I started to first solo travel in my 20s, exploring Europe, Australia & Indonesia alone. When I returned home, I met Terry. We moved in together & got married. He was my husband, best friend, a partner in crime, and a very faithful traveling companion for the next 18 years. In 2014 I tragically lost him.
My world instantly changed beyond recognition.
I was in my mid-40s and everything I knew about life & expected to happen in my future had just disappeared, overnight. Recognizing my need for distraction & passion for travel, friends & family offered me trips to all sorts of amazing places. I said yes to all of them. It enabled me to get through that first year & I will always be eternally grateful to everyone who was there for me when I needed them most.
However, I realized I had to start facing up to a future on my own. The only thing I felt connected to was travel. It had meant so much to me when I was younger. I felt it was important to discover who I really was now I was approaching 50 and alone again. My first reintroduction was a week spent in Kauai. I had started with a family in Oahu & ended with a friend on the Big Island. But Kauai was where I chose to dip my toe back into solo travel.
One of the biggest fears of many women, when they are heading off alone, is the prospect of eating by themselves. That ominous thought of looking like you’ve been stood up, have no friends, have to occupy yourself while others are enjoying their time with friends. It can be the loneliest, but also the most liberating. Add into this a newfound social awkwardness that comes from a deep-rooted fear of actually getting into a conversation with someone. What happens if they ask you a personal question? Or you are forced to tell them what has happened? What if you get upset? And then you ruin their night too?
It was in Hanalei Bay in Kauai where I stayed for a few nights that I faced these fears, grew, healed & grieved all at the same time.
Each night I chose to spend my time, at a local bar, having a couple of drinks & some food. They had live music which always draws me in. Terry was a drummer & we used to hunt out venues across the world.
On the first night, I sat at the bar on my own.
There was an empty seat next to me all night. I felt at home & knew Terry would have absolutely loved the place. At one point a guy came up & asked me if he could take the stool next to me. I must have looked like a terrified rabbit in headlights. Despite communicating that he could help himself, he walked away without the seat. It was a crowded bar. The stool remained empty, but not to me. I felt Terry was with me all the time.
The next night I returned. This time I took my place next what turned out to be a drunk woman, on her last night of a fantastic holiday. My worst fears were realized when she struck up a conversation about why I was there alone. I was forced into a situation I didn’t want to be in. While I explained, my emotions got the better of me. She was incredibly sympathetic, bought me a drink, looked me in the eye & told me she had psychic powers. She could apparently see my aura & informed me that I was much loved & had a vision of Terry with me.
I was touched in so many different ways. No matter what you believe in when you are in the grips of grief, any connection that tells you you are not alone is welcome. In addition, for me, it was a breakthrough. I hadn’t spontaneously combusted, the world hadn’t collapsed around me & my new psychic friend had been able to cope with my tragic story. It was a minor triumph & a big lesson.
On my final evening in Hanalei Bay, I was approached by a couple of guys who I recognized from previous evenings. Again, they started to ask me some personal questions. Again, I falteringly shared my story, with slightly more confidence this time. Their response took me aback…”You poor girl!” We all got a little emotional as one of them began to share his story of his sister who was currently battling cancer. We made a connection.
When I travel solo, I am very conscious of not being late home & at 9 pm stood up to leave. They tried to persuade me to stay but when I asked the barman for my bill (I had eaten dinner there too), I was overruled. As I fought to pay my way, they were insistent that they would cover all my drinks & dinner that night. It was a very generous offer. I learned another lesson. Rather than being fearful of having interactions, I needed to be open to human connection. For a moment I felt I was not totally alone. We are all dealing with stuff that happens to us in life. It has made me realize the importance of sharing a bit of yourself to allow others to respond in whichever way they feel most comfortable. Often that will include sympathy, respect & a little bit of awe that you have chosen to go it alone in the world, whatever your experiences.
Since then I have traveled extensively, often solo.
I started my blog to share my stories & inspire other women not to be afraid to travel alone later in life. Travel has allowed me to heal & grieve. Eating alone now brings a feeling of strength & empowerment rather than fear.
My adventures since have led me to learn Spanish in Cuba, take part in a sailing regatta in the US Virgin Islands, volunteer at a wildlife sanctuary in Namibia & to celebrate my 50th birthday by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro…just to name a few. Travel is not about ticking places off a list. The magic comes with the experiences you have & the people that you meet along the journey. Some may be in your life for years to come, others just for a moment. All have an impact & can help you grow; you just have to allow them to.
Solo travel can be so many things, freeing, reflective, inspiring, and sometimes and it can be all three and more. Just like Sue touched on how traveling solo impacted her after her loss, she was able to get back out there and find her drive again.
We hope to continue inspiring others to travel, and travel solo! If you have a solo travel story you’d like to share, reach out to me via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), Instagram, or through the blog!
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