exercising your solo travel muscle – solo travel series

Like everything in life that is worth something, traveling solo is a muscle you need to exercise to get comfortable and good at it. It was October 2016 and it had been about two years since my last solo trip to Ireland. I found myself in between jobs with 2 weeks to do absolutely nothing, a miraculous feeling! I decided on a whim to join a couple of friends on trips they had planned, bobbing in and out of their regularly scheduled programming. I decided to join some friends from Chicago on their last day of a trip to Tbilisi, Georgia and stay in town a bit longer and then head to Yerevan, Armenia. I would then hop over a few thousand miles to meet up with a San Francisco friend in Paris and then head over to Loire Valley with him.

I was excited about my last minute travel plans but felt a flicker of doubt in my heart. I hadn’t traveled alone in a while; would I still be comfortable sitting alone in restaurants and walking the streets solo? I hadn’t been back to Eastern Europe since 2011 when I lived in Russia. Could I handle being somewhere so completely different by myself? While I never vocalized these questions to anyone (after all, I was considered an avid solo traveler by all my friends) I found myself inflicted with self-doubt as I boarded my flight to Tbilisi.

I will say that traveling alone in that part of the world isn’t quite as natural as let’s say London, where the language is easy and there are many more tourists per capita. But my days roaming the medieval town of Tbilisi, driving up to the monastery in the mountain town of Kazbegi and hearing stories from travelers from Dubai over a hot lunch, then catching a ride with local fruit sellers crossing the border over to Yerevan and staying with an Armenian family in their home sharing a meal with them reminded me why I love solo travel so much.

I was reminded that I always had that flutter in my stomach before a solo travel trip to someplace completely new and that feeling, and the resilience that it took to “just go for it anyways” made the experience all the more special. I know there are people in this world completely unfazed by the idea of gallivanting the world on their own. I am not one of them. Being a woman raised in a traditional family, I was never encouraged to take these adventures on my own, if not completely discouraged from doing so. The world around me fed me full with stories of rapes and murders that would be enough to scare anyone into quarantine. I didn’t grow up with role models of women who ventured the world on their own and blazed their own trails. I didn’t know where to start. But the best decision I ever made was to just start. And figure it out along the way.

It’s not that I haven’t had uncomfortable or even terrifying experiences as a solo female traveler. It’s that with every place I venture on my own, see and feel the world with my own eyes and heart, I feel myself opening up a little more. My heart, hardened by heartbreaks and those stories of rapes and murders, is softened by conversations with complete strangers that show me a way of life that is human and special in its own way. I am hopeful when I find kind strangers who might point me in the right direction or veer me from the wrong one. I am more resilient when I overcome panic to remove myself from an unsafe situation. I am more awestruck when I can sit in silence and take in an incredible view or historic site. I am more amazed at how much of the world I am yet to see and experience and how much more I can do with this one life.

On the van ride from Georgia when I crossed the border to Armenia surrounded by baskets of freshly picked apples and pomegranates, and villagers I shared nothing in common with other than our mode of transportation, I promised myself many more such solo adventures and that I might blaze some trails of my own.

 

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On top of Yerevan Cascade taking a selfie

This post is part of the Solo Travel Series; short vignettes that showcase the adventures and misfortunes of a female solo traveler. These stories cover the span of around 7 years and 5 continents.

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