Shit! Crap, crap, crap! My first trip abroad and I’m going to miss my connection, I thought as I rode the shuttle from the plane to the terminal at Charles de Gaulle in Paris. I kept looking at my watch, wanting time to stand still, but the bus to keep moving – faster!
I was on my way to the Andalusia (Andalucia) region of Spain – southern Spain. Being my first trip abroad and traveling alone, I was both nervous and excited. Things were not starting off great. But, after getting through customs and finding my way through the airport (which by the way is nuts!), I was able to make the connection. Thanks mostly to the fact that there were several of us coming from different flights and onto this one bound for Malaga. Whew! Crisis averted.
I can’t really explain why I chose Spain when places like Italy and Greece had been higher on my list. After doing some research, I simply thought it looked beautiful with the pueblos blancos (white towns), the Moorish palaces and the Mediterranean Sea. So, away I went, nothing booked, but with a rough idea of the places I wanted to see and my Lonely Planet guidebook in my hands. As the plane was approaching Malaga, I could see the Mediterranean Sea out the window, a gorgeous color of blue-green. I teared up. I had long dreamed of seeing it. A wish finally coming true.
When I arrived via bus in Nerja, my first stop along the Mediterranean, I made my way to one of the guesthouses recommended in my guidebook. However, it was booked. The lovely Dutch woman who ran it walked me over to her friend’s guesthouse. They had a room available that was basic, but perfect. This was my first introduction to the kindness of people across this beautiful world. There were no directions – turn left here and right there – on how to find the place – on my own. This kind woman took the time out of her day and walked me there – herself. Who the hell does that in the States?
My first overseas solo trip was amazing! Was I ever afraid? No. Did I ever feel lonely? Not really. I’m pretty outgoing so meeting folks was easy. As a female I was non-threatening to other female travelers and couples of all ages. That first night out at dinner, I met a lovely older couple from Wales. We talked about the world, travel, family, Spain, the food we were eating…it was fabulous!
Granada was my next stop. The Alhambra is a Moorish (Arabic) palace that was built in the 11th century and then converted completely to a royal palace in 1333. It was incredible. It was on the bus ride to the Alhambra that I met my friend, Aedín, an Irish woman a bit younger than me. Here’s a hint for those traveling alone. If you meet someone who you think, “This person seems pretty cool. I wouldn’t mind getting to know this person.” – go for i!. As we walked back down the road to our respective hostels, I remember thinking, “I don’t know what the solo travel etiquette is here. Do I ask her to do something later in the day? Maybe ask her if she wants to go to dinner?” I thought, what the hell! The worst that happens is she says no. So, I asked, “Do you want to meet later, maybe for a drink or dinner?” “Sure,” Aedín replied. “Let’s get a drink.” We went for a drink which turned into dinner and wonderful conversation. We exchanged emails. We’ve been friends ever since. That was 10 years ago. I attended her wedding (and photographed it) and have stayed at her house on my 4 visits there. She even met my parents. You never know where solo travel will take you.
One of my stops on this first journey took me to a gorgeous pueblo blanco, Vejer de la Frontera. I stayed in a beautiful, unique guesthouse. The other guests were from France, Italy, Germany. I was without a car, but wanted to go to the beaches that weren’t far away. A French-Italian couple, a little older than me, were going to take a drive to some of these places. They invited me to join them. Manfredi, the Italian man, and Sylvia, the French woman, and me, the American woman had a fabulous day. Manfredi had his camera and told me that if I wanted to stop to take a photo, to let him know. Again, the kindness of strangers. I was invited to join them as though we were friends. I was so falling in love with solo travel!
Ten years ago I ventured out on that first fateful solo trip abroad. Now, well, in all honesty, I have a tough time traveling with others. Not that I haven’t and not that there aren’t times that I really enjoy it. But, there is something so special about being on your own – doing what you want, when you want. Being on your own time and in your own space is a great way to get to know who you are, what you are made of, and to truly be yourself. I believe, especially, solo travel is wonderful for women. It is empowering and freeing. There are no expectations from anyone. You aren’t expected to be the fun friend, or the responsible mother/wife/sister. You just let loose and simply be the amazing, beautiful, unique person you are.
Up Next – A young woman’s first solo travel in the United States