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Guiliana Nicolucci-Altman

I love spending time alone with no one to rush me, nowhere to be, and no one to worry about. There’s something wonderful about sitting in a cafe with a notebook, watching with amusement as confused tourists and daily commuters rush by. Something in the soft music of a nearby street performer could lull me to sleep.

I came alone to Rennes, France, at age 17 to study abroad for my junior year of college. I had always been independent, and I was able to thrive in France even being away from my parents, friends, and community. But as my year abroad came to an end, I realized that although I’d been “on my own,” I’d always been surrounded by other foreign students and had never taken the chance to completely immerse myself into the local environment. So, I decided to go solo. I biked one morning to the local gare routiere (bus station) and bought a ticket to a little Breton town called Josselin.

This is what I learned:

1. When you are alone, you have complete freedom to surrender to the moment. Strolling solo through a century-old town is an intimate experience. The details of your surroundings are magnified, intensified: the smoke rising from quaint wood-carved homes, the soft light passing through delicate stained-glass windows of a cathedral, the colorful street music, the crossing of a bridge overlooking a rushing river.

2. When you are alone, you have control of your wanderings. You’re free to follow the slightest whim down a picturesque narrow street or a path along a winding river. You don’t have to see all the tourist attractions on your best friend’s list or all the famous museums. Follow your own list, or—better—don’t even write one. Do what suits you in the moment, and have that surprise you.

3. When you are alone, you go at your own pace. Let a table of French cheeses lure you from your stroll. Stop in as many bookstores as you desire, maybe even decide to settle in with a cup of coffee and a good novel (I finally started The Great Gatsby). Stroll through a local market; wander the streets, pretending to be Audrey Hepburn; hum “La Vie en Rose” under your breath. Pause for a pastry, a crispy croissant, or a tangy tarte au citron. Treat yourself, and savor that which you do for yourself and yourself alone.

4. When you are alone, you can leave your comfort zone. Even being an introvert, I struck up a conversation with a street guitar player who, it turns out, shared a love of my favorite composer. I would never have considered the interaction in the comfort of my friends. Joining a crowd watching Celtic street dancers, I was suddenly pulled into the fray by a tall blond man. Embarrassing? Extremely. I can’t dance, and I would never do so in front of others. But luckily, nobody knew me, and nobody there would ever see me again. And in the moment, I completely let go of my fears and came away beaming with joy (and sweat).

Traveling alone isn’t a sign of social isolation, but rather a liberating embrace of everything a city has to offer. I don’t know whether I’ll ever come back there again, but I know I’ll want to experience this kind of “alone time” travel again. I’ll lean back against the plush bus seat, turn up my music, and watch the world fly by at high speed.

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  • Pratikshya Mishra

    Wow…. Loved reading this… Perhaps I too would have not struck conversation with strangers in the comfort of friends… Or danced with wild abandon… 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing. I loved the 4th point the most. I always think of trying that but fail most of the time. But I will try it again. Very nicely written.

  • Elaine Taylor

    A most beautiful writer. I am moved by the quiet passion of life. I can taste the tarte, smell the coffee and savour the cheese. I sit quietly with my book and share the space. I can hear the music, see the glass of the cathedral and marvel at the river and the ancient buildings. This writing is exquisite as it awakens all the senses. I am lost in another world. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  • margaretannhamilton

    A woman after my own heart. Travelling solo is the only way to go. Anonymity is the most liberating experience.

  • amylynn1022

    In 2002 my church had it’s General Assembly in Quebec City and I decided to go several days early and see the city. I’d never been to Canada before. I did a lot of research but I didn’t really go in with a plan or an agenda. Like Guiliana I was on my own and really thrived in the freedom. I stayed in the youth hostel in the old town, explored by foot and engaged a lot of the locals. I was able to linger when I found interesting places, move on when I was ready and even take an afternoon off when I had tired myself out. And the GA certainly provided more than enough social interaction!

  • Giuliana Lajules

    I share the introversion, the love for traveling, and the name, which is spelled GIULIANA! (I really enjoyed the post!)

  • Jamie Jakubik

    Thank you for sharing!! I love your insight. As I was reading your story, it brought me back to all the solo trips I’ve recently taken. There is something empowering about strolling along, by yourself, taking in all the sights. The ability to stand on your own two feet while the world is happening around you is refreshing. I can also completely relate to striking up conversation with more strangers when you’re flying solo. It’s 10x easier to talk to people because you have a genuine curiosity and my self-consciousness goes away for some reason. I tell all my friends (single and in relationships) that doing anything by yourself (travel, going to a coffee shop, restaurant, etc.) is one of the best things you can do for yourself. You can be completely you and that’s an amazing feeling.