If you have wanderlust in your heart, then you constantly daydream of your next trip. It consumes both your mind and soul. Instead of letting the first snowfall of the season be a depressing indication of the long, cold winter is ahead, you fantasize about a winter wonderland trip to the Swiss Alps, skiing in powder surrounded by breathtaking glacier-capped mountains. Your tedious Monday morning commute can transport you to the bustling streets of Thailand sampling street food, relaxing after on white sand beaches with crystal clear water.
My ex was not only my lover, but my travel buddy — an extraordinary combination. Travel buddies are rare. They are an individual who, on the most basic level, are in tune with both your basic needs and lust for adventure. You get along in mundane daily life tasks, but have also seen each other at your worst. Jetlag, long stretches without showering, traveler’s diarrhea, winding car rides causing motion sickness and vomit. You are in sync with each other’s requirements for the same amount of activity, food, and rest; there is no arguing about the basics. If you piss each other off, it’s not a big deal, because in five minutes you will both be over it.
However, there are always differences in travel styles. For example, waiting until the last minute to plan an itinerary for a ten-day road trip around Iceland during high tourist season and realizing there is no lodging available when you voiced concern about this months before. I nearly had a heart attack in REI the night before our flight after spending hundreds on camping gear.
Then there are differences in opinion on how early to get to the airport. I tend to appreciate a large window to account for long security lines or unexpected events. Extra time means a relaxing pre-vacation drink before boarding. Others who like to roll the dice tend to pack last minute, mysteriously have difficulty finding an Uber to the airport, and end up stuck on the toilet while hearing their name called for last minute boarding.
Letting go of travel memories after a breakup can be heartbreaking. Even the bad ones become endearing with time. Although I enjoyed the occasional weekend solo trip on my own, I never thought that I would be planning international vacations on my own as a single woman in my thirties. My first was a yoga retreat in Costa Rica over New Year’s. When my alarm went off the morning of my flight, I didn’t have the feeling of panic I did with my ex. My bags were already packed the night before instead of the last minute scramble, and no one was nagging me about how much my luggage weighed. I felt exhilarated swigging my last sip of bloody mary and asking a stranger to take a picture of me and my huge backpack. It was the most excited I had been in a long time.
After a year of solo travel within the U.S. and abroad, this is what I have found to be the benefits of a solo wanderlust woman:
1. You are the master of your schedule
Whether you like to plan out every detail of your trip or just wing it, you don’t have to negotiate with someone else. Want to hike that mountain your partner always turned their nose up at? Drink your way through Germany instead of looking at another damn church? Book that skydiving excursion in Mexico instead of a massage? Treat yourself to room service breakfast without someone nagging about it being ridiculously overpriced? Your wish is your command. And the freedom in that doesn’t come any sweeter.
2. Casual Hookups
When I booked my trip to Italy, I fantasized for months about a dark haired, chocolate brown-eyed Italian man who would sweep me off my feet. My arms would be wrapped around his waist as we drove the winding Amalfi coast on the back of his scooter. We would watch the sunset at dinner while sipping wine and Limoncello into the night. After, we would go back to my hotel and have passionate sex, sharing the most decadent piece of Tiramisu before passing out. It would be a story for the grandchildren.
The reality: their driving is crazy and there is no fucking way I would get on a scooter to die. Italians speak Italian, and although beautiful to listen to, the communication barriers were getting tiring and on day seven, I became lonesome for an actual conversation in English. After stumbling into a craft beer bar on a hot afternoon when I couldn’t choke down another Peroni, I was pleasantly surprised to meet an attractive Englishman who made me laugh. We were staying in the same neighborhood and met up for several lovely dinners. I will never forget walking the deserted streets of Rome at midnight and kissing him next to a glowing Colosseum. Maybe my fantasy of hot sex with an Italian didn’t happen this trip, but it definitely was second to reality.
3. Pinch Me Moments
Pinch me moments are those epic moments in time when simplicity, magic, and wonder combine. With fewer distractions, you can fully detach and let your surroundings sink in. Am I really walking through vineyards in Tuscany at sunset with a glass of Barolo in my hand? Yes! Did I really spend the morning walking through Costa Rican jungle canopies with monkeys? Yes! Solo globetrotting means you’ll be fully one with your destination, soaking up every sunset and every skyline.
4. Me, Myself, and I
While a silent meditation retreat may be extreme, there are lessons to be learned in solitude. Traveling alone presents you with plenty of time and opportunity to reflect and get to know yourself better. As in introvert, this was the part of solo travel I didn’t worry about. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that dinner alone often quickly turned into meeting new friends from around the world and unexpected twists that pushed me out of my comfort zone. I missed a wine tasting in Rome due to a long wait for a cab. Frustrated, I threw in the towel and stopped at a restaurant next to my hotel. Within ten minutes of being seated, I was invited to join a group of Aussies, laughing and drinking until the bar closed. You just never know.
5. You’ll Return with Confidence
Armed with unforgettable memories and sense of achievement, you’ll return from your adventure with a renewed confidence. Getting to grips with thrilling new places that are miles away from your comfort zone feeds your self-esteem. Traveling always builds confidence, but traveling alone turbo charges it. Conquering a country without speaking the language, learning local public transportation, walking into a restaurant alone, having people be in awe of your bravery — every experience is an adventure and a memory in the making.