On Traveling Alone

I’m writing this from an empty bar at the corner of Dundas Street West and Bellwoods Avenue in Toronto. There’s no air conditioning in this place, so I’m doing my best to make my flushed face and smudged makeup look intentional and chic (I hear sweaty foreheads are making a comeback this season).

If you’re reading this, you may ask: why are you subjecting yourself to this uncomfortable situation? Why cross an international border just to sweat in front of a few random strangers? Can’t you do that in Detroit?

All valid questions. And questions that I'm asking myself at this very moment.

You see, I bought my train tickets to Toronto sort of on a whim. A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a coffee shop enjoying a slice of cheesecake, reveling in the fact that I had two weeks of paid vacation. Two whole weeks! How could I possibly fill the time?

A voice in my head told me I should leave the city – maybe even the state? – during this rare time off. I mean, what else is vacation for? And even though no one I knew would be able to travel with me, I thought: I could take a trip alone! That’s what strong, independent, self-reliant women do these days, right?

I then imagined a more stylish version of myself strolling through the streets of Toronto, looking both aimless and purposeful at the same time. I’d go to restaurants and bars, armed with a book in hand, and would maybe read through a few chapters. Before I got too engrossed, though, I would strike up friendly conversations with the people around me. They’d ask where I was from and we’d fall into the casual sort of friendship that could last for a few hours or perhaps for years. My days would be filled with all the cultural sights that Toronto had to offer, my evenings filled with newfound friendships in a city I’d never been to.

With this aspirational vision in mind, I booked my train ticket and my Airbnb. I started researching museums, restaurants, and other places where I’d soon meet all of these new travel buddies and friends.

Fast forward eighteen days, and here I sit: alone, at a bar, with nothing but my books, my beer, and this blog to keep me company.

It turns out, that person I envisioned is a lot further from my current self than I wanted to admit when I bought my ticket. As much as I wish I were the type of person to engage with strangers and make new friends everywhere I go, I’m simply not. It turns out, I would much rather stay in Detroit, surrounded my places that I recognize and friends whom I love, than wander to a new city alone.

Earlier today, I visited the Art Gallery of Ontario, a huge and beautiful art museum by anyone’s standards. I’m not an art-buff by any means, but there were definitely some pieces and exhibits that I enjoyed. Others, though, I found myself wandering through simply to take up time, to fill the hours between when I woke up earlier this morning and when I’ll go to bed later tonight.

I kept checking the time, realizing how early in the day it still was, and forcing myself to walk through yet another gallery room. I stared at random paintings and sculptures, pretending to find some deeper meaning in the works, when really I was just hoping the clock would tick faster.

Why is it so hard to admit that I don't like traveling alone?

Why, after six months essentially alone in Paris – a time in my life which included some highlights but was net negative overall – is it still hard to accept that I need the presence of friends and loved ones in order to be comfortable and happy?

After spending a few tearful hours in my Airbnb, I realize now that this is just another part of my personality that I need to acknowledge and come to terms with. I can strive to be the easygoing solo traveler all I want, but at my current state, it’s just not going to happen.

That's not who I am, and that's okay.

I have a couple more days left in Toronto before I take the train back to Windsor, where my boyfriend will be waiting for me to drive me back home to Detroit. I’m going to make the most of them while I can; there are sights I want to see and places I want to visit before I leave.

But I’m also going to make a more concerted effort to be honest with myself – my current self, not my future, aspirational self – and more forgiving of myself. I want to grow and change, but I can’t do so overnight. Being fair to myself means accepting that.