Before setting off on an 8-month journey to teach and eat my way through France, I did what any self-respecting millennial would do: scoured Instagram for the most charming French villages that I absolutely could NOT leave without visiting. But as the end of my time abroad drew near, there was still one destination I had yet to cross off the list: Annecy.
Because none of my friends could join, I had two options: pass up the opportunity on the bet that I’ll make it there sometime later in life, or go by myself.
Although I pride myself on being an independent, self-reliant person, the idea of traveling, sightseeing, and dining solo for a whole week in a foreign country was more than mildly intimidating.
Is it even safe to travel alone as a girl? Will people think I have no friends? Wait — does this actually mean I have no friends? Can you even make a reservation for ONE? Who will watch my luggage when I go into the stall to pee?
But for every voice in my head convincing me not to, there was an even stronger voice telling me to go for it — not to mention a slew of pictures of the staggeringly beautiful snow-capped Alps and crystal-clear blue of Lake Annecy. So for better or for worse, I charged full steam ahead — just me, myself, and I. And over the course of five solo breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, I learned a whole lot about myself.
1. Awkwardness is okay
For the first, say, 10-15 minutes, the menu was there to distract me. But once I ordered and no longer had something to physically “do” with my hands, awkwardness would swiftly set in. Unsure of where to look (down at the table, straight ahead at the people in front of me, slightly upwards so I wouldn’t be staring at my neighbors but also not looking straight up at the ceiling), I was tempted to grab my phone and waste away the hour scrolling through Instagram or cleaning up my mailbox. But I tried my hardest not to, because while I knew this would help me evade the cringe-worthy awkwardness of the situation, what I really wanted to do was embrace it, learn from it, and really taste the food in front of me in the process.
2. You don’t need to rush
In a culture that demands productivity, that propels us through countless to-do lists, and that asks us constantly what we did that day, time spent “being” rather than “doing” is often associated with a sting of self-indulgent guilt. But while traveling alone, I was afforded the luxury to do just about anything I wanted, which means two-plus hours were spent savoring my coq au vin, using a hearty slice of crusty baguette to wipe the plate clean. Every decision I made was of my own accord, and I found myself basking in this temporary window of justified self-indulgence to simply “be” at every meal.
3. There’s a world of difference between loneliness and solitude
I would be lying if I told you that the silence never bothered me, because it did — and there were definitely times when I felt the sharp sting of loneliness. But without the noise or influence of others shaping how I perceived myself, the monuments I was visiting, the foods I was eating, and my overall perception of the city, I was forced to confront my thoughts in a completely unfiltered and authentic way. And it was intimidating. Scary, even. But this alone time at restaurants allowed me to really think, and taught me how to not just be okay with being alone, but to thrive from it. And by the end of my trip, the initial feelings of loneliness transformed into ones of productive solitude.
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