Have you ever been to a movie by yourself? Have you ever eaten in a high-end restaurant on your own? Have you ever planned a week-long vacation all by yourself? Turns out these are a great fear for most folks. The fear of everyone staring and thinking they are a loser because they couldn’t “find” anyone to tag along. The supposition is the appearance of abject loneliness in front of strangers, where we will then be “found out” and embarrassed.
I travel frequently on my own, mostly due to business. I attend conferences in various cities and typically end up being by myself a fair amount of the time. I have to tell you, it actually can be quite liberating and exciting to be on your own. There are many advantages to being on your own as you travel, eat and engage in all kinds of activities that we typically think of doing with others.
Here are the advantages of going solo:
- Itinerary. Guess what? You get to decide where you want to go. Chinatown? Little Italy? Koreatown? Germantown? It’s all up to you. No need to take a poll of what your family, friends or co-workers want to do. It’s all up to you. I went to Scottsdale earlier this year and took a hike in the botanical gardens. It was all on my own itinerary. I felt like I was able to connect to an area of Scottsdale I had never been to before and engage my inner adventurer, all by using an Uber driver or two, and venturing into uncharted territory. Set your own itinerary.
- Food. We all have people in our lives who can’t have lentils, milk or super spicy food. So what happens? We end up eating what everyone else will eat and never go to that great Lebanese place or order that burrata appetizer. I remember the first time I traveled on business some 25 years ago to Albuquerque, New Mexico. I was scared to eat out all by myself. I brought a book and a magazine, just so I could look occupied. Turned out it was no big deal. I had a wonderful meal and no one “stared”. We mostly get caught up in our own head that everyone is looking. Turns out, everyone else is in their own head. Relax. No one is staring. Eat alone and eat the food you want.
- Pace. Have you ever been to a museum with someone who had to read EVERY description on every piece of art? You end up retracing your steps to make sure you don’t lose your companion. Or you want to see and feed every animal at the zoo, while your companion is anxious to get to the next destination. When you are on your own, you set your own pace. At the botanical gardens in Scottsdale, I was most interested in the large Saguaro cactus (think Roadrunner cartoons). I found some other lovely cactus and flora, but I made a beeline for the Saguaros. No one complained or held me back because I was able to set my own pace.
- Perspective. You end up seeing things in a new way. When you are traveling with a companion, you may end up focusing on pleasing the other person and making sure they are entertained. When you are alone, you are present. You aren’t distracted by someone else’s attention, or their needs and wants. You are free to smell the roses or not. Grab something to eat or not. Sit and stare at a portrait by Van Gogh for an hour or not. On my recent trip to Provincetown, I felt like the supreme observer. The colors, the pace of the town, the various groups of tourists and locals. I was able to drink it all in from my perspective.
- Envelope. Bend and break out of the envelope. According to the Whil blog, “The LA Times interviewed almost 100 people and found that only 30% would be willing to go to the movies alone.” I remember going to movies by myself back in my twenties. It was uncomfortable the very first time. I felt like the vanguard. But be realistic. You are alone in the dark in a venue that does not invite interaction. Isn’t this the perfect venue to go to alone? I saw Wonder Woman last week and the only issue I had was that I jumped at a scarier part of the film. No big deal. No one is taking notes. Actually there’s no one there was to make fun of me. Press the envelope.
- Spotlight. Turns out, there isn’t a spotlight on you. As Justin Keller wrote for Whil, “The reason no one will notice you is ‘the spotlight effect’, which is the natural tendency to think that others notice us much more than they actually do– and it’s been tested and proven through the cunning use of bright yellow Barry Manilow t-shirts. Students were forced to wear these bright shirts to class and were asked how many students they thought would notice. The subjects thought, on average, about 50% of the class would notice them. In reality, fewer than 20% of the students noticed the shirts. People are usually so lost in their own thoughts that they don’t pay attention to what’s happening around them.” There is no spotlight.
I have to admit, I haven’t taken a week-long vacation on my own, but I really admire those who do. I also would like to attempt a longer hike on my own (say more than 3 miles). For now, they are on my bucket list. Enjoying your own company is so important. Let’s face it, if you don’t enjoy your own company, why would anyone else? What are you afraid to do on your own?