Traveling alone is more about adventure than loneliness.
I've visited 40 states and a dozen countries as a solo traveler, and if I ever felt bored or lonely, I don't remember it.
What I recall instead is the thrill of seeing new things and of making new friends, with no one at my side to alter my trajectory. If I wanted to hike that trail — or take a seat at that bar or talk to those people — I did. If I wanted to go back to the hotel to soak in the hot tub, I did that, too.
If anything, many of those memories have been seared just a bit deeper with the sweet liberation and excitement that come with traveling alone.
For some people, of course, traveling alone is as baffling as it is terrifying. Yet solo travel is one of the most important things we can do; it allows us not only to get to know the world but also ourselves.
Because that first solo trip can be daunting, I suggest not getting too ambitious: Head to a progressive and beautiful American city you're eager to check out — Portland, Ore.; Portland, Maine; Seattle and Burlington, Vt., come to mind — where you can be dazzled by the sights and the food, but there's also a decent chance of meeting interesting people.
Here are thoughts from three people who have traveled alone extensively.
Lee Abbamonte, 37
New York travel blogger (leeabbamonte.com) who claims to be the youngest American to visit every country in the world
"Between my junior and senior years of college, I decided I was going to travel in Asia for a month. I tried to get friends to go with me, but no one could, either because of a lack of time or lack of money. I didn't feel like waiting around, so I just went alone.
"All my friends and family thought I was out of my mind, and the truth is that I was scared — I was 20 years old and didn't know anything. That first week in Japan was tough, but in Thailand, everything changed. I remember going to this bar and meeting a bunch of backpackers — I wasn't even aware there was such a thing as backpackers — that I ended up hanging out with. Most of them were also traveling alone. I didn't know about traveler culture until then and that there was this common mind-set among people like that.
"Now I've been to more than 100 countries solo, and I travel eight or nine months a year. A lot of it is still solo. What I love about traveling alone is that it is absolute freedom. You can literally do what you want, when you want. You can be whatever and talk to whomever. Every day is an adventure. Every day is new. Every day, the impetus is on you and you alone."
Solo trip recommendation: "I'd start with the train through Europe or the east coast of Australia. They're well-trodden paths full of travelers, and everyone speaks English."
Cameron Hewitt, 40
Guide book author for Rick Steves' Europe (ricksteves.com)
"I've traveled about three months a year for the last 15 years, and most of it has been alone. Much of it is for work, but some is leisure — like Russia, where I went last year for 10 days on my own. I've had great encounters with people that never would have happened if I wasn't traveling alone — you can meet someone and have a great half-hour or half a day, but you're not committed to being best friends forever; you can be a cultural chameleon.
"I find that you're more open to new experiences and new people if you're traveling alone. If you're traveling with a partner, you're probably pretty focused on that person and what they want. Sharing an experience and creating memories with someone can be very powerful, but there's a certain magic that comes with having a very personal experience, too.
"My first solo trip came when I had to get from London to Krakow [Poland] to meet a friend; it was frightening and exhilarating at the same time. I found a convoluted route: a boat to France, a train to Paris, a night train to Munich, a day train to Berlin and then another night train to Krakow. I arrived early in the morning and walked to the square to meet my friend. I still remember the moment he came around the corner at the far end of the square, and I thought, 'Well, I guess this worked. I guess this travel thing isn't so bad.' I still get nostalgic for it — how unknown it all was and the adventure of it."
Solo trip recommendation: "The places that lend themselves to solo travel are where people are gregarious and outgoing and there's a smaller language barrier — like Great Britain and Ireland. Though Italy works, too; even with a language barrier, the people there are very easy to connect with."
Liz Carlson, 27
Travel blogger living in New Zealand (youngadventuress.com)
"I took my first solo trip when I was in Spain during university, and now I've been to 40 or 50 countries by myself. I'm quite introverted, so I find solo travel great because I don't have to be around people 24/7 — but there's always the possibility of meeting people.
"I think it's particularly easy to meet people traveling alone as a woman because people almost take pity on you, and they want to help you — 'Oh, come on, you can have dinner with my family!' One of my favorite things is having moments with locals; I met an old man on the street in Cairo, and I thought he was asking for money, but he just wanted to show me some local mosques.
"I think everyone — and especially all women — should travel alone at least once. Solo travel teaches independence and about making good decisions: about being safe, monitoring your money and learning to trust your instincts.
"There are some differences traveling alone as a woman. I'm careful in countries with male-dominant cultures; it's important to respect cultures, and that can mean wearing loose clothes and covering up. I don't tell people where I'm staying, and I carry a door stop that I put under doors just as a precaution. But I've never felt truly threatened. I would never say solo travel is the only way, but it has worked for me."
Solo trip recommendation: "Iceland is surprisingly close to the East Coast, and it's a mind-blowingly beautiful country of waterfalls and mountains and legends about elves, and people are incredibly friendly. It's super easy to navigate, and it's safe — people still hitchhike there. Reykjavik is a fun, cool city with a great food scene. The only problem is that it is not cheap."