As I write this post, I am sitting at a table for two in the beautiful restaurant-that-I-can’t-remember-the-name-of in the Radisson Blu hotel in Split, Croatia. The waiter kindly gave me a window table with a sea view and recommended a glass of prosecco after I declined his initial recommendation of a G&T. Maybe I look like the kind of girl who enjoys a strong gin with dinner and if that is the case, I’ll take it as a compliment. The lighting is slightly dimmed and there is a candle in a glass gently flickering on the table. This restaurant is atmospheric. This first night in Croatia is both nerve-wracking and exciting. I feel like a virgin who is about to have intercourse. This is my first… ever… solo adventure. I am travelling alone, I know nobody here, and I have nothing planned (not set in stone anyway…) for the next four days.
Travelling alone. Is it crazy? Is it brave? Is it exciting? If there is one thing that I do know, it is that I am not going to let my happiness depend on anyone else. Being single or “solo” should not be something that people are ashamed of. In fact, it is the perfect opportunity to discover yourself, decide who you want to be and go on adventures whilst exploring the world around you. It isn’t selfish to want to think about you and only you for a few days. It can be an escape from reality or something that you share with your friends and family via social media and other communication channels. In fact, it can be ANYTHING you want it to be.
From speaking to other singles and a few friends both in the UK and abroad, I have found that travelling solo is not so uncommon. Relationships are not a necessity anymore and due to a society who are more socially disconnected, we have begun to realise that if we wait for “the one” to come along before we book a holiday, we could be waiting a very long time! Thanks to AirBnB, Budget Airlines, Couch Surfers, Trip Advisor and countless travel apps, we can afford to travel alone without the costs stacking up. But what are the benefits to travelling alone as opposed to with friends, spouses or other people?
1. No Schedule.
We have all been on vacation with someone who wants to wake up at 5am every morning to catch the sunrise. Or worse, someone who wants to sleep in till noon and miss the first crucial hours of every day. When on vacation, I like to be on my own schedule. I get up early, squeeze in a workout, make it to breakfast just before it ends, and then start my activities or tourist adventures late morning. But I also like to not have a set schedule and simply take each day as it comes. No compromising.
2. Freedom to do… anything!
There are two types of travellers. There is the traveller who takes their Lonely Planet guidebook with them on holiday with highlighted paragraphs and page markers, accompanied by alphabetised and categorised lists of things they want to do and see. Then there are the travellers who book a flight and pick a hostel or a hotel when they arrive. They don’t really know where they’re going or what exists on the horizon, they just know that they want to be somewhere other than “home.” I am somewhere in-between these two. In the case of Croatia, I booked a flight, picked a hotel based on Trip Advisor’s recommendations, and then added a few random places to my favourites list on Google Maps. I don’t like the idea of having a set itinerary before I go on holiday. But I also find it too stressful to try and plan everything when I’m there. I like to come up with a rough itinerary with plenty of flexibility, nothing set in stone. Does that make me some form of a commitment-phobe? Perhaps!
As someone who never knows how much sleep their body is going to allow them to get, I try to get as much as possible when I’m on holiday. Between 6-8 hours a night is optimal and if I can squeeze in one night where I can 9 hours, this completely resets my body from the hellish sleeping routines that everyday life inflicts upon me. If you live in London, NYC, Paris or some other city where everyone is running around bumping into each other, shoving stimulants into their bodies, working non-stop and stacking their schedules full to the brim of appointments/meetings/events/socials, then you will know exactly what I mean. Sleep is a gift that should not be taken for granted.
4. Spontaneous Adventures.
So much of our life is decided for us. So much of our life is lived in routine. We live each day according to what is in our calendar and we can usually predict what will happen next week, next month, etc. Why not travel and be completely spontaneous? Go somewhere that is completely unfamiliar. Pick a random city on a map and hop on a bus. Get lost in the middle of the city centre. Talk to strangers. Pick that thing on the menu that doesn’t translate into English. For once, don’t think of the consequences or what “might” happen and live as if it were your last day on earth. This is when you will feel most alive.
5. Meet New People.
Our parents taught us not to talk to strangers. But when you’re travelling solo, this is exactly what you should do. How else will you meet people? When I was in Split, a girl named Ally approached me in the middle of the town square and simply said “hi.” We chatted, went for ice cream and coffee, and then met two other solo travellers that night for dinner. It was the most fun I had all holiday. We were all high on the endorphins of adventure and had stories to tell of the places we had explored, from Bosnia-Hercegovina to the Netherlands, Ukraine, Lithuania, New York and Hawaii. The beauty of travelling is meeting people from all walks of life and hearing their perspective on the places you have been, and the places you haven’t.
6. Full. Cultural. Immersion.
Visit the places off the beaten path. Is there a local university? Go to that area for coffee as opposed to the old town, which is always going to be extremely touristy. Is there a guy scrubbing his speedboat with a mop? Ask him if he’ll give you a ride and skip the overpriced tourist boat cruises. Is there a local farmer’s market? Go there for breakfast and skip the hotel or hostel buffet. If you are going to travel, you want to truly immerse yourself in another culture. So many places have been bastardised by tourism and local businesses desperately trying to appeal to the hoards of Brits and Americans flocking to their shores. Get inside the nooks and crannies of the local culture and just breathe it.
When you take away all your co-workers, your friends, your family and your significant other if you have one, all you have is you. Can you cope on your own? Are you independent? What goes through your mind when other people aren’t there to occupy you? Going travelling alone allows you to achieve a sense of self-awareness that may not be possible in everyday life. It can be frightening but it can also be very educational. I like to practice mindfulness, especially when I’m on vacation. Don’t be scared by the prospect of dealing with your thoughts, ideas, fears, feelings and demons. Embrace them and accept that they are what makes you, you. Try to understand yourself and the journey you are on; that’s what life is all about right?
8. Endless Possibilities.
Where did that phrase, “the world is your oyster” come from? Maybe it’s because, inside some Oysters, there are pearls. But don’t you have to go through a million of them before you find your pearl? Maybe that’s a good analogy for life. Life is a collection of experiences; some are incredibly shitty, painful, dark and dismal, but some are incredibly wonderful, bright, exciting and hopeful. Travelling alone is largely about your perspective. If you view it as an opportunity to experience something truly exciting and adventurous, it will be exactly that. It is the best way to escape your everyday life, experience a different lifestyle and focus on you for a few days. The opportunity to do this hardly ever comes along (those of you with spouses and children will undoubtedly agree), so grab the chance if it arises and live like you’ve never lived before.