Last November, in need of a mental reboot, I cleared five days on my calendar, tossed some clothes into the car, and took off on a solo road trip before I could change my mind.
As I hurtled south from my home in Colorado and into the New Mexican desert, the landscape opened wider, from the colorful buttes and charcoal hills that Georgia O'Keeffe painted to arid flatlands where mountain ranges rear up like dragon tails. Something about the bare desert invites my mind to untangle.
By the time I arrived in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, a historic, artsy hot springs town, night cloaked the land. At one of the lodges, an attendant drew me a fresh mineral bath in a spring-fed pool lit by a single candle. I sank in, closed my eyes, and felt the luxurious ease that comes from not having to take care of anything or anyone. This is the gift of being alone and away.
Just the night before, I had wondered if this was such a good idea. It happens every time I travel by myself: Doubts start simmering. Will I be safe? Will I be lonely? But come morning, optimism returns, and I remember the thrill of solitude in motion—a rush I've known many times—and off I go.
For me, solo trips are more than vacations. They are journeys of discovery, both inward and outward. They afford a freedom you don't get when traveling with others. By myself, I've been all over, from Alaska to the Appalachian Mountains, Romania to Bhutan. And I'm not the only one. About one in four travelers went solo in 2018. A recent survey by British Airways of women in eight countries (the United States, United Kingdom, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, India, and China) found that almost 50 percent of them have taken a vacation by themselves; 75 percent planned to do so in the future.
"As more people live, eat, and travel alone, more travel companies and restaurateurs are finding ways to cater to them—which in turn is making going alone easier and more commonplace," says Stephanie Rosenbloom, the New York–based author of Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude. "Traveling solo nowadays is for anyone who wants it—singles, partners, parents— regardless of age or situation."
Still, traveling alone can seem intimidating. Some of my friends raise their eyebrows when I tell them I'm heading off solo, as though I were brazenly flouting all notions of what is sane and smart. It's not that challenges don't arise, but more often than not, they resolve themselves.
In Quito, Ecuador, for example, I felt daunted by the prospect of using my rudimentary Spanish to find a bus to a remote lodge. But once I boarded, I found fellow travelers going to the same destination. Another time I felt a little spooked as the only guest in a historic bed-and-breakfast in rural North Carolina—only to have a lovely rambling conversation with the proprietor. My unease melted.