'Ah, you are an adventurer' – the joy of solo travel (even close to home)

The pandemic is far from over but lately I have been allowing myself to daydream about adventure, travel and stepping into the unknown. While I do truly believe that you can find adventure on your doorstep, after months of only being allowed to find adventure this way has left me with incredibly itchy feet.

Even in the years where I didn’t go near an airport, by this point in the year I would have already had weekends away to see friends and would have lots of plans for trips to the coast or other beauty spots in the summer. Instead I haven’t left Shropshire since a trip to Ikea in Birmingham in October. The last actual trip for pleasure I had was at the end of September to The Gower in Wales. It definitely hasn’t been the worst part of this pandemic but as being a traveller is quite a big part of my identity, it hasn’t been great either.

This reminds me of when I was living in the Basque Country in Spain and was trying to explain to my elderly landlords, who spoke hardly any English, that I had decided on a whim to get an overnight bus to the other side of the country (16 hours!) to go and stay with a family I had found on the internet who needed some help in their orchard for a week. They had not heard of HelpX, which is a platform to encourage people to go and volunteer/work for families who need help in exchange for food and board. After a few frustrating minutes of trying to explain, the man, who was in his 80s turned to me and said with a look of respect: “Ah, you are an adventurer.” At the time I had never considered myself as such but I excitedly replied “Si, si!” and swelled with pride.

I still smile whenever I think of this moment and sometimes when I have decided to go off and do something like go to Morocco for a month, I have closed my eyes and remembered this moment. I even think of it when I’m on walks close to home and decide to explore a new route or footpath on my own, not knowing where I’ll end up or if I will get totally lost. There is such a joy in solo adventure, even on the smallest scale. I was reminded of this while talking to Kate Wills this week. Kate is a freelance journalist and the author of a new book called A Trip Of One’s Own. The tagline of this brightly coloured book is ‘Hope, heartbreak and why travelling solo could change your life” so I think you can understand why I jumped at the chance to speak to Kate.

I have only just begun reading the book this week but it’s such a great mix of memoir, travel, history and useful tips for solo travel. Kate wrote the book following her decision to leave her husband of just one year and move into a house-share, at a time when so many of her friends and peers were getting married, buying houses and having babies. As a travel writer, she was used to jetting around the world but in the book she describes how the first trip after her divorce made her feel more alone than ever. She decided to research female travellers from history to inspire her and each chapter sees her follow in the footsteps of one of these pioneering women.

One of the reasons I wanted to speak to Kate was that I often receive messages from people saying they really wanted to try solo travel but are too scared. With things starting to open up again, now could be the perfect time to begin planning your first mini solo adventure and actually the fact that foreign travel is still somewhat curtailed shouldn’t put you off because as Kate told me starting small is sometimes the best way. We also talked about how travel isn’t always the right solution to trying to solve your problems because more often than not, you take them with you.

As Kate says: “Obviously there's great things about solo travel but I think you have to make the trip at the right point in your life. Sometimes it can feel a bit like you're running away from a problem, If you feel lonely back home, sometimes going somewhere new is that the last thing you need because it can just intensify that loneliness.

“Sometimes you're never quite sure which way it's going to go. Sometimes it is good to get a new perspective but sometimes it's just the same problems but in a different location. Travelling is sadly not a quick fix for all life's worries. I was joking with a friend the other day that solo travel is like the extreme sport of travelling because the highs are really high but the lows are really low. Everyone who has travelled abroad alone has had those moments of crying in an internet cafe or texting a friend to say you want to come home.”

So why do something that has the potential to make you feel so low? As well as finding solo travel empowering and freeing, Kate also says it gives you permission to do what you want to do without taking other people’s tastes and desires into account.

She says: “What I love about solo travelling is that holidays away are so precious and you want to make the most of them and because of that, you just don't always want to compromise. With solo travel, you can be completely selfish and just do exactly what you want to do and spend your time exactly how you want and that to me is just the ultimate indulgence and pleasure, which is what travel should feel like.”

