Audio: Flying Solo

As the world starts to reopen (albeit with trepidation in some areas more than others); travel (re)beckons. I’ve always been a huge fan of traveling — you name it, I’m down. Road trips, air travel, train ride— let’s do it! Traveling is a means to not only explore the exterior of what the world has to offer in terms of: people, culture, food, music, language, history, religions, recreation, etc.; but more so afforded me the space to look inward and discover myself. An ironic contrast but true for many!

There’s a tried and true expression in Arabic (loosely translated to): if you really want to know someone, travel with ’em. I believe that extends to flying solo —i.e., taking a trip alone and literally getting to know yourself. Lots of folks, especially women, tend to fear venturing out into the great unknown on their own. But I can attest: the best moments I’ve experienced in life have been when I ventured out as a party of one. (Of course, man or woman: anywhere you go — you gotta be smart and safe about your movements).

When I marinate on some of the most resounding moments of self-discovery and genuine connection — it was on my solo trips. Be it in prayer in Makkah or propped up on the beach in San Juan — sitting in a Chinese opera house in Kuala Lumpur or hiking the Berkshires in Massachusetts, riding the back roads of Lafayette County or relaxing in a bath house spa in Dubai, meandering the back alleys of Paris or perusing the souks of Cairo; I learned more about myself on these solo treks than any institutional experience afforded. But don’t get it twisted: solo doesn’t necessarily mean not engaging with people on the ground (au contraire mon frère), it just means you’re Lewis-&-Clarking it — sans the latter for the better part of the voyage.

Where the plot twist not only happens but thickens is with pandemic travel regulations, happening alongside waves of both lock-downs and re-openings — definitely some new ingredients to the travel mix. Many carriers have required negative COVID test results and/or vaccination cards to board, while others are trying to mitigate spread by spacing out the middle aisle. A few international fleets have gone a step further by guaranteeing health care coverage on their home turf in the event passengers catch the virus. Even hotels have implemented revamped cleaning techniques along with 24 hour vacancy between guests. I gotta hand it to commercial air carriers and the hospitality industry — they’ve gotten crafty at cascading out measures — cosmetically and tangibly — to make folks feel safe enough to book seats and rooms.

Despite the pandemic and the wake of its aftermath TBD (regulatory, social, etc.), I still believe travel is hands down the best means for getting to know yourself — irrespective of age or gender. Even if that entails hopping in your car and taking a short road trip — just the process in getting to the destination is enough to shed light on how you (prefer to) function (e.g., early airport arrival or right on the nose of flight take-off?). Once you’re on the ground, exploring the landscape and figuring out culinary, recreational, and cultural pursuits is likely to imprint a lasting and colorful impression on both your inner frame and outer world. Your vantage point about people shifts (or in my case, converges), your home décor becomes more vibrant, your spice collection gets an upgrade, even your hobbies expand. Flying solo is more than just down-time; it’s a labor of love… the most important kind: that of self-discovery.

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