Travel Stories ,
Getting Comfortable Taking Small Risks Traveling Alone – Clare Marie
Clare Marie is a storyteller, experience designer, and empathy activist. Her latest project, DateBetter.co, combines many of her passions to help you make more meaningful connections through profile optimization, coaching, and custom date design.
TravSolo aims to inspire through authentic storytelling, by sharing real travel experiences
When you hear traveling + alone what are some things that come to mind?
The first things that come to mind traveling by myself are meeting people, making friends and making connections, which is a lot more spontaneous. I’ve traveled a lot in groups, in pairs and alone in the past but traveling solo is actually my favorite way of traveling. This is because you can really be selfish and spend your time how you want to spend it. Traveling solo also has it’s stressful moments because there is nobody to watch your bag at the airport, there is nobody to say “oh wait, grab that” or “do the double check in the hotel room”. You don’t have a safety net there necessarily, so there is the possibility this type of travel comes with a little bit more risks. I still prefer to travel solo today in lots of ways (laughing), do not tell my fiancé.
I promise I won’t. When was the last you traveled with someone or with a group?
I just went to Portland with my fiancé and also went with my best friend to Ireland, for two and a half weeks, this past summer; those are the last two mini trip or bigger trips that I’ve done recently. I actually kind of avoid traveling anywhere with a ‘group’ group nowadays. Last time I did so was when I was in college probably about seven or eight years ago.
Do you find there is a lot of opinions expressed when traveling with others?
Oh my God, that is the other thing that bothers me! I am a planner and have a lot of friends who aren’t, so I get really frustrated when I end up planning an entire vacation for myself and somebody else and they don’t do any of the work for it. And then they complain about many of the things that I plan, so when I’m traveling by myself, it’s easier to be like “Well, if I don’t like it, I planned it.”
Now at what point did you decide to travel alone? Because it seems to me at one point you decided to venture out by yourself
So the two traveling types actually kind of existed side by side for a long time in my life, because I had the opportunity to travel with groups several times for study abroad opportunities from when I was 16 to when I was in my early twenties. I traveled alone internationally for the first time when I was 17 to Japan and met somebody when I got there, which was really only at the airport and did a couple of travel things by myself. I met up with a friend there who was a local, but it really empowered me to realize I can do this by myself and I can navigate certain things even in a foreign country, which in 2004 and 2005 did not have as much English everywhere and what not — I’m like ‘OK, I can figure this shit out’.
I am also a Type 1 diabetic, so there is a lot of planning that goes into me traveling because I have to have enough insulin, supplies and all of that for the duration of my trip. I have to have something set up with my mom where she will be able to send me a supplemental box at certain points along the trip. So I think I really became addicted to solo traveling when I was 21 and did a spring break by myself in the south of France; I had a really great time and some really crappy times too. Learning how to balance those things but also learning how to be alone has always been a priority for me.
How did you feel coming back from your solo France trip?
It was really empowering to go alone, especially as a woman. I don’t really have one trip that stands out that was like super transformational. I grew up in a really ridiculously isolated place in Montana, my college admission’s essay was called “90 miles for Groceries”. It is this tiny town found in the middle of the main entrance to Yellowstone National Park and the closest city is 30,000 people 90 miles away.
I’m an only child and was an artsy person in not an artsy place, so I have always had this need to escape. I came to NYU when I was 18 and have always been striving and going away and going toward; travel just really fulfills that for me. Getting more comfortable with solo travel really empowered me to not have to wait for opportunities and to make them myself. I realized if something is falling off, or feeling stifled and want to go away I can just hop on a plane to Iceland for a few days or whatever.
What is your fondest solo travel moment abroad? I know that is one of the hardest question to ask a traveler because so much happens along the way.
I was in Dublin almost three summers ago from now and was dating somebody back home. I had finished my MFA and bought a one-way ticket to Europe before I fell in love with this person. I still decided to go on this indefinite trip to Dublin, which is one of my favorite cities to see “Once” the Musical — which takes place in Dublin — written by Glen Hansard . The show is so beautiful and it is about love, obstacles and all these things, which made me just glow. I saw Glen Hansard when he came out and the audience sang with him, making my evening a magical one. Coming out of the show I got a text from my boyfriend that he had met somebody else.
