Solo Travel is a Gateway Drug (an Autobiography)

I was born with an urge to roam. It’s innate. When someone like myself decides to go gallivanting around the world alone, the idea didn’t come out of nowhere as if I were struck by lightning. It was a decision that culminated from the escapist urge that’s always been brewing, churning and growing inside me.

Solo travel is a gateway drug. I started slow; tentatively. I dabbled. I felt the rush. And then a longer trip, a farther trip, a riskier trip, and I was hooked.

Solo travel around town at age 10

My desire to roam showed itself when I was young and innocent. It was sometime around age 10 that I decided to take my bike and go into town by myself, a 20-mile ride round trip. I had never gone so far, and by today’s standard, it was very unsafe — no bike lane, no shoulder, no helmet, and obviously, I was a young unaccompanied female. And I didn’t tell my parents where I was going because I knew they wouldn’t let me 🤷‍♀️ … I was somewhat of a ball-buster.

Why did I want to go into town? I had no reason save bragging rights for the feat. My journey filled me with a sense of freedom, the thrill of danger, and the pride of accomplishment. I had my first taste of adventure.

(Sorry that you had to find out about this on the internet, Mom. But really, you’re not surprised.)

Solo travel across the country at age 20

Fast forward to age 20 when I was a senior in college at the top of my class in broadcast journalism. A few classmates and I were nominated for a College Emmy Award and invited to Los Angeles for the star-studded National Academy of Arts & Sciences Emmy Awards Gala.

Our university was footing the bill for our weekend’s hotels, meals, and excursions, but that wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted to see LA! I cashed in all my miles (poor college student, you recall) to fly out alone, two days in advance, and stay right where the action was — a hotel on Sunset Strip.

Let me pause and reiterate, I’m talking about solo travel. My family took me on a lot of vacations, I went on spring breaks with my college pals, and at age 19, I studied abroad in Poland. Remember, solo travel — being dependent on yourself for companionship and problem-solving — is a totally different dynamic than chaperones or safety in numbers.

Needless to say, sights, celebs, and swanky clubs made for the best time ever.

If you’re curious, we won the Emmy Award.

Solo travel across the world at age 25

And finally, it was time to dabble in solo international travel. I booked a 9-day mainland and island-hopping Contiki tour in Greece. (I remember my friends being horrified that I was to use my hard-earned money and limited vacation days to go on a trip by myself with strangers. They asked, “But WHY??” It was humorous.)

I decided to arrive in Athens a few days early before I was due to meet up with the group so that I could visit an island not on the itinerary — Hydra.

Hydra is a small, charming Greek island known for its idyllic harbor. There are no cars on Hydra — the entire island can be traversed on foot.

I booked my ferries, my hostel, wandered the streets, and ate rooftop meals alone in Hydra, but I wasn’t lonely. I made conversation with a Canadian couple over dolmades at dinner. I shared a wine carafe with a Greek balladeer after his songs were through. Sure, when I eventually joined the tour back in Athens, I made great friends. But the travel experience was too easy. The challenge — where should I go? How do I get there? What should I eat? What’s next? — was gone. Everything was prescribed and scheduled.

That’s the nature of tours. I have nothing against Contiki, but I’m a rebellious sort. I like uncertainty and mystery. I like to manage my own schedule.

My addiction was cemented; but my next trip would be different. I was ready for the big leagues.


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