In 2011 I moved to Detroit for my first full-time job as an Athletic Trainer. The culture and weather shocked my California girl system, but my main struggle was overcoming my social fears to do things on my own. When I moved to Detroit, I only knew my coworkers. Too nervous and shy to go explore Detroit by myself, I spent most of my first year on my couch rewatching Friends episodes. I realized waiting for a friend to appear on my doorstep was not going to happen, I had to do something. Little did I know, my journey to make new friends and explore my new city would prepare me for my first solo travel experience.
Over the next few years, I got comfortable exploring Detroit on my own, even taking solo weekend or day trips to various places in Michigan. I learned how to walk into a room where I didn’t know anyone and make a new friend. These experiences gave me the confidence boost I needed to eventually book my first solo trip.
That doesn’t mean I wasn’t nervous about traveling alone, but I decided not to let my fears stand in the way of living my life like they did that first year in Detroit. Today, I want to share with you the activities I pursued to get comfortable living on my own in Detroit that ultimately prepared me for my first solo travel experience.
Check Out a Local Cafe
This is a very low-pressure activity that you can do on your own. Now, I don’t drink coffee, but I love the ambiance of a local cafe. I always brought a book with me as a distraction while I sipped my matcha latte. In the beginning, as soon as I finished my book, I’d leave. Over time, I took to lingering in my favorite cafes for hours, reading or writing. I tried to not look at my phone or bring my laptop because it seems to be a barrier to meeting new people. A book, while still providing you with something to do, is a bit more accessible if someone wants to strike up a conversation. This weekend, I encourage you to check out a local cafe for a few hours.
Go Out to Eat Alone
Once I got comfortable in the coffee shops, I began eating out alone. I started with lunch as it appeared a more socially acceptable meal to eat solo. And I always sat at the bar. I would try to find a seat next to someone else who looked to be eating alone in hopes of having a conversation. This helped my introverted side get used to starting a conversation with a complete stranger.
Then, I moved to dinner out, again always sitting at the bar. I usually went out to eat during the week because I didn’t want eyes on me during weekend dates. Eventually, I got over that too when I realized no one is really paying attention to me on their date. So, if I had nothing else to do, I’d treat myself to a Friday or Saturday night dinner at a new restaurant.
In fact, one of my favorite meals in Detroit was after the last game of the season for the team I worked with. I knew it would be my last season working with them and in that career. It was a very snowy Friday night and I decided to treat myself to a dinner at one of my favorite Detroit restaurants. I ordered the charcuterie board for two and enjoyed a few glasses of wine as I soaked in the upcoming change in my life. There is just something about having a moment to quietly process your thoughts over a good meal.
Go Out to Eat and Sit at a Table
This was a big step for me. In fact, the first time I ate at a table by myself was in Ireland on my first solo trip. I was in the foodie city of Cork and read excellent reviews for this restaurant that I decided to try. Honestly, I felt a bit awkward walking in alone. The hostess gave me a weird look when I said I was dining alone. And my waitress kept asking if I wanted magazines, which I politely declined.
Once she left me alone, I realized I was quite content with people watching while I enjoyed a delicious meal. These days, I have no problem eating solo at a table. It’s something that came with time and acknowledging that other people don’t care about the fact that I’m eating alone.
It’s not sad. It doesn’t mean I’m lonely. It doesn’t mean I don’t have friends. In fact, it doesn’t have to mean anything, good or bad. It’s simply enjoying a meal (without having to share my food!)
Check Out the Local Art Scene
I’ll never forget the first time I went to a museum by myself. I’d been wanting to check out the Detroit Institute of Arts, and my boyfriend, at the time, was out of town for the weekend. So with no other plans, I headed to the museum because it felt like a “safe” activity to do solo. I figured people wouldn’t be paying attention to whether or not I was with someone.
The feeling I had while there was liberating. I had a lovely afternoon taking my time wandering through the museum. I lingered at certain pieces of art I found intriguing while bypassing others. There was no compulsion to feign interest in art that I didn’t care for and I didn’t feel rushed. Additionally, I discovered a gorgeous cafe inside! When I had my art fill, I treated myself to sushi where the chef gave me a free appetizer and I returned home. It was such a relaxing day and to this day the Detroit Institute of Arts is one of my favorite places in the city. This weekend go find a local art exhibit and get your culture fill!
Take in a Sporting Event Alone
This was a fun one. It was Easter Sunday and as I’m not religious and didn’t have any family near me, I decided to go to a Detroit Tigers Baseball game. It was a beautiful spring day, why not? As it was Easter Sunday there were actually quite a few families there, but it was relatively empty. I moved around the stadium a bit trying out different seats. I chatted with people around me about the game as I drank my overpriced beer. And I had fun!
A few months later, I witnessed the San Francisco Giants beat the Detroit Tigers from the nosebleeds of the stadium, solo. Well, except for the Giants fans friends I’d made sitting around me!
Not a sports fan? Perhaps try a play?
