Hi, friends! I hope everyone is having a great week. Things are slightly off from my normal MWF posting schedule around here, and may be so for the next couple of weeks. I’ve got a lot on my plate in other areas of my life—like finding a new apartment!—that I need to prioritize at the moment, but I promise I will sit down to write when I can.
It’s been a little over a week since I returned home from what I hope is the first of many solo trips, so I wanted to share my experience in Charleston with you today. I took so many pictures on this trip, so will also be sharing more in an upcoming post that covers more of what I did, where I ate, where I shopped, etc. Today’s post is more my reflections on traveling alone and what I learned about myself in the process. Spoiler alert—I loved it, and I think that if you have the means and time, you should go on a personal retreat. It was very restorative to have time alone with my thoughts, away from my daily routine and the pressures that brings. And, of course, it was fun to be selfish with my time—there was no one else’s opinion to take into account when making plans or decisions, and sometimes I was surprised with the decisions I ended up making!
01. that time I almost didn’t go
First, let me confess that I actually booked this trip after a few too many glasses of wine. I knew I wanted to take a solo trip, but was having such a hard time working up the courage to just book it. There never seemed to be a good time to go, I didn’t want to waste the vacation days, the list of excuses goes on. So, one night after happy hour, I just booked it. I hadn’t even requested the days off work. They always say at the end of our lives we regret the things we didn’t do more than the things we did. (And, luckily, my boss approved the time off.)
The Saturday night before I left to catch my early morning flight to CHS, I was kind of doubting my decision. I had spent Friday night at the Kenny Chesney concert, woke up early Saturday morning to meet Jenn for a shoot and brunch, and then headed out to the ‘burbs for my cousin’s engagement party. I was tired, and for a minute thought to myself, “well, if I don’t go on this trip and just stay in my apartment for the next three days, no one will know.”
And even though I have wanted to go on a trip like this for a long time, I think during the entire lead-up to the trip I was a little too concerned about what others would think. Would they think I have no friends to go on a trip with? Would they think it’s a waste of my travel points and money? Would they think I’m having a quarter-life crisis? Despite so many of my friends and acquaintances reaching out to say they either did a solo trip and loved it or are dying to take one, I couldn’t help but shake some of the awkwardness I felt about going alone. It’s definitely not the societal norm to travel solo, and so whenever I told someone I was going to Charleston by myself, I found myself being defensive before I was even challenged on it—and, in hindsight, no one ever indicated they thought it was weird. Something about the whole situation just felt a little awkward to me, but looking back, I think it was actually really good I sat with those feelings and pushed through to the other side of my comfort zone.
So, despite my Saturday night trepidations, I packed my carry-on, set several alarms, and made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare, especially since my flight ended up getting delayed two hours. Honestly, the first part of my trip didn’t feel all that different than most other trips I take because the majority of the time I travel, I am meeting up with my friends or colleagues at our destination, so I am very used to hanging out in the airport flying solo.
We eventually boarded, and an hour and some change later, we landed in the Lowcountry.
02. that time I told people I was in town for business
Since I was in town alone, I was really cognizant of my personal safety, more so than I would be on a usual trip. In the end, I think the only person who knew I was in town alone was the hotel concierge that checked me in—and probably because I only asked for one key, not because I outright told her. I told everyone else I met that I was in town for business or tagging along with a friend who was here on business, whichever lie made more sense for the time of day. (A working gal can’t also be a lady who lunches, you know?) Call it paranoia if you want, but I will say, it is pretty fun to have a fake identity for a few days—and everyone I met is none the wiser.
Despite the title of this post, my strategy when dining alone has always been to eat at the bar. I always feel less awkward there than I do at a table, where I feel extremely on display, and in 99.9% of situations, there’s at least several other solo parties there, too. Worst case, the bartender will chat with you. (As an aside, the first time I ever traveled alone for work was a recruiting trip to Chicago. I was allowed to buy dinner on the company card, so I walked up and down a street in Lincoln Park 17 times before picking the restaurant, and then panicked and told the hostess I was there alone, but that I wasn’t a loser. She showed up at my bar stool five minutes later with a tequila shot. Needless to say, my confidence has grown a bit since then.)
Because I had visited Charleston before this trip, I picked a few favorite restaurants to head back to that I knew had bars, and then I left a few meals up to spontaneity and did a walk-by of the restaurants to scope out the bar before I went inside. I ate great while I was in town, and never felt awkward eating alone. That being said, I will say the time of day I most wished for a travel companion was dinnertime—it’s just nice to share a meal with someone! So, on my next trip with friends, I may consider taking a solo day and then reunite with them at night to compare notes to create a “best of both worlds” scenario.
