The first trip I ever took on my own was completely by accident.
I’d taken advantage of one of those coupon deals to buy cheap plane tickets to Milan for myself and the other half, but a few weeks before we were supposed to leave he discovered he had to work.
At first I thought we’d have to miss out, but then a crazy thought popped into my head – why didn’t I just go by myself?!
I had a good week or two of flip-flopping: ‘I’m not going… yes I am… no I’m not…‘, before deciding, ‘DAMMIT, yes I am!’.
The decision itself felt incredibly liberating; I was an independent 30-year-old (then) woman and I didn’t need to rely on anyone else to realise my dreams. Of course the nerves also set in: what if I missed my flight/lost my passport/got mugged/couldn’t find my B&B/everyone stared at me like I was Billy No-Mates.
But then I realised I couldn’t let the ‘what ifs?’ get in the way.
The night before the flight I literally felt nauseous, but the moment I set off the excitement began to build, and, arriving at my bed and breakfast, I felt a real surge of achievement. Planning out the next two days was so easy – without anyone else’s input to consider I could do whatever I wanted, and all in my own time. If I wanted to get a bite to eat, or pop into a shop, or stop to photograph a random doorway for Instagram (ahem), I could do it. Ah, the freedom!
The only little wobble I had was going out for an evening meal. The reality is, people do look twice at a woman eating on her own, simply because it’s not a very common sight, but you just have to ignore the inquisitive glances. I found the more I did it, the less I cared what other people were thinking.
Since that trip to Milan I’ve travelled all over Europe on my own, from Bratislava to Geneva, Dubrovnik to Salzburg. OH doesn’t have travel bug like I do, so he was happy to go to the football, or catch up with my friends when I went on one of my jaunts.
I had to ignore my itchy feet when my children were born, but now they’re five and seven I’ve resumed my solo travels – although once a year now, rather than every few months – and the other week I travelled to the perfume capital of the world, Grasse (more on that in another blog post).
Of course there are downsides; if you don’t love your own company this is definitely not for you, and sometimes it seems a shame there’s no one to reminisce about the trip with you (let’s be honest, no one wants to hear about holidays they haven’t been on).
You’re also slightly restricted by the activities you can do – for example, you wouldn’t go out drinking or wandering around late at night, for safety reasons.
Before the invention of selfie sticks one of the most frustrating things was not having someone else to take photos. I’d come home with dozens of beautiful scenic shots, but very little photographic proof that I’d actually been there, as I was always behind the camera.
But the pros hugely outweigh the cons.
There aren’t many instances in adult life when you can do exactly what you want without having to compromise or consider someone else’s moods, opinions or happiness.
There’s no waiting for people to get ready, stopping when you don’t want to, or not stopping when you do; you’re utterly the master of your own destiny. If you want to buy food from the slightly dodgy street vendor, or tour that obscure museum, or get up at dawn, you can!
Left to your own thoughts you really have time to absorb your surroundings and think more deeply. As a creative mind I find the solace utterly inspiring; the fog of every day life lifts from my brain and my thoughts become clarified. Ideas come quickly and clearly, and I always come back excited and energised for my next project.
When you’re on your own you make more effort to engage with the people around you, rather than staying in your own bubble, and the fact you’re solo is often the ice breaker. Barriers are dropped and trust is given more freely (although always in tandem with common sense).
Complete strangers have helped me with my luggage, wished me a good journey, fetched taxis for me and insisted on walking me to my destination to make sure I get there safe and sound. I once struck up a conversation with the woman sitting next to me on the train, and she ended up driving me from the station to my bed and breakfast – all interactions I doubt would have happened if I’d had a travelling partner to rely on instead.
And when it happens I always feel so honoured to have been given that tiny peek into someone else’s life: you can learn in a 10-minute conversation than you can in years of your everyday existence. Ironically, I’ve never felt more connected with the world than when I’ve been travelling on my own.
Plus, there’s also something really empowering about working things out all on your own – whether it’s deciphering directions, getting your head around local customs, or figuring out how to order a coffee in Latvian. You get to know yourself better too, because you have no one to distract you from you – leaving you time to figure out exactly what makes you happy, what pisses you off, your talents, your shortcomings.
It’s a confidence that you bring back home with you too; you’ve pushed yourself out of your comfort zone and you know what you’re capable of achieving on your own, so those bumps in the road of life don’t seem nearly so big anymore. This self belief can help you in all areas – work, relationships and and family.
Finally, there’s the anticipation of returning back home. They say ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ and it’s true – there’s nothing like being on your own to make you truly cherish and appreciate the company of your loved ones.
Sometimes you have to be by yourself, to understand that you’re not alone.