From a one-on-one with an escapee octopus to OAP baseball, travelling on her own has made Lucy Reynolds very happy indeed.
Rudyard Kipling once said: “He travels the fastest who travels alone.” Well Rudyard, after a delayed 16-hour flight sat next to a flatulent, snoring stranger, then having to wait next to the luggage collection point, watching while everyone collects their bags and leaves, staring at the empty belt, willing my bag to appear with every fibre of my being but to no avail, I’m inclined to disagree. Solo travelling has a few drawbacks – of course – but boy oh boy does it rock my casbah.
Five years ago, stuck in the summer holidays without a travel partner, I decided to go on holiday on my own. As a teacher, the long, gruelling slog up to the summer break means that when those golden six weeks appear, you want to make the very most of them. It’s a time to throw off the shackles of being a responsible adult role model and go batshit… like have a drink or two in the evening or – wait for it – stay up past 10pm.
The problem was, not many of my friends were teachers so they didn’t have the time for a jaunt in foreign climes. I could have waited until the very end of the holidays to squeeze in a week somewhere sunny and mainstream, but I wanted to explore: strange smells and sights, weird and wonderful experiences. The only way I’d get exactly that was going solo.
“The feeling of being totally on your own schedule is liberating. There’s no compromising on what you want to see or do: you set the rules.”
It’s not to say I wasn’t scared. The first time was a mixture of fear of the unknown and sheer excitement at doing something that, at the time, was totally out of character. Even my closest friends and family seemed dubious. “Are you sure you’ll be all right on your own?”; “Won’t you get lonely?”; “Is it safe?” In fact, people still ask me these questions now, but with less hesitancy in their voices and more amazement that I recommend it to everyone and anyone I meet. See, the fact is, anyone can do it. You may think you can’t, but you can. And chances are, you’ll love it.
Travelling on your own makes you learn a hell of a lot about yourself. It makes you more confident, more resilient and gives you great stories to reel off at parties. The feeling of being totally on your own schedule is liberating. There’s no compromising on what you want to see or do: you set the rules.
From plenty of holidays with friends and family, I know that delicate balancing act of having to work in activities that everyone wants to do, as well as eating in places that everyone can enjoy. It works, but there’s that feeling somewhere in the back of your mind that you may be missing out on something better somewhere else. Or as the cool kids call it: FOMO (Dear cool kids. Please stop it – Lucy).
Some of my best moments have been wandering around a new city, working to no other schedule than my own. I stumbled across an OAP baseball game in Toronto that led to a wonderful afternoon sat in the sun, eating ice cream and chatting to friendly strangers who stopped to watch too. I came across the most eccentric and exciting museum in Berlin, off the beaten track and not in any tour guides, full of bizarre creatures in formaldehyde.
In Singapore I found an amazing food market where most of the things to buy to eat were still alive and I witnessed an octopus’s daring bid for freedom across the stone floor of the fish market. We had a moment: I saw it; it saw me – and then we carried on our merry way. It slid over towards the safety of a hidden water tank and I went, post-haste, to a sushi bar to stuff myself with octopus sashimi.
Lucy’s top tips for travelling alone
I’d be fibbing if I didn’t admit there are elements of travelling on your own that need consideration. Thus:
Prior to travelling if possible, read as many guides as you can and – more usefully – blogs, which will give you a real insight into what to see, where to go, what to avoid and the best public transport tips. You really can’t research enough. Some of the best places I have seen haven’t been in the tourist guides, but have been found via word-of-mouth and internet searches.
The only real problem for the single adventurer is: ‘Shall I take a selfie and feel like a dick or rely upon the kindness and photographic skill of strangers?’ As you can see from the photo below, after waiting for a stranger to take a photo of you in front of a tree full of beautiful coloured birds, said birds have usually all flown away, the feathery bastards.
What’s that? Get a selfie stick? Frankly, my dear, I’d rather eat my firstborn. Talking of which…
Food, glorious food!
One of the best parts of travelling, food can also cause the solo traveller anxiety, especially when you want to fully experience the culinary delights of a place but feel a bit weird sitting on your own in a restaurant. Fuhgeddaboudit! Everyone has to eat. Once you get over the initial ‘Oh god, everyone’s staring at me and I look like a massive loner’ feeling, you realise no one cares – they are more interested in their food.
Also, solo travellers actually aren’t that rare; the more you travel, the more you see people very happily on their own in restaurants. It’s a great way to people watch or, if you feel more self-conscious, take a book. Once you’ve sat and dined on your own for the first time, you realise it’s no big deal. And you can order seconds and no one’s there to judge. WIN.
When flying, you can snooze, watch films or read and not be worried about keeping anyone else entertained. Be organised, book your seat ahead. There are always single seats with extra leg room available. ALWAYS choose an aisle seat. Easy exit to walk around and stretch your legs, no one to wake up to get out and less claustrophobia.
“The only real problem for the single adventurer is: ‘Shall I take a selfie and feel like a dick or rely upon the kindness and photographic skill of strangers?’”
Possibly the biggest fear of the lone female traveller is safety, and sensibly so. Nowhere is completely safe and safety isn’t just a female concern, but do your research. Visit the official tourist website for the country you are travelling to for up-to-date info on how to stay safe and search on internet chatrooms for differing experiences from seasoned travellers.
Trust your gut: if it doesn’t feel right, don’t worry about manners – get out of there. In reality, the only present threat to the traveller in most areas is pickpocketing. If you are aware of this and don’t flaunt expensive cameras or be too obvious with your map, you should be okay. Above all, employ common sense: don’t carry all your cash on you at once and be sure to let your normal bank/mobile phone provider know that you are travelling abroad so a) they don’t block your account/number, and b) you have the added security of using your bank card/mobile if you need it.
Just do it
If you fancy it, do it. I’m currently researching new destinations to explore on my own, with my sights currently set on Japan. The more you do it, the less daunting it becomes and there’s a whole new world of solo pleasures to be had. Grab your passport, pop on your travelling pants and get out there.
Lucy is a teacher whose dream as a child was to be WWE Wrestling Champion. That dream is still alive.