Come on, did you think I wouldn’t include a category for solo travel?  It’s a given.  Just as it’s a given that I opt for drinks at a patio over a deafening nightclub.  One does not equal another.  Solo travel is not the same as group travel.  In Stephanie Yoder’s case, a duo turned into a discovery.  Please enjoy today’s Summer Chick Tale.

North Sea (1)

This story is not about a boy… but like so many good solo travel stories it starts with one.

I was 21 and studying abroad in London. I’d just gotten out of a five year relationship and was relishing the freedom of being abroad on my own, although truth be told- I was never actually alone. Within days of arriving at University College London I’d made tons of awesome friends, fellow study abroad students mostly, and whether I wanted to go out for pizza or go to Italy, I always had someone willing to tag along.

It was tagging along with those friends on a weekend trip to the white cliffs of Dover when I met this boy. His name was Grant, and although he wasn’t Scottish (in fact he went to my university at home), he was studying abroad at St. Andrews University and that seemed exotic enough. Over the course of a booze filled evening we danced recklessly, wandered the streets and shared a romantic kiss on the moonlit beach while Dover castle glittered in the background.

I didn’t know this guy but that was damn romantic, so when he invited me to come visit him in Scotland for the weekend I jumped at the chance. Even though it meant taking the train up north all by lonesome. I wasn’t really worried, just excited about the romantic weekend of exploring old ruins and history with a hot guy.

It was pouring rain when I arrived, and Grant was 35 minutes late to pick me up from the station. Things went downhill from there: it didn’t take me long to discover that Grant wasn’t just a fun dude… he was a borderline alcoholic. Instead of snuggling in a cozy pub I ended up watching Grant and his buddies get drunk off of really cheap scotch in his dorm room.

Ruins of a dud (Grant) lead to real ruins

This was not what I’d had in mind.

The next dreary, hangover filled afternoon, I realized that if I wanted to do anything beside day drinking, I’d have to take the initiative myself. Here I was at one of the oldest universities in the world, in a brand new country, and I wanted to see some history dammit! Shyly I informed Grant that I was going off on my own for the afternoon. He shrugged and popped open another beer. I tried not to let the door hit me on my way out.

St. Andrews is not a big place, and the cathedral, or rather what’s left of it, was not hard to find. Built 850 years ago, the absolutely massive church was abandoned during the Protestant Reformation and now exists only as ruins. Nearby are the remains of a bulky old castle, but the cathedral is the really gorgeous bit, looming up in the air and jutting out over the water.

It was a chilly day in mid-November, not exactly peak tourist season, so I had the ruins all to myself. The sun was just starting to set, creating a blue and purple haze over the low hanging clouds on the North Sea (in Scotland, in November, the sun starts to set around oh, 3 pm).  Everything had an air of magical surrealism to it, from the soaring spires to the eclectic gravestones scattered across the yard. The dusky light made the massive crumbling walls seem particularly epic.

I was all alone in this windy place- the first time I’d really been alone in a good long while. It didn’t feel melancholy either, it felt exhilarating! I had the whole place to myself and really nowhere to be. I felt for the first time the thing I love most about travel: pure freedom.

I guess you could say I had an epiphany looking out over the North Sea: being alone is not the same thing as being lonely. With that knowledge, I could go anywhere I wanted, by myself, and I would be fine. It was my first tiny taste of solo travel.

Solitude at St.Andrews = freedom

Since then I have traveled solo through many countries and multiple continents. I’ve hung out by myself  at Angkor Wat, the Plaza Mayor and even the Great Wall of China. Eventually I met a boy without a drinking problem who has a zest for discovery that matches my own, but I still love the pure freedom and autonomy that comes with standing alone in a beautiful place.

So you see this story wasn’t really about a boy at all: and neither are most of my stories since then.

Author bio: Stephanie Yoder can’t sit sill, and she’s the first to admit this.  Since graduating college in 2007 she’s galavanted around London, backpacked around Eastern Europe and seen most of the lower 48.  In September 2010 she embarked on an epic, free-form backpacking trip around Asia and Australia. For parts she traveled with friends, at other points with her boyfriend, but for a large hunk of time she was flying solo.  Read her engaging travel stories at Twenty-Something Travel, or give her love on Twitter or Facebook.

Summer Chick Tales was conceived from my love of the season and my obsession with slurpees.  I always have one every summer.  I also love women writers.  Lots.  If you want to submit a story or be in charge of the mojito station, see the editorial schedule.  Come on, join the XX chromosome party.

Photos of the North Sea and St. Andrews provided by author