HOW TO TRAVEL SOLO (AND LOVE IT)
Laura Jane Williams shares her tips for going it alone
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.