When I married almost 30 years ago, I stopped going anywhere by myself. After we had kids, all of our trips were educational. Drive across Canada, visit Europe, take them to Montreal to perfect their French.
But then, when I was in the midst of a difficult time with both of our (teenaged) children, a friend suggested that I join her in New York. She was there for work so I could stay in her hotel for free, if I paid for my flight.
For the first time in 15 years I traveled without my children. For the first time in almost 20 years, I flew somewhere by myself. It was glorious.
The next year she was back, but had to go to Washington, DC first. So I flew to New York, rented a car, and planned to pick her up when she arrived.
I booked a hotel in Virginia Beach for the night before she flew into DC, because somewhere I had heard about the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and I really wanted to drive over it. I suppressed my usual need to preplan and didn’t buy any guide books. I borrowed a GPS for the car and turned myself over to its knowledge.
I arrived in Virginia Beach, and, to my surprise, my hotel was amazing, on the Atlantic with a sandy shore where the sea rolled in. In a fit of enthusiasm, I checked into my room and ran down to the evening surf and dove in. And realized, when I came up, that I had forgotten to take off my glasses, and they had disappeared.
And that’s travel. One moment I was smiling and reveling in new sights and joyous experience, the next I was crawling in the sandy surf, with the dawning realization that things were going to be difficult for a while.
Then I just laughed and started to get it done. Book another day at Virginia Beach. Contact my friend to tell her I wouldn’t be at the airport to pick her up. Find an optometrist open on Sunday, the next day. Figure out how to get there on public transit, as without my glasses I couldn’t drive. Adjust to the disorienting and somewhat helpless feeling of not being able to see clearly: scenery, signs, the expressions on faces further than 6 feet away.
Although it was 7 years before I traveled on my own again, I think I knew then that I wanted to do more. I realized that travel rarely comes without problems, but navigating those problems is part of the challenge that makes it satisfying and worthwhile. Traveling on my own means having faith in my competence. It means the freedom to do what I want; the freedom to be lonely.
So that was the real start of my brave travels.