Am I about to Eat, Pray, Love my life? I may be about to Eat, Pray, Love my life. Just with less money, less divorce and no James Franco. Also I’m going to Edinburgh and not India or Bali, but it’s my first solo trip ever so I’m starting small.
Challenging myself to face my front and do things alone: that’s my driver for the year. It’s something that has been on my mind for a while (in fact I wrote a piece for Aurelia last May about never having lived alone), and now I actually am alone for the first time in nearly the entirety of my adult life, the world is my oyster. Naturally, my brain has been going into overdrive with the sheer vastness of possibility. Do I paint? Do I learn French? What classes can I join? Should I go back to learning? Should I learn how to drive? Will I travel? And if so, where?
Now, I’m a magpie for new projects. That fountain of motivation and excitement that comes with beginnings: ugh, bottle it up and inject it into my veins. I love it! But knowing this about myself, and knowing also how I quickly lose steam when I inevitably talk myself out of whatever it is that has stoked my fire, I wanted to focus on one thing at a time and commit to doing that well. Taking a trip alone came up trumps.
On the advice of seasoned solo travellers, I’ve decided to start small. I’ve gone away for a few nights here and there for work but never alone with the sole purpose of pleasure, never for anything which wasn’t punctuated by appointments or itineraries. To be honest, up until now, I’d never considered a holiday as something to be enjoyed solo, not because I didn’t see that it was rewarding for others, but because I couldn’t see that being the case for me. I find myself working alone for the majority of the week but when it comes to doing things - having fun, exploring, experiencing new things - that all has to be shared. Trips away were to be shared.
One of my main hesitations has always been: what if I get there and I don’t like it? What if I flop down in my temporary home after a day of pounding the pavement to be met with deafening, enveloping silence? What if I go out for dinner alone and I feel like a prize plum? What if I go out for dinner alone and drink too much? Then I can’t find my way home? And I end up sleeping on the streets? The anticipations of disaster are endless - there are a million things that could go wrong. But, as I remind myself now, there are simple, pragmatic ways to greatly reduce the potential of these things happening, and there are also a million things that could go right. Coming to a compromise between my adventurous, impulsive self and the side of me that is anxious about change, I came to settle on Edinburgh; close enough to reach by train but far enough away that I’m outside England (I love the English countryside but I really felt like I had to leave for this to count).
I’ve never been particularly struck by wanderlust and I’m a homebody through and through, so why all of a sudden is taking a trip alone so important to me? It feels like the ultimate test of breaking codependency. I’m independent in many ways but I do often relax into the security of someone I love, complacent to cocoon in familiarity rather than push myself to experience new things. It’s a delightful kind of stasis to stay this way, still but warm, safe but not growing. Yet in the very heart of my chest I now feel this undeniable urge to find out who I could be if I did push myself to grow, if I didn’t have someone else to fall back on. It’s a slippery feeling to communicate; just at the point I think I’ve found the right words to articulate it, it’s morphed again, fled again, fluid and confusing. Not to get too entrenched in the arena of Eat, Pray, Love, but there’s the divorce scene where the husband asks ‘why couldn’t you just go and find yourself in our marriage?’, and an answer isn’t given because there isn’t really one to give. It just can’t happen. There’s something about being alone, about being the person you are without the influence of another, that proffers the purest opportunity for self-discovery, and even more so when the insurance of home is taken away. Perhaps this is the introvert in me talking, but being close to home, having that familiarity and safety in close proximity - that at times can be limiting too.
I realise I’m going on here as if I’m about to embark on an epic globetrotting saga and in truth I’m catching the four hour train from London to Edinburgh, but the central theory remains: this is an experiment in self-development. One which will hopefully conjure that gorgeous feeling that swells within your chest when you do something you’ve been frightened to do. There is some degree of compromise required for any shared holiday so the prospect of a wide open schedule is deliciously liberating; I’m going to wake up without an alarm, not check the time and allow the day to take me where it does. Okay, maybe I won’t be able to not check the time, but you get what I’m saying - the shape of my days are flexible, moldable.
