Not actually alone

On a day trip into the city, I enjoyed another world entirely. Pacific Heights, San Francisco, January 2004

On a day trip into the city, I enjoyed strolling through another world entirely.
Pacific Heights, San Francisco, January 2004

“There are only two things I like to do alone: reading and traveling, and for the same reason.  When you travel, and when you read, you are not actually alone, but rather surrounded by other worlds entirely, the footsteps and phrases of whole other lives keeping you company as you go.”Shauna Niequist

There’s nothing to compare with sharing the beauty and excitement of travel with friends and family, but even so, I completely agree with what Niequist says here.  I also enjoy traveling alone, and reading alone, and for the same reason.

Oddly, there’s a sense in which, traveling solo, I connect with new people more (because I notice them more) and I end up having some interesting conversations with strangers. When I travel with friends and family, I am in a sort of cocoon of the familiar and safe.  On my own, my senses are more alert, more finely tuned, less distracted, and I enter those “whole other worlds” more completely.

Reading is, of course, the ultimate solo escape; one doesn’t have to worry about timetables or personal safety or finances or finding a decent place to have lunch.  If I had to choose one or the other, reading would win out over actual physical travel every time.  But traveling, whether near or far, can open the mind to awareness of the wider world in a way that reading cannot do as completely.  No matter how vividly we re-create sights and sounds and smells in our imagination, it’s not quite the same as actually being there

Sometime this year, I hope you will make time for a solo getaway, even for just an hour or two. If you’re timid about traveling alone, choose a place closer to home that seems safer, but try to choose something a bit unfamiliar.  Museums, parks, even riding the public transportation to a different destination can be a fun adventure.  Take along a few things that will make your day easier or more complete — a camera, a water bottle, sunscreen or some energy snacks — but try to travel light, to enjoy the sense of freedom that comes with being by yourself.

What other worlds and other lives are out there waiting to make your acquaintance?



  1. Julia, good morning. ❤ I agree with the solo reading and traveling. I enjoy both. But only get to do the reading these days. My husband's health concerns keeps us at home these days.

    • Merry, I can certainly sympathize with us. Jeff has been able to do more than I would have thought possible for him, but we have unquestionably slowed down and in most ways, I’m enjoying just being together at home. Sometimes “staycations” are the best, especially when good books are involved! One of my happiest memories ever is of the time after Jeff’s second surgery when we were home in time to spend the Christmas holidays doing nothing but RESTING and sleeping a lot, healing…

  2. Carolyn

    I have been hoping for a trip some where but time is not right for me. You make plans but you never know what might happen next. I took a fall Tuesday and broke my humerus in my right arm. I was getting up from a chair and guess I lose my balance. I will see an ortho. Dr. Tomorrow. Terry had been saying I couldn’t get a brake, well I did. Pain has been a #10. I will close now and see if I can get cleaned up. Things a hard to do since I am right handed. Praying that Jeff’s treatments are working. Hugs and love to all. Carolyn

    • Carolyn, OH NO!!! I am so sad and disappointed to read this. I had been praying that the rest of this year would be free of medical hassles for you. I have never had a broken bone, but from those who have, I hear it is incredibly painful. I am so, so sorry this has happened to you. I will be thinking of you and keeping you extra-close in thought and prayer. Take care sweet friend. Love and healing thoughts and prayers to you and Terry.

  3. Sheila

    Good Thursday morning, Julia. I suppose the closest that I come to “traveling alone” would be my morning walks with Jack. It doesn’t take me very far, but I do look forward to that special time. I do love to travel through magazines and books. It seems traveling alone isn’t feasible now, not for any distance. I’m really glad that we can travel to each other’s world through technology. Meet you on the Verandah! 🍦🍦

    • Sheila, our virtual travels together are a highlight of the past two years for me. Tomorrow on the Verandah I will bring you a piece of the lovely Chocolate cake Raynard made for me — I was so happy that he, Mary and Ms. Ella were able to come to Virginia Beach where my sister Carla, Matt and I were able to meet them in person! I told him I could say without question, that is the farthest (and most traffic-laden) journey any cake has taken to reach me! After that, the digital trip to Club Verandah will be easy. It has coffee-flavored glaze with a touch of caramel too. I’ll meet you there!

