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Grateful Traveler: Traveling Solo, But Never Alone

Traveler’s SolitudeAlthough I have visited Ireland more than any other country on the globe, my first stint there was not a pretty sight. I was traveling alone and trying to convince myself that this was a good thing.

But the truth was I was miserable. My sister and I had traveled through Scotland and Wales and England together and when we got to Ireland she announced that she wanted to go off on her own.

Which worked fine for her—my sister has always been infinitely braver and more adventurous than me. But I was pissed and terrified.

Luckily, I had also been an English major. Faced with no idea whatsoever what to do with myself, I headed for Yeats country. I went on tours. I saw his house. I went to his gravestone. I told him that my favorite poem of all times was his, how I liked the whole poem, but most especially the last two verses.

Two Chinamen, behind them a third,
Are carved in lapis lazuli,
Over them flies a long-legged bird,
A symbol of longevity;
The third, doubtless a serving-man,
Carries a musical instrument.

Every discoloration of the stone,
Every accidental crack or dent,
Seems a water-course or an avalanche,
Or lofty slope where it still snows
Though doubtless plum or cherry-branch
Sweetens the little half-way house
Those Chinamen climb towards, and I
Delight to imagine them seated there;
There, on the mountain and the sky,
On all the tragic scene they stare.
One asks for mournful melodies;
Accomplished fingers begin to play.
Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.

All well and good, but when I went back to my room I sat and cried and felt very sorry for myself that I’d been in Ireland several days and no one had talked to me except some waiters. And I was staying in a place with lots of other tourists and although they spoke to one another no one ever spoke to me.

At about sunset, I got myself up from the bed and headed out to get some food. Along the way, I passed a pub and there was such exquisite music pouring out the door that even though I was alone I went in. I sat down at a table.

Nightclub Moment I tried to ignore the fact that everyone around me was a couple or with friends. It turned out to be easier than I would have thought since the mandolin and guitar duo at the front of the room not only were terrific musicians but funny to boot.

And then someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, “A beer for Miss Simons?”

I looked around to see a guy holding two beers and smiling. Who was this man with the shaved head and wrinkled clothes and book bag slung across his body?

A teacher. A fellow traveler. A Dutchman. Someone who was lonely and needed a friend. He’d heard me give my name in the Tourist Office when I went looking for a room and remembered it. Seems he was in line a couple of people back.

So we sat and drank our beers and when the music was done we went for a very long walk around the town. It was after 11 at night but the sun was still setting and everything seemed so peaceful and so right. He told me his life story. I told him mine. Then we parted.

And I knew in the deepest part of me that I would never again be alone when I traveled. The right companion would always show up.

The next morning I got up and went down to breakfast and there I met a woman I would travel with for the rest of my Irish stay. Her name was Teri and she had a terrific sense of humor and was a hell of a banjo player and wherever she went she made friends.

By Jamie Simons for

Read more from the Grateful Traveler series, Grateful Traveler: An “Eskimo” Showed Me the Way.

Want to travel safer? Learn about Solo Travel Safety.

Another great article for solo travelers is Go It Alone, Together, about the new ways that travelers can connect.