HOW TO TRAVEL SOLO (AND LOVE IT)

Laura Jane Wil­liams shares her tips for go­ing it alone

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Travel is a thing I have al­ways done. One year, I took 22 flights through 13 coun­tries. When I was 18, I bought a ticket to Sri Lanka to go work in an or­phan­age, with­out know­ing where ex­actly Sri Lanka was. I’ve lived as a dig­i­tal no­mad in Bali, drunk vodka with po­lice­men in tiny Rus­sian vil­lages, passed sum­mers teach­ing English all across Italy, and I once house-sat a pent­house in a re­mote Swiss vil­lage where I didn’t com­mu­ni­cate with an­other per­son for 10 days. The cru­cial point to note about my world trav­els, though, is that I’ve done most of it alone.

I’m not some bold ex­plorer who never gets home­sick and knows 16 uses for a corkscrew. I’ve tra­versed the world many times over, but still suf­fer with anx­ious­ness. I can’t sleep on my first night some­where new. I have a ter­ri­ble habit of al­most miss­ing my flights by spend­ing too long medicating pre-flight nerves in air­port bars. I never pack enough knick­ers.

Travel ter­ri­fies me and thrills me. I have a com­pul­sion to see the world, even though I’m scared. That’s why I do it.

I love the parts of my­self that un­furl when I’m some­where new. There’s a side of me that comes out when I’m alone in my own com­pany. Trav­el­ling solo forces me to be a lit­tle bit braver and re­alise that I’m more re­source­ful than I give my­self credit for. It ex­er­cises my mus­cles in re­silience.

They say you find out who you re­ally are when no­body else is look­ing, and that’s what go­ing on hol­i­day alone does for me. It’s not al­ways pretty – but it is al­ways re­ward­ing. Af­ter ev­ery trip I’ve done I’ve al­ways fig­ured out stuff I’d been wrestling with, the things I’d been un­happy with or needed a new per­spec­tive on. Trav­el­ling with some­body else doesn’t al­low for the deep con­nec­tion with the self that solo travel does. I rec­om­mend it to ev­ery­one, at least once.

Here are my tips for nav­i­gat­ing a trip alone: 1 TRAVEL IS THE MOST OB­VI­OUS ‘EN­JOY THE JOUR­NEY’ EX­TENDED METAPHOR THERE IS.

Not ev­ery mo­ment of your trip is go­ing to be an In­sta­gram dream. You’re go­ing to be a com­bi­na­tion of re­laxed, fright­ened, lib­er­ated, lonely, care­free and em­pow­ered. There’s no in­vis­i­ble judg­ing panel as­sess­ing how ‘well’ you hol­i­day. You re­ally are do­ing this to­tally for you – warts and all. Ac­cept the whole­ness of it.

2 LONE­LI­NESS IS UN­AVOID­ABLE

– but let’s not pre­tend it’s not lonely to be on a sun­lounger next to a part­ner you’ve just had an ar­gu­ment with, or a friend who is driv­ing you mad. You don’t lose points for feel­ing sad that there’s no one to share the sun­set with, or hear the ele­phants trum­pet along­side you in the jun­gle. You are al­lowed to ac­knowl­edge the chal­lenge of be­ing alone. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it.

3 PACK SMART.

You do not want to be the sin­gle lady with the heavy bag she can’t lift her­self. You need to be as in­de­pen­dent as pos­si­ble, and that means a sin­gle piece of hand lug­gage and a case un­der 10kg. Use pack­ing cubes, and revel in the fact that trav­el­ling alone means there’s no one around to no­tice the fact that you’ve worn that dress four times. 4 BE­FRIEND YOUR­SELF.

Keep a jour­nal, take pho­tos and treat the whole thing like a story you get to write. Be the pro­tag­o­nist of your own life. If in doubt, lis­ten loudly to Adele on your head­phones and pre­tend you’re in the cli­mac­tic scene of an in­die film. Bonus points if you do this on a train, look­ing pen­sively out the win­dow.

5 THEY HAVE SHOPS IN FOR­EIGN LANDS,

of course, but al­ways pack your own Imod­ium, re­hy­dra­tion salts and hand sani­tiser. Just in case. And for God’s sake, get travel in­sur­ance.

6 ON A PLANE,

ran­domly com­pli­ment the woman across from you on her shoes, or specif­i­cally ask the flight at­ten­dant for a glass of wa­ter be­fore take off. It’s com­fort­ing to know you’ve es­tab­lished a con­nec­tion with some­body else fly­ing, even if you never talk to them again.

7 TRUST YOUR GUT,

and re­mem­ber that it’s more im­por­tant to be safe than po­lite. I never tell strangers ex­actly where I’m stay­ing (I’ll wave a hand in the gen­eral di­rec­tion and say, ‘A place just off the main road, I for­get the name’) and as nice as a taxi driver/waiter/ scuba in­struc­tor seems, I never tell them I’m trav­el­ling alone.

8 TRIPLE-CHECK THE DOOR IS LOCKED.

Just be­cause you’re in va­ca­tion mode doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Balcony door, too.

9 A USE­FUL THING:

the best way to ap­ply sun­screen to your own back is with the back of your hand. Sneak up and be­hind for the hard-to-reach mid-point, and do it while you’re in swimwear to make sure you’ve got the bits ei­ther side of your straps, be­cause those bits burn first.

10 YOUR TRIP AWAY DOESN’T HAVE TO BE

a gap year around the world, or a sum­mer vol­un­teer­ing, or even two weeks in the sun (10 days is my limit for that if I’m on my own). Ad­ven­ture can be a week­end in an­other town or a short­haul flight. Find what works for you.

11 SOLO TRAVEL IN­VOLVES NO ‘SHOULDS’.

‘No’ is just as im­por­tant a word as ‘yes’ when seiz­ing the day to go some­where new alone. When you’re on your own, you are the mas­ter of the ship. You can sleep in or get up early for a good spot by the pool, trek up the moun­tain or shop till you drop. The choice is yours, with no voices in your head say­ing you’re dumb for not do­ing some­thing. (Re­lated: you don’t even have to be on va­ca­tion to prac­tise ask­ing your­self, ‘What do I want most in this mo­ment?’ and al­low­ing your­self the per­mis­sion to have it.)

12 GO TO THE FANCY RESTAU­RANT.

Just be­cause you need a ta­ble for one doesn’t mean you can’t have luxe ex­pe­ri­ences. Take a book, or ask for a ta­ble out­side and watch the world go by, or use it as time to write in your jour­nal or di­ary. Or­der the good wine and take the rest of the bot­tle back to your room.

13 PEO­PLE OF­TEN PITY A WOMAN TRAV­EL­LING ALONE.

If you find your­self get­ting tongue-tied with ex­pla­na­tions as to why you’re per­fectly happy, try telling the truth: a women’s mag­a­zine dared you to do it, and you’re a dar­ing kind of woman.

14 PICK A LO­CAL CAFE OR BAR,

and go three days in a row. Af­ter three days, they will know your or­der, and you’ll feel like you’ve made a lit­tle cor­ner your own. This is the most en­cour­ag­ing thing I do.

15 GO­ING AWAY MEANS DO­ING MY FAVOURITE THING OF ALL:

com­ing home. To my house, yes. But also to the tiny pieces of me that, in the hus­tle and bus­tle of nor­mal and ev­ery­day life, get a lit­tle bit for­got­ten. Ev­ery­thing else is the same, but I’m a lit­tle bit more my­self.

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