Melisa on chair at Flower Fields 2019

Meet More People: Travel Alone.

Last night I returned home from a trip to California. I flew out there with Jim, who was participating in a four-day bike camp. He thought I might want to come along and do my own thing during the day while he was riding 30-50 miles each day around the San Diego area with his group, and naturally I jumped at the chance.

Although technically this was not a solo trip for me because we ate dinners together and shared the hotel room, I spent most of each day alone, which is always amazingly fun (no offense to Jim or any of my other occasional travel companions!). I love not having to coordinate anything with another person. I love that when I’m feeling hungry I can just stop and eat, and if I’m not hungry I can simply skip the meal or grab a small snack, whatever I decide. The timing of bathroom stops are solely up to me, as are the decisions about which shops I’d like to step inside and browse. The music in the car is my choice (on this trip it was my “Reach the Beach” playlist), as is whether I want to take the highway or the scenic route. You get the idea.

Strangely enough, when I’m traveling alone I find myself talking to more people…or maybe it’s not so strange. When I travel with someone, I’m usually focused on that person and the conversations between us. Being out and about all by myself means that I’m really paying attention to the people and things around me. The details are not lost in a blur. I literally stop to smell the flowers.

Often–and I do this without being a creepy weirdo, promise–I will strike up a conversation with someone who seems receptive to it. Perhaps they made eye contact with me and smiled, or they apologized for their toddler’s running right into my path, or they mentioned that they ordered the same thing I did. These are only three of the many situations which began a conversation between a total stranger and me over the past few days.

Melisa at Oceanside 2019
The woman who took this picture was visiting Oceanside, California for the very first time, from Ireland.

One highly effective way to casually start a conversation with someone is to approach someone who is taking a picture of their companion and ask if they’d like a picture of the two of them together. We’ve all seen people struggle with, or handle expertly in some cases, selfies and ussies, and about 75% of those people (I have no data to back up this number) would actually love for you (or me) to step in and take the dang picture from a decent distance. I did this quite a few times in San Diego–and got asked first a couple times, too–and the bonus, besides a pleasant verbal exchange, was that in every single instance they offered to reciprocate.

Melisa on tractor at Flower Fields 2019
The woman who took this picture was visiting Carlsbad, California’s Flower Fields with her boyfriend. She wore a white sundress and he had been conducting a super cool-looking photo shoot with her. It hadn’t occurred to them yet that maybe they’d want to be in a photo together. (I fixed that for them.)

These little exchanges don’t end up turning into lasting relationships: they aren’t supposed to. The magic of it is simply making real life connections with other human beings, which is something that is missing from so many of our lives these days as social media has taken over and caused isolation on a massive scale. This magic is one of my favorite parts of solo travel. There’s a quote by Hans Christian Andersen that my family learned on an episode of “The Amazing Race” and has remembered for years since. It says:

“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,

To gain all while you give,

To roam the roads of lands remote,

To travel is to live.”

For me, that says it all. The best kind of travel teaches us all about people and places we never would have encountered if we stayed in our home area. It enriches our lives beyond measure. That worldly education is something I look for every time I get into the car or on a plane, and I’m happy to say that I find it every single time.

Need more information about solo travel, including how you can start super small? Check out this post from my archives.