Romancing Yourself: How to Travel Solo

I have travelled on my own a lot. A. Lot.

It can simultaneously be both the most fulfilling and crushing experience you’ll ever have. It all depends on how you respond to this question:

“A table for one Miss?”

This question repeats itself in many different variations and starts from the minute you check in at the airport. “Travelling alone Miss Hardwick?”
It mutates slowly with varying degrees of shock, disgust and ridicule depending on your destination and the prevailing attitude towards a single woman daring to book a room for herself. Here are a few variations.

So just breakfast for one then?
Oh, I’m sorry Miss, we thought you had booked a room for two.
So when will your husband be joining you?

And then the unguarded moment of utter confusion that the poor porter, taxi driver or receptionist has when they look at you in utter befuddlement and just come straight out with it; “Really, you’re all alone?”

I used to respond to this very defensively. VERY defensively. I’d get my HUFF on and puff out my chest and show my indignant colours. Yes I AM travelling on my own kind sir, I’ll think you’ll find that women all over the world are doing the same thing this very minute and we are all surviving just fine!

I’m softer now though. It’s ok to be a rare thing, a feathered beauty of flamboyant colour and bravery. It’s ok to be a single woman travelling on her own. It really is. Actually, it can be the best thing you ever do. Here are three reasons that booking that ticket ‘for one’ will rock your world.

ONE
Room service

Ok first night in any new place and new hotel room I do room service. I mean DO room service. There is no-one to judge or to comment on what I’ve ordered or why I should be doing anything other than just staying in. There are some universally wonderful things about hotel rooms that you don’t have at home. They must be enjoyed. They must be attacked and devoured slowly. Always give your first night over to these indulgences. You are going to be inevitably jet-lagged, bedraggled and in need of some hotel-room sauciness.

Here it is.

Run a long hot bath. You know the type that scalds you with fierce, earth-shatteringly divine hotness. Fill the tub with all of the bubble bath. They will re-fill it tomorrow don’t worry. You are aiming for complete submersion of bubbles. You are looking for a Kylie Minongue “I should be so lucky” moment.

Secure beverage from the mini-bar. If you were clever you may have picked up something from a mini-mart on the way but whatever you do, don’t leave the hotel room. This defeats the whole purpose of the first night in. Then sit in the sinfully hot tub and devour aforementioned beverage. You will slowly become newborn-born pink with bliss.

After you have spent enough time in this happy place it’s time for a bath robe and room service. Don’t order room service before the tub because you don’t want to be interrupted, this type of indulgence takes precision dear friend. Order anything you want. I mean anything. Calories do simply not exist in first-night room service. They have gone to someone on a diet who needed them anyway.

Get yourself another beverage. Then, the joy of hotel TV. To me there is nothing quite like watching a bit of the BBC international news read by someone sporting that incredibly sexy BBC English accent accompanied with a knowing yet incredibly accessible side-nod that makes one feel so at home. It makes me feel very ‘international’. The fact that I’m still in my hotel room is by and by.

So there you sit, bathrobe, club sandwich, watching HBO on 1000 thread count sheets with a muted view of the twinkling city beyond. A city that you will embrace with a fresh start tomorrow.

TWO
Conversations

One of my favourite things about travelling alone is conversation. You’d think that being on your own would preclude this but I have more conversations when going solo than with a partner or a group. I chat to waiters, tour leaders, fellow diners, donkey drivers, anyone and everyone. There is no-one tugging at your elbow or doing the universally recognised double tap on your knee to hint that your ‘other’ would like to leave now. You can talk for as long or as little as you like. You can get to the heart of the matter.

It’s these moments when travelling alone that I have always treasured; when your insight deepens. Galleries, art and music gets you a little of the way there but its conversation that brings you to the only true blinding moments of insight that you will have about a culture and its people. As an ‘observer’ this is how I do it, this is how I understand what makes a place tick.

THREE
Dining alone

There’s an art to this one. It’s about attitude. Dress the part. Put on lipstick. Always, always, always ask for the best table. You know, the one with the view. The one perched right on the cliff with the view of the sunset or the beach or the waterfall or the jungle. The GOOD seat. Believe that you have a right to be there. It doesn’t work if you apologise or get all “I’m sorry it’s just me.” You’ve got to OWN it. More often than not they give it to you. Especially when you’ve got THE attitude.

