Full-time Public Relations expert and part-time yogi, Lauren Quilty tells us why you should experience solo travel and leave your comfort zone behind…
Last year, I planned my first ever solo travel adventure. I was *struggling* to learn Spanish at the time, so thought perhaps immersing myself in the language and culture would aid my education. In reality, all the places I visited (Madrid, Seville, Cadiz, Malaga and Granada), were all tourist traps where the locals in fact spoke better English than myself. But the culture, was awesome – if you can call drinking sangria, eating a lot of tapas and visiting a few churches, ‘culture’.
When you first tell your friends and family that you’re planning a solo trip, I can almost guarantee their first unfiltered reactions will be that of raised eyebrows, sideways glances and disapproving remarks such as “what… on your own?”. Do not allow the allergic reactions of others to distract your gut instincts.
I think those who have never experienced a solo trip visualise an out-dated perception of what this means – a lot of sad and lonely holidays, with boundless amounts of time to fill and asking waiters for another “table for one, please”. In fact, depending on how you want to spend your trip, solo traveling can be some of the most socially-packed and in-demand weeks of your life.
Walking in to a hostel, is like entering a time warp where the context of time just doesn’t exist (at least not until the hostel’s happy hour begins). Although the thought of staying in a hostel can be daunting, especially for an introvert like myself, it’s actually one of the friendliest environments I have ever encountered. They are unique places where strangers become automatic friends, you find yourself telling people you’ve only just met things about yourself you weren’t even aware of, it’s refreshing. That said, hostels are by no means a ‘one-size-fits-all’, find one which suits you and what you are seeking. For example, if you are in search of peace and quiet, filling your morning’s practicing yoga on a beach and exploring the local landmarks, then a 24-7 party hostel might not be for you. Do your research and know what you’re walking in to.
As I write this, I am currently in the airport of Sao Paulo, having tagged on a few days of solo travel to the end of a work trip. If Spain was dipping my toe in to the solo travel experience, Brazil was the equivalent of jumping into an ice-cold sea, blindfolded. When I arrived, I was filled with the projected anxieties of everyone I had mentioned my trip to; on high alert for the criminals and murderers in the relayed stories from so-and-so’s best friends, sister’s, aunt’s next-door neighbour’s, cleaner… These words of warning from others did, however, make me more heightened to the possibility of dangers, forcing me to keep my guard raised, which is no bad thing. But as I reflect back on my trip, it was perfect. I felt perfectly safe, the city was beautiful and I’m glad no rumour on the grapevine got in the way of me experiencing this new and vibrant culture; act smart, have your wits about you and you’ll be plain sailing.
My Brazil trip was very unlike my time in Spain (and at least this time I didn’t go under the guise of ‘practicing my Spanish’). After a busy end of 2018 completing my yoga teacher training (with Kat) and running headfirst into the new year with deadlines a plenty, I felt exhausted and in need of respite. So, as soon as work finished in Sao Paulo I jumped on the next plane to Rio, checked in to a cheap hotel, and reserved my spot on the beach, with a book and a caipirinha in hand. My experience of Rio is probably polar opposite to many other solo travellers, but for me this is what I needed. Sure, I did the tourist trips to Cristo Redemptor and Escadaria Selarón, but it was no Carnival: at the end of the day, all I wanted was a delicious meal in the local restaurants in Ipanema and was in bed by 10pm.
Two completely different trips, but both served exactly what I needed at the time. Both allowed me the complete freedom to explore on my own, at my own pace and will. Unlike holiday’s with friends or family, there is no expectation or pressure on you, or anyone else, to have constant Instagrammable fun. It’s the perfect time to read that book you’ve been meaning to (mine: Sally Rooney’s Conversation With Friends), take a social cleanse, and a bit of time-out. I’m by no means saying solo trips are better than those with loved ones, but they serve a different purpose, and something I have vowed to carry forward at least once a year. Experiences on your own, away from ‘reality’ and its expectations and to-do lists invite a new peace of mind, a confidence in being alone, giving you the kick up the butt you might need to leave your comfort zone behind.
If it’s something you’ve been thinking about for a while, maybe this is the year you dip your toe in and see if it’s for you…