Top Tips for the Single Traveller
It’s almost two years ago that I began the blog. I had no great ambition in mind for it; it was just for fun. But it’s grown and grown and has become an important and enriching part of my life, providing me with a lot of fun and some new friends. One of the things that got me started was trying to provide useful information for the lone traveller and diner – hence its name! Where could a single person stay and eat out and feel comfortable? Especially a woman. It has to be said that a lone woman diner in a restaurant will attract more attention and possibly more discomfort than a man. This particular ambition lost its way a bit as I then didn’t go away alone until earlier this year when I travelled to Venice in April and then again in June to France, by myself. That got me thinking about my original plan for the blog and while I was in France, I started making some notes. So, here are my thoughts about how to make lone travelling easier and also why sometimes it feels just the perfect and most wonderful thing to do.
Where to go: well, where do you really want to go? This is your time to choose; you don’t have to please anyone else. I wrote a post on the ten places I haven’t yet been to where I’d really like to go in the next couple of years or so, at the end of last year (click here). I like to dream but I also like to attach some reality to my dreams. There is no point in dreaming of something that is clearly impossible. My destinations in the blog post took into account places I’d feel happy on my own if I didn’t find someone who wanted to come with me; it took into account money. Yes, the dreaded issue of money. But I can’t afford holidays that cost thousands of pounds so my list contained places I thought I could genuinely afford to go to. So where you choose to travel to alone will largely depend on what you want or can spend and where you will comfortable alone. Of course, there will be people happy to join group holidays and that has different challenges for the single traveller. But I’m not a group person. When I travel alone – well, I travel alone.
How long to go for: think carefully about how much time you are likely to be happy with your own company. And where you’re going may affect your decision. In France last month I was in a busy, vibrant town by the sea with plenty of things to do and lots of people around me so I was quite happy there for a week on my own. But, although desert islands aren’t really my thing, let me make the most extreme alternative. Would you be happy for a week in a quiet, deserted location where there’s nothing to do, no one else around and it requires you to jump in a car and drive miles to the nearest shop or cafe? There’s no right answer here. But it is about understanding yourself. Don’t be shy of acknowledging your own needs and your own fears. Don’t force yourself to be brave. Don’t think you have to prove anything to anyone. Just go for the time that you are comfortable with – whether it’s three nights or three weeks – it’s your holiday!
Where to stay: I’ve been to the lovely Hotel Mocenigo in Venice now a few times. I went there for my very first holiday when I was first single in 2006 and loved its quiet intimacy, the fact that there were only 10 – beautiful! – rooms (there are a few more now) and that Walter and Sandro and their staff would talk to me as I went in and out of the hotel: ask me about my day; recommend places to go. I can’t imagine staying in a large, impersonal hotel where no one bothered to really talk to you. I remember on that first visit, I’d never came back very late in the evening and so would like to sit in the courtyard for a while with a book before I went to bed. Someone would bring me tea and then chat to me for a while. Last time I was there, in April this year, each morning either Walter or Sandro would talk to me for a while about my plans for the day, what I’d done the previous day and ask me about my family who they know as I’ve stayed there with my children; this added so much pleasure to my holiday. In France in June I was staying in an apartment so there was no one to talk to but I was fine with that now … I might not have been at one stage. And I found anyway that people in local shops and cafes soon got to recognise me and have a chat. Think about where you’d be comfortable on your own. I know I wouldn’t be happy on my own in a remote place; I’m too much of a city girl. But then I live alone and work from home so I’m not trying to escape a frantic, people-filled life, either. But maybe you are.
Eating out: I’ve always been comfortable eating out on my own. I think it was part of the way I was brought up as I was taken to smart restaurants as soon as I could hold a knife and fork. And how comfortable you are eating out on your own has necessarily to be affected by your relationship with food. It won’t be a surprise to you to hear that food is one of the most important things in my life. Of course, anyone who knows me well knows this already, but I feel I can say it publicly now that Jay Rayner has more or less admitted the same thing in his book, A Greedy Man in a Hungry World: food dominates his ‘every waking moment’. Thus, if I’m in a restaurant on my own, I’m not thinking about what anyone else might be thinking, seeing a lone woman studying the menu; carefully raising a glorious oyster to her mouth and letting it slide in; or pigging herself on yet another Cafe Gourmand. I’m only thinking food. But even I will admit that while enjoying the pleasures of a Michelin starred restaurant in France on my own won’t bother me, doing the same on home territory wouldn’t be so easy. There’s something about the anonymity of being away that makes it feel OK. Not even just abroad. I’ve spent quite a lot of time in Dorset at some friends’ apartment on my own and eat out a lot there. It’s a holiday, after all. What’s important is that you are comfortable. You are supposed to be enjoying yourself. Don’t push yourself to eat in a posh restaurant if you’re not going to enjoy it and would be happier at the local Pizza Express equivalent. Or perhaps you’re happy eating out by yourself during the day but not the evening. Well, treat yourself to some nice lunches and buy food to heat through or cook yourself in the evening. Be kind to yourself. But also be honest with yourself. There’s no competition. Remember, it’s just you on this holiday.
