I am an expert solo traveler. I take the “expert” designation seriously, with my budget-friendly international youth hostel memberships and my phenomenal Airbnb guest reviews.  I love the freedom and the decisions I can make independently about how active or restful I want to be. As I write this I’m planning my 10th solo excursion! So stoked for more adventures.

I think the word “travel” paints a picture dependent on your unique reality; often, traveling is an opportunity to see more of the world and expose oneself to a plethora of experiences. And people–it very well may increase interactions with PEOPLE.

Did I mention I’m an introvert?

Yep. It’s weird, because I willingly embrace 25 or more weekly one-on-one planned social interactions, a.k.a. therapy sessions, and I’m introverted. It happens. Conversely, I absolutely need solitude for chunks of time each day to “recover” from my social and work life!

I have enjoyed my introversion for the strengths that accompany the label the past few years; but I didn’t always see my perceived awkwardness as a positive trait. Growing up, the idea of novel social situations made me nauseous. Made me bite my nails and cease all talking–I’d freeze and my thoughts would race. I remember planning in advance what I’d say in class should my high school teachers call on me. I remember keeping to myself and assuming the “peaceful observer” role I had mastered. It still happens sometimes.

Introversion and the possibility of meeting new people–but how does that work?? Solo restaurant reservations, unattached walking treks in LA or Chicago, or unaccompanied baseball games invite a plethora of unplanned social interactions that could render the typical introvert paralyzed with angst. And how awkward, right? I remember mentally preparing to defend my “aloneness” to strangers, praying that I wouldn’t need to ask anyone for help with something because that could be terrifying.

In July 2009 I was a solo-travel baby when I booked a flight to Boston–I attended some scheduled Independence Day events but otherwise explored without an agenda. If you know me well, you know I operate based on an intensely-structured calendar, planned hour to hour (#therapylife). I’ve since flown several times to the West Coast where I’ve rented a car and ventured north or south along the coast (I’ve covered all of Route 1 from Seattle to San Diego!) to hang out in the large metro areas of LA and San Francisco–contrasted by peaceful jaunts into the Redwood Forest and underrated vineyards in Monterey County, CA. I’ve driven loops around the Midwest to check out the Windy City, Memphis to visit family, and St. Louis for ballgames.

I befriended a fellow guest last spring at my Airbnb in Salinas, CA.  She had started temp work at an organic farm nearby; I’d commented on her boldness for starting a job in a place she’d never been. Her response was simple but has resonated:

“I’m becoming comfortable being uncomfortable”.

Whoa. I sat on this idea for a while. I reflected on my own adventures and the opportunities I created through solo travel. Yeah, I sought out some shareable Insta-worthy highlights, started a goal to visit all 30 MLB ballparks (I’m at 14), and have honed my clumsy repetoire of conversation starters. That’s all good stuff.

But more importantly, I have gained a new boldness that I can only attribute to stepping outside my comfort zone multiple times, to gather wisdom about myself and my place in the world. I’ve boarded planes/ferries/trains/Ubers, asked for help (me?!!), and offered to share tables in coffee shops. I’ve felt humbled over and over again. I’m able to sit awkwardly with myself and embrace it for what it is…in that moment. I’ve developed security with my identity and growing ability to venture beyond my home base, beyond the familiar. And I think that’s pretty freaking empowering.

Am I still an introvert? Definitely. I still need “recharge” time each day, still need to allow myself grace to adjust to new situations. And that’s okay, you know?

I would encourage you to seek ways to break routine on occasion, to get a taste of comfort being uncomfortable: with travel, trying a new food, asking for assistance in a store. The change doesn’t have to be monumental–it could even be therapeutic. How will you do it?

Have an amazing day, friends!

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Rychel

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