It's no secret that I've done my fair share of traveling. I'm on a plane at least every other week, often heading to international destinations for work trips. Because I'm often busy working when I'm traveling, I usually forget to enjoy myself and live in the moment, so it's always fun to have a travel companion to keep me in check. But on my recent trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico, my friend who had been traveling with me went home early (and I was done with the work part of the trip), so I was left to explore the city all by myself. Traveling alone for the first time changed my perspective in the most surprising, amazing way.
Don't get me wrong: I have been on countless planes by myself, but up until this trip to San Juan, I hadn't actually explored another place completely by myself. (I have always done group tours, press trips, or just traveled with family, friends, and my boyfriend.)
Navigating my way through the city was definitely a bit challenging, but at the same time, felt totally instinctual and natural, as if I had been doing it my whole life. Though I know I won't be giving up traveling with my loved ones or group tours anytime soon, I now have a newfound love for solo travel. It has changed my perspective for the better.
It was much easier to get amazing travel photos than I thought it would be.
Something I always feared about solo travel was not being able to capture good pictures of myself, and documenting the memories is extremely important to me. Luckily, my first solo travel experience just so happened to be in one of the friendliest cities I have ever visited. Locals and tourists alike were so welcoming, and when they noticed I was walking around by myself, they offered to take my photo for me.
I have the most incredible story about the photo above. Two friends stopped me to compliment my outfit. I actually got it from Valija, a popular boutique in Old San Juan, and it turned out that they loved shopping there as well. Because we were already chatting, I asked them if they could take my picture. After we were done, I found out that they were photography students. I had accidentally stumbled upon the best possible Instagram photographers on the block! (I think the pic speaks for itself.)
Traveling alone meant that I could really take my time walking around.
While I love traveling with other people, most of the time, it means that I have to stick to a strict schedule, or accommodate what everyone else wants to see as well. Something that I loved about exploring San Juan by myself was the freedom to wander around and explore the charming nooks and crannies. I went into stores if something caught my eye, or if I remembered that I wanted to check something out I had seen on the last block, I was able to just turn around and go back.
One day, it started raining in the middle of the afternoon, so I ducked into a cute coffee shop and hung out there for a little bit. I didn't pull out my map app once, because I wanted to just live in the moment and enjoy the city for myself.
I definitely love having some kind of structure to my travel schedules (My life doesn't function without my iCal.), but walking around with no particular end destination in mind opened my eyes to the different possibilities of what traveling can be like.
I definitely need to travel by myself again soon.
Traveling by myself made me realize that there is more than one (or even two, or five) good ways to make traveling worth your while. It's all about how to get the most out of the experience. Some trips might be better with a companion, and others, like my time in Old San Juan, I believe were best enjoyed alone.
This trip was such a game changer for me. I'm already brainstorming where I can go by myself next. Even if I have to bring a tripod to get the perfect shot, I know that my next trip alone will be well worth the wait.