The Universe Provides to the Solo Traveler
by Gray Cargill
Gray at Coca Falls, El Yunque rainforest in Puerto Rico
As a solo traveler, I am used to spending considerable time alone during my travels. That’s fine with me, because I’m an introvert, and I need some alone time every day anyway. But during my travels, I have discovered something about myself: I love meeting new people. It doesn’t matter if I never see them again. I just love to talk to them and get to know them for however long I can. People fascinate me. Thankfully, the universe is pretty good about providing me with new friends and acquaintances just when I need them the most.
Take, for instance, my recent trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico. I had no expectation of finding people to spend time with while I was there, but people kept coming in and out of my life anyway. During breakfast my first day in town, I struck up a conversation with a couple sitting at the diner counter next to me. We commiserated about the restaurant’s lack of mallorcas, which we had all wanted or breakfast. It turned out we were staying at the same hotel. I later ran into them near Raices Fountain, as they were taking a segway tour and I was photographing Old San Juan. Later still, we were all at the Manager’s wine and cheese reception at the hotel. I invited them to join me at my table and we had a nice leisurely chat as the sun began to sink in the sky over Old San Juan. It was a lovely way to end the day.
Two days later, after a day on my own, I took a tour to El Yunque, the rainforest. While I was waiting for the shuttle bus to arrive, a woman sat on the bench next to me. She, too, was going on the tour. We introduced ourselves, and it turned out her brother lives in Stowe, Vermont (about half an hour from my home). She was in town alone, too, not for vacation but for a cancer research conference that was to start the next day. We got on famously and hung out together on the tour.
The next day, I woke up feeling a little sorry for myself. While rare for me, this does happen occasionally. I thought about my plans for the day, and they didn’t sound much fun when I thought of doing them alone. I lay in bed, feeling like a fraud. Here I am, a solo travel blogger, and all I could think was “I don’t want to do anything alone today.”
But I only had one more full day in San Juan, and I didn’t want to waste it, so I forced myself out of bed and proceeded with my itinerary anyway. I got directions from the hotel concierge on where to catch the bus into Old San Juan, where I planned to take the ferry to Catano and go on the Bacardi Rum Factory tour. By the time I sat on the ferry, camera in hand, and watched Old San Juan recede as Catano neared, I was in a much better mood. The breeze coming off the water felt good, it was a beautiful, sunny day, and I was feeling more like an explorer again.
In Catano, I found a man who pointed out the taxi shuttle to the rum factory, paid him the $3 and got aboard. There was already a couple in the van, so I scooted into the seat behind them. The husband immediately struck up a conversation with me, and I learned they were from India. They were amused by my name. The husband was a bit of a jokester, and the wife brought him back down to earth. They had a fantastic verbal rapport. We found ourselves sharing a few laughs on the way to the factory. I am not the clingy type, so I was prepared to part company with them once we arrived at the factory, but they were having none of that. They took me under their wing and expected me to join them on the tour. I was incredibly touched by this. After the tour, we stopped at the hospitality tent for our free rum drinks (which come with the free admission to the factory tour) and had a stranger take our photo as a group. The three of us wound up spending the rest of the afternoon together and shared a late lunch back in Old San Juan, overlooking a cruise ship docked at the pier.
On my way back to my hotel after lunch, I met a young woman who was part of the cancer conference at my hotel. Once we learned we were going the same way, we struck up a conversation. When we got off at the stop for our hotel and realized there was no crosswalk, we had to wait for a break and dash across three lanes of rush-hour traffic, laughing the whole way. It’s a brief adventure, but one that will be more memorable for me because I shared it with her. And I don’t even know her last name.
So yes, the universe provides. But you have to put yourself in a position to have things happen. Had I given in to my feelings of loneliness and lack of motivation, I might have spent that last day at my hotel doing nothing but feeling sorry for myself. I would have missed out on one of the best days of my trip. Had I not taken the opportunities for casual conversation that presented themselves, I might not have met so many interesting people or spent so much enjoyable social time. The only ones I exchanged contact information with were the couple from the Bacardi tour, who invited me to come visit them some time in India. But whether or not I ever see the others again is beside the point. By coming into my life when they did, they made my trip more vivid by their presence. I will always be grateful for that.
Gray Cargill writes the wonderful blog Solo Friendly (http://solofriendly.com), which focuses on solo travel.