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I Travel Alone to Meet Other People

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 5/04/2016 Sahaj Kohli
DUBROVNIK CROATIA SAHAJ KOHLI © Sahaj Kohli DUBROVNIK CROATIA SAHAJ KOHLI

While my first solo adventure served its purpose in that it got me to face myself in a way I never had after the ending of a long-term relationship,it also taught me a ton about relationships and human connection… and that I’m not actually ever alone.

Since then, I’ve joined different “solo traveling” communities, and I’ve been inundated with the reasons people (and, more specifically, women) travel: Solo traveling is freeing. Solo traveling helped me find -- and love -- who I am. I love being alone. Solo traveling pushed me out of my comfort zone.

These are valid, and they're definitely reasons I love traveling alone; but I’ve noticed there’s often something missing from most conversations regarding solo travel : The people you encounter along the way. Here are eight reasons why I travel alone to meet other people:

1. It makes me comfortable with vulnerability.

I’m fully aware that I could meet other people even if I am traveling with other people. But truthfully, when I’m alone, I’m automatically vulnerable and unable to hide behind comfortable company. 

I’ve gotten incredibly comfortable going up to strangers to make new friends or inserting myself confidently (and respectfully) in a conversation amongst other travelers. I’ve gotten very good at asking questions, listening and learning people’s stories -- from waiters and bartenders to tour guides and hostel workers/volunteers.

Most importantly, though, is how okay I’ve gotten with laughing at myself and acknowledging my own flaws/inadequacies.  I’ve gotten secure with owning up to the fact that I can't do everything alone, and I am perfectly capable of repeatedly asking for help when I need it as I’m aimlessly wandering around streets and have no idea where I am.

2.  It's taught me to be flexible about my schedule and a change in plans.

I naively had my first solo trip to Croatia mostly planned out. I knew what I was doing each day, when I was going to be en route to another destination and when I would be staying in each city. Surprise: My trip did not turn out the way I planned.

For some people, the idea of being schedule-less in a foreign country is the epitome of a stressful situation. Now, for me, it’s an adventure.

Other travelers, and even locals, can give you ideas and take/send you on adventures that are unforeseen and aren't noted anywhere on the Internet or in guide books. I spontaneously learned how to surf in the waters of Lima with an Israeli man and a German girl I had partied with the night before. I tagged along on an ice climbing trip of one of the largest glaciers in Iceland with a Californian girl (now one of my best friends) I hit it off with. Neither of these would have happened had I obediently stuck to a schedule.

3.  It teaches me to prioritize myself.

As an extrovert, I enjoy being able to adventure the world with like-minded strangers with the luxury of being able to say no when I want to.

When you travel with people, you can only spend so much time apart, if at all, because the trip is for both of you. Compromises have to be made in what you’re going to do or eat, or if you’re going to nap, or when you’re going to start your day or how long you’re going to spend being out.

Solo traveling has taught me to prioritize myself. I come first, and I can do whatever I want, and I can change my mind whenever I damn want to. Finding the balance of taking care of myself and still being a reliable, unselfish person (rather than someone who is always a people pleaser) has been such a freeing lesson.

4. It reiterates to me that I matter.

It’s easy to get comfortable in relationships and routine in everyday life, so when you’re in a foreign land, with foreign people, you are so starkly reminded that you have you -- even if sometimes you don’t know what that actually means.

When I went on my first solo trip and was heartbroken and emotionally lost, meeting people reminded me I am a human being worthy of love and passion and adventure. I was also reminded then -- and since then -- that I have ownership over myself. I control how I interact with people, the outlook I carry with me, the opinions I share, my thoughts and my feelings. I can change if I want. I can make choices and decisions for myself. And whatever I do will always matter. 

5. It stresses the importance of transient relationships. 

I am connected to almost everyone I have met abroad thanks to social media. A lot of these travel relationships are transient, but the connections that were made in such a short time are still important.

I had meaningful, yet short, conversations that proved the importance of human connection. I helped a Cypriot in Peru with relationship issues. I had a late night conversation about depression and healing with a Canadian in the Old Town of Split in Croatia. I had a meaningful talk about parents, adoption and childhood with a male nurse from Colorado in Kyoto  -- reminding me that people have lived through different experiences, and I should be grateful for my own.

Transient relationships don't have a great reputation, but I truly believe that these are the relationships in which we learn about ourselves -- our ticks, our issues, our strengths -- and how we relate to others, thus readying and bettering us for the more permanent of relationships we have.

6. It reminds me to believe in, and rely on, the kindness of strangers.

Strangers have made my solo travel experiences smoother and more memorable.

There were the kind Japanese guards in the subway stations who don’t speak English but understood my panic when I exited the turnstile at the wrong stop and needed to get back on the train. There was the bubbly half-Indian, half-Icelandic woman working her donut stand in Reykjavík, who overheard my conversation with four other solo travelers as we were desperately trying to figure out how to get to Mount Esja and offered us her car to borrow for the day. 

These instances and so many more have reminded me that there is good in this world, and I can have faith in humanity. 

7. It makes me a more educated global citizen.

Talking with locals about the state of their cities or affairs that are unique to their hometown is incomparable to reading the news or a guidebook.

I learned that Iceland's police killed a man for the first time in 2013 in the almost 70 years since its independence. The guesthouse I rented in Dubrovnik, Croatia was adjacent to a family's home, and I got rather close to the daughter, who was open to talking to me about her experience fleeing Bosnia during the war and educating me on the state of affairs between the two countries. And, sadly, I've been reminded over and over again from the various Australians, Europeans and Canadians that these other countries have better education and health care systems and vacation time policies.

Sure, these are all things I can learn on the Internet, but honestly, I don't think I would ever think to look these things up specifically. It's in candid conversations, in foreign countries, that I'm able to learn more about the world.

8. It proves to me that good men exist -- and in numbers.

I am related to great men, I have great guy friends and I’ve even been out on dates with genuinely good dudes. But as a woman living in New York City, I’m reminded daily of how guys can really, truly suck sometimes — from the catcalling to the ignorant male privilege.

Sadly, but realistically, as a solo female traveler, I have to be cautious and think of scenarios and situations thoroughly so as to make sure I’m being safe and protecting myself how I can.

Luckily, on all of my adventures thus far, I’ve been able to meet and get to know truly great gentlemen from around the world. I’ve had an hours-long conversation on gender disparities with a feminist Englishman. I’ve talked about past relationships and gender expectations with a Canadian in Iceland. These conversations are fulfilling with other females, but the fact that I have made these connections platonically with men serves as a fierce reminder that good guys exist -- in numbers and around the world. And this has been priceless to me.

___________

I enjoy being able to decide for myself if I even want to be around other people. But I have to admit that it is in fact other people who have played important parts in making my solo trips as amazing as they’ve been.

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