| alive (feminine adjective) | /vivɑ̃t/

Being alone defies social norms. From a young age, there is instilled in us a certain fear of solitude, because it is the terrible breeder of loneliness. That fear crystallizes within us until we are certain we cannot survive without the validation of another human being.

Further, solitude may be yet another gift reserved for men. As a woman, there are definitely risks in setting out on your own, risks that no man will ever have to consider. For example, men cannot comprehend that cold, instinctual fear a woman harbors as she walks home alone at night, even if it’s a street she’s walked a million times before.

But despite all of this, I urge you to go. Be brave, and the universe will open itself to you.

On Sunday evening, I set off for my second solo voyage to Kraków, Poland. During my trip, I spent many hours sitting at the outdoor cafes on the Rynek Glówny, sipping mulled wine, or coffee, or beer, and eavesdropping on what conversations I could comprehend. I was much less self-conscious than I was during my first solo trip, so I had no qualms about walking into a restaurant and asking for a table for one. The most liberating thing I’ve learned as an adult is this: despite what American millenials have been told, no one gives a shit about you. No one minds that you’re sitting alone, because they simply don’t care. So why should you?

It’s also much easier to blend into your surroundings if you’re alone. Unless you welcome unnecessary attention, most people won’t assume you’re a tourist. For example, a couple once approached me while I was sitting at a cafe talking on the phone to my dad. Once I finished my conversation, they approached and asked if I was a local, if I knew of any great bars, why my English was so excellent. I quickly offered my muddled explanation of why an American found herself alone in Poland in October. In any case, I knew the surrounding area quite well and told them to go to the vodka bar down the street.

When I travel alone, I do miss sharing my experiences with a companion. After all, what’s better than laughing and chatting over beer and a hot meal in a strange place? But I had decided that this trip was mine. After a traumatic summer that shorn me of my humanity, this trip was a reminder that I was still living. As I savored homemade pierogies in a warm pierogarnia, it was a reminder that I could still experience joy. As I walked the graveled streets of Auschwitz at dawn, it was a reminder that I could still feel unbearable sadness.

I am alive. I am well. And isn’t it lovely to be so?

About Gabriella

I'm a twenty-something insomniac with a caffeine addiction and chronic wanderlust. I recently graduated with my M.A. in French, and I've spent the past two years living and working as an English teacher in France. I now work as an English professor at a university in Lille, where my students are learning to never omit the Oxford comma.
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