Never travelled on your own? I’m a big fan of solo travel. You find yourself tapping into resources and strengths you didn’t even know you had. It’s challenging, scary and, let’s face it, sometimes deliciously dangerous. I always meet an incredible array of people – probably because my insatiable need for people and chat doesn’t necessarily diminish when I’m on my own, I just need to work harder to get my fix. There are some negatives though – a small problem can turn into a catastrophe when you don’t have someone to share it with, and eating dinner by yourself night after night could make even a reclusive mute feel lonely.
Even people loving folks like me have reservations about sharing hotel rooms with strangers. On a European tour I had to share a room with a girl who sheepishly tried to warn me that she had a slight foot odour problem. ‘Slight odour’ couldn’t begin to describe the rancid, fetid smell emanating from her when she removed her sneakers. It’s hard to maintain a polite facade when you’re dry retching.
While I didn’t share an actual room, I discovered a fellow Formula 1 fan in a hotel in Sao Paolo and we became firm friends immediately. Jackie and I met in the hotel lobby for a cocktail and ordered Campari and lemonades. The non-English speaking bartender consulted his manager who confirmed with us that it was indeed lemonade we wanted. Then we watched as he cracked open a cocktail shaker, poured in some spring water, squeezed in half a dozen limes, a big scoop of sugar and ice and suavely mixed our ‘lemonade’. It was such a large scale production for a simple drink that we laughed until tears rolled down our faces. The bartender was confused and a little annoyed. We discovered later that we should have ordered Campari and Sprite!
|A shared experience –
drinking out of urinals at Modern Toilet in Hong Kong
When I say experiences, I don’t necessarily mean floating down the Grand Canal on a gondola in Venice. I mean those experiences that are so strange or silly that you and a travelling companion would cry with laughter about it, bringing it up several times over the next few days, forever remaining an ‘in joke’ between you and retold countless times at Sunday pub sessions for the rest of your life.
There are some things you just wouldn’t experience at all if you were travelling with someone. In a small garden piazza in Granada at twilight I was writing in my journal, very happily people watching when an old couple shuffled along. The wife deposited her husband among some other senior citizens and they immediately started a lively debate. She instead came over to sit next to me on my bench. She tried to strike up a conversation but she couldn’t speak English or Italian and I couldn’t speak Spanish. Shame. Or so I thought. This didn’t deter her at all and we chatted comfortably for half an hour. I couldn’t tell you what that conversation was about but she offered me her trail mix and I offered her some of my water and we smiled and nodded happily.
There’s no doubt that at some point, even if for only half a day or half an hour, you’ll succumb to this melancholy feeling. I was at a particularly low point while staying at a Bed and Breakfast in the Lake District. Quite frankly, I’d had enough of the whole travelling lark. I’d barely spoken to anyone in couple of days. I’d eaten a sad and dreadful dinner the night before. I slunk down to breakfast and sat at a table set for two. It was an awkward breakfast room with just a few people chatting carefully so as not to disturb the quiet.
On the plus side of loneliness, being stuck with only yourself for company means you can do whatever you like, whenever you like, however you like it. No matter how wonderful and/or compatible a travelling companion might be, there’s bound to be something you want to do that they don’t (and vice versa, of course). This includes sitting in a quiet pub in total silence, reading a book, sipping a gin and tonic. I brought along my flamenco shoes one long holiday and ended up practicing on a cruise ship theatre stage at midnight (the theatre was empty!).