Sunday, June 16, 2013

Relishing Solo travel

I’m about to go on traveling with couple of friends but due to some urgent matters that they need to attend to, for some reasons, they wont be able to make it.
So rather than waste my flights, I decided to take ‘time out’ on my own.  Many people think it’s unusual to have had a trip planned which would have included lots of socialising, but then make a decision to go wandering in solitude instead. Not at all.
I find it harder to be in big groups when I have a lot of stuff going on in my head, and therefore prefer my own company at such times – or at least, just the very occasional company of strangers. And while other people may dread the thought of having a week alone in a capital city, I’m relishing the idea. I always gain a real sense of self-achievement when I travel alone. 
I wouldn’t be surprised if I am turning into something of a loner. Blame eight years of self-supporting lifestyle and twelve years of living alone for that!
But I have discovered that I do actually love to travel solo. In fact, the more I do it, the more I realise I find travel with other people difficult. It’s probably because the more I actually travel with people, the easier I think it is to just do it my way, rather than accommodate someone else.
The older I get, the more self-reliant I become. Quite fiercely so, in fact. And I am accustomed to going about my life without ever asking permission or checking things out with other people.
I suppose partly due to this, I’m not good at realising when I have to operate as a team, that many other (dare I say, normal) people seem to have a skill in, which makes it hard for whoever travels with me. You know who are you are, dear friends and family! And I feel sorry for you having to travel with me.
So I find it much less stressful being on my own. Unless it’s a sort of sun, sea and sand holiday, where I’m expecting to do little else than read a book by the pool and quaff a few cocktails. And therefore there are fewer occasions for a clash of needs.

Solo travel is my sanctuary

There’s no need for negotiation when I travel as a single. I can do what I like when I like. I can eat where I want when I want.
I can get up when I want, sleep in or wake up early. And I don’t have to worry if the other person is okay or not with whatever arrangements we make.
Also – I only have myself to blame if things don’t go as expected. Which is great for improving my sense of responsibility and accountability. And if things do go wrong, there’s no one to argue about it with. I have to slap my own wrists.
But it’s not just about the fact that I like to do things my way and I can spend time however I desire. I gain sanctuary from being alone in a foreign place. Whether I’m sight-seeing, wandering city gardens, writing poetry in a park or reading in a café, or getting out into the hills to walk, I love the chance to have time to reflect on life and be in the moment.
It’s also good to go where no one knows me. I can be whoever I choose to be. I’m not saying that I’m going to strut around as a female impersonator of Elvis, but I don’t have to fit into the persona that I’m expected to fit into when at home or when travelling with someone I know well (be it a sister, writer, girlfriend, or animal guardian!).
I won’t be judged if I try and act in a different way, whether that’s being a little more confident or brave, or even acting a little more shy or coy.
Of course, in my enjoyment of travelling solo, I don’t want to sound like I’m some kind of social outcast, unable to relate to others. As anyone who knows me personally will tell you, I’m very sociable and really come alive in the company of friends. I’m most definitely the opposite of a wallflower, and love parties (though not as much as when I was in my teenage years, admittedly).
But I like to socialise on my terms. And when I’ve had enough, I like to be able to leave – without offending anyone. It’s easier to do that with strangers. And that’s part of the beauty of travelling solo for me.

Solo travel brings new possibilities

When you travel alone, you are open to whatever may happen. You can follow any path you choose and if you decide to stay somewhere else, or take a different train, you can do that. Also, though it may not seem so to those unaccustomed to lone travel, you can often meet more new people when you travel alone – it’s not as isolating an experience as one might think.
When you travel with a partner or a friend you often just talk to each other, and you appear less approachable from the outside. As a lone ranger, other travellers will be more likely to get chatting to you. And the more you do step out into the big wide world by yourself, the easier it gets to spot that other solo traveller looking to grab a glass of vino and share some tales.
Permanent travelling companions can tie you down. You have to accommodate them or stick to the itinerary and sometimes do what they want to do instead of what you want to do. It means compromising. And this also means you may not be able to just go with the flow while travelling.
I love the fact that travelling single means the world opens like a blossom and allows for so many other experiences that may never occur if you’ve got your attention taken by your partner or buddy.
So, rather than worrying that I’m going to have a lonely trip, I’m excited about what it may bring, for the very fact that I AM alone. Yes, solo travel fills me with excitement. How about you?

8 tips for planning your first-ever solo travel trip

I think once you’ve plucked up the courage to travel solo, you never look back for the confidence and the other opportunities it can bring. But getting on the plane that first time can be a challenge.
Here are some of my tips to planning your first solo trip. I hope they help to persuade you to give it go:
1. Treat your trip as the step to independence and liberation that it is! You will be able to do whatever you please. You can stay in bed late, get up at 5am, eat wherever you like, go wherever you like. It’s pretty cool stuff. Seeing yourself in this new, empowered light can often be all it takes to give you the courage to start planning a first solo trip.
2. If it helps, think of your travel as a journey to self-discovery. This is your chance to explore parts of yourself that you never knew existed. Take a journal and spend time writing about your thoughts and feelings and the days that unfold while you’re away. You’ll be amazed at how much you can get out of doing this!
3. Consider your trip to be ‘me-time’! Think about the things in your life you don’t have time to do and relish the idea of doing them when you travel. Maybe you want to catch up on reading some classics, or try your hand at writing poetry, short-stories or sketching? Or do you want to while away a whole day looking at some of the world’s finest art in a famous museum, or take up a cookery class? The choices are endless.
4. Research your destination as much as possible before you go. Find out where the good restaurants close to your hotel are, whether there will be any public events to attend, what the transport system and taxi service is like, if there are any ‘no-go’ areas, which days the shops are open, and so on. The more information you have, the better equipped you’ll be to enjoy your first time travelling alone.
5. Make connections before you go. If you’re worried about getting lonely, research the possibilities for making friends before you travel, and consider hooking up with other travellers though the likes of CouchsurfingWAYN or even Trip Advisor. CouchSurfing is my favourite, since a lot of the other people on there are ‘verified’ and it’s a free service. Also, there are group activities available to join in and many people available who are eager to show you around or meet you for a coffee.
6. Practice situations in which you can chat to strangers. Once you’re in anew place it helps to be confident in being able to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know – so do lots of it while at home. Then as soon as you get on the plane, start chatting with your fellow passengers. In your destination, book a historical tour and aim to speak to the other people on it, or ask another stranger who is dining alone if you can join them (they’ll probably be really glad you did!). The more you do this, the more you push your comfort zone and get better at it.
7. Plan ahead for the evenings. These can often be the toughest to deal with as a newbie solo trekker (or even an old-timer). If you meet travellers you can go out with for dinner or drinks – great. But if you do wind up on your ownsome, put some thought into what you’ll do. I’d personally wouldn’t go to a nightclub, but I will go to a restaurant where I’ll feel comfortable lingering after my meal with a glass of wine and a good read. Cinemas are a good option, as well as art events which often attract solo people anyhow. And I love live music – so I will often go to gigs. Whatever you do, don’t just sit in your room and order room service! At least start with dining at the hotel restaurant.
8. A final tip – downgrade your accommodation style! I’ve added this after posting as it just occurred to me as an important tip. But even if you’re outside of your twenties and thirties as I am, don’t disregard booking hostel-type accommodation. Hostels are great places to meet other travellers, as they often have communal areas like  kitchens or lounges or relaxed bars. There are some really fancy pants hostels in many destinations, so don’t feel they have to be a comfort-compromise, and also many have private rooms. So you get the benefit of the hostel camaraderie, without having to hear someone else snore.
Do you prefer to travel solo?

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