Why Travelling Alone is an Amazing Confidence Builder
by Paula Gardner
I never imagined I would come to love travelling alone as much as I do. Of course, I still thoroughly enjoy travelling with friends and family, but there is something about travelling alone that refreshes the soul. I have a very full but hectic life. I am a single mother to three teenage/adult children and two boisterous cats. I run my own business (well, two of them!) and a busy household and try to keep some kind of fitness routine going in between trying to cook healthy meals and stay chilled meditating. Sometimes it’s exhausting. It’s then that travelling alone calls to me.
Five years ago the thought of travelling alone would have thrown me. I don’t mean the logistics of getting places, but the thought of filling all that time, of eating alone, of being the lonely figure at breakfast. To be honest, I’m not sure I would have had the confidence.
Then and Now
Now, it’s a different story and travelling or holidaying solo is part of that journey.
I have to admit that I get nervous. That time just before I leave for the airport is the worse. I worry that I’m not going to make it on time, yet I worry equally about leaving the children in charge of the house. Do they have enough money? Will the house still be here when I get back? When you’re on your own there’s no one else to distract you or say “Enough of that”. There is a time when you just have to say “enough” to yourself and look forward to the trip.
Once I’m at the airport it’s then that the real pleasure kicks in. I can visit however many shops I want; try a myriad of different perfumes and people watch in Giraffe if I like. Slowly the fact that I can do whatever I want with my time starts to sink in. Sometimes it’s the delight of picking up trashy books I can leave at the hotel when I finish them. Every trip involves the pure joy of shopping for a new notebook and pen (one of my travelling rituals) and, if possible, the decadence of an exquisitely chilled glass of Champagne I can sip at my own pace. Or maybe two. Why not, there’s no one to raise an eyebrow!
Making Your Own Solo Travel Itinerary
It’s that ability to decide to do exactly what I want that is so freeing and confidence building. I’ve been with travel companions who want to walk the toes off me and see every part of the city. They don’t know how to just sit still and absorb the city instead. I’ve travelled with people who are obsessed about where we’ll be eating our next meal, with children who want to be entertained, with friends who just want to shop, and whilst I love all these and don’t want to stop travelling with them, I refuse to let go of my solo travel treats.
I admit that travelling alone may be an acquired taste for some. There is a lot of responsibility if you’re just not used to the logistics of getting places on your own, and navigating a foreign country can be daunting. But these can be surmounted and even enjoyed with time. Top confidence building but sometimes challenging activities that travelling alone provides are:
- Having to navigate alone
- Having to navigate the language alone
- Finding the line between being cautious and looking after your own safety and letting go and having fun
- Talking to strangers, depending on how gregarious you are
- Handling a different currency
- Eating alone. You can easily take a book, notebook or play on your phone, but after a while you realise that you’re missing out on what’s going on. Here’s a salutary tale from Samantha in Sex and The City!
Another thing that you learn is how to slow down and listen to what you want and need that day. Sight seeing? Great! You can wear those ancient trainers and baggy combats and not give a damn what you look like if you want. Want to just sit and read a book on the balcony. Then you can do so as long as you want, without someone moaning that you can “read at home”!
Alone Moments I treasure:
- Leaving my Athens hotel and making my way through the city to see the Acropolis floodlit at night. Just standing there for as long as I wanted, looking up and feeling how lucky I was to have come all this way and experience this moment in time. It almost brought me to tears
- Sitting on a balcony in Santorini, feeling the sun dissolve into my skin, right through the flesh beneath. Deciding to ignore all my plans for that day and just stay still and enjoy feeling alive
- Tramping around Rome for a morning before coming back to the hotel room and falling asleep for almost 24 hours. I must have needed it!
- Wandering around the necropolis in Glasgow, soaking up the atmosphere and taking the time to read any headstone that called to me, followed by a pot of tea and piece of warming coffee and walnut cake in a nearby café whilst I read my book for a couple of hours. Bliss.
None of these moments sounds particularly mind blowing I have to admit, but isn’t that the point about travel, and indeed our lives… that it is all a collection of moments and to really make it special we have to stop and savour as many of these as we can, and doing that without distractions is sometimes easier.
Thinking of travelling alone? Here are our top 5 tips to get started:
- You could start with a country you already know so that you are slightly familiar with it
- Plan. Plan. Plan. Book a hotel beforehand and work out beforehand how you will get to it from the airport (I always email the hotel and ask their advice)
- Tap into your network and see if anyone else knows people there who can show you around or take you for a coffee or lunch. This breaks it up if you’re worried about feeling lonely
- Likewise, you can book a tour and spend some time with people if you need a bit of company. I always enjoy a food tout of every city I visit
- You’re the only one responsible for tickets, documents and money. Use the hotel safes, photocopy your passport in case you lose it (and leave a copy with someone who can scan and email it over if you lose everything). Don’t scrimp on travel insurance. Remember the cheapest is often the one with the biggest excess.
Above all, accept that it will feel a little odd at first, but this does change. And what a difference in your confidence when you return!