Solo travel isn’t for the weak. It’s not for those who prefer to live in denial, hidden from their true selves. Or maybe that’s exactly who it’s for — maybe it’s those who need it most.
I traveled to Italy in September for two weeks. It was the longest vacation I’d ever taken from work, and I was nervous about being away for that amount of time. We were in the middle of a big project, but my boss assured me that we had prepared well and the project would go on just fine without me, which gave me mixed emotions. I was glad I didn’t have to stress about the trip, but didn’t want them to get overly comfortable without me.
Just a few days before crossing the pond, my eight-year, on-again/off-again relationship was ended abruptly by an email in my inbox. I was blown away. Were there warning signs? Of course. Was it all his fault? Definitely not. Nevertheless, I was rejected with finality.
With no time to process this news, I spent the first week in Italy at a fairly busy yoga retreat in Tuscany with my mother and sister — an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world. For the second week, I kissed them goodbye and took the train from Florence to Cinque Terre on my own. I love the independence and adventure of traveling alone, but I didn’t realize the biggest adventure would be unearthing the feelings hidden below the surface of my excited exterior.
One night, after a long day of hiking between the tiny fishing villages, I showered and got dressed up for dinner at a cozy, but modern-looking place I’d been eyeing. I left my room confident and primed for an amazing dinner. When it was finally my turn at the host stand, I said, “dinner for one, please.” The hostess responded that they did not have room for one. I politely told her I’d be happy to wait, but she made it clear that they would not ever have a table available for one — then promptly proceeded to seat the couple behind me.
I was devastated. I turned around and tears started flowing down my cheeks. I’d been alone for days, but this was the first time I’d felt lonely. I’m guessing I was turned away simply because the restaurant didn’t think the ROI on a solo diner was worth the table space, but it felt like I was being turned away because I was “Alone,” with a capital A — rejected, unlovable, and unworthy.
I found a bench on the edge of the steep, crooked street and cried for several minutes, feeling completely dejected. Everyone who walked by had a partner. They laughed, smiled, and even argued as they strolled. But they were together, which felt like a collective punch in the gut from all of them at once.
Eventually, I mustered up enough courage to try a different restaurant. I timidly asked the host if they were willing to seat one. He welcomed me with a smile and escorted me to a table. I held back tears as I tried to eat my feelings via the delicious local specialty, trofie al pesto.
Of course, the pain I felt wasn’t about being turned away from a restaurant. It was about being rejected by someone I loved deeply. It was the catalyst that made me realize I was broken and needed to heal. I spent the rest of my trip slowing down, journaling, meditating, watching the stunning sunsets cast a glow on the pastel cliff sides, soaking up the wonder of an unfamiliar place, and processing the last eight years of my life.
In stark contrast to my beautiful surroundings, coming to terms with with my emotions wasn’t pretty. I worked through anger, sadness, fear, guilt, and relief —to name just a few. I stared myself square in the heart and owned how I contributed to our downfall. It hurt like hell. Honestly, it still does. Gazing at the sea and journaling were my outlets and saviors on that trip.
Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” And I bled. My journal is filled with thoughts I didn’t realize I needed to think before I gifted myself that time away — thoughts I never knew how to process before then, in that time and in that place.
Did a week on my own cure my heartbreak? Of course not. But it allowed me to feel. It set me on a path of healing I may not have found if I hadn’t taken a leap to plan a solo trip for, serendipitously, the exact time I would need it most.
This wasn’t my first solo trip, and it won’t be my last. The beauty (and sometimes curse) of traveling solo is the obvious — all you have is you. Even though you’re in a different location, you’re forced to embrace and confront the same weaknesses, insecurities, and fears you carry at home. Luckily, you also carry your strengths, happiness, and love. The lens of new experiences and surroundings sheds fresh light on old feelings.
It can be both frightening and empowering to navigate an unfamiliar place on your own. It’s not about escaping yourself or even finding yourself. It’s about remembering who you are and realizing that everything you need and the answers you “found” abroad were already inside you. The key is slowing down to give yourself the time and place to uncover them from beneath the layers of chaos and distraction we create in our daily lives.
Sometimes life rips your heart into pieces and then plants you in a beautifully raw place with nowhere to hide from yourself, from your excuses. It’s in this moment that a new chapter begins, just as it has done a thousand times before. As I realized while watching the sea that week, you can fight against the waves or ride them. Trust the timing of your life.
Originally published at medium.com