Listen to this story
I don’t know…what do you wanna do? LOL.
“Hi Shani, thanks so much for being so speedy! This is a fun read, but as is I unfortunately don’t think this is really going to work for us — the parts added back in make it a bit of a tone mismatch for the site, and it seems like you want to keep your voice intact, which we wouldn’t be able to do. If you could go ahead and send me an invoice for the 25% kill fee, I’ll get all your paperwork processed.”
As the iPhone struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, I realized I’d be single for a decade. In another time, or another insipid rom-com plot, that thought might have ground me into dust. But 2018, for all its faults and Tide Pods, is going to be a great year–because I have plans to travel alone.
My trendy millennial-magnet suitcase and I are rolling out of here this March, headed for Paris and London, with nothing more than excitement, several pairs of black leggings, and a travel journal in tow.
Sadness, fear, and feelings of inadequacy don’t pack well.
But that’s all I had for a really long time. I didn’t think I could travel, because I didn’t have anyone to travel with. There were girls trips and weddings (not helping), but there was never a moment when the instinct to wander struck that I actually took it up on its offer. I wasn’t going anywhere, in any sense of the word. I was stuck at home and stuck feeling like being single was a bad thing.
Whether it comes from societal influence or it’s self-imposed I’m not sure, but for far too long I thought of being single as a negative, and a negative only. I couldn’t see the genuine benefits of being single that I’d miss someday. This went on for years, and while several things can take credit for curing it, including time and the natural pairing of wisdom and age, traveling alone really deserves the byline.
Fomo has a boiling point. I think mine took about seven years to come to temp. I could credit Instagram with my inner seething rage, the constant flow of beach-at-sunset, Sonoma-at-sunrise fodder that I always knew I wanted, but didn’t feel worthy of. There are all kinds of qualities baked into a single woman over 30. My particular recipe called for a lot of fear. Fear of what other people think when they see a woman dining alone (spoiler: they don’t even notice her), fear of getting lost alone (charge your damn iPhone), fear of sticking out like an unwanted sore digit that’s been reduced to traveling alone because she can’t find anyone to go with her. It’s a sad story, being too scared of appearances to travel alone, as told in the empty pages of a passport.
But that’s not the story anymore. Now it’s the woman traveling alone because she loves it, prefers it even, and if you want to join her you’ll need to be adventure-additive only.
I won’t say something snapped, but something bent. One day my anger (bless it) won out over my fear. I didn’t want to miss out on life anymore. I didn’t want to settle for less of life because I was living it by myself. People who are partnered aren’t more deserving of life experiences than me, they’re just luckier that they met each other at a friend’s Labor Day BBQ. I’m worthy too, goddammit.
I decided to test my solo travel abilities by starting small, with a trip to Washington D.C., which was not too far away, still domestic, easy. Naturally I picked the perfect time of year to go, February. Oddly enough walking miles and miles from museums to monuments in the cold teaches you that winter travel is actually ideal for beating the crowds. Most of my solo travel since has been quite chilly.
I saw art, I saw history, I saw standup comedy and an actual Enigma machine. I kept myself constantly in motion. I was trying to immerse myself in experience in order to gloss over the fact that my anxiety was about to shoot out of me like live rounds and get me body slammed by the dude outside the White House with a firearm bigger than my vacuum cleaner.
I couldn’t stand still for very long. I couldn’t be around crowds. I would leave a bar if all the seats filled up around me and I could see everyone talking to someone except for me. I got so anxious, so embarrassed. It sounds a little pathetic as I type it but if I hadn’t tried, I would still be paralyzed by all of those little lies I believed. That trip to D.C. was the most alone I have ever felt in my life, but I had to feel it, so that I could feel that it wasn’t so bad. I needed to feel that there were also moments that were good.
Thinking of being alone as anything other than something to cure is a battle I fought with myself for years. When I came around to enjoying it, I started stacking up the benefits of being single like domino tiles when you’re little and don’t know how to play yet. I wanted to see how tall the stack could grow.
Most learning was slow. Coming home at the end of the day to a space all your own and a remote control all your own and a bed all your own are wonderful things that happen every day but I saw them as problems, not opportunities, for a very long time. Traveling alone was a crash course.
Let me say this clearly: When you travel alone you don’t have to run your plans by other people. Again, YOU DON’T HAVE TO RUN YOUR PLANS BY OTHER PEOPLE. Another way to say it is that you can do literally whatever you want! All of the time! There is nothing more luxurious than being selfish.
I enjoy stopping for wine and cheese at odd times of day. I move very quickly through museums. I move very slowly through museum gift shops. I always, absolutely always sit at the bar. I refuse to go to brunch. I did not fly across the planet to waste 2.5 hours at fucking brunch. I was raised Jewish and am obsessed with Catholic churches. I start sightseeing at 8am. And not one of these traits require me to convince anyone else that he should think of them as okay or participate in them along with me. Better still, traveling alone taught me that even when there is a “he” to convince, I don’t have to. Sleep in, boo. I’ve got a river to walk along at sunrise.
A year after D.C. I had taken a couple of trips alone and felt like I was ready to take the real one: Paris. Voluntarily dropping my single self in the middle of the most romantic city in the world is the single woman equivalent of taking a bar exam. I’ve taken two actual bar exams and the fear was not dissimilar.
I do not speak French. (Duolingo I love you but I’ve been trying for two years now and come on.) I had only been to Paris once and for 24 hours (long story), and I did not know the city well. But I wanted it. I wanted Paris. So I stalked an entire metropolitan area on Instagram and booked a ticket and had so much bread and so many lemon tarts and got elbowed in the face in front of the Mona Lisa. It was awesome.
It also rained for the duration, and I do mean the duration of my trip. I didn’t see the sun until my plane took off for JFK. I accidentally ordered some weird, super gross clams. My sneakers got so soaked and cold that at one point I had to walk into a mall, buy new footwear, and wear it out of the store because I didn’t already stick out enough as a tourist. But it was all just another way to learn that traveling alone is incredible and fun and not at all the sad, lonely thing I’d once imagined it to be. It is my favorite part of being single.
In three weeks, I’m going back to Paris. I don’t have to win a “but we went there last year” argument. I don’t have to convince anyone of anything. That is something I learned when I got angry enough to give up my fear of traveling by myself, and start loving the actually wonderful life I was living alone. I was angry at always missing out, but also angry at myself for thinking I had to. The best thing that solo travel taught me is that being alone means only doing what you want, when you want, where you want, for any reason you want. And liberté is how you say freedom in French.