Managing your own comfort zones can be a challenge. I have a theory about the first night of a solo trip – it’s uncertainties, doubts and the many mind games of sleep deprivation. But what do you do the first morning?
If you don’t spend a lot of time alone or at least not time alone outside your daily structure, you can feel out of sync. Think about the way you live your life at home – when are you with people, when are you alone, where do you start your day, what are your rituals? I pick at least one place or activity to build into my daily travel life to give me that connection with my home routine.
People spots. Every city, town, resort or even national park has spots that collect people – from the outdoor seating at a city coffee shop to bustling food markets to one of my favorites, a café inside a museum. These are great spots to be with other people and yet feel very natural and at ease alone. During my first trip alone to Paris, I hit the cheese and bread shops, grabbed a pear from my room and packed a picnic bag for later in the day. Picnicking alone, hmm. It sounded grim, really grim. But later, on Montmartre, when I unpacked that little lunch, I was in a park with families, shop workers, nannys and artists. Some were in pairs, others alone. I wasn’t picnicking by myself after all – I was in a cozy group of other citizens of the world – different languages and ages and ethnicities but all eating really excellent cheese.
Scheduled activities. You can also schedule and pay for time to be with other people. On the other hand, that sounds a little seedy and completely illegal. What I mean is that you set up events throughout your trip that insure contact with others and give you some structure. From the comfort of your home computer, you can book a van tour to the countryside, a city walking tour or if you have a special interest like art, architecture or food markets, hire a guide for the afternoon and ask all the questions you’ve been saving up. It doesn’t have to be major –an inexpensive manicure, a free concert at a small venue or a museum lecture? Built in throughout your trip, you can balance the heady freedom of time on your own with the structure and security of a group activity.
Anchors. So much of a trip is the hunt – finding the best view, the only-
known-to-locals restaurant, your way back to the hotel. You may need a touch point – something more similar to your daily life, an oasis of consistency and familiarity. What gives you grounding at home – your favorite coffee spot, reading the paper first thing, the church where you worship, your corner market? Whether you have 2 days or a month in a destination, you can create this for yourself.
Once wandering the street until my hotel room was ready, I stopped in a bakery for an early morning coffee and a world-bending raisin pastry. The little shop was a small, sparse place with almost nowhere to sit, neither charming nor picturesque or even welcoming, but I recognized at once that it was part of morning routine for the neighborhood. And it was real. Every morning of my trip, I stopped in, armed for the day, and had my coffee and pastry. On the third day, the owner looked at me reached for the raisin pastry and popped it in the bag before I asked.
I’d arrived. I had a place. I was comfortable.
What I Learned
- A little planning can give you touch points of structure during a trip – a walking tour, a ticket to a concert, a cooking lesson.
- It helps to find a spot or two that you love that you can enjoy every day. Even if it’s just where you get your first cup of coffee or where you stroll at the end of each day and watch the sunset.
- Notice the community around you. Even if it’s your first day and you don’t speak the language, you are already part of something.