I felt I was just on top of the world and then it all crashed! I called my friends while crying, walking along the River Liffey and went back to my hostel. I didn’t sleep at all that night and had to get on a plane to Portugal the next morning. Then I spent three days in Lisbon, Portugal at ‘We love fucking tourists hostel’ — I am not making the name of that hostel up (laughing). I think they mean we fucking love tourists, but it is called the love fucking tourists. I had this really healing delightful-like party while there.
I always recommend to anybody if somebody breaks your heart to get on a plane to Portugal because everybody’s going to tell you how beautiful you are. All these Portuguese men are just wooing me, so I just let myself completely go and experience those three days. I really experienced heartbreak and got drunk with these new people in the hostel to really feel things. It was amazing how everything just felt right because I was by myself in a country that was not my own, within a few hours. I had these highs and these lows alone with myself and had to kind of finally just let myself feel that.
“I think for me it is not the greatest risk, it is getting comfortable with small risks so that you build up a tolerance to it.”
So let us talk about the opposite now. What is the scariest moment you have had traveling alone?
I have had sciatica for awhile and I woke up one morning in London, collapsing on the floor and could not walk. I was in all this pain and I didn’t know why until I realized I slipping a disc in my back. I was subletting my friend’s apartment, so I didn’t have anybody in London to offer me immediate assistance and ended up at the emergency room. Over the course of a couple of weeks I visited three different hospitals and had to go under anesthesia, having to get a steroid injection into my spine. I was completely alone and could have called my parents, whom would have helped me out a little bit financially. When I saw the hospital bills, it turns out even private health care in the UK is pretty affordable. I was in the worst pain in my life, alone in a foreign country which was really hard.
Being by yourself, you are not like “Well, maybe someone can help me”. What was your process getting through all that you went through?
I’m really self-reliant, so it is nice that I have my parents whom are incredibly supportive. Neither of them were about to jump on a plane and come help me, because they knew I didn’t need them to. If I had really needed them to, they probably would have — I was like “Well I can call a cab or hobble my way to the trains”. If all else fails, I’m in one of the politest cities in the world and could just really ask a stranger on the street for help. Weirdly enough, some of the people that I reached out to were guys that I had been talking to through online dating. They offered to step up and help me, people I had connected on the Internet who I’d never met before, who sensibly were just looking to get laid (laughing)- they were like “Oh wait, like you actually need some help. Can I help you with something?”.
The majority of the people in the world want to help people and generally want to help each other. It is similar on the subway, as I have felt more alienated alone and endangered on the subway in New York that I ever had traveling internationally in my entire life. It is just a matter of context and how you are looking at the world. I am not saying “Oh I can just walk through whatever country in the world I want as a woman and be fine” — that is not the reality. Being socially aware is important, but also realizing the people who are around you are people, they have friends and families that they care about.
This might be the hardest question to answer. What is your favorite destination?
Can I have two favorite places in the world?
My favorite place in the world is London. I really like the speed of the city, all the green space and find it to be very welcoming. It is also really diverse, has really great food, great arts — making it my favorite urban environment.
My favorite rural environment is Donegal, Ireland. Most people when they travel in Ireland go to the south of Ireland, Donegal is at the North of Ireland, it is not northern Ireland, but it’s the northern most part of the Republic of Ireland and not as many tourists go there. You kind of need to rent a car to really get off the beaten path there. In Donegal & Sligo I’ve met some of the most amazing people and it is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. The people are absolutely incredible and feels more authentic in a way. I ended up singing in a pub with people, just ended up falling into a session and it was the kind of moment you kind of try to manufacturer when you travel a little bit. This is the place where I feel those magical moments happened for me when I’m traveling there.
Do you have a next destination in mind?
So I’ve kind of had a big shift as I just got engaged. I just propose to my fiancé.
Wait, you proposed to your fiancé??
Thank you! He is jazzed that I proposed, which is awesome too. I decided to flip the script on that one a little bit as I didn’t really ever think I wanted to get married (laughing). I started thinking about me proposing and that I had met a man who was cool with that and was jazzed about that. So now I think solo traveling is going to be a little bit on the back burner for a while because he and I have only ever traveled in the U.S. together.
So now I think my next travel adventures will be learning how to factor in a partner while retaining the feeling that I have about traveling by myself and the spontaneity of it. He knows I’m going to need to travel again by myself at some point in our relationship (laughing).
