Two Months of Social Isolation Later, and I Still Can’t Wait to Solo Travel

China

We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, social isolation is the new status quo, and somehow still, in the middle of all this, I’m missing solo travel. 

I know what you’re thinking, because I’m thinking it too: How could someone dream of going on a trip alone in a time when most of us are starved for social interaction?

Exploring Shanghai back streets on my own. (Shanghai, China // 上海,中国)

Don’t get me wrong, I miss my friends like crazy too. 

I’m even missing strangers at this point. I promise you, eye contact from a cute boy in Trader Joe’s that’s not a fearful, “you’re not 6 feet away from me” look over the rim of a face mask will do it for me these days. 

So no, if you were thinking that I’m somehow immune to the creeping loneliness of social distancing, or that I was born with a heart two sizes too small, that’s not it (at least, I dont think). 

I can’t wait to reunite with my friends (responsibly); I also can’t wait to show up to the airport alone, land in a country I’ve never been before, with no one and nothing on my mind and start exploring – me, myself and I style.

The timeless solo travel struggle: being your own photographer. (Tianmen, Zhangjiajie, Hunan, China // 天门山,张家界,中国)

To me, solo travel has nothing to do with social isolation. To me, solo travel means freedom. 

It means the freedom to wake up whenever I want and smell the flowers (but only if I want to); to follow in the footsteps of a travel blogger’s recommendations, or just walk out into the street and turn right; to go out all night with new friends I just met (thank you hostel living rooms, friend-of-a-friend connections, and dating apps), or choose the corner booth in a little restaurant and crack open my journal. 

It also means the return of risk – that inevitable, hard to swallow (but hindsight friendly) piggy backer to freedom. 

That means the risk of pacing back and forth in my hostel dorm, trying to work up the courage to introduce myself to that group of friends sitting in the living room; of flushing with embarrassment as I clarify, “yes, it’s just me,” when I go to sit down for dinner; of sitting in a window seat on a solo-trip-bound plane, half-filled with flight jitters, half doubting if going on a trip alone was a good decision in the first place.

As you can tell, I don’t romanticize solo travel.

Or at least, I remind myself not to. It’s filled with perceived (and sometimes real) risk, awkward moments, and things you have to keep in mind whenever you’re on the road alone. 

But that’s ok, because it’s all part of it; freedom comes at a price.

The "old friends" you meet that morning in the hostel living room. (Zhangjiajie, China // 张家界,中国)

In the time of claustrophobia-inducing face masks and social distancing-induced guilt, that freedom feels all too limited.

Of course I understand that we’re sacrificing our free-roaming capabilities at the moment for something much more important than a trip. On a regular day, my freedom is my number one value; during a global pandemic, I’m ok if it takes the back seat for a little while. 

In the meantime, with the end of stay-at-home orders in sight, I’ll keep dreaming of that first, slightly apprehensive step into a small, streetside cafe abroad, all on my own. 

“Just me,” I’ll say, slightly red in the cheeks. And that’s when I’ll feel it most: freedom.

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