Solo travel is something everyone should try at least once. It doesn't have to be an elaborate backpacking trip up the Pacific Crest Trail a la Cheryl Strayed, or a whirlwind monthlong European extravaganza.
Even taking a weekend trip by yourself can be enriching and refreshing, and that's precisely what I did this spring on a spontaneous trip to Portland, Ore.
I'd wanted to visit Portland since moving to Seattle last fall, but the timing to go with friends had never quite worked, thanks to the strange hours and abnormal weekends of a newsroom schedule. But after spending a relaxing Memorial Day in Seattle, the inundation of vacation photos on social media gave me a travel itch. I checked my calendar for the following weekend and in an uncharacteristically spontaneous decision, I booked an Airbnb for one.
A few days later, I woke up, tossed a duffel bag in my car and drove down Interstate 5 with a few recommendations from friends but no set agenda. I had no shame about doing "touristy" things because I'd never been to Portland, but I hoped to make the most of a short time without waiting in long lines.
I moved to Seattle from Missouri alone for my first job out of college. I live by myself and I've traveled alone before while interning or studying abroad. Through all that, I've found that the main thing you have to conquer is the self-consciousness that comes with doing things alone.
Get past this imaginary stigma and you'll find that while traveling with friends and family is always fun, there's something about being able to experience a city at your own pace and on your own terms that can be particularly invigorating.
After arriving in Portland in late morning, I grabbed a quick breakfast before heading to the top of my list: Powell's Books.
I look for local bookstores in any city I visit, and Powell's had been on my radar for years. But while I knew it was renowned for its size and catalog, I wasn't expecting to be as overwhelmed as I was. Exploring a beautiful bookstore feels reverent: the ache in your neck from turning to read titles sideways, the polite shuffle around other readers looking at the same shelf, the peaceful quiet and flipping of pages. For a few hours, Powell's felt like a peaceful haven, just a bit insulated from the outside world.
Being alone meant I could leisurely venture through the connected rooms without worrying about frustrating travel companions. I got a little lost, I got distracted by new and familiar titles, and I eventually got three books, with a lot of self-restraint. I was especially impressed by the selection of used and discounted books, which made the decision to support a local establishment even easier.
Bookstores are ideal for solo travel, but restaurants and bars can be less so -- there's a certain self-consciousness about asking a hostess for a table for one. But it's only awkward if you make it awkward, and at every food stop, eating without companions to talk with left more room for getting to know the new ones around you.