“No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength.”
– Jack Kerouac, The Lonesome Traveler
When I landed in Buenos Aires last Saturday I had wished for one thing only: that my first solo adventure abroad would go by slowly and feel like a lifetime away rather than a few days. Now, as I sit in this hostel in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Palermo, I realize my wish came true.
Already I can feel my impending return to New York in a few days nipping at my heels. I imagine going back as that scene from The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy wakes up from her dream in colorful Oz only to be back in her black and white reality in Kansas.
The past few days (or lifetime) that I have had in Argentina have been equal measures inspiring and frustrating, exuberant and at times lonely but always spontaneous, always passionate and always bursting with adventure. From roaming the streets of Buenos Aires to soul-searching on the deserted jungle paths of Iguazu to meeting a variety of characters from around the world, I know I have just begun to scratch the surface of solo traveling and its untapped potential for change.
Things that may have made me uncomfortable in New York—such as dining alone and striking up conversation with strangers—have now become second nature to me. My attention has been diverted from focusing on what others think and caring only about appreciating the moment at hand, whether that be a delicious meal, riveting discussion or a walk through the city.
Perhaps the most empowering takeaway from my trip thus far is realizing that nothing and noone has the ability to take away my strength. There have been moments of the trip that knocked me down—being lost and penniless in the Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires, being horribly misled by a presumed friend, realizing I forgot everything necessary for my last minute trip to the Iguazu jungle—and in these situations I learned to comfort myself, hold my own hand, lift my own chin up and keep on walking. It is a beautiful metaphor for life and a priceless feeling to know that you are stronger, tougher and more resourceful than you ever gave yourself credit for.
As I reflect on the past few days of solo traveling in Argentina, I know I will be writing for some time to come about the people I have met, experiences I have had and realizations that have dawned on me througout this trip. For now, I will share my top takeaways from solo traveling, both practical and inspirational.
There is no such thing as traveling wrong
There is what you do and what you don´t do and you should stand behind every decision you make. While guilt may tap your shoulder for neglecting to visit a museum or for opting to drink wine in the afternoon, the beauty of solo travel is to live life entirely on your own terms. You can wake up and fly to a different place, wander aimlessly around cobbled stone streets and cafes or opt to drink beer with buddies in your hostel common area–whatever you decide is fine!
Asking myself “What do I want?”
It is a revolutionary concept for me to wake up and ask myself this question each day. In New York my time is often monopolized by work, schedules and other people and it gets to a point where asking myself what I want feels like a guilty indulgence. It has been utterly refreshing to wake up each day and simply live life by my own rules and desires. Tomorrow I may go to Uruguay or perhaps explore another neighborhood of Buenos Aires, whatever it is it will be what I want. As a wonderful person recently told me, you should never do something your heart is not in.
Simply saying hello
One of the best parts of this trip has been the people I have met–from the friendly Aussie rugby player who is a self-proclaimed foodie, to the recently graduated American college kid making his way to Chile, to the British-Italian fella backpacking his way through South America–it has been incredible to connect with people around the world.
Taking off-hour showers
This morning I turned on my frigid shower and stared at the water willing it to go above luke warm temperature. After throwing in the towel (literally) I seriously considered being unshowered for the duration of my trip rather than take a cold shower during a cold Buenos Aires winter. I went about my day and a few hours later–deciding that I would not boycott bathing–I geared up for the shower and was speechless when the water was blissflly hot! Was it divine intervention? For all intensive purposes it felt like it was, but in truth it is simply taking a shower when others aren´t.
If solo traveling, stay in a hostel…
and if you can, get the private room. Hostels are conducive to being social and there is always someone else that is solo traveling as well. It is so easy to make friends by simply connecting over a shared love of travel and a passion to see the world. You can spend hours swapping travel tales and tips over drinks. I like to opt for a private room (albeit a couple dollars more expensive) as it gives me a corner of the country that is my own. Late at night, I may fall asleep surrounded by my books of Cheryl Strayed´s Wild, Jack Kerouac´s Viajero Solitario and the Spanish version of The Great Gatsby and that is okay because I have my home away from home here in Argentina.
Learning to be patient with myself
Whenever I travel I joke that it takes a day or two for New York to leave my system. In a city like NYC, life moves quickly, lunches are inhaled, delays are not tolerated and scheduling is a way of life. It isn´t until I´m abroad do I realize just how tightly wound New York can make me–something that makes me acutely aware of my need to change cities. As I eased into solo traveling, I learned to be patient with myself and slow down. By nature, I am an emotional person who is wildly passionate and can (admittedly) skew towards the dramatic on occasion, but rather than chastise myself I am patient with myself–more tolerant than my New York counterpart might have been.
Embracing the simplistic beauty of being solo
It´s been said that the most important relationship we will ever have is the one we have with ourselves. There is something truly inspiring about getting to know yourself, learning the intricacies of your personality and embracing yourself for all you are. Having left my life in New York in an upheaval, it was freeing to come to Argentina and start to untangle the emotions and thoughts I had let twist in my mind. There is beauty in walking through colorful streets solo, having a good meal with nothing but a book and listening to your thoughts as they pass by, like clouds in the sky. If I had more time and was backpacking for months on end like many of my new friends are doing, I know that these lessons and takeaways would only strengthen. Unfortunately, it is not my time yet to venture out into the world long-term, but as I continue The Pin the Map Project I know one day it will be.