Anxiously waiting for daybreak to make an appearance, I stand at a countryside bus stop. While I wait, I stare out over the snow-capped peaks of the Malaga Mountains. The enchanting landscape forms the perfect backdrop for the sleepy village of Colmenar in one of the charming White Towns of Andalucia, Spain, which I had explored the previous day.
Months before I had dreamt of this moment, planned it even. But as the dream unfolds, reality had staged a coup d’etat; could I actually travel alone?
The bus taking me to the city’s main terminal pulls up, interrupting my thoughts. At the terminal, I would board a train heading to Rhonda (also in Spain) with destination Puente Nuevo. This architectural masterpiece at a spectacular height of over 300 ft, bridging the Tajo Gorge, was on my list of must-sees. Months before, a glimpse of that bridge on my office computer’s screensaver goaded me to take the leap. And I had; I was travelling alone for the first time.
Travel Upskilling Some journeys in life can only be traveled alone. ~ Ken Poirot ~
Though I had travelled alone to various destinations before, this was the first time there was no welcoming party to meet me at my destination; no attentive tour guide or operator anticipating my every need; no friend to bounce menu options with, and no family member to wig out with me over a misguided Google map interpretation. It was just how I intended it to be; it was time to discover what I was made of.
Mintel, the London-based market research firm, concluded from its 2018 Solo Traveller Report that “solo travel can be promoted as a dynamic and rich alternative, offering unique opportunities for exploration and discovery.” As the beautiful rays of sunrise captured my attention on the bus ride, I concurred with that observation. I discovered in the short time since I had undertaken my journey that self-discovery was an essential gift of solo travel.
Although only a few days had passed since I set out on my own, the trek had taken me the proverbial “1000 miles” out of my comfort zone. By nature an introvert, I was thrown into the nerve-racking world of small talk and commiseration over the many travails of travel. I encountered many fellow solo travellers bursting with excitement, wanting to share their amazing discoveries. Navigating planes, trains, buses and taxis had given me a healthy dose of assertiveness that had been a pretty dormant part of my personality – until now.
The Lone Explorer
Arriving at the train station, the morning anxiety I had managed to put aside, resurfaced. Standing in a station with thousands of travellers in a foreign country was daunting. The many sights and sounds, busy locals going about their workday, and tourists trying to negotiate the lines and information in a foreign language became a bit overwhelming. Fortunately, frequent exposure has led to fluency in Spanish and the street smarts required to get me this far on the journey.
Hours later, taking in the scenic landscapes, mountainous terrains and other sights on the two-hour train ride from Malaga to Ronda, I enjoy the quiet and unencumbered privilege of travelling alone. I soon recognised another benefit of solo travel: time to reflect and focus on life plans.
Making it to my hotel in Ronda, I quickly unpacked and headed to my destination. The Puente Nuevo in all its glory and wonder was more than I had imagined. The skillfulness and fortitude it displays are both impressive and inspiring. Even the fitness-intensive hike down to its canyons and back was a spiritual journey steeped in the culture of the surrounding Spanish invaders’ Moorish heritage. As I emerge from the canyon, a beautiful classical guitar lures me to the plaza. I plop down for an unscheduled hour and a half basking in the sun while soaking up the Tajo Gorge’s lush scenery. No cares, no rush and no one to hurry this moment along.
Contemplating the events of the day, I headed home that evening (and by home read: back to the hotel) with a bounce of proud accomplishment accompanying each step.
Having the ability to make my own schedule and to change the plans as I go along had afforded me the freedom to learn about the culture and pave my own path to enjoying the experience. Heading out on my own had led me to develop my assertiveness, self-confidence, resourcefulness and social aptitude.
So, why should everyone travel alone at least once in their life? You will never know how much you are capable of until you move out of your comfort zone. You will never know the joy of high fiving yourself for the accomplishment of stepping onto that last train a second before the door closes, or for hightailing it to the gate and arriving right as the last boarding call is announced.
If you stick with the predictable you will never learn how much your life can be enhanced by the people you meet along the way on your journey, or the privilege of being exposed to other cultures.
The poet T.S. Eliot once wrote: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”