Words By: Luann Nilsson
For the last six weeks I’ve been travelling the UK and France alone.
A true statement, but it irks me and I’ve narrowed it down to the word ‘alone’. Over the last six weeks, I found that when travelling alone, you are anything but. To me, the word ‘alone’ has this connotation of loneliness and singularity. It doesn’t aptly describe how I felt a couple of weeks ago, drinking my beer at a rooftop bar in Paris. So I tried using another word, ‘solo,’ but unfortunately, at least in my mind, Jason Derulo attached himself to this in 2010. So like a good Gen Y, I took to the thesaurus…on my Mac.
It seemed fruitless as the words popped up on screen. Words like unchaperoned, and unescorted, like I was a child who had insisted she was to old for handholding. Partnerless, companionless, and by oneself, none of these described how I felt and I was scraping the bottom of the barrel. Until I found ‘single handed.’ The phrase ‘single handed’ makes me think of good people, superheroes; achieving awesome things by themselves like it was nothing, easy, a breeze.
And after navigating your way through the busy Paris Metro on a thirty-six degree day, whilst dodging sweaty French underarms as they grasp for a hand spot on the railing above you, or feigning confusion when a drug addled Scot comes up to you in a park and asks about that Samsung tablet you’ve got in your hand, there. After surviving these times, often you do feel like Superman.
These are some things I learnt about travelling the world single handedly. I hope you agree with them, having had a similar experience. Or I hope they make you ditch your mates and pack your suitcase.
You can do whatever you want.
While this does not extend to the laws of physics and mortality, think about it; you’ve got no job to go to, no dog to feed, and no mum to visit. The day is yours to seize, or yours to spend in bed. The world is your oyster. You can stand in front of that monument/artwork/cool looking thing as long as you damn well please, or skip it all together. Do fun solitary activities, take your sketchbook to the museum, or your notebook to a café or park and congratulate yourself for being such an independent soul.
You don’t have to wait for anyone, and you don’t have to keep up appearances. You can be gross, or you can be done up like a doll. Go to the party when you want, talk to everyone, or talk to no one. Make a complete fool you of yourself, because you will never see these people again. It’s a wonderful, free feeling.
I would have spent a ton of money on food if I had travelled with someone, because I would have felt obligated to eat at better places than I actually did. Eating alone is not sad and scary, and people do not regard you with pity while you’re not looking. They’ve got their own problems and you tucking into your dinner is not one of them.
If you get lost…
Technologically, you can safeguard yourself pretty well against being lost in a foreign city. There are tons of apps, including offline maps you can download for free. For major cities, you can often find interactive train apps. Take your phone charger with you incase it dies and plan before you go. However, if you are completely lost with no technology or map to help you and you feel yourself starting to panic. Stop walking and take a deep breathe. Look around you, properly. Are there any landmarks you can see that you recognize that you could walk towards? Is there a train station near you? No? Well then, you’ll have to take matters into your own hands and talk to a stranger.
Having a keen sense of direction and talking to strangers are not high on the list of things I am good at, but after a while, I found it was so much easier than looking bewildered at a screen or walking around in circles. With no other companion, I found myself asking strangers questions and for directions all the time. A lesson I learnt in doing this was that people are generally good and will help you out as best they can. They might mutter “f-ing tourist” as you skip away happily, but hey, that’s not your problem.
Hostels are great places to meet people. Learn to respect the revolving door hostel environment, even down to the squeaky beds and weird mold in the shower. Take advantage of cheap food and drinks and anything that is free. A piece of advice ladies and gents: like the spider, the opposite sex is often more scared of you, than you are of them. Ergo I fully endorse the mixed dorm. Like I said before, people are generally good, be smart and protect yourself. I’m no friend-making guru, but I met a lot of solo travellers by staying in mixed dorms and at the hostel bar. It only takes a few words to bridge the gap between two people. “Hey” and “Where are you from?” will do nicely.
Your fellow solo travellers are your port in the storm, your brothers and sisters in arms. Like you, they just want someone to talk to and share a drink with. Don’t feel you have to stay connected, often you will never see these people again, so just enjoy the moment. Share stories, help each other, make each other laugh, and just generally revel in the feeling of making friends with strangers a million miles from home.