Solo travel can be quite divisive: either you’re a seasoned pro or you’re interested but a bit too nervous to take the plunge. Or, if you’re my parents, you can’t fathom why someone would want to do it because surely the whole point of travel is sharing the experience with someone else?
While there are some types of holidays that are definitely better when travelling with another person, there is plenty of travel to enjoy on your own. I don’t want to let something as lame as not being in a relationship or not synchronising calendars with a friend to get in the way of exploring the world. Now that I’m in my 30s and have financial options broader than booking a holiday through Ceefax (yes, we actually did this once), I want to live my life, dammit.
Also – solo travel isn’t just for single folk. It can be for parents who want to take a bit of a break for themselves, and I know people in long marriages who have never undertaken a type of travel they’ve always wanted to because their partner didn’t want to do it.
So I think it’s long overdue that we re-examine our personal relationships with travel.
Below: Me currently in Italy
BE TRUE TO YOURSELF (ESPECIALLY IF THAT SELF LIKES CREATURE COMFORTS)
One of my friends is ridiculously adventurous – she rocked up to Nepal and just randomly hired a Sherpa, and she’s planning a trip to the mountains of Kazakhstan. She literally would be fine with a blanket, a flashlight and a tent. But this is never going to be me. As much as I’d like to be the Indian Indiana Jones, I like dry socks, a good bed and while I don’t want everything to be planned in advance, I definitely need some stability and structure.
What I discovered was that I really like doing cities solo because there’s a good amount of buzz and activity that I enjoy so I don’t feel conspicuous, and I can do all the things I really enjoy doing, without worrying about someone else getting bored (eg, art galleries). I like places based around nature but they have to offer the things I’m interested in – hiking, kayaking, paddleboarding.
What doesn’t work for me are places which have a big nightlife scene, or revolves mainly around sunbathing. Shit gets real tedious when you don’t have someone to share a beer with, and as a single woman I’m not confident going clubbing on my own. Also when I did, someone once mistook me for a prostitute. Huzzah.
FEEL SAFE, BE SAFE
If you wouldn’t let some random creepster give you a massage on a beach back home, remind me why you’d do this on a beach in India?
One of the biggest learnings from my travel journo days when I spoke to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), was that the main reason people get into trouble abroad is because they throw their common sense out of the window when they are on holiday. Rule of thumb: don’t do anything you wouldn’t do back home.
People say ‘oooh, have you met any hot guys’ and I’m like: Are you kidding me? I don’t care if Brad Pitt rocks up – I’m a woman travelling on my own and I’m not going out with some random in an unfamiliar place.
I also don’t venture to ropey areas after dark and if I feel weird, I get a cab. Basically all the rules at home still apply abroad.
My first week-long solo trip was seven days in Tulum, Mexico. For the most part it was fantastic, but when I started to feel the pinch of being on my own was when it came to eating out. By day four, I was over it.
I already know the standard rules: take your phone and a book. But my preference these days is to book with AirBNB or self-cater. It’s a pain in the ass navigating to the supermarket and getting the first lot of groceries, but it means that you can have nights in eating great food (I buy from a lot of local delis) and watch a bit of Netflix when you can’t be bothered to go out. You won’t be accused of being called a loser or a hermit because guess what, there’s no one else to comment on what you do with your time.
When I do eat out, in cities especially, I tend to gravitate to places with seating at the bar. There’s more going on, you are more likely to find other solo travellers and it feels less conspicuous.
RESEARCH AND PREP
If you’re a pampered urbanite like me, you’ll take things for granted: phone reception, Uber, being able to pay by card. Research the shit out of the place you’re planning to visit because the anxiety of being caught off guard amplifies ten-fold when you’re on your own. Do they take card? How far is the airport from your hotel? Do you have a back-up in case your phone conks out/there’s no 4G?
My mother drives me insane about having ‘print-outs’ but she has a point – sometimes you need to go old school especially if you don’t have someone else to figure it out with you.
Below: Monterosso, Cinque Terre, one of my favourite places
THE SMALL THINGS ARE ACTUALLY REALLY IMPORTANT
We all have little things that make you feel comfortable, and like you have a piece of home with you. For me, this means having good earphones – I like to listen to music as I walk as it means I tune out street peddlars or people saying weird things – and it means having a good wi-fi connection.
It doesn’t mean that I can’t unplug, but I like to be able to chat to my family and friends when I’m away, and most importantly: NETFLIX.
Don’t overshare with friends and parents. Unless they are keen solo travellers themselves, they may not understand it and may unwittingly spook you out. As we speak, I know my dad is having kittens at the prospect of me going on a trek (it’s a route I’ve done before and has such heavy footfall there’s little risk of me falling to my doom and no one knowing) because I made the mistake of telling him.
There is so much to be commended about solo travel – the freedom to do what you want, spend what you want and go where you want is stunning if you are able. Plus it’s always strange that people use the fear of loneliness as a blocker to try solo travel, when we wouldn’t use the prospect of disagreeing with a friend or a partner to prevent us from holidaying with them.