  4. Amy

    The timing on this could not be more perfect. I have always planned since we moved here that I would get up and go to the city all alone. I never have done it. Not just because work and Aaron’s school activities kept me from it but because I realized what an ordeal getting into DC can be. But next week Aaron wants me to come in and see the place he has been working all summer. I must admit when he first proposed the idea I was like, “Yeah, great idea.” but then I started thinking about how I don’t remember how to buy a ticket for the metro and what if it’s crowded or the traffic is awful or what if it’s hot. I can easily talk myself out of it. I won’t though because I really want to do this. I really do want to know where he has been working and see the project. I also need to prove to myself I can do this, I really can. Hope you are well. Thanks for sharing. Love ya.

    • Hi Amy, if you get the jitters I can give you some tips and solo mojo to get you through the sometimes-harrowing DC Metro labyrinth. It will be well worth it! And Aaron will be so proud to see you at his workplace. You can do it! Yes, there will be heat and crowds, but choosing the time of travel carefully will lessen the risk. Let me know how it goes!! Love you!!

  5. Wow, Pacific Heights looks pretty posh. Look at their portico’s! Strange thing, I love doors and doorways. I always notice them and took a number of photo’s in San Francisco. I think they reveal a little bit about a person. You know what else was fun in San Fran? The sidewalks near the water are all sparkly. Seems like they but glitter in the cement, the sun on them was so pretty. I’ve never truly been on an entire trip alone but getting my butt to DC showed me that I need to be more alert. If Jim was with me, we’d never have missed that flight. I think I could go to a place like Paris alone. The light rail is so well done, you could ride to a new district every day on a new adventure. I’d love to spend a lot more time at the Louvre. Since you can rent a narrative tour (a little headset), you could easily go it alone.
    It’s was fun traveling with friends but it’s hard to find that alone time that I seem to need to stay balanced. Not that I need a lot, but my day at home is quiet with just the kitties and me. I missed the ‘non-stimulated’ private time a bit. Some people meditate just for this reason. But knowing that I wouldn’t get to spend time with you all for who know’s how long, I wanted to maximize the together time as much as possible. Ideally, we could have a month in one place where we’d get into a groove, rather than being so rushed to fit a lot into a short time. Talk about planes, trains and automobiles, LOL. I still pinch myself. I just bought a portfolio with a question on it that says, “was it all a dream?” It spoke to me. oxo Miss you K

    • Yes, Pacific Heights is definitely the upper end of the ridiculously expensive SFO real estate market. It’s the west coast version of walking on the upper east side of Manhattan — the two are very different, but equally foreign to my personal world. Yes, the SFO sidewalks do have some bling, don’t they? I don’t know why some sidewalks have that glitter but I love it when they do. I completely agree that Paris would be a great city in which to spend some solo time. I had heard so many negatives about it (dirty, unfriendly, etc.) and I found it to be totally opposite to what the criticism suggested, clean and gracious and calm and fabulous. It helped that I have enough French to survive some very rudimentary conversations, but even without that I still think it would be a safe and sane place to spend a few blissful days soaking up the beauty in everything from art to architecture to food to the sound of the language.

      I have often told Jeff that the great thing about the military forcing us to live in so many different places, is that we have been able to really enjoy them without having to rush around as we do on holiday. Hawaii looked completely and totally different to me as a resident than it had looked to me as a tourist. I’m sure that must be true of everywhere and YES, the ideal would be to have enough time not to rush (remember when you, Alys and I first started planning your little adventure, I asked “how many months can you stay” — you thought I was kidding! 😀 ) I definitely have to have the alone time to regroup. Being with Jeff rescued me from a totally insane pace. Now I understand my own tendency to over-stimulate myself to the point of insomnia and exhaustion. Having said that, a brief trip that requires rushing around is better than no trip at all! “Was it all a dream?” is a very good title for our late March-early April story!