Catch a Movie Alone
Now, I’ve only done this once, and I think I picked the wrong movie. I watched Lone Survivor by myself. I’d been wanting to see it, yet couldn’t find anyone to go with, so I took myself on a weekend afternoon. The subject matter of the movie was a bit overwhelming and I wish I had someone to discuss it with afterward. But besides that, I found going to a movie is a fairly easy solo activity. Just be sure to pick a movie with “lighter” subject matter.
Go On a Solo Hike
A solo hike not only gets me out of my comfort zone, but it makes me aware of just how capable I am of doing hard things. First, I have to take care of the basics like ensuring I pack enough water and snacks, prepping a map, and finding the best bathroom stops with no one to stand guard. But it’s really the self-motivation required to push through the inclines to reach the top that leaves me feeling like a badass.
Solo hikes are also a good opportunity to make new friends. When I hiked solo in Ecuador, I actually made friends along the trail when we were struggling with the altitude. We pushed each other to reach the top and enjoyed the view together. Find a trail near you, let your friends know where you’re going (safety first!) and get back into nature.
Take a Day Trip
Up until this point, every activity can likely be done in your neighborhood. And while it’s great to find the hidden gems in our own backyards, it’s time to take it a step further with a day trip! Pick a city, beach or forest that’s at least an hour away that you’ve always thought would be fun to visit and go explore it! Find their cafes, museums, and restaurants. Check out the sights and return home to your own comfy bed.
Enjoy a Weekend Getaway
I love weekend getaways when I’m not traveling. I usually pick a small town a few hours drive away that I can explore at a leisurely pace. But perhaps a short and budget-friendly plane ride could work for this as well. Then, decide what you’d like to see and eat and go do it!
Before I left for Ireland, I needed to get out of Detroit, so I drove to Grand Haven, Michigan a small town along the coast of Lake Michigan. I spent the day wandering along the shores of Lake Michigan and exploring their small downtown area. It helped me see that I could navigate my way in new surroundings quite easily!
On your weekend getaway notice how it feels to go somewhere a little bit longer term without knowing anyone. Notice what it’s like to be in charge of all of the decisions. Embrace the unknown and realize you can do this.
Do Nothing Alone
This is difficult. When we do nothing, when we are quiet, shit gets stirred up within us. So we reach for the remote, our phones, or a book. I’m not saying to sit in your apartment and do nothing. My favorite thing to do was take my hammock to the river, find two trees, and relax for a few hours. If you want, you can bring a journal to write down anything that comes up that you may need to work through.
This is an important step because when you’re traveling, there are a surprising amount of times that you’ll find yourself doing nothing. Whether that’s a long bus trip or a day when you just can’t see another church (it happens, trust me). Journaling is also a great practice to continue while traveling too. It provides moments for reflection and quiet amidst the rigors of travel.
Ask Someone You Recently Met to do Something
When you’re solo you are more likely to meet new people. Why? Because you probably want someone to talk to so you’re more apt strike up conversations. But others are also more likely to talk to you as well. All of these activities give you the potential to meet new people who expand the way you think. Sometimes it can lead to a friendship, other times it doesn’t. But you’ll never know unless you reach out.
The beauty of this is that you already share a common interest. So, if you have their information, reach out to them and ask them to do something similar to the activity that brought you together. They will likely say yes and you’re on your way to building a new friendship with a like-minded person.
Travel Somewhere Foreign, but Familiar
Outside of the fact that I’d always wanted to visit Ireland, I also chose it because they speak English and it’s a fairly safe place to travel solo. It was enough to worry about looking in the right direction when crossing the streets, but it was made easier when the signs telling me which direction to look were in English! For your first destination, I suggest choosing somewhere you’ve never been, but where you speak at least some of the language. It will help ease the transition. This can even be inside your own country.
Travel Further Outside of Your Comfort Zone
After I returned from Ireland I developed a longing to see more of the world. I think that’s what people call the travel bug. I wanted to confirm that it wasn’t just that I loved Ireland, so I decided to go somewhere a bit more foreign to me. The language didn’t need to be English and as I was coming out of a Michigan winter, I wanted it to be warm.
I discovered a surf retreat in a fairly remote location in Costa Rica. The streets were all dirt, ATVs were the main vehicle, and credit cards were not accepted. That trip solidified for me that I can handle travel outside of my comfort zone. And about a year and a half later, I booked my one-way ticket to Ecuador.
And just like that with these last two activities you are a badass solo female traveler.
Get Ready for the Road!
An amazing thing happens when you begin to pursue these activities. With every activity, your comfort zone will expand. Soon, you won’t think twice about going to a cafe without a book or phone to distract you. And you’ll pursue activities that inspire you and fill you up, meeting people with similar interests along the way.
Once you’re on the road you’ll realize fairly quickly that traveling solo does not mean that you are alone all of the time. In fact, there were times where I had to seek out doing things on my own because I was surrounded by people all of the time who were offering to do things with me! So, go. See the world, meet people, explore places on your own, and enjoy the experience.
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