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Do you ever challenge yourself? Dare yourself to take a risk, big or small? Push yourself to step out of your comfort zone? I would like to think everyone has this quality, though it may be more openly displayed by some. I often find myself extending, and accepting, my own challenges.

Walking along the Ribeira in the ran

Walking along the Ribeira in the rain

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Dom Luis Bridge

Dom Luis Bridge

I knew before I arrived in Madrid for the year that I wanted to embark on one solo trip. The idea of traveling alone is a glamorous one. The solo traveler is a worldly character, as in touch with her own being as with those around her. Unafraid to be herself, by herself because the only thing that matters is the divine act of travel. Solo travel is supposed to teach you about yourself.

Graffiti witnessed on our walking tour

Graffiti witnessed on our walking tour

Graffiti by the same artist

Graffiti by the same artist

Well folks, I am not a “solo traveler.” Most of what I learned about myself on this trip, I already knew. I don’t want to be alone. It’s taboo to admit such a thing, I know. We live in an age of independence. And guess what? I am independent. I am perfectly capable of spending quality time alone. I can, and have, navigated a new city alone. I have visited cafes and famous sites alike, all by myself. The thing is, I’d just rather be with people. Of course, we all need a break from each other sometimes. But I find that I am a social creature. I am mostly an extrovert by the most basic definition – I derive my energy from social situations. So naturally, my solo trip was only ‘solo’ for about half a day.

Inside Sao Bento Train station

Inside Sao Bento Train station

Town Hall

Town Hall

I spent my first hours in Porto being rained on. After my nice umbrella kept flipping out due to wind, I trashed it in anger and bought another one, which also flipped out. I tried reading my map to find a place to eat, and it quickly became drenched and illegible. I gave up. I found myself alone near an alley, and knew what I needed most in that moment was to not be solo. I needed a friend where there was none to be found. So, on the verge of a total breakdown, I became that friend for myself. I talked myself down. I asked myself what I needed in that moment to be happy. I was alone. It was all about me. I could do whatever I wanted. The answers were simple enough: I wanted to rest at the hostel and charge my phone; to put in my contacts and grab a hat to replace my umbrella; to ditch my must-see-sights list and just go relax in a cafe; to explore the ‘Harry Potter bookshop’ because that’s where magic lives.

Cafe Majestic - oldest cafe in Oporto

Cafe Majestic – oldest cafe in Oporto

Livrario Lello - inspiration for JK Rowling's Harry Potter

Livrario Lello – inspiration for JK Rowling’s Harry Potter

Port Wine

Port Wine

I did all of these things. That night, I made friends in the hostel and stayed up much later than intended because I was in good company. The next day, I spent all my time with people I met on a walking tour. Part of me felt I was cheating myself of the solo travel experience. Wasn’t it supposed to be all introspective and deep? But for me, it was all that and more. It’s in my nature to gravitate toward other people, and I’m glad I didn’t have to stifle that part of me on this trip. I learned that, while I enjoy alone time, I thrive around company. I also learned that in cases when I am alone, I can rely on myself. I can lift my own spirits. I can cater to my own needs. I can be my own friend. And, if I don’t take a solo trip ever again, it just may be too soon. 😉

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