Always wanted to go sales shopping in New York, enjoy a gondola trip in Venice or ride a camel in the Sahara Desert but were too afraid to go it alone? If you do one new thing this year, give yourself the gift of solo travel.
Maybe you’re newly single, or you simply want to start ticking desirable destinations off your bucket list. Either way, trips on your tod are an exciting and adventurous way to see the big wide world. And who needs a travelling companion anyway?!
I’ve been roaming the globe alone for seven years, since separating from my husband of 19 years. Last year alone I visited eight countries, four for the first time. At first there may have been an element of escape and sadness, but that was soon replaced by a lightness of step and the pure joy that, for me, only comes from travelling.
I call it experiencing life in Technicolor. Alone, I notice more details and find that I’m much more adventurous. The moment when I step off a plane, especially in a new country, is excitingly addictive – it’s different, exotic and unknown. Sometimes this takes me out of my comfort zone (although I still don’t aspire to bungee jumps or eating beetles), but that in itself can be a great confidence boost.
One of the best things about going it alone is that you can be utterly selfish, with no more compromising
One of the best things about going it alone is that you can also – maybe for the first time ever – be utterly selfish, with no more compromising over which restaurant to eat in, or which sight to see. I hate beaches but love lakes; prefer local guest houses to soulless hotels; loathe shopping malls but adore the souks’ crazy chaos. Travel alone, and you can focus entirely on what you want.
People tend to be excellent at self-sabotage and many of you reading this will already be making excuses or feeling too afraid to book that plane ticket. But what is really stopping you? The answer is usually very little, so book time off during these grim grey winter days, find a dog sitter, save up, discuss it with grown-up children (mine were right behind me, with promises of WhatsApp and FaceTime). And forget any sense of stigma: these days, we can all sing to our own tune.
OVERCOME THE BARRIERS
Worried about money? Set up an email alert for airline special offers and check out Skyscanner, comparing fares across a whole month. Airbnbs and hostels are ideal, or try house/pet sitting worldwide via trustedhousesitters.com. Target countries with a low cost of living and your trip could end up costing you peanuts. You don’t really even have to leave the country – try trekking in the Highlands, or walking the South Downs Way.
Frankly, this ultimate ‘me time’ is as good as therapy, especially if you’re feeling stuck in life, unfulfilled, or recently single. It’s liberating and empowering, as you find out just how capable you are. Nothing lifts the spirits like sitting on a rooftop terrace, G&T in hand, watching the sun go down in peaceful solitude, or the feeling of sunshine on your skin. It’s also true that time away can help you make big life decisions, without the distractions of daily life.
TIME TO GROW
This is the time to own your independence and freedom. The only time I’ve felt even slightly self-conscious was in a glitzy Moscow restaurant on Valentine’s Day. The cosy couples on their pink rose and candle-bedecked tables (all devoting more attention to their phones than to each other) were sending me furtive glances of pity, imagining I’d been stood up. Luckily, I could see the funny side.
On the subject of romance, going solo can also be a great way to get your dating mojo back
And on the subject of romance, going solo can also be a great way to get your dating mojo back. I have met wonderful men in Phuket, Dubai and Verona, one of whom developed into a long-term relationship. Last month in Paris, the previous occupant of my Airbnb had left a scribbled ‘to do’ list that included the words ‘Maybe Tinder’. Why not?
Approach the world with an open mind and just see what happens. You may end meeting fellow lone travelers, for example. A few years ago in Thailand I got chatting to a fellow Brit who has become a great friend… so do allow yourself to be open to taking the road less travelled. Your life will be enhanced.
SOLO TRAVEL TIPS
• Dip your toe into going solo at first, with a short trip rather than leaping straight into India or Indonesia
• I prefer city breaks – it’s harder to feel alone (or lonely) in a vibrant city rather than a stunning empty landscape
• Be kind to yourself: there will days when something goes wrong or you’re feeling lonely. Go with it
• Think of things that make you most happy, from photography to yoga, food to history, and plan your trip around these loves
• Pack light so you don’t have to lug a heavy case around
• Stay safe: avoid dark alleys and less populated areas late at night, dress appropriately and let someone know where you’re going. On a date, always meet in a public place.
• If you’re self-conscious about eating out alone, take a book or magazine to read
• Some of the best travel experiences happen when you allow yourself to explore, without a time frame or destination
• If you are single but prefer a group trip, take a look at companies such as Just You, Onetraveller and Friendship Travel.