The realities of solo female travel: a superlative sort of solitude

Today I’ve asked a guest contributor to post about the realities of solo female travel. It’s not something I’ve done much of myself  (I don’t think business travel counts) so I wanted to bring an alternative perspective to the blog today. Also, her writing is excellent and I’ll take any opportunity to share it!

‘Language has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone’

So said the German philosopher Paul Tillich. Now, without being too deep about the topic of solo holidaying, what can I say? I think Mr Tillich has a point about the two distinct sides, challenges and ultimate possibilities of being alone.

So, does this pithy observation at all relate to going it alone when on is on one’s vacation? Well, blog reader, you may well ask…

What’s custard got to do with it?

So, I’ve been on two holidays by myself this year. To the North of Tenerife (Puerto de la Cruz) and Machico in Madeira. Why does admitting this feel a tad subversive? I feel the decision to book an online package trip for one goes against all the glossy marketing images of couples smugly holidaying together which are fed to us by the mainstream media. Hence why I’m being a cowardly custard and not divulging my identity on this post. Sorry – guess on…

I chose to go by myself for a few good reasons. I’m single, and have been for gosh, quite a while actually, so it kind of makes sense from that perspective – no significant other to leave behind, after all. OK, I didn’t do a comprehensive survey or anything, but didn’t know of anyone else who wanted to go on the precise type of holiday (sun, but definitely not lying by the pool on a sun lounger as the thought of going red in the sun makes me feel all funny inside.., more like ‘walking through’ sun, doing nothing besides reading books and ordering espressos in cafes), at the exact time I wanted (needed, actually – work stress, say no more…) to go. Mid Jan and mid March, since you ask. So I went. On my own.

All booked up

Some things on these two trips went really well. I read oh so many books. About 1/3 of my suitcase was given over to books (let’s be honest, no need for fancy clothes if it’s just yourself for company) and while I couldn’t list all of the books I read, it felt an enjoyable challenge to race through every book in the suitcase so that everything was finished off by the time of my Jet2 flight back to the UK. I could really indulge my inner English Literature graduate. Hurrah.

If I may say so myself, I consider myself now a somewhat consummate master of the holiday meal for one. I feel extra points should be awarded for eating on your own, needing to order food in a foreign language without the natural barrier or shield of a book or Kindle. I didn’t spot many other solo holiday makers on either of my trips so I felt I stood out, which made me feel conspicuous and sometimes having a meal alone either in the hotel or a restaurant close by a weird or slightly depressing experience. However, no need to eat to impress (eg ordering small amounts, or no pudding, or avoiding pungent smelling foods eg the garlic bread cooked on the top of a bread oven that is apparently a Madeiran delicacy). You can gaze out over the sea in a kind of mindless reverie without the requirements to communicate your complex thoughts to another human being.

Mad musings. And Portugese beer

Of course, I need to give a balanced picture and let the uninitiated know that the holiday for one isn’t all self-satisfying smugness washed down with a Portugese beer. This is called Coral by the way – I ordered one from the English speaking waiter in a cafe in Machico feeling all native and cool, and ended up with a Coke. Oops.

There’s the slight madness of no one to talk to, especially when you are travelling to a country where your language isn’t the native tongue. Unfortunately my Portuguese doesn’t extend beyond ‘thank you’ and I was even a bit unsure I was saying that correctly, and whether one uses the feminine form as a female speaker, or when you are addressing a female irrespective of your own gender… Ah, the many pitfalls. In Madeira where the culture feels slightly more reserved and the local people quieter than in other more touristy holiday destinations (yes Tenerife, I mean you) I did feel this made for a particularly introspective two weeks.

The night air’s smelling better

An iPod, mysteriously lost in my tiny single bed hotel room. Too much ‘attention’ from a hotel cook during mealtimes (too bad it was an all-inclusive holiday deal requiring me to eat in the same restaurant for the full two weeks of my holiday). Two of the unique challenges faced on my respective trips. It might have been nice to share a raised eyebrow with a travel buddy rather than tackling the ins and outs of travel insurance claims from overseas on your own.

Loneliness. Ah yes. Shouldn’t holidays be all about relaxation, fun, frivolity and the thrill of new experiences? I felt so laid low by holiday loneliness while in Madeira that I had to Google loneliness in an attempt at some hasty self-counselling. The following inspirational quote was duly typed into my phone and whipped out whenever I felt I was in danger of feeling overwhelmed. I’m quite glad about this. I think it’s kind of awesome and majestic:

‘Loneliness adds beauty to life. It puts a special burn on sunsets and makes the night air smell better’

(Not sure who to attribute this one to – apologies!)

There’s a special feeling of ‘I did that! All by myself!’ in pushing through holiday loneliness. And as an empowering moment of triumph, it comes highly recommended.