Follow your passion: I’m talking destination here; or maybe you’ve always wanted to stay in a remote monastery in the Himalayas. Think about what you really want to do; where you really want to go and what you really want to see. One of the bonuses of travelling alone is, it’s up to you. You don’t have to go somewhere you’re not keen on just because your partner wants to go. This is your time to please yourself. You don’t have to think about anyone else’s needs. But also, if you’re doing something you really want then you’re more likely to be happy doing it on your own. I had a real yearning to go to Greece two and a half years ago. I kept thinking about it. Then the weirdest thing happened. Or not weird if you’re into manifesting things by wanting them enough. I stopped to talk to Anna at a craft fair. I’d bought jewellery from Anna before. She told me she lived in Greece now and I happened to say I’d been thinking about going there for a holiday. Before the day was out, Anna had sent me links to hotels and places she thought I’d like and helped me book a holiday in Kardamyli. I went on my own and it was one of the most lovely holidays I’ve ever had.
Contact: a lot of people want to be totally out of contact when they’re away. I’m not one of those people. I’m a social media junkie. I pay £3 a day to Vodafone while I’m away so I can use my iPhone as normal: all its usual data roaming, texting and phone functions. If that seems a little sad to you, then fine, but it’s my way, I suppose, of dealing with holidaying alone. You are never alone with an iPhone, Facebook, Twitter and email. I like to share. If I see something great, something beautiful, something unusual, something that makes me laugh, then I share. My daughter Nicola is great at keeping in touch with me when I’m away, swapping iMessages frequently. Some people wouldn’t like it. I do. What’s right for you?
Safety: it makes sense to let your nearest and dearest know where you are and how to contact you. Maybe you want to escape everyone and everything completely so no one knows where you are, but personally I like to know that should anything unfortunate happen – home or away – the important people in your life know how to contact you or someone where you’re staying. For a start, my daughter might panic if she doesn’t get half a dozen iMessages before lunch! OK you’ve got your phone, but leave a hotel’s contact number or your travel agency’s. I always leave an itinerary with flight numbers and times and contact numbers. Maybe it’s OCD but it makes me feel comfortable.
But safety is also about what you do when you’re away. I know I’ve learnt to instinctively be a little more careful not to damage myself, lock myself out of where I’m staying or lose the car (my friend Robert reminded me at Caffe Caldesi a couple of Saturdays ago of the time I actually lost my car. I couldn’t believe he’d remembered. It was 30 years ago. I ‘mislaid’ it for 3 weeks. It’s quite a funny story but I’m going to leave it at that!). I’m not going to clamber over dangerous rocks if there’s no one with me to pick up my pieces; I’m not going to swim far out to sea if there’s no one else on the beach. I don’t walk along dark alleyways on my own in a strange city, especially at night. I do not take up offers from strange men to enjoy a bottle of wine on their balcony (thinking of one rather persistent Greek man!). This makes sense. I’m not a coward; I’m not easily frightened. But I’d rather come home from my holiday in one piece and with no nasty experiences to tell.
The benefits: I love going away with family and friends; I’m the kind of person who likes to share (which is probably why I write a blog!). But sometimes I really do enjoy going away alone. It’s me time; I don’t have to compromise or take anyone else’s wishes into account. There’s the most amazing sense of freedom to do just what you want to do. Often I have no particular plans for my day and just take it as it comes, going with instinct, with things that come up and attract my interest. Or maybe I change my mind about going anywhere and just want to lie on the sun bed with a book – I’m not going to upset anyone.
I’ve also found I talk to more people when I’m on my own. In Kardamyli everyone was so friendly. I couldn’t walk down the street without someone calling hello and stopping to talk to me. On the way to France I had a lovely conversation with a guy in a long, long queue for Costa Coffee on the ferry – about 20 minutes! – and he told me he and his family were off on a cycling holiday on the Ile de Re near La Rochelle. In Venice in April I ate on the first night at a little osteria behind the hotel and got into conversation with a lovely woman, Amanda, from Melbourne who was spending six months travelling in Italy with her husband. Now I follow her adventures on her fantastic blog: http://www.yumiandachille.com. I think I’m more open to starting up conversations with other people; not because I’m lonely but because it’s easy to do and I find it a fantastic aspect of travelling alone that I end up talking to people I’m sure I wouldn’t talk to if I was with someone else.
So, if you’re about to travel alone, travel well, travel safely, but above all – enjoy yourself!