On Travelling Solo

13.8.13

Life List: In which I share the accomplishment of an item on my life's to-do list, be it serious landmark or self-indulgent frivolity.


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When you say you're going to Iceland, people regard you with a kind of mystical awe. When you say you're going to Iceland alone, people regard you with a kind of mild suspicion, concern and uncertainty.

When I hear the phrase "Solo Travel' it conjures up images of independent, intrepid explorers off conquering the world; or at least of fiesty young backpackers, mouths agape and eyes sparkling with wonder as they hop between hostels, from one country to the next. When most people hear the phrase "Solo Travel" it seems, unfortunately, to conjure up images of sad people with no friends to holiday with, or vulnerable young women being attacked in the alleys of strange cities. 

Despite that, travelling alone (or as part of an organised group of strangers) has ranked highly on my 'Life List' for quite some time now. I guess I've been harbouring (not-so) secret dreams of giving up my job, shrinking my belongings into a single backpack and taking off on a tour of the world but I: a) love my job too much to give it up anyway, and b) didn't believe I was capable of navigating an airport, let alone a foreign country, by myself.

So, I decided to put myself to the test. And so it was that, at the end of July, I headed off on my first ever solo trip to Iceland's capital city, Reykjavik.

Iceland itself was a dream - everything I'd visualised and so much more - and I'll write about that separately. But what about the experience of being alone in a foreign country?

I'm very much an introvert by nature and pretty shy around strangers to boot. It turns out those 'qualities' work both for and against me when it comes to travelling alone. 

Firstly, my introversion lends itself nicely to independence and being on my own for extended amounts of time comes naturally to me. This works very much in my favour, making me quite content to while away hours and hours with only my own thoughts for company, especially with so many new things to see and occupy me. 

That said, being an introvert merely means that I am refreshed and recharged by being alone, not that I don't enjoy being around other people, and it was here that my shyness worked against me. Evenings in particular, when there was less to keep me busy, left me craving other people's company and I watched in awe - and with a little bit of envy - as other people formed instant connections and found a new dinner companion every day.

In some respects, my own personality let me down here. There were people around to talk to, but small talk feels so unnatural to me that I struggle to get further than a few questions into a conversation before it becomes awkward and embarrassing and I feel myself retreating inwardly.


On the other hand, my choice of accommodation made things harder than they needed to be. The hostel, though highly recommendable in every other way, placed its bar very much at the heart of its social scene. The bar was popular with both tourists and locals alike, constantly busy, and a seemingly brilliant venue in which to find new people to share cars, eat dinner, or plan trips with. But if, like me, the bar is not really your scene, then there was no alternative, besides a scattering of half a dozen seats. That was a valuable lesson learned: next time I'd be sure to book a hostel that is less focussed on the party atmosphere and which comes with a common room and kitchen area in which to meet.

As it was, I was only there for five nights anyway and found something to fill each one of them, but any longer and it could probably have become quite lonely.

All that said and done, would I do it again? Absolutely.

The nights were beginning to feel quite long (especially in Iceland with its never-ending sun!) and going out for dinner alone will never not feel uncomfortable to me, but the experience was otherwise entirely positive. I was so proud of myself for navigating the whole airport process successfully and I feel like being alone in a foreign country really taught me something about my own capabilities.

And the freedom - oh how I loved the freedom! It was so exciting to be able to experience things my way: to pick a place that I really wanted to visit in the first place, and then to do and see the things I wanted to see, in my own time and at my own pace, with no one else to worry about or accommodate. That sounds a little bit selfish, but it worked incredibly well for me.

I'm glad that travelling alone found a place on my life list. It was a challenge, but it was also exhilarating and refreshing all at once, and definitely an experience I'd like to repeat!

2 comments:

  1. Oh wow, how amazing that you did this. I've always wanted to do this. I did move to France on my own when I was 21, so I have no problem with travelling on my own but spending time on my own, it would be the nights that would get to me also. Would it be weird if I just sat in my room drinking a bottle of wine every evening while on the internet? (wifi is a must!). That's probably what I would do!

    Corinne x
    www.skinnedcartree.com

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    1. Wow -- moving to France sounds far braver and more adventurous than travelling alone for less than a week! Where in France did you live?
      Internet-browsing is definitely an acceptable way to pass a night in a hostel ...though drinking wine in your room might be slightly more concerning/frowned upon! ;)

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