The majesty and magic of solo travel
The first time I flew alone was at age 15. Having moved us to the Midwest 6 years earlier, my parents let me fly to stay with relatives for a few weeks in my beloved San Francisco, where I was born. The idea of getting on a plane must have been very appealing to an adolescent whose everyday life seemed fairly dull at the time. It was the Summer of Love and this was the trip that established my love of solo travel, when I could be anyone I wanted to be even if it only lasted a short time.
My next solo trip was a big one. I was 18 and my father had wanted one of his children to experience what he did in 1938 at the same age. Despite much faster modes of transportation being available by the 1970s, I was to travel to my college year abroad in Athens by ship. My father wanted me to FEEL how far I was from home, and nothing like ocean travel can really prepare you for that. That year away from my very tight-knit family was a year that changed my life, introducing me to all those worldly things lacking in my otherwise limited existence.
Since then, I have traveled alone a lot, both for work and for pleasure. After college I even worked for an airline, offering me free travel benefits that made me giddy with possibilities. I could hop a plane and spend my days off basking on a beach in Mexico or Christmas shopping in London. I still maintain that while there are adventures to be had everywhere you go, with or without travel companions, nothing offers the feeling of accomplishment like having experienced places on your own terms, with no one along to color your perceptions or share your discoveries.
Greece beckons my DNA home every few years for reasons difficult to put into words. Aside from the need I feel to visit with family members there, I begin to revisit my youth the moment I climb into a taxi from Venizelos airport. Suddenly I am 18 again, and the sights, sounds, and aromas of Athens remind me of an exciting time in my life that felt as if it would last forever.
Three years ago was the first time I had traveled alone to Greece since I was a student there. I felt good-scared — the way that promises you will eventually figure things out on your own. My Greek was rusty, I had no idea what neighborhood my AirBnb was located in, and I wondered just what I would do every day if I couldn’t visit with my cousins. Before long, however, I discovered Uber-style taxis with their own wifi systems built in, learned to walk from my little place to the heart of the city, strolled through the Acropolis Museum alone, and found comfortable cafes, where I set up my laptop and did remote writing work so that my income would not be interrupted.
To my surprise, I found Greek words and phrases I had no idea dwelt within me, perhaps residual vestiges of my time there that were never put to good use. I visited my old college campus (which is now a sprawling expanse of buildings complete with its own Starbucks location) with a sense of nostalgia and pride in the girl I was back then. And I treated my cousin to a trip to Hydra, where we visited with some of his friends and took a stroll along the island promenade before feasting on some incredible seafood and boarding the ferry back to Athens.
I leave for Athens again in a few weeks on my 67th birthday, having planned this little trip using the knowledge I accumulated on the last one as well as longing to see the faces of the last few people with close ties to my parents. I have no doubt that I will once again bask in memories of my adventurous youth while stretching the boundaries of my senior sensibilities.
Travel as a form of education is no myth, especially when you learn so much about yourself.