Kate also often gets approached by people who have always wanted to go away on their own but don’t feel brave enough. I asked her for her top tips for biting the bullet and going on an adventure without the comfort blanket of friends or family. There are loads more useful tips in her book, including how to travel solo on a budget, which I know is a concern for so many (that damn single supplement!).

Here is her advice for those who want to try it but are feeling scared:

  1. Try an organised trip

    “There are some now some really cool companies catering to solo travellers such as FlashPack and Intrepid Travel. They're great as it's a really nice way to travel alone but also know that you'll meet people. They are also organised for you so it takes a bit of the stress out of travelling alone for you. If you are worried, these kinds of trips are a nice gateway into solo travel.”

  2. Train yourself up at home

    “Practice by taking yourself out to dinner or going to an exhibition or whatever it is by yourself. Try not to just sit and look at your phone the whole time. Try and engage with what you're doing. You can then build up doing things on your own a bit like a muscle. Having that ability to feel confident on your own is really going to help on your first solo trip.”

  3. Plan ahead

    “When you do feel ready, the best piece of advice is to organise something for your first night in a place. I'm quite a go with the flow type chapter and I used to not do this but I've learned from experience that when you arrive, you're often really tired and discombobulated. If you don't have a plan, it can actually be quite a low moment so start the trip off right by organising your hotel and where you'll have dinner, even if it is just for your first night. If that is taken care of, you can relax and start enjoying yourself.”

I don’t know about you but that has really made me want to starting planning an adventure. Even though I have spent far more time on my own this year than I would have liked, the idea of jumping on a train and going off by myself to a new place still really appeals. I have also toyed with the idea of doing a big adventure on foot. My dream is to do the Camino De Santiago in Northern Spain but there are also walks closer to home that appeal. I have often thought it would be good for me to try and walk the whole of The Shropshire Way, which is a route that goes through the middle of the county I live in.

The best part of this phase of an adventure is you can really let your imagination run wild before all the logistics and costs and time constraints come into play which always curtail the grandest of plans. As far as foreign travel is concerned, I will have to continue to armchair travel for the time being and I am OK with that. It just doesn’t feel like it’s going to be possible for a while.

Anyway, as usual the full conversation with Kate will be sent to paying subscribers of this newsletter. As well as travel, we talk about striking out on a different path to your friends, what it’s like to be a young divorcee, how grateful she is for the time she spent being single, which travellers from history particularly inspired her and much more. My plan is to schedule it for tomorrow morning as I noticed that emails get less opens in the evenings so watch out for it in your inbox then, if you’re a paying subscriber.

If not, do sign up!

Lots of love, always,

Nicola

Twitter: @Nicola_Slawson | Instagram: @Nicola_Slawson

What made me think

Unmarried, childfree women like me should be celebrated – not criticised

This article was shared in the Facebook group (see below) this week and it was a real conversation starter. The article explores how the writer has reached her 50s without having a ring on her finger or having kids – and the ways she ensures she has a fulfilling life (Spoiler, travel is one of the main factors and it does sound like she is pretty well off!). Anyway she writes: “Just as I’m sure there are many women who are blissfully married with children, there are a bunch of us who never married nor had children who are just as content. So instead of stigmatising those who resisted the pressure to conform to society’s norms, we ought to raise our glass in celebration and congratulate these women for their perseverance, determination and tenacity to march to the beat of their own drum.”

Things you should check out

Words I love

I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.

– Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

About me

For those who don’t know, I’m Nicola Slawson, a freelance journalist who lives in Shropshire, UK. If you would like to support what I do, please consider subscribing to be a paid supporter of The Single Supplement. If you would prefer to make a one-off contribution, you can also buy me a coffee, here’s the link to my Ko-Fi page. Follow me on Instagram and Twitter.

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