As the only child of two working parents, I learned to keep myself entertained from a very young age. I would create elaborate soap operas for my Barbie dolls and challenge my alter ego in games like Connect Four and Battleship. (I grew up before computers and smart phones. Can you imagine?) But as a young adult, the idea of going out to dinner or the movies alone was terrifying. What would people think?
My memory of the first time I dined alone remains vivid. I had just moved to Manhattan after college and knew no one in the city. After getting my fill of bagels and pizza I wanted a real meal. So one day I took a book to a charming restaurant I often passed on my neighborhood walks and requested a table for one by the window. There I was: all alone, on display for the world to see. Or so it felt at the time. In hindsight I’ve realized that the only person thinking about me was me.
When it comes to overcoming the fear of doing stuff solo, the first step is really just getting over ourselves. We are our own worst critic and waste too much time worrying about the opinions of others. Who cares what strangers think, anyway? We will likely never see them again – and if we do, so what? Should their opinion have so much sway over our daily joy?
After that first solo dinner, I soon branched out to Broadway shows and movies. These are perfect activities to enjoy on your own because a) it’s dark, and b) there’s no talking. Plus, the concession stand clerk has no idea that that extra large popcorn is yours alone. Did I mention that you won’t have to share your snacks?
Now I think nothing of hopping a plane to Barcelona or Hong Kong, or a long-distance bus to Vilnius, and exploring the city completely by myself. Think that’s crazy? Read on for some strategies that will have you singing a different tune!
Attend a movie matinee. Treat yourself to a pedicure. Watch a fashion show at the local mall. Go to a cafe and sit down with your coffee instead of taking it to go, then work up to having lunch. Museums are great for solo exploration because they encourage quiet reflection. Ride the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus and listen to the often-interesting tidbits on your headphones. The opportunities are endless! Once you are comfortable doing some things by yourself, the next challenge is to put down your phone or book and simply enjoy the experience for what it is.
Cultivate a New Hobby
Like photography? Grab your camera and go for a long walk. Always wanted to know how to knit/bowl/ski/etc? Take lessons or join a league. Many cities have clubs for outdoor running or public speaking. I once came across a group of people staring silently up at a tree in Central Park. Creeping over, I eventually saw the bird they were watching with keen interest. Whatever you’re into, there’s a group of people out there already practicing it. Join them! At the very least, the experience will give you some stories to tell at happy hour.
Doing something alone doesn’t mean avoiding people. Consider joining a free walking tour or taking an art class. Grab a beer in a pub and chat up the locals. One of my best nights in Hong Kong happened after asking directions from strangers on the street and then accepting an invitation to join them for dinner. Once you open yourself up to new possibilities, it’s amazing what fun you’ll have! And you might make some new friends in the process.
Practice Makes Perfect
My first experience with solo travel was a business trip. My company sent me to meet with a vendor and I used my downtime (lunch, dinner, the morning before my return flight) to do a little exploring. Sent on a return trip a few months later, I asked to go on Sunday instead of Monday and used the extra day for sightseeing. After that, I was hooked! I worked hard and was rewarded with more business travel and thus more adventure. One trip required me to fly into Salt Lake City and drive a rental car to Provo for a meeting the next morning; I took a short detour to Park City to marvel at the snow-covered mountains and Old West architecture. Those opportunities boosted my confidence tremendously. Once I moved to Shanghai, visiting a far flung temple or enjoying afternoon tea by myself didn’t seem scary at all.
Sure, the first few times you venture out by yourself might be intimidating. But it will get easier, and the confidence and self-awareness you gain will be priceless. Don’t miss out on all the fun just because there’s no one to go with!
What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done alone?
Have any tips for overcoming fear?