“There are some places in life you can only go alone. Embrace the beauty of your solo journey.” – Mandy Hale
Though I’ve enjoyed most of my travel experiences as a non-solo traveller, I have a special place in my heart for the journeys I’ve taken on my own. Some were hard, some were lonesome, but all reflected a common truth too often drowned out by the noise of the company we keep: that we are bigger and stronger than our fears, and more often than not, we can survive and thrive on our own. In fact, some of the most valuable, transformative moments in my life were moments I seized by myself. Here are the top five solo travel experiences I will cherish forever.
Driving up and down Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles, California
A few years ago, I travelled to Los Angeles with my good friend and fellow actress, Tanya Katchouni (read here awesome blog here). She left a day earlier than I did, so I had the chance to spend my last day knocking off the remains of my LA bucket list. I checked out the Hollywood Forever cemetery, gorged on gourmet vegan food and sat in the first row at the Dolby Theatre, but my favorite experience on that glorious day – bar none – was cruising up and down Mulholland Drive.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with this iconic route, here are some quick facts: it’s a scenic road that winds through the Hollywood Hills and Santa Monica Mountains, with glorious views of the LA Basin, San Fernando Valley, Hollywood Sign and more. It’s equally famous for being a very dangerous road to drive; it’s rife with sharp turns and death defying (nay, inducing) drops, and the hillside is dotted with cars that have tumbled off the cliffs.
Obviously, I had to drive it.
With the sunroof up and classic rock blaring on my stereo, I carefully maneuvered my little white Fiat through the sharp turns and curves. As I zipped through the mountain, it was hard to believe that it took me three years, three theoretical exam attempts and six practical exam attempts to get my driver’s license a few years earlier.
But that didn’t matter today. Today, I was in California, and it was just me and the little Fiat that could, racing through the mountain.
I was a fearless driver, in the glory of now – leaving my past behind in the dust.
Crashing an all-male audition in New York City
A few years back, I headed to New York City with some friends to take part in a one-week acting workshop. Though my friends decided to head home after the week was over, I thought I’d extend my stay by a week and give myself more time in the city.
When I wished my friend Vince goodbye, he told me I should check out an audition in Little Italy he had heard about. Apparently, they were casting for a male gangster role in a mobster flick. I took down the information, but apart from the fact that I hadn’t been invited to audition, I was Canadian, had no film experience, and no agent.
Which meant I had nothing to lose.
I researched everybody involved with the film and headed over to the audition.
A few days later, I walked up a steep staircase to find a group of assorted male actors chatting, combing through scripts and psyching themselves up for their auditions. There wasn’t a woman in sight.
Unfazed, I walked right over to the casting list. I took out a pen and added my name to the list.
I made the most of my time by chatting up some of the guys in the room. Eventually, lead star Vinny Vella came out of the audition room to join us. When he started to quiz one of the actors about his knowledge on the film production and cast, I seized the opportunity to tell Mr. Vella how much I knew about the production, his career, the cast and the crew. He was visibly impressed. After a few minutes of friendly banter, the director came out and asked if I was “Stephanie Coco-Palermo” – the mystery girl on the list. I proudly said yes. The screenwriter, Stewart Meyer, came out to meet me as well. I told them that maybe the part could be gender neutral, if it was small anyway. They apologetically told me that the part really could only be filled by a male actor, but they let me stick around anyway. After the auditions wrapped, they invited me to join them for coffee, took me on a mini tour of Little Italy, and treated me to a cannoli at Ferrara’s. As a result, I met a few local actors, ended up getting a New York agent a day later, and had a very successful first audition two days later for a different production. Three days later, Mr. Vella invited me to a taping of his talk show, where he gave me a shout out and a minute of camera time.
Of course, my solo success story eventually came to an end due to my citizenship. But for a few glorious days, I was living like a true New York City actress, and I came home with a priceless lesson: don’t ask permission to turn your dreams into reality; you’ve got to claim it yourself.
And if need be – add your own damn name to the list.
Exploring Seminyak with a private driver in Bali
I was particularly disenchanted with my trip to Indonesia this past Christmas. I was on the verge of depression, my anxiety was out of control and I missed my family and friends at home.
