There is a vast difference in being alone and being lonely. Many of us are more than happy in our own company without feeling any pang of emptiness.
People who enjoy spending time on their own are also usually very happy solo travellers, too.
In fact, for those who find themselves in need of serious spiritual recharge time, travelling alone can be just what the Doctor ordered.
Unfortunately, it has taken the travel industry some time to get its head around the idea of the solo traveller, especially when it comes to women. Female solo travellers are still considered either sad and unloved, eccentric, or in danger.
Having said that, a male travelling on his own is just as likely to be steered in a certain direction. Men only want one thing, right? Have you tried booking a hotel room lately? Online travel websites like Agoda, Trip Advisor or Booking.com will default to 2 adults the minute you start your search. Cruise liners offer less than a handful of solo cabins per trip. The price difference for a solo traveller and a couple of some sort is mostly…zip. Nothing. In fact, sometimes it is even worse than that. Cruises, for example, will charge proportionately more for someone on holiday with themselves than they will for a pair, in spite of the fact that a solo traveller is taking up less resources.
And it’s not just the money, there is some kind of unwritten rule that one random tourist can be offered the worst seat on transport and a rubbish table at a restaurant and it will be OK. It is not OK.
If that ever happens to you and you are alone, say “no” and wait while they find you a better seat or table. You are paying the same amount, you are not a lepper or pariah, and you want a nice view.
The reasons people may want to get out and explore the world without a plus 1 or more are many and varied. Perhaps they have a significant other, but they have different tastes in adventure, perhaps they have a particular passion for obscure activities – steam train spotting or staying in tree houses- and no one they know really ‘gets it’, or perhaps they are simply single and love to travel. There are as many scenarios as there are people, and for that reason alone, being alone shouldn’t ever be an issue.
Sadly, for female solo travellers, there are often realistic risks to be taken into consideration. Certain countries have a reputation for being particularly sketchy for women, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from missing out on the rewards of exploration.
A sensible approach, with well-founded information, goes a long way towards changing the narrative. If you have concerns, ask people who have actually been to these places, rather than rely on rumour. There are online forums for solo female travellers all over the web and you will always find another person just like you who is either in that place currently, or who has been there by themselves.
I recently heard a breathless account of the dangers of travelling alone in Russia as a woman from someone who had heard someone say something about that. Having spend 12 days in Moscow in 2019 as a single-over-50s female, I can assure you that at no time did I feel threatened while I was there, and I used public transport, wandered aimlessly, and walked around at night. I always take care when I am travelling not to wear expensive jewellery or flash cash. I use google maps and google translate and I stop and ask people, like staff at the hotel or the local Police, if I am uncertain of anything. I use these same tactics at home, too. If I were a male, I would use them as well.
If travelling solo for the first time seems daunting to you, there are lots of ways you can ease your way into it. Tour groups- yes really- are a nice way to go. Sometimes you will meet friendly people, and probably lots of couples or small groups. Choose smaller groups of no more than 10, if you can. If you need a bit of human chat, befriend the tour guide for an hour or two.
Take millions of photos, and ask someone to take your photo. It’s not weird. Just do it. If you are good at photography or you have the kit, take a tripod and get the shot you want. If eating alone at a restaurant seems odd, listen to music or a podcast while you eat. Use that time to plan out your day, or the day after, or your next trip, or the next year.
Write out a list of things you would like to do, or write down all your observations about the people around you, yourself, your feelings and reaction, your plans. Travelling without the distraction of another person’s needs and expectations is a great way to really get to know yourself.
Never be afraid of travel time alone, it can be a true blessing as your focus shifts from someone else, to yourself to the World around you. You may want to hit every museum or beach, off you go. Alternatively, if you want to just rest, then rest. If you fancy spending time in a café people watching, adopt a café as your own, even if it is only for a day, and pretend that it is your local in your mind. Pay attention to the minutiae. Details of difference are something we often overlook. When you are a solo traveller, you can do as much of something, or as little of something, as you want.
It is your time, your experience, your holiday, you set the agenda. That’s the freedom of a Single Ticket.