The first time I traveled solo I was 16 years old. It was only to the movie theater but I was at an age when who you hang with – or don’t – defines you in the eyes of the crowd. I wanted to see the movie Orca. My friends didn’t. I agonized over missing the film. After a few hours I thought, To heck with it; I’m going alone.
I chewed my nails during the entire bus ride to the theater, worried that the ticket clerk might pity me when I said, “One, please,” or that groups of moviegoers would assume I had no friends. The truth is no one gave me a second look. The world thinking I was a loser for going to the movies by myself existed only in my mind.
The lights dimmed and the projector rolled. Afterward, as moviegoers streamed out of one showing and filed in for the next, I nestled into my seat and thought, I can sit here all day if I want to.
I gleefully watched Orca twice.
Until that rainy Sunday at the movies 31 years ago, for me, companionship had been a mandate for life’s good times. After Orca, it became a choice. My trip to the theater helped me to distinguish between loneliness (experienced by default), and solitude (choosing when and how to enjoy my own company), as I began a journey of engaging the world on my own terms. Over the years, that journey deepened as I traveled life’s roads with increasing independence and confidence, whether I was attending graduate school at night while working during the day, buying my first house or changing careers.
Postcards and Pearls: Life Lessons from Solo Moments on the Road celebrates this journey of joy, discovery and personal evolution. Through 118 “postcards,” I, along with 17 other women, share stories of traveling on our own. By depending on ourselves – whether we encountered new pleasures, navigated old fears or teetered on the edges of comfort – each experience taught us transformative lessons or “pearls” of wisdom that we carried back home.
In these pages, traveling “solo” does not necessarily mean “alone.” The absence of other people often suggests regretful isolation. “Solo” by contrast, is a willful decision to be the architect of our own experience. On the road, that might mean being completely on our own, hiring a guide, joining a group of people we’ve never met before, or carving out solo time while traveling with family or friends. Off the road, it could mean visiting a museum or attending a play or workshop in our own company.
In Postcards and Pearls, you’ll meet Kerry, a college professor who writes, “I spent most of one summer involved in other people’s activities. But when I traveled with my parents and one of my sisters to Marth a’s Vineyard for a week, I finally figured out a way to be alone.
“At the end of one of the main streets in Vineyard Haven is a massage center. This street is usually crowded with tourists shopping for jewelry, books or Vineyard artwork. The sidewalk ends at the massage center, causing most tourists to turn around. I took this as an invitation – no, as confirmation – that things could only get better. Inside the center, the cool conditioned air was enough to make me pay the owner. They scheduled me for the next day, just after lunch. It was great to say to my parents and my sister, ‘I have plans. See you all later.’ Surprise, surprise, they had plans, too. I was delighted that they didn’t care…”
You’ll also hear from Marita who writes, “I am not a solitary person. As the mother of four children [and] wife of 37 years, there have been few times in my life when I have done anything alone. And, for the most part, I have loved it that way.” But later in life, Marita’s job as a university department head required that she travel solo regularly during her marriage. Then, she became a widow. “How fortunate I am that I began to take these steps before my husband died,” Marita continues. “I doubt I would have been able to begin this new way of being and doing after the devastation of such a loss.”
And Jan, an author and researcher, writes about her solo weekend while married with children: “I was a 40-something wife and mother, working and going to school part time. And, I was weary. I needed to get away and, for the first time, I did not consider asking a relative or friend to come with me…traveling solo was the beginning of an amazing off-road journey. I became less fearful, willing to take more risks, which soon gave me the confidence to take on new and bigger challenges. When a business acquaintance asked me to help with seminars that her company was conducting, I was able to put aside my fear of public speaking, which eventually lead to an exciting new career.”
The gift of solo moments is that they are wholly ours. On or off the road, solo moments connect us inward to ourselves with heightened clarity and insight. They also direct our energies out into the world, magnetizing us to new people and experiences we may not have encountered under any other circumstance.
Whether the journeys you take are from Wisconsin to Sri Lanka or from “I can’t” to “I can,” I hope that the “postcards” in this book enliven the possibilities within your imagination while the “pearls” embolden your life at home in new and challenging ways.