If you know me in real life, you know I’ll talk to just about anyone—a trait I think I picked up from my Dad, who always seems to meet new friends wherever we go—especially if I’ve had a glass of wine. As such, it should come as no surprise that I met a lot of interesting characters also sitting in bar stools in downtown Charleston.
There was the mother-daughter duo from Long Island I met at The Darling Oyster Bar who were there for College of Charleston summer orientation. We talked about Instagram culture among high schoolers, and plus-size representation in the athleisure industry.
There was the retired couple from the Midwest, slowly making their way through the South also sipping pomegranate mojitos at lunch.
And then there was Monday night at El Jefe, the newest Mexican restaurant in town that fittingly opened on Cinco de Mayo. I had seen the restaurant the day before, and decided to head back that way for dinner because I am always in the mood for Mexican food. When I sat down, I was one of three patrons at the bar, and the bartender came over and asked me if I worked in the hospitality industry. I started to say no—but she cut me off and told me that I did, because on Monday nights, hospitality workers get half-off their order. I ordered a house margarita to go with my fajitas, and while I was sipping on that, a friend of hers walked into the bar. Turns out he worked for the Charleston RiverDogs, the minor league baseball team in town. The three of us start chatting because I mentioned I’m from Durham originally (home of the famous minor league team, the Durham Bulls), and the next thing I know, she’s bringing us tequila shots. Then, the two businessmen to our left get looped into our conversation when it switches to college basketball, and that painful UVA defeat that I still can’t talk about. The bartender comes back around with a green tea shot for everyone, and we start comparing notes on our day jobs, hometowns, and favorite spots in Charleston. A little while later, a guy walks into the bar asking if they have wifi so he can Skype his sister in South Korea. Once his call is done, she’s back in front of us with yet another green tea shot. I went into eat dinner at 7pm and didn’t end up leaving until 11:30pm.
After that boss night at El Jefe (pun intended), I realized one of the best parts about traveling alone is that I was able to chat with all sorts of people I probably wouldn’t have met if I had been there with people I already knew. It’s interesting to learn about other people’s daily lives, hear their perspective on current events, and learn a bit about other places. And, I think it’s so important to be able to talk with all different personalities, and a bar is a great place to practice those skills in a low-pressure situation.
03. that time I contemplated a universal fear
While on this trip, I kept going back to a homily that my priest gave at Sunday Mass sometime last year, where he talked about how our deepest fear isn’t failure, our deepest fear is being alone. The resolution in the homily was, of course, that Jesus has called you by name and will never abandon you.
While I agree with that resolution wholeheartedly, during my long walks through the Historic District’s residential streets, I thought a lot about my own relationship with the fear of being alone. I determined, for me, this fear is less about the physical state of aloneness. Because even though I was physically on the trip alone, I was in constant contact with my tribe back home. And while I’ve lived alone for about a year now, I rarely feel lonely in my home. My fear of being alone is more about losing that tribe I turn to for so many things—and I think that’s the conclusion most of you would come to, too.
Whether or not I’m ever truly utterly alone—hopefully I’m not, y’all—I decided a while ago that I better learn to love my own company. At the end of the day, I am the person I spend the most time with, and that’s never going to change. As cheesy as it sounds, I started working on loving myself in my early 20s, and have made a lot of progress since then. In college, I used to look at myself in the mirror every day and tell myself that I loved myself and that I was worthy, and eventually, I started to believe it. Now, I genuinely like who I am, and am really glad I have such a good relationship with myself—mostly free from self-hatred and negative self-talk.
And you know what? Going on this trip alone was great for reaffirming the relationship I have with myself. I was able to think without the chatter, daily routines, or stress travel can sometimes bring. (There’s not a lot of drama to be had when you’re a party of one—even the eight hour flight delay en route home was pretty low key.) And I was able to push my comfort zone by going at it alone and putting myself out there in sometimes nerve-wracking situations while I was there—like when I took Candlefish’s candle-making class solo. I think I’ve been a pretty independent person for a long time, and this trip reacquainted me with that side of myself and reminded me that sometimes my only limit is myself.
I hope you all enjoyed today’s post because I really enjoyed writing it—definitely drop me a line if you have any questions about traveling solo and/or want more details about my trip. I can’t wait to make this an annual tradition—and next time, I’d love to go somewhere I’ve never been before!