If you’ve earned your stripes by taking a trip or tour independently and not ended up hideously bored, or hand-wringingly in need of a good conversation and a cuppa I applaud you. You’ve opened up the whole world as potential holiday destinations, to go to, whenever the mood takes you. Without even the prospect of a special ‘holiday argument’ with your travel companion. Congratulations, my friend.

Thanks to Rachel by the way for letting me word bomb her blog and allowing me to be a guest contributor. It’s been amazing to join her community of deep thinkers and happy travellers.

Have you been on holiday by yourself? Did you hide behind a book on the sunlounger baking yourself a lobster hue… or dance the salsa on stage in front of an audience of hotel staff and fellow guests? Share all below…

– Anon

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11 Comments

  1. Jen
    2nd May 2017 / 19:40

    I’ve never gone on a trip by myself but it is actually something that I have considered. It might do the soul good.

  2. 3rd May 2017 / 00:41

    Very interesting! I’ve done a little traveling on my own, but it was mostly for school or work.

  3. 3rd May 2017 / 01:32

    I think there is nothing to be embarrassed about when it comes to solo travel. I have done it many times when I was single and I am actually pondering to plan a solo trip now even though I am happily married. My husband cannot take time off work, plus he is not infected with a serious case of wanderlust like I am. Since he doesn’t mind me being away for a week, I thought it would a perfect opportunity to go and see some places around Asia that he is not necessarily interested in. And I will make sure to book all the restaurants I want to check outAs selfish as it may sound, I find traveling alone quite stress-free. NO need to coordinate with anybody or consider what they’d want to do. You can do whatever you want at your own pace, and change plans at any minute. I do miss talking to somebody and sharing my emotions with my husband or friends, or fooling around with them in a way you cannot do alone. Although, I met so many great people while traveling alone, something I never do whenever I am with someone else. 🙂

  4. 3rd May 2017 / 17:38

    To be honest, I’ve never actually travelled on my own, I’ve always travelled either with my partner or with friends. I think for me the challenge would be meeting new people – I’m terribly, terribly shy, so I’d probably end up spending a lot of time by myself. Though who knows, maybe it would be the push I need to challenge my own shyness and try meeting new people!

  5. 4th May 2017 / 03:41

    I applaud people who travel by themselves. Sometimes you just have the time but it does not coincide with the time of your spouse or friends. Other times, it is the chosen way to do things. Like everything else, it has pros and cons and I think it is something to be experienced. #wanderfulwednesday

  6. 4th May 2017 / 08:00

    I am happy with own company and would enjoy a solo holiday. Like you I love reading and used to take a suitcase of books but now the kindle lightens my luggage!Time to oneself is important and to be able to have complete free reign to choose your own holiday and what you do when you get there is quite liberating. Bad news about the ipod though, that’s a real shame there were light fingered hotel staff. #WanderfulWednesday

  7. 4th May 2017 / 18:09

    I really love this guest post 🙂 Thanks for sharing your words. I have traveled on my own, but only hopping from one place to the next where I am meeting up with or staying with friends. So the traveling part is solo but the holiday-ing part is not. And in the end I definitely agree, the getting from one place to the next part is pretty easy when compared to holiday loneliness. I’ve mostly avoided that for trips over 48 hours, but I like that you wrote about both the positives and negatives (and that quote!) and I’m feeling inspired to do a solo *holiday* now…although maybe not two weeks!

  8. 5th May 2017 / 16:12

    Now that I can officially say I’m a solo traveler, I actually have opinions to contribute! Yes i do get lonely too, especially in places where I don’t have blog friends to meet up with, but I’ve learned that it is easier making friends as a solo traveler. But there are other times I really enjoy my own company and the fact that i can just do whatever I want. I have no problem eating alone at all and I read while I eat :). Mostly on my phone, but sometimes a real book if I can find one, and I don’t find that weird at all. 😛

  9. 5th May 2017 / 19:53

    I absolutely enjoy solo travel but I’m so terribly clumsy that there’s always something that goes wrong when I travel all by myself 😀 But I guess that makes for some funny stories to tell afterwards…

  10. 8th May 2017 / 20:49

    Oh gosh I’ve never travelled alone and I feel like I wouldn’t like it as I would miss human company etc. but I guess it’s quite easy to meet people – maybe I should just do it just to challenge myself! x

    http://www.diaryofanexpatgirl.com

  11. 9th May 2017 / 11:06

    Loved the tone of this post! So fun to read! I’ve traveled solo a few times now and have to say I absolutely loved it! It’s an incredibly freeing feeling to do exactly what you want when you want and not have to worry about anyone else. It’s also nice to be able to socialize when you’d like, and be alone when you’d like, to go where you want when you want and eat exactly what you’re in the mood for. Sure it can get a little lonely at times, but I felt that it forced me to be comfortable with myself 😀

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