There is a period in my mid-twenties that I think of as The Brave Years—a short span in which, over and over, I stared down my own fears and started to live life the way I wanted. Traveling to Spain is one of the standout markers of those days. For years I had wrestled with frustration and impatience trying to get others to travel with me. Money and timing and nerves always seem to erode the best laid plans, and I was tired of waiting. So at the end of my first year in DC, I bought a plane ticket, booked a cheap single in a hostel, and took a deep breath.
Barcelona was an easy choice. My Spanish was good after a year of practicing with international roommates, and the mix of modern culture and gothic architecture appealed to me. The metro system was easy to figure out, and soon I was wandering the dark winding streets of the old city and feeling very brave.
Still, the first two days I ate nothing but almonds and oranges I bought at a little store near my hostel, too intimidated to go into any restaurants and order alone in another language. All the walking eventually had me starving, and that hunger wrangled my courage, first at the open air Boqueria, then a casual falafel place, little coffee shops, and eventually amazing tapas bars.
Traveling alone is liberating and lonely. It can be wonderful to set your own agenda, to linger in or bypass a museum, a street, a bar, a shop, with no consideration for anyone or anything other than your own mood. There is also no one to lean on or commiserate with when you meet challenges, and nobody to celebrate with when you absolutely nail a conversation entirely in Spanish, or to turn to when something you see is breathtakingly beautiful.
These days I’m much more comfortable traveling alone. So much so that, when we travel together, the Mister and I will separate for a day and go on our own little adventures. And while I did eventually make friends in those days in Spain, something I’ll touch on a little more tomorrow, the most enduring experience of that trip was the aloneness. Separation from television, news, media, internet, conversation and companionship. Culturally we often think poorly of aloneness, but being left to nothing but my own thoughts and experiences was by turns exhilarating, frightening, focusing, and powerful.