Originally published Saturday, November 19, 2011 at 8:00 AM

A trip of one's own: How to enjoy traveling solo

An only-child, now an adult traveler, writes about how to enjoy and get the most out of seeing the world on your own.

The Washington Post

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Maybe it's because I'm an only child, but I like traveling alone.

There's a special sweetness to solitude. It's less complicated. There's nobody to blame if things go wrong, nobody to accommodate, no schedule to stick to but your own.

When I travel by myself, the three things I always take are a black wool shirt, a journal and a scrap of advice from G.K. Chesterton, who was famous for missing trains: "An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered."

On my way home from Eastern Europe, I jotted down some things to remember about solitary traveling. My eccentric list:

• Live out of a small suitcase. Being alone is about being free. Lighter is freer.

• You don't have to have a plan. And if you do have one, why not change it on a whim? • Visiting a friend in an out-of-the-way village is going to yield more discoveries than checking in at one of the "1,000 places to visit before you die." Life is better with fewer checklists.

• If you have a choice, walk, don't ride. Traveling alone is about moving through places, not about getting to them.

• Trains are better than planes. Sit by the window. Talk to the person next to you.

• Drink less, think more.

• Traveling alone is partly about losing yourself and music is a good way to do that. Listen to what's local. Could be Mozart in Vienna or Used To Be Cyrus in Gaborone. And be generous when you pass a street musician. What are you going to do with all those coins when you get home, anyway? • You don't need to take the computer. Really.

• Since you don't have friends along, you'll be taking pictures of strangers. Ask before you shoot.

• Notice little things. Windowsills, doorknobs, sleeping cats.

• Everybody in the world seems to walk around with a backpack. You know what? They're uncomfortable. Be different. Slip a notebook into your pocket, clip a camera to your belt and go.

• You know a lot less history than you think. Set aside a quiet evening now and then to read a little.

Follow your hunches and keep an eye out for weird attractions. I've detoured for a spider museum, a toilet museum, a medieval apothecary museum and, my all-time favorite, the bat tower in the Florida Keys. Eccentricity carries itself with special grandeur.

• Take along a good paperback, and after you've read it, give it to someone you meet.

• Traveling alone will remind you how much you miss your parents. Mine traveled very little, but when I see something that would have caught their eye or made them smile, it doesn't seem as though it has been two decades since they died.

• If you visit a church, why not light a candle and absorb the stillness?

• Now and then, you'll come across a jerk — a nasty clerk, a spoiled child, a surly seatmate. Think of it as God reminding you to be kind to strangers.

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