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…