It is part of the marriage requirements.
Yeah (laughing), I love doing this! It is one of the ways I connect with myself and he is totally cool with that. Now I’m going to learn how to travel with a partner, which is always good for budgeting. It is really great because you can split up the bill and you can graduate from staying at hostels to hotels pretty easily when you’re splitting a room.
What is the greatest risk that you’ve ever taken?
I feel I’m pretty comfortable with risk, so nothing jumps out to me entirely. I think for me it is not the greatest risk, it is getting comfortable with small risks so that you build up a tolerance to it, like saying “yes” to the opportunity to go to Japan when I was 17 by myself to meet up with my friend, taking the job that I have now, embracing study abroad opportunities, moving back to New York on a whim and doing grad school abroad that were exciting but a little bit uncomfortable. I was in the arts for a long time and I got offered this job in financial technology; it was way outside my comfort zone but decided to try it.
When I used to teach theater classes, the motto of the class was ‘Yay for failing’. I think that people are so afraid to fail big, that they suddenly became afraid to fail small. I have missed a train and a flight, those things seem catastrophic in the moment but you get used to those things, getting used to failure is a really good thing. Missing your train in the morning when you are commuting, getting used to it and not freaking out over every little frustration. Failure allows you to do things like pick up and move across the world. and If you don’t fail small then you don’t give yourself the opportunity to win big.
What actually inspires you to travel more?
Meeting people and, most of all, meeting myself, because I have met different versions of myself, especially in different countries, cultures and situations. Also the friends that I’ve made traveling, the friendships I’ve deepened traveling with people, and the people I’ve met in hostels. My through line of life is connectivity — how am I connecting with the world, with people, and with myself.
Travel gives you the best of the best and the worst of the worst, it heightens those sorts of things in your life. I’m actually trying to learn how to recreate that feeling in my normal life because it is expensive to live in New York. So I can’t afford to travel as much, but I’ve never been to the Bronx, that is a travel opportunity! I realized that we have, especially in some place like New York, opportunities to travel here and there without ever having to take anything other than the Subway.
Have you ever inspired someone else to maybe travel more?
It is really easy to directly inspire people being a teacher, especially my students. I also have a lot of friends who are seven to 10 years younger than me and I’m always encouraging them to travel. I encouraged my friend to move back to Japan recently to live with her dad a couple years ago. A lot of people were telling her “No, don’t do that” and I was like “No, go do that!” (laughing).
I think not pushing yourself too far out of your comfort zone too fast is important. When I was 20, I had the opportunity to go to Martinique on a study abroad trip and there was something that just told me I was not ready for that yet. There were a lot of different reasons I made the decisions like having an eating disorder at the time and being a diabetic.
In terms of finding travel opportunities, you don’t have to go backpacking through South America as your first solo traveling experiences. You could go to New York, London or Seattle, honestly it doesn’t even have to be international. Traveling has different forms, such as taking a weekend by yourself in a new city or going to a nice town pretty similar to where you live now is a good way to get your feet wet. Just because there are people like me who are outliers who are like “Yeah, I’ll go jump on a train to Bristol, to meet some guy I’ve never met” does not mean everyone should do the same. I could do those things because I did a lot of other things and I laid the ground work first.
Getting comfortable with the biggest first step is most important. Most of my female friends will not even go out to dinner by themselves. I recommend taking yourself out to dinner with a book as your companion and not with your phone. Try going out to dinner by yourself, wherever you live, get comfortable with your own company because you won’t be able to travel by yourself and actually have a positive experience unless you can take yourself out to dinner (laughing).
Say 20 years from now you decided to write about your travel story, what are three words you would use as your title? Similar to ‘Eat. Pray. Love’
I already have a title for my travel blog, but it’s not three words — so I’ll give you that and then I’ll give you my three words. My current book that I’m working on very slowly is “Crossing the Dateline: Swiping Right for Adventure” which is about online dating and traveling. My three words would be: Listen. Dance. Connect. ‘Eat’ is implied so I’m not going to steal her ‘Eat’, but eat everything everywhere!
Thank you for reading!
For more, find us on:
By Chizoba Anyaoha
Want to share your story as well or learn more? Comments below!