After I pulled the trigger and finally booked the solo trip to Iceland I’d been dreaming about for five years, the last thing on my mind was worry. I’d already traveled extensively around the U.S., hitting 46 states before I was 26. A lot of those trips had been solo, and I’d navigated them just fine.
So I didn’t think twice about whether traveling alone would be a problem when I booked my flight to Keflavik. My mother, however, was baffled by my decision to venture into an unfamiliar land without the aid of a companion.
“You’re going alone?” she asked. “But that’s so … weird.”
I shrugged it off. I was fine with my own company. Besides, I’d tried to plan the trip before with friends and acquaintances who’d expressed interest in going but bailed at the last minute. I’d also tried to plan it with a boyfriend, but our relationship ended before we’d booked anything. It wasn’t that I wanted to go alone in particular, but waiting for the right time to go and the right person to go with was precisely the reason I’d waited five years already. I didn’t want to wait any longer. I know by now that the right time to make a decision is whenever we deem it so — not when the perfect circumstances eventually present themselves.
Plus, I’d be able to cross a solo trip abroad off my bucket list. It was a win-win.
But as my trip neared, and as I talked with more people about my itinerary, I realized my mother’s disapproval wasn’t a unique opinion. Almost every time I told someone about the trip, they’d respond with the same question: “Who are you going with?”
“Myself,” I’d reply, feeling the heat in my face as my cheeks flushed. I certainly didn’t feel any reason to be embarrassed by my decision to travel alone, but here I was feeling that twinge of embarrassment just the same.
“Aren’t you scared?” they’d ask. Or, “Wow, really? Is that safe?”
Even the waitress at the diner I frequent expressed disbelief. “Why would you want to go by yourself? Especially to Iceland?”
Trying to explain my trip seemed to take away its magic. It wasn’t Cancún on spring break. It didn’t offer the promise of tropical beaches or all-inclusive room service, or thousands of fellow party-seeking singles to meet. Iceland has no swim-up bars — not that I know of anyhow, though there are natural hot springs — and given all the physical and mental stamina required to plan and execute a trip there, it’s hardly a casual, laid-back vacation.
I wanted to go because I thought Iceland looked beautiful. That was it.
There was a force within me that urged me to go, to stand in awe beneath the northern lights, to dive in glacial water between tectonic plates, to hike for hours and stare at monstrous waterfalls, and to trek across glaciers and lava fields for no reason other than simply to do it. I’d been enamored with Iceland for a long time. And that’s what I told the waitress.
She stared at me for a while before she looked away and sighed. “Well, I hope you’ll have fun. You’re a lot braver than I am.”
I don’t think there’s anything miraculous or brave about traveling alone. I think it’s just a matter of following our bliss and ignoring the fears of other people, which rarely have anything to do with us. After all, we have to learn to enjoy our own company before we can enjoy the company of anyone else.
I just watched the sun come up over the lighthouses in Akranes, a small fishing village on Iceland’s west coast. Now I’m having kaffi at Cafe Lesbokin, and after this I’ll figure out where to buy groceries so I can cook my meals for the remaining seven days I’m here. At dusk, I’ll drive out to Reynisfjara, the black sand beach with towering basalt columns, and listen to the ancient surf. Maybe the northern lights will show themselves tonight.
Waiting to deplane at the airport in Reykjavik, I had a brief conversation with another passenger as we waited for the aisle to clear. She had just turned 30 and was on her way to London to celebrate.
“Are you meeting anyone there?” I asked her.
“No,” she replied. “I’m going alone.”
I smiled. We exchanged social media information and parted ways, agreeing that it’s best to make a plan and hope for chaos.
I’m traveling alone, but I don’t feel lonely.
Originally published via the Nashville Scene.