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Whoa, you’re traveling alone? But – But aren’t you ever lonely?
5o% of the time, this is the reaction I get when I tell people I love to travel by myself. The other 50% is devoted to people asking if it’s unsafe to travel, which is a heated topic I’m not gonna touch in this post, because it’ll turn into a crazed rant. Perhaps another day.
Anyway I understand these incredulous responses. Jetting around the world without friends, family, or a partner isn’t a common hobby – especially for young women born in “The Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.”
I always answer by claiming solo travel isn’t necessarily a lonely (or unsafe) endeavor. Not all the time, anyway.
Sure, I’ve had awkward moments. Anti-social school groups taking over hostels. Avoiding restaurants because I don’t want to feel weird, alone at dinner. Only encountering best friends and couples on walking tours. “Cool kid” cliques forming on bus tours and blocking out newcomers (uh, this isn’t high school, grow up).
If you’re a solo traveler, there are times when you need to enjoy your own company because, duh, you’re in a strange city with no connections to friends or family. I won’t lie to you and say solo travel is non-stop sunshine and rainbows.
So, okay, you need to enjoy your own company. But you’re not lonely all the time. I promise.
Traveling alone has allowed me to meet amazing, incredible people from around the planet. You cannot put a price tag on these connections, you just can’t. Solo travel has transformed me into a stronger person, without a doubt.
I’ll even go as far as to say you meet more people traveling solo than you would if you had buddies tagging along for the ride. Solo travel forces me to approach others and begin conversations, because otherwise, I’d remain alone for days on end, and who wants that? This motivation simply doesn’t exist when friends surround you 24/7.
I want to share one of my most memorable solo travel experiences with you.
Halfway through a 10 day trip to Portugal, I booked a day trip to Obidos, Fatima, and Nazare with Inside Lisbon Tours. I wanted to see the coastal towns, and figured a day tour would save time in comparison to figuring out the bus system. Plus, tours were capped at 8 people, which was perfect. I struggle on 40+ person coach tours because a. I feel claustrophobic, and b. there’s always one cranky person who complains about everything. My own tour consisted of 6 older French people and another solo traveler like myself.
After we visited Fatima and took pictures of the Batalha Monastery, we stopped at Nazare, a small fishing village popular with Portuguese vacationers. Our tour guide recommended a fish restaurant Rosa Dos Ventos – which currently ranks #1 on trip advisor. As the other solo traveler walked off to find her own meal, I stood awkwardly near the van and tried to figure out my next step.
I’m a confident solo traveler, but for the love of god, I don’t think I’ll ever feel comfortable at the prospect of eating alone in sit down restaurants. I know this is probably just my own paranoia (me? paranoid? ha!) working its magic on my frazzled brain, but I always wonder if the restaurant’s other patrons are judging me, “the chunky blond American chick with no friends.”
My mind raced for a total of five seconds until one the French women nudged my shoulder and asked me to join them for lunch. Problem solved!
These three couples, old enough to be my own parents, were complete strangers to me. They also spoke very, very, very little English. My French wasn’t much better. After taking six years of French, you would think I’d be able to construct more than three sentences, sheesh.
However, despite the age and language differences, they instantly treated me as if I were a lifelong friend who had moved away and was finally coming for a visit. The sheer kindness of these people awed me. I definitely appreciated that they didn’t laugh at my lackluster French.
Inside Rosa dos Ventos, wine, fish, salads, potatoes appeared on the table. I sadly have no pictures of the food, because the meal was soooooo delicious. I devoured every bite and forgot about my camera for once. You know the food is ace when my phone and camera remain untouched. Yummy!
Our lunch lasted two hours, and we didn’t understand most of what we were saying to each other, but wow, did we laugh at lot. I also had a chance to observe cultural differences regarding meal times and etiquette. For example, in the US, we’re all about convenience. In much of Europe, meals are sacred and meant to be enjoyed.
Then came the bill. Immediately, I took out enough euro notes to cover my portion of this fantastic feast. Within seconds, my companions loudly insisted that I put away my money, because I was “their guest” and “always welcome in Europe.”
I was stunned and repeated I would absolutely pay for myself, but they wouldn’t have it. Not no way, not no how. I had a better chance of winning an argument with my empty plate.
I was a stranger, a complete stranger from across the Atlantic Ocean, and this friendly group of people paid for my lunch, because they wanted me to feel welcome. Their generosity made me seriously think about the ways I could “pay it forward” on both my travels and at home.
After walking along Nazare’s beautiful seaside promenade, we took the small bus to Obidos. Laughter filled the entire journey to this small medieval village as well as on the trip back to Lisbon. We were loving life.
So, yes, solo travel isn’t lonely.
(Note: This post is 110% not sponsored. No one paid me a dime.)
What are some of your most memorable solo travel experiences? Why isn’t solo travel lonely for you?