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Managing Solo Travel Fears

For people like me, who’re a little shy, solo travel can be unnerving. I’ve been traveling for nearly all my life but hadn’t, until about two years ago, traveled on my own.

I was on a three-week mercy mission in London and decided, at the last minute, to treat myself to a short vacation in Paris before I flew home. Thinking about it now, I must have been out of my mind to pick Paris, the city of love, for my first solo travel experience. However, it turned out to be the perfect place to wet my feet in solo travel.

But I wasn’t thinking about that as I boarded the Eurostar that Thursday morning. Doubts dampened the excitement I felt and tugged at the edge of my mind like insistent children, waiting for reassurance. And as the train moved away from London’s St. Pancras Station, old fears tightened like a band around my stomach. The more I tried to ignore them, the more they clutched until finally, I decided to look each one straight in the eye.

Getting lost: Getting lost was a fear I hoped Paris would help me conquer. I’ve gotten lost so many times, my friends generously describe me as ‘directionally challenged.’ My most embarrassing experience was missing my exit and getting lost five minutes from home. It took more than 20 frustrating minutes to find my way. The worst part was, I could see the top of our apartment building almost the entire time I was driving around.

Eating alone: Having people, especially family and friends, at the table can turn a meal into a celebration of life and love. I was terrified just thinking about having a meal in a restaurant by myself. My fear was heightened because I knew no one in Paris who I could call to rescue me.

Sleeping alone in an unfamiliar environment: This was, by far, my biggest fear. I don’t rest well when I’m in a new environment, and my anxieties increase when I’m alone. Looking this squarely in the eye as the train took me closer to Paris did little to calm my nerves. But I was determined not to let this fear paralyze me.

Even though, intellectually, I felt that I had dealt with the fears that plagued me, I was still feeling a bit unsure. When the train came to a stop at Paris’ Gare du Nord, I took a deep breath, drawing on my inner reserves for the courage I knew I lacked.

As I exited the station and headed for the taxi stand, shouts of Taxi! spoken with a different inflection flew like darts past me. French was everywhere; then it hit me: This is Paris.

A smile lit up my face as my taxi arrived. I chatted with the driver about work, football, and politics. Oui, je peux le faire! I can do this.

I didn’t let fear shackle me. I went wherever I wanted and never got lost even when I returned to the hotel past midnight.

My steps were uncertain as I walked into my first restaurant, solo. The hostess showed me to a table but as I waited for my server to arrive, I gave in to my fears and walked out. I laughed at myself as I walked away because I knew I’d have to face this fear. Two days later, I tried again. This time, I stayed. My waitress was friendly and by the end of the meal, I had made friends.

That first night in my hotel room by myself, I put the chair under the door handle for my peace of mind. It took a while before I slept but when I woke the next morning, I felt refreshed and ready to explore Paris.

I returned to London five days later, feeling a boost of confident I never had when I left. My solo travel had emboldened me in ways I couldn’t have envisioned. I don’t have another solo trip planned but I can’t wait to see what I’ll discover about myself on the next one.

 

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Re/discovering Myself Through Travel

One of the unintended benefits of traveling, for me, is discovering something new about myself or rediscovering some personal quality that time and life had made me forget.

On my last trip to London, I stayed with my sister and her family. While it was a holiday for me, it wasn’t for them so I knew I’d be navigating the city on my own.

It wasn’t like that on my first trip. I stayed with my favorite female cousin who worked, but I didn’t venture out much. Fresh from completing school in Barcelona, I can still remember the energetic and confident 20-something I was then but I can’t remember why I stayed in so much. I missed out on a lot and it wasn’t because it rained everyday except the day before I left.

In the 20+ years between these two trips — the third doesn’t count as the 4 days were consumed by preparations for my sister’s wedding — I’ve logged several thousand miles of both solo and group travels.

This time, rather than letting myself feel alone or worry that I’d get lost — my friends say I’m directionally challenged, I call it exploring alternate paths —  I felt the free and confident person that I am return. And I got even more confident as each day went by and I found my way even when I returned late at night or wandered far afield.

Like the day I did the London Eye. I wandered the Southbank aimlessly, stopped for something to eat then rejoined the sea of people who seemed to be out for a Sunday stroll and enjoying the unusually warm day. I had no idea where I was but I wasn’t bothered. I knew I’d find the underground and my way back — and I did.

After a week of finding my way around in London, I was excited to tackle Paris, where except for a friend from New York, whom I saw once, I was totally alone. My aloneness emboldened me. Could it have been because I speak some French? Probably. But the first night in the hotel, I put a chair behind the door, just in case.

Everyday, I picked the places that I had to see then spent the rest of the time wandering around, discovering quaint streets, flower stalls, boutiques and ‘real’ pharmacies along the way. By the time I made my way back to the metro, it would be way past midnight.

The trip was a big boost to my confidence, especially at a time when I was feeling more than a little unsure of my footing.

I’m eager to start the next trip to see what else I discover about myself.

What do your travels reveal to you?

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