Then order a good glass of wine and romance yourself. Romancing yourself does not mean asking for the Wi-Fi password and face-booking how brilliant your table is. You have to settle into your singledom. It takes a few uncomfortable moments of adjustment. A little like the slow drift of a bean bag a minute after you’ve sat in it. Look out into the view you just claimed and just SIT. WITH. YOURSELF. You’ll find a slow grin start to permeate just as the wine finds your fingertips.

Kindly tell the waiter that you’d like the chef to choose your menu. This is a sure fire way to be tantalised by wonderful little surprises during the evening. Remember, you are romancing yourself. You wore lipstick god damn it, you deserve to treat yourself well.

If you want to find the sad side to travelling on your own you can. Ok, so you can’t leave your bag with someone by the pool. You can have moments of debilitating loneliness that inevitably trail a series of mini-disasters like missing a bus, food poisoning and a bad night’s sleep. You’re a woman. You’re entitled to a little breakdown here and there. Actually, I think it’s advisable; a good flush of the tear ducts will make your eyes glisten with fresh perspective. It’s all about how you recover. I find the aforementioned suggestions, in order, are a great recovery strategy. Tried and tested dear friends.

When I was much younger I was travelling with a female companion through the Greek Islands. We were not getting along. At. All. Let’s just say that she didn’t like my travelling style. Well, she didn’t like my style at all actually. Needless to say I was feeling caged, my flamboyance stifled, my feathers ruffled.

We were in Santorini and had just checked into a beautiful new hotel. When I say this I must mention that we had just checked out of a room that was alternately used during the day as a donkey’s stable so from that point we were easily impressed dear friend. We had sat by the glistening pool and were downing whatever was cheapest.

At this point a gloriously glamorous woman walked in. She was dressed in a long flowing dress, huge black sunglasses and carried with her luggage. LOTS of luggage. I was star struck and immediately introduced myself and asked how she had managed to get all of her luggage to this lofty location. Sweetie, she drawled haughtily, why I just pay someone to carry them for me. Here was the first woman who I had met who was doing solo with style. Not long after she reappeared by the pool in a new even more glamorous dress, heels and lipstick. She was heading out.

Would you like company? I asked. No. she said quite defiantly. I like my own company.

This was fifteen years ago and I have never forgotten it. I think of her every time I’m asked where my boyfriend is or when I get the ‘pity’ gaze from a kind soul. I don’t get defensive anymore. No. Way. I am too glorious and glamorous to get defensive.

When you are at this nirvana-like state of singeldom zen as Miss Santorini was and as I feel I am now, you can do the ultimate in solo romancing… book a honeymoon destination. You will need THE attitude and a firm desire to drown out of the loud cultural signifiers of desperation with your general fabulousness.

I’m in a honeymoon destination right now. Nusa Dua. There is not A. SINGLE. SINGLE PERSON. HERE.

I’m loving it. I’m tanned, I’m relaxed, I’m blissfully indulging in the act of romancing myself.

Last night I sat in the lobby, a cocktail in hand, when one of the Balinese staff, a new friend named Wayan, came by to say hello.

“Has your friend come yet Brooke?”
“I’m here by myself Wayan.”
“Really, no friend? All by yourself?”
“Yes, Wayan, all by myself.”
He paused, touched his heart tenderly, threw back his head in a huge smile and said:

“I see, you’re with the friend inside.”

I am dear Wayan. I am.

8 Comments on “Romancing Yourself: How to Travel Solo

  1. Brooke, that is absolutely a must-read for someone like me who is about to embark on single travel at some point in the future. I loved every part of your story and advice !

  2. Oh wow! This might be the best blog post ever. Nusa Dua…*sigh* I lived on Bali for a while, in the sleepy little village of Jimbaran. Back then, it really was. Now, I’ve been told it’s a long stretch filled with luxury hotels. Sometimes, I miss it, but I’m afraid to go back there. It might break my heart. I guess the time when you could approach the fishermen and go out with them before sunrise to catch your own dinner is long gone.

  3. Cool piece. I am always toying with the idea of traveling alone–sometimes agendas don’t align or friends simply don’t want to travel to the same destinations and when that that happens it seems unfortunate to abandon travel plans. Thanks for sharing this piece!

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