Skip to main content

What Solo Travel Taught Me About Community and Taking up Space

Shaniya is a freelance blogger based in Charlotte, NC. In her free time, she is an actress, singer, creative, and cat mom!

Solo in DC, May 2021

Solo in DC, May 2021

Community Through Solo Travel

What does it mean to feel a sense of community? Is it the people that you surround yourself with, or is it the comfort that you feel in the spaces that you exist in? Personally, I believe that community is something that you stumble upon. You rarely plan who you're going to associate yourself with, except in the circumstance of coworkers or a student cohort if you're in an academic setting.

As humans with personal goals and objectives, we often ask ourselves how maintaining these connections will benefit us in the long run, whether financially, physically, mentally, or romantically, but how much time do we actually spend learning from each other instead of seeking a transaction or validation from these other individuals? Do these interactions actually end up benefiting us in the long run, or are we only maintaining them to fill voids in our lives that haven't been tended to yet?

At this point in my life, I've found myself struggling to find a consistent answer to this question.

Finding a New Home and Perspectives

From a young age, we're taught about the importance of connecting with others, but I've found that many of the connections that we make with people are rooted in what they can ultimately do for us someday. You may network with others to get your foot in the door for a new job opportunity or to reap the benefits of having access to someone's life and resources, but where is this level of desire to connect when there is no transaction to provide but ideas, thoughts, and energy?

When traveling alone, this is often the only exchange that you share with the people you come across, and yet the bonds that I have formed while away from home are some of the deepest ones that I have experienced in my 21 years of life. To be able to find home—while being away from my actual physical home—has been a highlight of my solo traveler experience.

It allowed me to find the beauty in seeing people as they are in the present. To find enlightenment and inspiration in the moments that I've shared with people from other regions and open myself up to different yet equally valid perspectives that I may not have considered if I had just stayed home.

Solo in New York, April 2021

Solo in New York, April 2021

Opening My Mind Through Solo Travel

There's nothing quite like good ol' Southern hospitality. Sweet tea, family gatherings after church, and long late-night talks on my grandma's porch in the middle of sweltering South Carolina heat are unbeatable experiences that I wouldn't trade for the world.

As glamorous as that all sounds, the South, like every place, is full of its own flaws. Racism, homophobia, and lack of reproductive justice are still issues that plague many of our communities, and often times more progressive viewpoints are looked down on or at least met with a passive-aggressive "bless your heart."

Of course, everyone in the South is different, and I'm glad to say that most of my experiences as a black woman have been more sweet than salty, but I've found that it became limiting to continue to surround myself around the same social circles, political (and literal) climates, and ideals that I had been raised on. I became comfortable with my surroundings, which is generally a good thing, but I started to feel stuck in that comfort, to the point where I felt the need to break it for a moment by traveling solo.

When you've lived in an area for a while, it can become very easy for people to ask others about who you are and what you are like, which is limiting because, as humans, we are constantly evolving. The perception that others may have of you is based on the point in life that you were at upon meeting them, which can be limiting as it doesn't serve as a full reflection of your growth as an individual.

Traveling Provides a Clean Slate

The community that I've found while traveling alone exists without preconceived notions about who I am and what I've experienced in my life. It allowed me to have a clean slate, even if only for a few days. I was a complete stranger in the places that I trekked to.

Scroll to Continue

Read More from WanderWisdom

I've sat in random bars full of people who probably didn't think to give me a second glance. I've eaten lunch in Central Park and played with dogs owned by people that I'll probably never see again. And I've experienced the unique scent of $1 slices and overflowing trash filling my olfactory bulbs in Brooklyn. These fleeting moments allowed me to cherish the discomfort of being alone while also reminding me of the beauty of melting into the background.

I found community and intellectual conversation through the people I met and the experiences that we shared together. I've walked in the rain in Seattle with friends that I met while alone in DC, traversed through the streets of New York with friends that I'd reconnected with by just being there, and explored Santa Monica with new friends that I met while away.

Through these experiences, I found myself challenged and admittedly a little nervous, but I gained not only friendship but also a different outlook on life. One that grants me the room to be open to new beginnings, embrace the fleeting moments, and develop a level of empathy for the different strokes of life that are painted for us and that we paint for ourselves.

Solo in LA, March 2022

Solo in LA, March 2022

Solo Travel as a Radical Act of Self Love

The late great bell hooks once said, “Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.” I love this quote because it reinforces the common importance of solitude in our lives.

Whether traveling to a new state or country or spending time alone in your living room, being in solitude allows us to focus on our thoughts, including why we think the way we do and how we can continue to improve ourselves for the future. Adding to that, travel has its benefits, too, such as trying new things and taking a break from the monotony that our regular lives can oftentimes bring.

Hearing Myself Think

For me, solo travel is a refuge in many senses of the term. It gave me space away from my Southern way of life, existing as simply a Black woman alone. I could finally hear myself think in a way that I couldn't before. I was constantly convoluted with thoughts about how others perceived me: from the way I dress and accessorize to the ways I walk, talk, and interact. Solo travel taught me the importance of living in my truth no matter where I am or who I am with because, if anything, I must be loyal to myself and my being.

Engaging With Those Thoughts

It also taught me to always take time to check in with the person on the inside. My time traveling was full of new experiences and levels of connection that I wouldn't have enjoyed back home, but it also taught me how important it is to take advantage of my alone time to be productive.

Of course, I don't mean this in the sense of taking my work with me on vacation, but more so in the sense of taking the opportunities that I had while away to actively engage with my train of thought, taking time to fully process everything happening around me without the influence of other people's thoughts and opinions; something that I wasn't doing as often as I should have been.

I had time to sit down and observe life happening around me, which helped me find beauty in the evolving experiences of others while still acknowledging my presence as a beautiful and simultaneously changing thing as well.

Presence in the Space You Occupy

More than anything, solo travel taught me the importance of being present, both physically and mentally, in the spaces I exist in. Taking up space in new places while alone and as a Black woman in America has been one of the most liberating experiences I've had in my life.

It taught me to embrace the fleeting moments and focus on what is in front of me instead of what may lie in store because the now will always affect the later. It taught me to lead my life with curiosity instead of fear and have the audacity to not wait for others to be ready for me to go it alone for the sake of myself.

Though I may travel alone, I'm never lonely.

© 2022 Shaniya Simmons

Related Articles