Take the (Solo) Trip

 minute read

Sam Ellis

Autonomy of self and my travels

On the subject of solo travel, I’ve happily become rather notorious. Most notably, an extended trip I took during all of January and the first part of February to New York City. It seemed kind of indulgent to people. I know this because people told me it seemed indulgent to them. I had just gotten married. Tax season was around the corner.

In the eyes of my friends and family, I had quickly become the David Blaine of solo travel, disappearing without much notice. Only, they didn’t seem to wonder how I did it as much as much as why: “I’m going to Brooklyn for a six-week, non-fiction writing course,” I would explain.

“That sounds indulgent,” they said. Not to my face, of course, but rather, later, to their lovers or cats.

To my face, people would say things like: “Interesting! Sounds fabulous.” But I could see they were furiously working the math equation in their minds. How could I manage that sizable time away while co-running a growing start-up in Vancouver? This is not to say that these wonderful people were not supportive. They were supportive and curious in necessary doses. But mainly, they were confused.

I can hardly blame them. We live in a world where we’re rapidly detaching from the idea of static ways to work, live and partner with people. Yet, we still seem programmed to push traditional ideas around work, home, and relationships onto one another over our morning coffee. Perhaps it has something to do with maintaining our own sense of comfort and equilibrium. A woman breaking from these norms and boarding a plane alone disquiets people.

Why are you running away from your “real” life?

It’s hard to see from the outside why taking time away from work, works. It’s equally difficult to have an honest conversation with the older generation around solo travel without engaging in an underlying conversation about gender.

A man taking many trips for business and pleasure is routine enough. A woman taking larger and larger steps past the border of bachelorette weekends and thanksgiving travel signals alarm. Even when the best of intentions is expressed, the general quandary is whether she’s betraying her work and her partner in one fell swoop by getting up and going somewhere new.

The only heroes we have for this particular flavour of exodus in pop culture are women who blatantly trade one thing for another. A steady income for the freedom of travel. Solidarity and security for romantic lust. Grief and self-learning for joy and peace. Think, Eat, Pray, Love. Remember Wild?

These stories aren’t wrong. There is always a trade-off. But it doesn’t have to be this drastic or dramatic. It doesn’t have to be all grief and no play.

My trip to Brooklyn was a small dot on a long list of trips I’ve taken just for me. It’s a part of the vast travel schedule I’m designing for my future. This is not escapism—this is the kind of gift only we can give ourselves. It’s a gift without apology. It’s up to you, and only you to use this time to find what you most need to move forward. 

There’s a common misconception that the best way forward is in a straight line, but I’ve always believed the answers lie a little sideways. It’s not that we can’t be creative in our own living rooms or in our own postal code can, but it’s not as easily accessible, and it certainly isn’t as fun.

I remember diving into a cool, blue pool of saltwater deep in the north Okanagan. I was staying at a quaint and quiet BNB for a few days on a longer adventure throughout BC’s wine country. The air smelled like smoke and hung in humid layers in the valley. Everything around me, including the personal and professional expectations I was piling on myself, felt heavy on my body. But in the water, I felt light. Like I could stay there for an extraordinarily long time and emerge someone new.

I surfaced from the water to see the owner of the home, a well-meaning woman who had been running this place with an iron apron for a long time, watching me swim. While this may sound creepy, turns out it’s rather normal for people at B&Bs to encroach on one another and generally get in each other’s way. I had learned this the day previous when forced into a communal, non-optional breakfast with two conservative Texans who wanted to share my toast but, alas, not my stance on democracy.

The proprietress volunteered to us over eggs, which I’m allergic to but eat for optics sometimes, that her and her husband had been together and running this business for over forty years. The Texans cooed and drawled in admiration and acceptance. I couldn’t help but cringe. Humbly, of course. It was certainly a feat worth celebrating, but this struck me as an extraordinary amount of time to be in one place.

“Does your fiancée know you’re here?” she asked poolside, a look of curiosity skewed on her face.

“Yes,” I said, rubbing the salt from my eyes.

“And he’s okay with it?”

I smiled. “Yes. He was looking forward to it.” This was true. He had poker games scheduled. Drinks with clients he wouldn’t have otherwise seen. Squash. A life to live, too.

When does the permission slip transfer from our principals to our partners? Why are we committed to the script that our late twenties are owned by everyone other than ourselves?

The Telegraph published a piece in 2018 titled, “What’s Behind The Rise of Solo Travel?” It was  a rather shallow inquiry into the uptick of people venturing out on their own. One of my favourite lines reads like this: “Is it that more of us are single, and staying single, than ever before?”

Do we really need to be single to be curious?

Here’s what solo travel has done for me: I learned how to behave sitting at a bar (hint: politely). I learned how to work the New York subway. I discovered where to buy a blanket in Williamsburg (a real duvet is not as easy as you might think, there are a lot of hipster woven throws in Williamsburg with  no real comfort). When I go somewhere new, I always order the special—this can backfire. I retaught myself how to read a map so I could navigate when I lose Wifi (this was more challenging than I’d like to admit). I remembered how to listen, and I remembered how to be quiet—these things go together. I was reminded of the power of vulnerability, the gracefulness of not knowing. The not knowing makes you more interesting, more human. I learned to worship the kindness of strangers. In our daily connected lives, we don’t need each other much, but when you’re travelling alone, it can make or break your day.

I love my business, my husband, and my home, but occasionally I need air to recalibrate and reconnect with what makes me whole. This makes me a better partner. This makes me a better businesswoman. We need a break. What we don’t need, is a disclaimer.

Taking a few days to yourself somewhere new and different is not a vacation, it’s a breath. It’s liberating. Challenging. Uncomfortable. Sure, it’s even a little selfish. It’s also self-love. Revel in that.

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