"Are you lonely in Costa Rica?"
The question threw me off guard. I’d been chatting with my new Italian friend about our families, our jobs, our previous travels. It took me a minute to realize he didn't mean the question as a creepy pickup line. With his limited English, it was his way of asking, "Are you traveling alone or with friends?"
After a brief mental scramble, during which I calculated the probability that I’d just spent half an hour in partially pantomimed small talk with a stalker, I decided to trust that he had no ill intentions. After all, we were the only two people on our tour who weren’t paired off, so it was a fair question.
I had come to Costa Rica to visit a friend in another city, I told him, but yes, I was traveling by myself on this leg of the trip.
I certainly wasn’t lonely. I’d waved goodbye to my friend at the bus station that morning with a sense of excitement at the prospect of doing some exploring on my own. Watching the trees whisk by the bus window, I’d felt the same thrill of adventure that I felt every time I traveled alone.
I was ten years old the first time I flew on a plane by myself. My mom walked me to my gate and handed me off to a flight attendant, who kept an eye on me on the two-hour flight to visit a childhood friend in Pennsylvania. It was a welcome taste of independence, and one I’ve repeated many times since then (minus the watchful flight attendant). At first, the trips were small and usually involved meeting a friend at the baggage claim or bus stop. But in the last few years, I’ve gotten bolder—navigating connecting flights in foreign airports, spending days exploring cities where I didn’t know anyone.