Food, for me, is the foundation of any good trip, so though my time spent in Edinburgh will be relatively brief, it will be abundant with bites, chomps and slurps. I've wanted to do a tasting menu with wine pairing for *ages* but I could never find somebody as excited about food to pay the steep prices, so I'm going to do that alone instead. And of course there will be coffee, cocktails, pastries, and I better have some veggie haggis too. Likely I'll be crashing into bed each evening, glutted and glorious, the way an indulgent break should be.
This is a new adventure for me but for many, the territory of solo travel is well traversed. I asked you for your insights on what makes solo travel so important.
"I went on a solo trip to Italy in October 2019, from Milan down to Naples, via Florence and Rome. It was honestly the best experience I’ve ever had, and I’ve been to over 30 countries with partners/friends etc. There was a moment in Rome when it started to rain and my phone had died, and I panicked and wondered what the hell I was doing and why I thought I could manage this. But as it continued to rain, it was as if those hesitations washed over me completely and I realised what a brave thing I had done and how exciting it all was to be so free. I stopped off at so many beautiful places - Capri and Amalfi Coast - being my favourites, but I think the overall best feeling was just waking up each day and knowing I could do or be whatever I liked. It was honestly life-changing and I would implore anyone to do it." - Sasha
"I took for granted how much my solo trip at 19 would impact my everyday life now at 28. The confidence it gave me (whether I knew it or not at the time) to be myself, do whatever I wanted to do and just enjoy life is priceless. I’m planning my next one for early 30s and I cannot wait!" - Louise
"I embarked on a big solo trip, ironically, when I was already engaged. Falling in love hadn’t been part of my plan and it was important to me that I still achieved the travel goals I had. Travelling solo is a totally different experience. You can only rely on yourself, but you only have yourself to please. There’s no friend or parent or significant other to placate. If you want to do something you can just…do it. So often, we put our wants further down the list. When you travel solo it’s all about what you want!" - Francesca
"When I was 19, I studied abroad for 2 weeks in the Netherlands. I was shy, petrified, and emotional to leave a new (now ex) boyfriend behind. I bawled my eyes out before I got on the train to the airport! Honestly, travelling solo was tiring, and often lonely. But I think that was part of the magic - it helped me learn how to be alone with, and rely on, myself. I had to push myself to befriend different types of people, trust my own instincts, and throw myself outside of my comfort zone. Eating at a fancy restaurant alone was a victory I still remember now! I think it’s a really formative experience for young women and one I’m so grateful for. I only wish I’d done more of it!" - Claudia
"I was drawn to solo travel for the same reason I'm drawn to most new, uncomfortable things; to prove to myself that I could do it… It's relatively rare to escape the needs and desires of the other people in your life, but traveling solo puts a pause on everything and everyone besides yourself. I personally found so much joy in the freedom of my days away, waking up early if I wanted to, having some elaborate dessert for breakfast from a bakery that I happened upon, and simply following my every whim with no one to answer to but myself…I am blessed to have many wonderful, loving, anchoring relationships in my life. But there is something to be said for the occasional untethering that accompanies solo travel. As I've grown older, I have often found that my favourite companion is me." - Kathleen
"Solo travel...honestly changed my life. I left a difficult and emotionally abusive relationship at 21 and bought a one way ticket to Asia. My first night in Bangkok I cried in the hostel bathroom because I couldn’t believe what I had done. How the fuck was I gonna cope on my own? It’s hard to summarise in only a few words, but what followed was an adventure of discovery not only of the world, but also of the breadth of human kindness, and the incredible empowerment of making my own choices. For the first time in my life, every decision I made was for me and me only. I had no friends or partner or family to compromise with or please. It was all for me...It was the most freeing and enlightening experience. It is the one thing that allows me to be truly myself, to listen to my heart without distraction. (As a people pleaser there is nothing more freeing)." - Meg
"I LOVE travelling on my own. The absolute freedom it gives you to be able to wake up and do whatever you want to do that day is such a joy. You can make decisions on a whim and be totally selfish and it’s great. You have the chance to make so many more connections. I love going out to dinner on my own (mainly because you get great service!) and on holiday last year ended up dining with a 70yr old guy who was also alone and had such great stories to share. It also forces you out of your comfort zone; you have no one else to rely on or to judge you so whether it’s using a new language to order in a restaurant or shop or working out how to get somewhere on local transport, you have to be brave but the pride you feel when you pull it off is totally worth it!" - Dominique