When my husband and I first got married — just over five years ago — he joined me in DC, where I had been living and working for six months. Because he’s a teacher by trade and because he moved in the the summer, it took a few months for him to find a job. So when I would get home from the office, he, an enthusiastic extrovert, having spent the whole day largely alone, was ready to talk. I, an intense introvert, having spent the whole day at the office, was ready to sit on the sofa in silence.
My parents sometimes tell this story: At family holidays, when I was a little kid, they would often find me lying under the bed reading, mostly in an effort to get away from all the people.
Some of my good friends tease me about my need for “introvert time” — about my desire to set aside space to be alone. I largely prefer solitary activities. I could easily spend a whole day by myself in my apartment.
But I’ve rarely traveled alone. Only twice, in fact. The first time was a 4-day layover in Amsterdam on my return flight from Nairobi. The second was last weekend when I extended a work trip to Uganda by three days to allow myself a little time to see the country.
I’d expected to connect with friends or friends-of-friends in Kampala, a place where a number of people I know have lived and worked, so I booked my flight without knowing what my exact plans would be. On Friday, when the work was wrapped up, I started asking around to see what people were up to, what I might plan to do for the next three days. But my colleagues who were in town had more work to do. The friends-of-friends I’d connected with had obligations over the weekend. I had to make my own plans alone.
There are certain external discomforts, as a woman traveling solo in a new place. What are the risks? Are there places I shouldn’t go? But I felt a surprising and intense discomfort with being alone for the weekend in this new place. Not for fear of safety, but for fear of being unaccompanied.
When you travel alone, your experience is your own responsibility. You have to push through language barriers on your own, no matter how much or little you know. You lose the comfortable barrier that keeps you from interacting with strangers — a barrier you have when you travel with more talkative, brave companions. You’re forced to do your own haggling for taxis or souvenirs. You are exposed as an outsider. The only way to regain the comfort of easyness is to retreat into yourself.
I wonder what I might be like if I traveled alone more frequently — if I were forced to rely on myself, forced to confront myself. What experiences might I have? How much braver might I be?
Question: Do you travel alone? What have you experienced? What have you learned?