For years I didn’t understand the concept of solo traveling. Who do you talk to? Who do you share the experience with? Gasp, who takes the pictures?
With family on the outskirts of San Francisco, I decided to give independent travel a chance for three days. I arrived at Hotel Zetta on a Friday morning before check-in, leaving me no choice but to hit the ground running.
A rumbling belly begged to be fed. Conveniently enough, right across from the hotel is a spot called Moz Café where I ordered the chorizo scrambled.
Next stop, the famous cable cars. I purchased a 3-Day Visitor Passport for $31.00 from the San Francisco MTA booth on the corner of Powell & Market Street. A single ride is priced at $7.00 but there’s about a 50/50 chance someone will check your ticket. With three lines, the most popular being Powell-Mason Line, it’s helpful to have a route in mind before you board.
After a 45 minute wait in line I hopped to the front of the cable car and took the local roller coaster down to Fisherman’s Wharf. Lined with outdoor markets of fish on the rocks (ice) I knew I was really in the city on the bay. I heard echoing Sea Lions in the distance and made my way over to meet Pier 39’s most popular residents.
I spent about an hour here, embarrassingly to admit, just laughing at the mammals pushing each other over for the ideal nap position before exploring the markets.
The next day I vowed to get lost. Lacing up my sneakers, I waved hi to locals, acting as though I knew where I were the whole time. Bubble tea? Huge trinket stores with foreign writing? I landed in China Town. Upon the turn of a corner and I was standing inside a local book store. Apparently, San Francisco is filled with quaint shops for the articulately inclined.
I stumbled into an American eatery, Mo’s, for a late lunch at the counter (solo travelers don’t take up booths we sit front and center). Within minutes an elderly man who knew the staff seemingly well sat next to me. I was alone, he was alone, it seemed appropriate to strike up a conversation. Norm* was a widow and a local patron of Mo’s for a few decades. A world traveler from his days in the army, Norms best advice to an independent soul on the move,
“Surround yourself with people who make you happy. The rest is wasted time.”
Countless steps and various detours later I finally made it to Coit Tower.
Later that night I was invited by the hotel manager to attend a private party in Hotel Zetta’s Playroom. Apparently the Treasure Island Music Festival was going on and I happened to be staying at the ‘it’ spot for late night schmoozing. I took some additional time in the famed stairwell where local artists painted the wall, #TakeTheStairs.
Walking the numerous hilltops of San Francisco the day prior prepared me for my greatest adventure yet, biking over the Golden Gate Bridge.
The next day I picked up my rental ride from Blazing Saddles and began to peddle the eight mile journey towards Sausalito. Despite my perceived exhaustion curiosity took over. Parking my bike, I began hiking upward through the streets searching for the perfect view of San Francisco which landed me near the highway overpass and I knew it was time to turn around.
Before missing the last ferry back I rewarded myself with Kona Mocha Chip ice cream from Lapperts (the sole reason I workout, dessert). The boat ride was scenic, passing by Alcatraz Island and giving a great view of Ghirardelli Square.
A Brit, a businessman, and I began talking, all three of us on our own. Soaking in the panoramic view of the city we exchanged tips and discussed our unique experiences. In that moment I realized that I never actually felt alone during my trip.
By not being engaged in a conversation with a companion I spoke to everyone around me. Each person I encountered became part of my experience, moments I was solely responsible for, good or bad. By living in each moment I spent less time looking through a lens, worrying. And when I did want a picture taken I asked a stranger and hoped they wouldn’t run away with my phone.
We spend so much of our lives relying on the opinions of others. Compromising what we want to do to satisfy someone else. And there is nothing wrong with that, but sometimes disconnection is the only way we can reconnect with ourselves.
Why travel solo? Because it allows us to be selfish and ignore the noise. Dare to find yourself again.