Last year, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to go travelling by myself. I have always loved my own company, but the fear of being judged or appearing lonely has deterred me from doing things on my own, from going for dinner, to the cinema, or on holiday.
I’m generally pretty rubbish at keeping New Year’s resolutions, but this challenge is one I have stuck to and I am so glad I did. Travelling by yourself is one of the most empowering things you can do – and I would urge anyone who has not travelled solo to book yourself some flights as soon as possible.
The feeling of achievement that you get from navigating a new city in an unfamiliar language by yourself is unrivalled. You can go wherever you want, whenever you want. If no one wants to spend 4 hours going around the European Parliament in Brussels with you— that’s fine. Only having to follow your agenda and satisfy your own wishes is liberating. No longer do you have to have long discussions in the Hostel planning your day – wake up, pack your bag, and go!
Last year I went to Brussels, Lisbon, and Alicante by myself and had the best year for holidays ever – because if I wanted to go, I went. Spending a day hiking around the castles and palace gardens in Sintra stands out as one of my best memories; I have never felt so content. Equally, chatting with a stranger about the beauty of London over a bowl of mussels, some chips and a beer is an experience I would not have had were I alone. You become so much more observant and absorb so much more of the city, culture, and experience.
Of course, when travelling by yourself, especially as a woman, you are more vulnerable – and it can be scary. Whilst travelling to Eindhoven airport on the train I had my phone stolen which meant I was uncontactable for the entire time I was in Murcia and Alicante. It was terrifying and I ended up on the train platform sobbing whilst being shouted at in Dutch. Fortunately, I plan everything to death. I am an anxious traveller but I find that when travelling, anxiety can be really helpful. I had written down exactly what buses to take, what coach to get once I arrived, my booking references, and had a copy of my travel insurance policy to hand. I didn’t get my phone back, but because I had prepared so much it didn’t ruin my holiday.
The part of solo travelling that I find the most intimidating is the increase in the number of men who think they deserve your time and attention. In Lisbon I encountered far more creepy men when I was alone, than when I was with friends. Whilst in Leeds, I will, perhaps unwisely, walk anywhere by myself – except maybe through Woodhouse Moor at night – in Lisbon, I made sure to stick to well-lit streets, get public transport where possible, and was consciously aware of my surroundings.
So travel solo – you will learn more about yourself than you could ever imagine, and your confidence increases overnight. Why should your ability to see the world depend on other people?
If you want any advice on travelling by yourself, go to https://www.gov.uk/knowbeforeyougo for some great travel advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, look up individual countries travel advice on the FCO website and follow and like @FCOtravel.