Over the last few weeks I have started to put some logistics to paper for a summer adventure that I will be spending alone. A trip that I will deliberately take alone because I want to, despite being in a relationship, despite having friends, despite enjoying company like other normal human beings.
And when I say alone, I mean as alone as possible. Read any ‘Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Travel Alone’ guides on the internet and within the top 5 is usually the benefit of making ‘crazy, interesting friends’ on the road that you wouldn’t otherwise meet. And yet my call to the road is for the very opposite reason. I am lucky enough to know lots of people who are interesting and intelligent, smart and funny, well travelled… but at least once a year I like to be with nobody by myself. That's not to say I don't meet wonderful people in passing (I don't go out of my way to avoid people on the street, or in restaurants etc) but for these short bursts of time in my life I like to have time alone with my own voice in my own head.
Yes, I’m the classic introvert. And this often surprises people because I like to work with people and know that, for me, a fulfilling life is one in service to others. But I take my rest by myself and recharge by myself. When I have troubles I go to myself and when I need advice I look inwardly first. When I feel a need to grow, I know it often has to be done alone so that I can find the answers in myself. Not to go alone and meet others in a busy hostel. Not to go alone for a few days and then hook up with a group. Nope, alone. Alone, alone. I travel alone not for the travel itself but to open my eyes to the world, and see by myself, for myself how it looks.
I started travelling by myself several years ago at around the time I met my now husband. I suppose you could say that being together started a trade of confidences, and the confidence he gave me was to be good in my own skin. To not be afraid to hit the path alone sometimes. A curious gift from someone who doesn't travel alone through choice. Sure, it was always in me by instinct, but in the past I may have worried about leaving someone behind. I may have worried that they’d forget me. I may have worried that I would flounder.
And yet I never have. Travelling solo has always been the most developmental and enriching of experiences that leave me feeling confident in my ability to cope with what life throws at us, and refreshed to the bone marrow. A way of being that, I admit, I have grown rather addicted to over the years. I don’t go away a lot on my own (as time off it limited and I want to share it with my husband too) but a couple of times a year I try and fit in a longer trip and a shorter trip by myself where I intend to wholly be by myself and to remember, in all it's trial and wonder, what that feels like.
In recent years, lone travel has taken me on a three-week Italian and Sicilian odyssey, a two-week roadtrip around and across Iceland, an emotionally challenging adventure to Russia, a self-designed wildlife exploration of Estonia and many more besides in the UK. This year I am hoping to cross the Alps, alone.
Solo travel isn’t without its challenges of course, but I have learnt that it is the difficulties you face that grow you the most; a growth that echoes into your future when you find yourself in need of confidence. There were times in Italy, a year after my dad died, that I was desperately lonely. In Russia I had food poisoning and in Estonia the spectacular Great Crane Migration that I had travelled to witness, had unexpectedly been and gone two days before my plane touched down (that's nature for you!). Language has been a barrier in places and accommodation has been more expensive owing to my preference for quiet places away from other people. I also have hardly any photos of myself in these wonderful places to look back on. But, some of my best memories come from thinking back to how I was in my finest moments travelling alone.
I see myself confidently pounding the streets of St Petersburg on my arrival despite all of the angry-looking winter faces that wouldn’t help me find my lodgings. I smile when I recollect the Icelandic mountain road I had to reverse down in the snow because I had foolishly taken my under-powered, two-wheel drive car up a pass that was closed but had not seen the wind-toppled sign. I also breathe a happy sigh when I think of the speed at which I covered giant Pompeii and Herculaneum without anyone else to slow me down, and I reminisce fondly on the night I spent alone in a bear hide in the middle of Estonian nowhere, jumping and tearing-up every time I heard an animal scratch at the (padlocked) door.
From solo travel has sprung more ideas than I could ever enact. I have dreamed up business ideas both excellent and fanciful. I have built a back catalog of travel poetry. I go to refill the creative well, and always find myself gloriously full (if not tired, sunburnt/windburnt and with at least some of my valuable property missing).
Travelling alone is like a secret that is all mine. I share my memories with myself after a hard day of work, or when someone says something cruel, or when I feel that I’m not good enough for this or that. Watching moon rise from the top of a mountain alone - be in at home or abroad - is better than any self-help book I’ve ever read, and it helps me return to the world better able to be a good person for me and those around me who I cherish.
Are you a solo traveller? Perhaps you'd like to give it a go but you're not sure? I'd love to hear your thoughts here or on @instagram :)