If travelers have styles, mine is solo. No luxuries, no must-sees, no hard routes, and no invitations rejected by committee. Just an open mind and an open schedule. Sounds whimsical—and it is—but dropping the companions and traveling by yourself may well lead to the most rewarding experiences you’ll ever have.– Robert Young Pelton, for National Geographic
I am a big fan of traveling solo. As, it would seem, a lot of people are. There is a thriving industry catering to solo travelers. Why the boom in solo travel? Not just because more than 50 percent of adult Americans, Britains, Scandanavians and Japanese people live alone, but also because it gives people space to discover things about themselves as well as make personal connections that could not else wise be made. A single person is much more approachable (this can be positive and also occasionally negative) than a large group.
Recently, flying back from Italy, I made that personal connection. An almost 9 hour flight is a long time to stay silent, and not converse with at least one person. On this flight, there were several families returning from Israel via Florence, as well as Italians, other Europeans and various peoples from North America (Pierson was the final destination.) Next to me was a family returning to Toronto from Israel, where they had visited a daughter and granddaughter. The couple was young (early 50s at best) and had their high school aged son with them. A younger single daughter stayed in Toronto, as did their oldest child, a married son.
Across from us was a family returning to Toronto from trips to Rome for shopping and then Israel, and an gentleman who was Italian by birth, but grew up in Canada. I struck up the conversation originally with the woman sitting next to me because of the food. The flight attendant had not been given the right number of vegetarian/hallal/kosher meals and I offered the woman next to me my vegetarian entrée. While that was turned down, the chance for conversation was not. We chatted about cute kids, exchanging glimpses of photos of grandkids/nephews for a while, and then progressed more as a mutual appreciation grew. We were both over 40, careful about what we ate (for different reasons), blue-eyed and while I couldn’t fully see her hair (there were men on the plane to whom she was not related), it was definitely in the auburn/strawberry blonde family.
She and her husband had converted from Reformed Judaism to a more conservative practice. Reformed Judaism is the belief that traditional views and laws can be adapted to modernization and cultural/societal input. Traditional Jewish law becomes a guideline rather than restrictions to which all must conform – according to Wikipedia. Orthodox Judaism, like Reformed, is not one philosophy or way of practice, but many united under the belief in traditional application of the laws, tenets and ethics of the Torah. Conservative Judaism is somewhere in between, where conservative is not in the same vein as Michelle Bachmann or Mitch McConnell, but in the tradition of Muir or Audubon, to preserve traditions and adapt laws. At heart of Conservative Judaism is a communal practice.
My flightmate told me a bit about her journey with her husband, and how they felt it was respectful of their shared Eastern European Jewish backgrounds, and also of the power of the rite and ritual which connected them to this trans-Atlantic community. Religion and the new world is a funny thing. She returned back to the way her family practiced in Europe after two generations in North America. My family on coming here, I had just learned this year, had turned away from denominations that may have cost them their lands and/or livelihoods.
As the flight progressed and more meals were served, we began to talk to others, including the gentleman across the aisle. He, um, caught both our eyes and was open to conversing with anyone. I mainly conversed with him, and she made comments to me, encouraging the conversation. I’m not sure if it was because of the mores of her beliefs, just my position on the aisle, or her being quite possibly the World’s coolest wingman, ever. Aiding these cross aisle conversations was the flight attendant and her frequent pass by with the beverage cart. As much as I like flying EgyptAir, and Turkish Airlines, Air Italia starts serving their wines as soon as the flight takes off, and they serve Pepsi instead of Coke. (And the flight attendant told me the difference between Grazie and Grazie-uh – wish I’d known that on the way over)
Half way across the Atlantic, we started to talk about marriage and being single. (After her frankness about her religious journey, I didn’t feel like I could just brush off questions about my marital status or lack there of.) We discussed finding people you are comfortable with on all levels, and the feeling of realizing that there is just something not right in the relationship. I told her how when I was younger, I was open to meeting lots of people but kind of had this ‘er list that I really wanted a guy to match – smarter, taller, in better shape and broken his nose more often. A good friend had then pointed out that ‘er was not always a good thing, he could be crazier, a really bad kisser, smellier and all sorts of other bad ‘ers, and that I needed to refine my list.
She told me about her younger daughter and the process of selecting a mate, which is a bit more restrictive than every day dating. She pointed out that daughters are told to look for four things in a prospective groom – Can she:
- Respect the person,
- Know the person – look for any obvious flags or character flaws (googling and researching is totally acceptable),
- Build with this person,
- and continue to Like this person.
As we got closer to North America, our friend from across the way told us more about himself. And then more, and then slurringly some more. Just passed New York City, my flightmate murmured to me and said, “And sometimes, it’s ok to wait until the right thing comes along.” So yep, until then, I go solo.