Society is pretty uncomfortable with people who do things alone. People are embarrassed to ask for a table/ticket/reservation for one. We see people waiting alone and assume that they are lonely, have been stood up or have some other justification for not having company. When I tell people about events I have gone to on my own they seem shocked and exclaim “could NO ONE go with you!?” It may have something to do with being an only child, but I have never really let going solo hold me back from doing things I want to do. Being an admission counselor has only emboldened this part of me.
I spent a weekend in Morro Bay my first year recruiting and couldn’t sign up for a wine tasting tour online as a party of one. The guy I rented a kayak from looked at me like I was insane when I only needed one life jacket and paddle. (Maybe the fact that it was 65 degrees had something to do with it too.) I was at Hearst Castle and a woman on the shuttle balked and asked if I had had fun, as if fun on your own is unheard of. Now, this is not to say that I would not have enjoyed or welcomed company–it can get awkward when you exclaim “did you see that?!” to no one–but we romanticize solo trips abroad so why can’t we do the same in the U.S.?
Typically, when you go to a restaurant and ask for a table for one they ask if you’d prefer to sit at their full service bar. I’m sure they make this offer so you can socialize with other solo diners at the bar or make small talk with the bartender. Most times, I am tired of small talk and just want a delicious meal and the waiter to refill my water compulsively because I do not have someone to distract me from the empty glass (which always makes me giggle). Unless I am in a rush, I will go for a table to avoid feeling like I am on a group first date.
Another thing is that I tend to stand out in the business traveler environment. If you look at who is in the priority check-in line at an airport or who is at that hotel/restaurant bar, they are likely adult males. I can easily pass for a college student and am female. I have nothing to contribute to the football game analysis that is pretty much always happening at the bar. I don’t have photos of my kids to share. I don’t necessarily want to share a ton of personal information because I’ve watched too much crime drama (but I also don’t want to be rude). You can definitely meet some interesting people and have great conversation, but it can be hard to blend and join in.
Last year, I found myself explaining football to an Irishman who had never been to the states before. I learned about elevator installation and maintenance from a fellow hotel guest. I spoke to a man at the airport about hoarding rewards points and then things turned reflective when he asked me what I was saving them for and I didn’t know. An all ages acapella group that was in town adopted me as part of their meal in Morro Bay and invited me to their performance. Every time I travel I am struck by the kindness of strangers and the things I am able to experience simply because I don’t have the social security blanket of someone else being there.
My coworkers are some of my favorite people in life and I absolutely miss them. It is always tough when someone is about to leave for a trip and you realize that, due to your schedules, you won’t see them for two months. I am not one for showing affection, but at the end of travel I’m pretty much hugging everyone in my office at first sight. Sharing stories from the road once we are all back and having people to eat lunch with again is always a welcome change. So is being with people who I don’t have to introduce myself to.
Another drawback of traveling alone? I have very few photos with me in them. I have not mastered the selfie. Maybe year three will be the year.