A couple of months ago, I had planned a lunch date with my friend. As an extreme procrastinator, I normally have a tendency to run late to everything, so I made an effort to fix my reputation as the stereotypical Indian who’s never on time. However, I had overestimated traffic and got there 30 minutes early. I felt so awkward about waiting alone in the restaurant lobby that I decided to just sit in my car.
Now it was in the middle of winter and since I was already low on gas for the ride home, I turned my engine off and the temperature quickly plummeted to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. I often say “I wasn’t built for the cold” because while I may have moved to New Jersey when I was 5, my body was originally designed for the blistering heat of southern India and therefore, my desire for warmth quickly overpowered my reluctance to wait alone. Once I got inside the restaurant, I felt so exposed and self-conscious that I immediately pulled out my phone to look busy with something while I was really just scrolling through my Instagram feed. The 20 minutes I had to wait for my friend to arrive felt like two hours because I couldn’t stop thinking about how lonely and sad I must have seemed if I was having lunch by myself. My discomfort only eased when my friend finally showed up.
I noticed that in a lot of public situations where I’m alone, I instantly just get on my phone to not feel the “awkwardness.” The interesting thing is, physically being alone isn’t what makes me feel uncomfortable; it’s being perceived as lonely that does.
About a month later, my boss decided it would be a good experience for me to visit our company’s manufacturing plants.
“We can do a trip every week and visit the locations together,” he said.
I was actually pumped to finally get to travel for work, but right before we booked our trips, something unplanned came up and he asked me if I would be comfortable doing the trips alone.
I replied in horror, “No problem. I can handle the project on my own,” since I couldn’t exactly say, “No please don’t make me go alone, I need my hand held.”
I was simultaneously excited and nervous because there were so many aspects of the travel that were just unfamiliar to me. I had never rented a car and wasn’t exactly sure how the process worked. I had never even driven a car that wasn’t a Toyota Camry (my parents, like many Indians, have a fierce loyalty to Toyota). I had never been to these locations before-Dayton, Salt Lake City, and Fort Worth. Most importantly, I had never been on a solo trip; I was going to be completely on my own in everything I did.
However, at the conclusion of the one month of jumping from city to city, I realized there were actually some unexpected perks of traveling alone.
Food- Have you ever seriously craved a certain food, but you’re stuck eating something else because no one else shares your opinion? The first time I went to Chicago was on a family trip and we spent a full week there without trying deep dish pizza. To this day, I’m still bitter about it. When you travel alone, you can eat whatever you want whenever you want. When I was in Fort Worth, I literally had Mexican food for all three meals the entire week. Hey it is the TexMex capital; It would have been a crime not to!
Presence of Mind- I recently read an interesting New York Times article about the importance of mono-tasking, which is simply the concept doing one thing at a time. In a society where we constantly post updates about everything we’re doing and can have five conversations at one time, it’s nearly impossible to focus all our attention on just one thing. While this is topic is hefty enough to be its own blog post, it ties into the message of this one because of our desire to share and “Stay connected” even while being away. I spent an entire evening in Salt Lake City just walking around the LDS Temple (which I highly recommend; regardless of your personal faith, the temple and surrounding area is stunning!). As I was doing this solo sightseeing, I realized how much more attention I was paying to everything around me. When I go somewhere with other people, I’m distracted by things like conversations and trying to take memorable pictures. The same goes for food; if I’m talking while eating, I don’t enjoy the food as much. When you visit a place alone, you tend to focus more and notice the details, which results in a more memorable experience than any picture can illustrate.
Making Plans- When I went to Universal Studios in Orlando for the first time, I just wanted to spend the entire time there in Harry Potter World. Who even cares about the rest of the park?? Sadly, this was not the popular opinion. Traveling in a group comes with choosing activities that are appealing to everyone, but when you’re on your own, there are no such limitations. Being the bookworm that I am, I spent one evening in Salt Lake City exploring the public library and loved it, but realistically, if anyone else was on this trip with me, they probably wouldn’t have been on board for this plan!
Ditching Plans– Last summer, I went to New Orleans for July 4th weekend and it might have been my worst idea ever. It was over 100 degrees every day, not counting the added humidity factor. Every time I stepped outside for even five minutes, I would be soaked with sweat and out of breath because of how dense the air was. Combined with the large crowds of people and overwhelming smell of beer on Bourbon Street, all I really wanted to do was scrap our plans to explore the French Quarter and sit in an air-conditioned café sipping on iced coffee instead. Sometimes when I’m traveling, I just really am not in the mood to do all the work of sightseeing, but I’m well aware of the repercussions of being a party-pooper because I get so annoyed when people ditch plans last minute. On my trip to Texas, after one particularly long day of work, I came back to my hotel room with no genuine interest in sticking to the plans I had made. I realized there was nothing actually binding me to them and deciding to just stay in that night. I sat on my bed, ate my leftovers from the day before, and Facetimed my friend without any regrets about being a homebody.
Clarity-This one is a cliché, but clichés exist for a reason. After reading Eat Pray Love, I always wondered, “Do people actually ‘find themselves’ when they decide to go on a dramatic solo trip?” While I can’t exactly say I found myself while traveling alone, I will say I did feel an unexpected sense of tranquility. My mind wasn’t bustling with thoughts or overwhelmed. Meditation doesn’t have to be done sitting on a yoga mat in lotus pose with your eyes closed and palms facing up. I realized that simple things, like walking through a botanical garden alone, can have the same effect!
It may seem like I’m preaching the act of traveling alone, but don’t get me wrong; there are so many enjoyable aspects of going on trips with others. In fact, the highlight of my Ohio trip was meeting up with my friend (and not just because it was rural Ohio and there is literally nothing to do there!). My point is, don’t let the fear of being perceived as lonely deter you from doing something you really want to! If you want to go on a trip that no one else wants to, just do it. If you want to get food that no one else wants to, treat yourself to a solo meal; You’ll actually enjoy it more without having to talk in between bites! Doing things alone doesn’t have to be lame; does it really matter if anyone is judging?