There are still some people out there who believe that going on holiday alone is some sort of consolation prize, a plucky effort at travel made by people without friends, family or a lover.
I’ve long been of the opinion that solo travel is one of life’s greatest luxuries. As a busy self-employed writer and confirmed people pleaser in daily life, a few days away with nobody to answer to is the most decadent gift I can give myself. Solo travel matches the old-fashioned understanding of the word ‘holiday’ – a true respite from social, familial or professional responsibilities. Travelling alone offers you a precious opportunity to reconnect with your own tastes, your own rhythms, and remind yourself just what fabulous company you are.
Sometimes I use a weekend away as a restorative reward for a job well done. Or I’ll book a week in the sun with a specific purpose, like working on a book proposal or other creative project. Perhaps it’s to learn a new skill and reboot myself, kick-starting a healthy lifestyle after a period of stress or poor habits.
Last winter was a gloomy one, and my senses started to feel stultified, so on the spur of the moment I booked a weekend in Seville, to treat my eyes to gothic grandeur, my skin to sunshine, my ears to flamenco rhythms and my taste buds to red wine. City breaks might seem a daunting solo option, but the anonymity and energy of a city absorbs us, welcomes us into the throng, and there is so much to see and do that there’s not a pang of loneliness.
I found it equally enriching to take myself on a solo retreat to the Slovenian alps, spending a week with nothing but books and myself for company, to remind myself that actually, I am all I need. Sure, there have been times when I’ve felt bored, lonely, or scared, but overcoming these life obstacles is all part of the experience of travel.
And the solo traveller is only ever as solitary as we want to be; there is a powerful sisterhood among female travellers, and any time I’ve needed help – whether it’s someone to watch my rucksack while I go for a pee in a Ugandan bus station or someone to rescue me from the unwanted conversation of a creepy businessman in a hotel bar – I’ve been able to summon help from a brilliant waitress, market trader or some other wonderful woman.
My passion for solo travel is no longer a niche interest; many professional women now see the trip for one as part of our evolving definition of ‘luxury travel’. A close friend and new mum to an 11-month-old baby spent her birthday alone in the bathtub at a posh hotel – she and her husband both agreed that what she needed most was a date night with nothing but a minibar, Netflix and a bed to herself. Another friend takes herself on a ‘moneymoon’ to a beach hotel in Turkey every spring when the new financial year kicks in, where she sunbathes, swims and takes a few hours each day to map out where she wants her career to go in the coming year.
The modern traveller doesn’t simply book a holiday; we prescribe ourselves a specific trip. Whether we need a career reassessment, a re-evaluation of life priorities, a health reset or simply a restorative break in the sunshine, when we travel alone, we can pinpoint precisely what ails us and remedy ourselves accordingly. Solo travel is the most mindful way to travel, with intent and purpose. So perhaps travelling alone isn’t just a luxury. Perhaps solo travel is a necessity.
As a solo traveller, you want a relaxed and friendly vibe; fuss and formality get overbearing when you’re on your own. So choose independent, boutique hotels rather than vast five-star resorts, and avoid anything that attracts a honeymoon crowd.
Eating out alone is no longer the awkward ordeal it once was. The runaway popularity of street-food stalls and covered foodhalls make it almost natural to be dining solo. Plus, in restaurants, the trend of shared tables and bar-top eating means that nobody notices who’s eating with who anyway.
I always post my plans on Facebook, and invariably I’ll wind up connected to a friend of a friend in a far-flung city who’ll offer to show me around or have dinner one evening. Even if my heart is set on a solo break, a fix of local knowledge and company is a treat to be relished.
ANNA HART'S TRAVEL MEMOIR, DEPARTURES: A GUIDE TO LETTING GO, ONE ADVENTURE AT A TIME, IS OUT NOW. ALL IMAGES COURTESY OF ANNA HART.