Doing things alone can be scary but so worth it

Doing things alone can be daunting, terrifying and so very necessary. We interview Joyce about how she goes on solo vacations to recharge, reflect, and be by herself.
Joyce has been on five solo vacations, all involving a lot of physical activity: Everest, Norway (lots of day hikes), Tour de Mont Blanc, Cordillera Huayhuash in Peru and Hawaii. This is her in Kjeragbolten, Norway.
Joyce has been on five solo vacations, all involving a lot of physical activity: Everest, Norway (lots of day hikes), Tour de Mont Blanc, Cordillera Huayhuash in Peru and Hawaii. This is her in Kjeragbolten, Norway.

It was a Thursday. The Revivalists were in town. Their instrumentals transport me to a joyful place.

My husband and I had planned to go to their concert, but he had to work late. It was too last-minute to recruit a friend. I had a choice: Do I go by myself or not at all?

The decision weighed on me all day. I had never been to a concert by myself. Would I regret it? Would I see all the other couples and frolicking friends and feel lonely? Would they all be thinking, “What a loser”?

After frantically texting girlfriends for their advice, I decided to be BOLD and go for it. I took myself out for a nice pre-show dinner, then entered the theater nervously. My eyes darted around to see if I was the only person there by myself. It appeared so. I stared intently at my phone to avoid making eye contact while I waited for the concert to start. 

The concert started, the band came out and, to my surprise, I was immediately transported by their music. I forgot I was there alone. I left feeling joyous and full, teasing myself for being so worried about going alone in the first place. I also left inspired and wondering, “What else should I try doing by myself?”

When my friend, Joyce, told me that she regularly goes on solo vacations, I had to hear more. Solo vacations seemed like a whole new level of bold. Here’s what I learned from my conversation with her:

What inspired you to start doing things alone?

After moving to New York, I felt like I was in a bubble of constant energy and pressure. You either thrive off of NYC’s energy or it depletes you, and my experience was the latter.

I was really focused on my job, which I didn’t like, and I felt this pressure to go out all the time. I felt unfilled. I became acutely aware of how little time I was leaving just to focus on myself.

My first foray into ‘me time’ was running. It was my escape from all of the things bearing down on me.

Your first solo trip was hiking to Everest Base Camp in Nepal. How did that come about?

All my classmates were planning international trips for spring break, and the group vacations they were organizing did not appeal to me at all. Business school, like New York, is another version of a pressure cooker, and I really needed some time to do my own thing. I usually traveled with my dad, but his vacation time didn’t align with mine. So I decided to go by myself.

Joyce at Everest Base Camp, Nepal, right before she lost her phone...
Joyce at Everest Base Camp, Nepal, right before she lost her phone…

I saw a trek to Everest Base Camp on @natgeotravel’s Instagram profile and thought, “I want to do that.”

To me, the idea of a solo vacation is unsettling. What do you get out of traveling alone?

I’m pretty gregarious and outgoing, so it surprises people to learn that I’m an introvert at heart. I need time by myself to recharge. But when I’m at home, my first inclination is to see other people, so I have to get away to force myself to be alone. I like to be in the middle of nowhere to remove the temptation to check Instagram, talk to people and be in the know. We live in a world of constant distractions and it’s the only way I know how to shut off my mind.

I also believe it’s really important to do and see things on my own. When I travel alone, I bring a notebook and write a lot to help me reflect on my thoughts and experiences in real time. This isn’t something I’ve been able to incorporate into my routine at home, and I really need and value it.

The other thing I get out of traveling is a physical challenge that I can’t really replicate in my everyday city life.

You’ve had friends ask to join you on trips and you’ve said no. Why?

The time alone is something that I value so much. I feel bad when I say no, but I know I’ll enjoy it more if I’m on my own.

Plus, I don’t want to feel bad if someone else can’t do the things I want to do, like two 15-mile hikes in one day. I know my vacations are more intense than most people’s (I rarely sleep on them), and I don’t want to compromise on that. If I want to eat out of a supermarket, then pack my day otherwise, I don’t think twice about it. It’s purely selfish itinerary-wise — I do what I want to get the most out of the time away.

You’re in a relationship. What does your partner think of your solo vacations?

Now, I can’t only go on vacations alone. Each year, I usually go on two big trips: one by myself, and one with my partner. This past year, I did the Cordillera Huayhuash alone, and then I went to London and Ireland with my partner. The year before, I did the Tour du Mont Blanc by myself, and then we went to Costa Rica together. In Costa Rica, we spent about half the time doing things he liked to do, like going to a beach and fishing (I would never have done that alone), and the second half doing things I like, such as hiking a volcano. It’s a compromise.

One of the reasons we work well together is we know we enjoy different types of vacations, and that sometimes that means doing our own thing.

Let’s get tactical. How do you plan your trips? What do you DO on these trips?

I either look up “best hikes in the world” or search Google Flights for cheap airfare in a particular date range. That’s how Hawaii happened — I booked a $600 ticket leaving in three weeks.

To plan my trips, I consult my two best resources: the Internet and my friends. There are so many travel websites — and not just the standard TripAdvisor or Fodor’s — for every type of traveler. I tend to find the hiking and outdoor enthusiast travel sites the most helpful given my interests. Sometimes I look at travel company’s itineraries to see how they structure their days and mimic that. And I always ask friends who have been there for recommendations.

Joyce got a flat tire in the middle of nowhere Norway and the parking lot attendant at the Kjerag hike helped her out.
Joyce got a flat tire in the middle of nowhere Norway and the parking lot attendant at the Kjerag hike helped her out.

Then I pick out what’s most exciting to me (surprise: usually hiking), dump everything in a Google doc and write up plans for each day. I keep my itinerary flexible and always ask locals for suggestions once I’m there. While I’m traveling, I want to spend time experiencing things and not researching what to do next. I’m always on the move, using a variety of transportation methods and staying in different places, so keeping one doc of everything in one place — from confirmation numbers to hotel addresses — helps keep me organized. It also makes it easy for me to share my itineraries with other people! Here is my Norway itinerary, for example.

What advice do you have for people who are thinking about taking their first solo trip?

Don’t make it logistically hard on yourself. Make finding a place to stay and getting around as easy as possible. I did my first trek through a company and had a guide.

Or, go where they speak the same language as you, or at least where people speak some English. It’s so much harder to travel alone when you can’t communicate with anyone.

Figure out what it is you like to have in a vacation — something you will truly find joy in for yourself. Mine is hiking. For some people, it’s exploring cities. For others, it’s the cultural experience. Find a place that fills that, purely for yourself. Plan around that.

Go with an itinerary so that you don’t land in a place and not know what to do. Know what it is that you want to do. Even if it’s going somewhere to write. State that purpose so you don’t get there and say: Why am I alone? What am I doing?

Finally, talk to strangers. I like traveling alone because I’m more likely to talk to people and meet new friends than when I’m with other people. I have made plenty of friends on my trips. You don’t have to be fully alone if you don’t want to be. If you crave social interaction, you can usually find it.

Last question. How do you get such incredible pictures of yourself when you travel?

It’s super nerdy: I use the tripod my dad gave me. It’s also great for watching content on your phone when you’re on one of those busted airplanes that doesn’t give you an individual screen.

1 thought on “Doing things alone can be scary but so worth it

  1. I love this story about Joyce and Alyssa – I am feeling inspired to go to a solo event and even try a solo trip, something I have never done as a vacation, only business which is completely different. Wonderful story!!! Bravo!

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