  6. You have touched on a wonderful subject. I’ve heard so many women say that I am brave to travel alone. They would not do it, nor dine alone or go to a movie alone. I’ve been traveling alone since I was a child. Yes, I was put on a train, got lost and found again at 7. I’ve driven myself all over this country alone. For awhile I had my small children and a dog with me but technically, I was on my own. When they grew up, if I wanted to go somewhere, I got in the car and went. From Arizona to Calif then on to Oregon. I loved being on my own. Still like my alone time. I go out to eat alone quite often. You do meet such interesting people and observe differently without others around. I so miss it. Today, I want to be alone awhile so I shall take myself to breakfast and spend some time in the fabric store. Just me, alone with all those people. :)) I can’t drive long distances anymore, darn it. Or I would.

    • Marlene, I had a friend in college about whom I used to say (behind her back, I’m afraid) that she would not go to the bathroom by herself. That was only a slight exaggeration. She was not fearful of anything, I don’t think, except what people thought of her; in her mind, if people saw her alone, they might conclude nobody wanted to be with her. I can’t even get my mind around that since I tend to think nobody even notices me at all, much less has time to think about me. That gives me a lot of freedom to wear comfortable clothes and no makeup, hee-hee. I have always said that I am VERY grateful to have lived alone for a time before I married, and I think everyone should have at least a few months or years of living solo and learning some independence. It’s a luxury in many ways, as well as an investment that pays rich dividends for years to come. I too wish you could still drive long distances, but the great thing about being alone is that you can enjoy it in so many ways, and even (maybe especially) when surrounded by other people.

      • I love being invisible in a crowd. It’s so fun to observe. When I was doing color and style consulting, I would teach women how to dress when traveling alone so they would not be noticed or targeted. Plain clothing preferably in white and no make up guarantees invisibility. I was always an independent person out of necessity and grew quite comfortable with it. I do enjoy the company of family and friends but even that can make me weary after a bit. It comes with age I think. My therapist said it was perfectly normal for some people to enjoy being alone more than others. I thought I was broken some how. :))

        • I’m beginning to think that there are more who prefer being alone or with immediate family than there are those who like to socialize. It might be that television is a substitute of sorts for some people. While we lived in Hawaii I read in the paper that living in cities, and anywhere else there is increased population density, causes people to become more introverted just to preserve what little privacy they can manage to obtain. I think that makes a lot of sense. I also think that life is generally too noisy everywhere. One of the things I like best about being alone is the SILENCE although I also like music, but not constantly.

  7. Good morning, Julia!
    It just occurred to me that part of the reason that I enjoy traveling alone (aside from being the BOSS of every turn or whim I wish to pursue) is that it is less complicated to interact with anyone along the journey. I don’t need to break from one conversation to start another, for example.
    And if I feel like being quiet … strangers aren’t usually disappointed. 😀

    • Susan, you have really described what makes solo travel such a carefree experience. I tend to overlook that there is no such thing as an uncomplicated relationship, at least not among family and friends, and when two or more people travel together there are all sorts of moving parts to take into consideration. Having said that, it can be great fun to travel with others, and I love to do it, but the simplicity of solo traveling is refreshing to the soul in a way that group activities are not.

      I don’t think anyone, anywhere has ever been disappointed if I felt like being quiet. 😀 😀 😀

  8. LB

    YES!!! You have described why I take one solo trip a year on the bike!
    I get to choose where, when, how. I get to stay long or after only a short stop. I meet people, explore places, and enjoy learning a new place.
    I’m so very glad that you get it, too, Julia!

    • LB, I’ve never been on a bike trip (I’m too chicken to try it) but I imagine it to be even more free than traveling by foot or in a car, bus or plane. It seems to me that it would be sort of the best of all worlds, in that one can cover a good bit of ground fairly quickly, with less expense and headache than in a larger vehicle. Knowing how charming, tactful and funny you can be even with people you’ve never met (it was truly a joy to watch you interacting with our waiter and others in Old Town!) I can just imagine that you leave a wonderful touch everywhere you go. Thanks for being here today; it means a lot especially right now when your life is busier and more demanding than most of us could imagine.

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