I get a lot of strange looks when I tell people I travel by myself, but the truth is, I'm rarely alone. And I've never gone on a solo vacation where I didn't make at least one new friend.
When I travel alone, I enjoy the time to focus on myself. I can be selfish in just about every decision I make. Don't feel like spending another day in a museum? I'll picnic in the park instead. Need an impromptu coffee shop visit? Sure! I'm on no one's schedule but my own.
The thing is, I am a social person at heart. When I travel by myself, I need to find people with whom I can talk, share stories and laugh. So I've learned to relish small group tours and hostels.
Three years ago I was in Paris the day the Tour de France arrived for its triumphant final stage. That morning, I woke up in my hostel, walked down to the breakfast room and asked if anyone else was heading to the Champs Élysées. Fifteen minutes later, I was in the company of a half dozen new friends from various countries as we headed out to cheer on the cyclists. It felt like we were a contingent of the United Nations, sharing a bottle of wine while we shared stories of our adventures.
Through the wonders of Facebook, I have maintained friendships forged while breakfasting on mangoes in St. Lucia, gorging on pho in Vietnam, and sipping beers in Amsterdam. We share photos, wish each other happy birthday (in fact, today is Volker's birthday in Germany...happy b-day, Volker!), and celebrate life's passages with notes of congrats on weddings and new babies.
The secondary benefit of these far-flung friendships is the collection of couches I have slowly accumulated across the globe. In a previous entry in this series I discussed that one of the reasons why I travel is to visit friends. Making new friends as I travel is a wonderful excuse to have new places to visit and couches to crash on. Ahh...what a fabulous circle.
On this ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, I'm reminded even more of how important it is to create friendships with people of different nationalities, faiths, politics, and beliefs. Naive as it may be, I truly believe my international friendships are positive efforts toward foreign diplomacy. Peace, one friend at a time.