the bar. I met a few people this way. Enough for a brief conversation over a meal. It made me realize I’m not the only one who does things by themselves and it really isn’t that weird. Eventually, I upgraded to dinners out at restaurants I’d been wanting to try but couldn’t find anyone to go with.
I went to movies by myself, a few local concerts, and other times, I simply did nothing by myself. I got comfortable doing activities alone and doing nothing alone without the need for constant distraction.
Relationship to Realization
Eventually, I got into another relationship. This time it was long distance, which I thought would be great. It would allow me the freedom to continue finding the activities I enjoy in life while having a relationship. Again, he and I discussed traveling, but our schedules never worked out. It was one thing to visit while the other was working, it just never worked in a way that would allow us to take time off at the same time. Or maybe we just didn’t try that hard to make it happen? We broke up before I could find out.
It was this breakup that made me realize, maybe I should just travel on my own. I’d always wanted to visit Ireland, why was I waiting for someone to go with? I’d been living in Detroit for four years. In that time I lived in multiple apartments by myself, learned to cook, went to movies alone, shopped alone, tried new restaurants alone. I learned what it was like to be alone. I could do all of these things in a different country. Couldn’t I?
Traveling Solo to Ireland
So one night, in my one bedroom apartment, after months of research, doubt, and questioning. After years of saying “I’d love to visit” and a few more years of talking about it, I sat on my big red couch, with one cat cuddled on my lap and the other next to me. I hit purchase on a round-trip flight. Dublin to Detroit. I would not just be traveling to Ireland solo, I would also be spending my birthday alone in a foreign country.
I cried. I cried because I couldn’t believe it was actually happening. That I would not just be going to Ireland, but celebrating my birthday there. I didn’t just wake up that morning and buy a ticket on a whim because I felt like it. No. It took years, a few heartbreaks, and getting used to doing things on my own at home before I could even think of traveling solo.
In Ireland, I did some group tours to help me meet other travelers. A friend happened to be there at the same time so she and I went out for my birthday after I’d spent the day alone biking on the Aran Islands. I went to pubs alone for the craic and ended up meeting musicians, and locals to share a few drinks with. It is one of my favorite trips to this day.
Why Not You?
So, if you’re sitting there thinking “I could never do that”, I once thought the same thing. I used to spend hours watching Friends reruns instead of putting effort into making any. I used to think there was something different about the women I saw climbing mountains and exploring cities alone. But there isn’t. We are all just figuring it out as we go.
And you don’t need to move across the country where you don’t know anybody to begin getting comfortable being alone. Start where you are and start small. Go for a coffee in that place you’ve been dying to try, but have been waiting for someone to go with. Work your way up to meals alone and doing other activities solo. Try going to a Meetup or taking that class you always wanted to. Make some new friends.
Before you think you’re ready (because we are never 100% ready) book that flight and go for it. It might just be the best time you ever spend exploring a new place, doing the things you love.
What to Know Before Quitting Your Job
In this PDF we will go over 5 things to consider BEFORE quitting your job to travel. It includes brainstorming worksheets, sample spreadsheets, and more!