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How Solo Travel Changed My Life

There had always been this quiet voice inside of me that wanted more than what I saw around me.

Travel was always one of those things that I had on my imaginary bucket list—along with finishing my novel and getting a tattoo—but life would get in the way before I got around to actually doing it. I’d traveled before with school conferences and visiting relatives during those long summers while school was out for the season. I remembered loving the anticipation of travel like packing for a new trip; printing out the itinerary to solidify that yes, you’re actually doing this; looking out of the window as the plane, train, or automobile kicks off for departure. All of it quietly sparked my soul.

But I pushed it all to the side for my obligations.

School came first. High school followed college, and while I toyed with the idea of study abroad and exchange semesters, I ultimately wanted to get through undergrad in as little time as I could.

Then, the same year that I graduated college my father passed away. I’d seen death before, but it’s almost unexplainable to share how it feels when it’s a parent. Of all the trips I’d been one, this one didn’t have the anticipation or the excited jitters in my stomach. There was something else.

The idea of traveling again hadn’t crossed my mind until I was in my father’s apartment, going through old pictures and childhood artifacts that I realized how fleeting joy was. Obligation is important, but what good would it do to not indulge in my bucket list sooner rather than later? There was so much that my father had set out to do that remained unfinished by the time he passed. That kind of situation was hard to ignore and not influence my own thinking. So I set out to do something that I’d never done before, I planned my first solo travel trip.

I embarked on a three-city trip spanning 10 days to Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle. I’d spend about 3 days in each city to get a good idea of the culture, food, and entertainment. Planning my trip like this still left room for me to be spontaneous, but having a plan was key for solo traveling.

With every day, I found myself marveling at the soul of each city. I sat as a silent observer, admiring everything from the regional twang of each passenger’s conversations to each locale’s street art. The highlight of the trip had to be indulging in the food! I had the freshest farm-to-table brunch ever had in Denver, ate my fill of seafood and authentic Chinese in San Francisco’s Chinatown and indulged in blueberry pomegranate mimosas in Seattle. I made friends with strangers in a Lyft Line ride, danced alone at a bar on a Thursday night, and marveled at glass sculptures and interesting art museums.

The beauty of solo traveling is the freedom that comes along with it. My day belonged solely to me – I didn’t have to wait for anyone else’s input on how my day should be spent. And that gave me a lot of time to explore. If I chose to do something that wasn’t as thrilling as I’d hoped it’d be, then I just leave. I didn’t have to stick around longer than I had to. I also flirted with loneliness. Sitting in a movie theatre in Seattle, I finally felt free enough to sob in the darkness over something I wasn’t completely sure I was sad about, but solo traveling forced me to become friends with it. I had no choice but to enjoy my own company and in doing so, I was able to reach outside of my shell in ways that I didn’t think I was capable of before. I didn’t know it at the time, but I definitely needed that push. And as a woman, a Black woman nonetheless, having that freedom was a luxury we too often don’t allow for ourselves.

On the final plane ride home, I thought about the trip that I had just embarked on and felt increasingly proud of myself. There were nights that I woke and had to remember where I was, or why I was there. It had been slightly inconvenient at times (like having to lug my suitcases solo), but the feeling of absolute freedom and ownership over the fun of my trip, as well as the joy of being anonymous in a city, gave me a burst of almost indescribable happiness that I forgot about.

Though I’m home now, I’m not going to forget about this trip anytime soon. Not because of the pictures or the souvenirs but because I found something I didn’t expect along the way. I found myself again.

Beautiful travel stories like Cameron’s happen every day in our world. Share yours with Parlour! Send your idea or post/story to parlourmagazinenyc@gmail.com.

image source: Getty Images