Though I travelled to Bali with a Korean friend, she left early, giving me a few days of solo time. I used the opportunity to book myself a day trip with a private driver named Putu (the BEST, most affordable and professional driver in Seminyak, bar none).
I liked Putu the minute I met him. He was smiley, happy-go-lucky and seemed to be on top of the world. We laughed through traffic jams, spoke about our birth signs and he regaled me with stories about his wife, his life and and his beloved country.
On the way to Uluwatu, we stopped at a Luwak coffee farm . As we sat down at a table with a tour guide from the plantation, Putu said to me, “In Bali, we always have coffee at our place. I always have Luwak coffee at my house, and all my friends are always coming over for coffee.We enjoy life,” he said with his characteristic toothy grin. In a land stricken by poverty, natural disasters and countless other issues, these two men sat across from me, sipping their coffee without a worry in the world. Their happiness and appreciation for the simple joy of a coffee – ethics aside – was nothing short of inspiring. I couldn’t have hoped for a better lesson to take with me on my journey, and all for the bargain price of a taxi fare.
Visiting a spiritual elder in Ubud
My visit with Corkoda Rai, a spiritual elder based in Ubud, was among one of the most profound experiences in my 30-year existence. In fact, it’s a story that is so special and dear to my heart, that I wrote an entire post based on this experience. You can read about it here.
Celebrating the Lunar New Year on Ha Long Bay
My start to 2016 was ugly; I suffered a burnout, my insomnia reached new levels of intensity, and I was diagnosed with anxiety, depression and panic disorder. In February, I decided I needed a do over, and as luck would have it, February 8th marked the beginning of the Lunar New Year. I booked a ticket to Hanoi, packed a carry-on, and prepared to trade in my shitty start to 2016 for a fresh, happy start to 4714.
After spending a spectacular first day in Hanoi, I woke up early on the 7th to jump on a bus for Ha Long Bay. After careful consideration, I chose the Carina Cruise specifically for its exclusivity; there were only about ten guests on the ship, with a crew of four. One of my good friends is named Carina, too, so I thought it might be kismet.
A few hours later, I and a handful of people boarded the boat. I entered the dining room to find three tables: one for a lovely young couple from Hong Kong; another for a Korean family, celebrating their family patriarch’s birthday; and a third, with one chair and a single flower in a vase, just for me. I sat in my chair, trying to ease into the discomfort of sitting, by myself, directly facing a couple and a family in a very small room. I fought the urge to busy myself with my phone, a book or a menu. I simply sat, observing, sipping my welcome cocktail. By accepting the sanctity of solitude, my loneliness faded away. With a champagne flute in hand, I watched the majestic Karst mountains roll by.
Later that day, I hopped into a kayak with some members of the Korean family, and we paddled through the floating villages. The Koreans couldn’t speak any English – save for Kim, who was my age – but they fed me an apple and a fig, quasi-adopting me like an orphan on Christmas (or rather, New Year’s Eve). We eventually made our way to a pearl farm, and then back on board the ship for New Year’s dinner. I capped off my evening with an hour long massage and a quick read before bed. Despite my lifelong struggle with insomnia, I dozed off before the clock struck midnight. I was done with 2016.
I woke up the next morning at 5:45 am, ready and excited for my 6 am Tai Chi class to welcome the New Year. A few of the Koreans were there, and my new friend Kim told me that it was a Korean tradition to watch the sunrise on New Year’s Day. Together, we watched the sun peek over the mountains. There was nothing else, in this moment – no blog, no job, no taxes, no debts. Just mountains, a rising sun and the promise of renewal.
You don’t have to worry
all your worried days are gone
this will be our year
took a long time to come. – “This Will be Our Year”, The Zombies
A few minutes later, the cruise’s Tai Chi instructor arrived. Though it turned out I was the only guest who had showed up for the class, my Korean friends decided to join in. The Vietnamese instructor and most of the Korean family couldn’t speak or understand English, but I felt a strong sense of connection and understanding that had been lost in translation for months. As we moved in quiet unison, we spoke a wordless language that knew no race or creed. I might have been on a solo journey, but I wasn’t alone. I was one with everything and everyone, as I had been all along.
What are some of your favorite solo travel experiences? Share your stories below <3