About four years ago, I lived near to a Buddhist Temple that offered a ‘meditation for beginners’ course one evening a week. I’d recently attended a meditation day course with one of my friends and this seemed like the next logical step. I wanted to learn more about meditation and deepen my practise, and most importantly this course was free.
I knew that my boyfriend, who believes that meditation is a nonsensical waste of time, would not want to go with me. My friend who I’d gone to the last course with was busy on Thursdays and I didn’t think any of my other friends would enjoy it. No matter, I thought, I’ll go on my own.
And off I went, alone, to the first class. There was an introductory talk and then a short guided meditation that to my untrained mind seemed to last forever. Afterwards, there was a chance to meet the other people on the course and have a drink and a snack. We all crowded in the small kitchen space, grabbed cups of tea and biscuits and formed small groups. I stood on the edge of one of these groups, cupping my mug of tea, staring off into the middle distance in the hopes that no one would talk to me. But someone did. Someone always does.
“And who are you here with?” A lady of about forty, with short, shiny black hair asked me.
“No one,” I answered.
The lady looked aghast. She went on to tell me how she absolutely could not face coming here on her own,
“I’ve come with a friend, would none of your friends come?” She asked rudely. Something in her tone implied I didn’t have any friends.
“Er, well I don’t have that many friends locally. My boyfriend and I have just moved,” I felt the need to explain to the lady. She was so shocked at my lone attendance that I felt it was my fault.
“Couldn’t your boyfriend come?” She persisted. When I explained that meditation wasn’t really his thing, she said that if it were her, she’d have forced him.
“If no one would come with me, I wouldn’t bother coming,” she said, shaking her head at me.
Trying to placate the lady, I told her I did lots of things alone and I was used to it. I explained that I’d recently been to Norway on my own and really enjoyed it.
Well, her head nearly exploded right then and there. No matter what I said she never lost the look of absolute pity she regarded me with. To her I was friendless and lonely.
But to me, that lady who couldn’t go anywhere alone had the shitty end of the stick.
Imagine being unable to go to an event or a place just because you had no one to go with you? Imagine never knowing the quiet pleasure of sitting outside a bar in the sunshine, ordering a massive glass of wine and pulling out a book. Imagine never experiencing the smug satisfaction of navigating an airport and a foreign public transport system completely alone and arriving, intact, in your desired destination.
When I told people I was going to Norway alone, they generally reacted in shock. Why on earth would I want to go anywhere alone? But some people understood me, my brother’s girlfriend was inspired to spend a weekend in Belgium alone – not because she didn’t have anyone to go with but because she wanted to feel the sheer joy of knowing she, a woman in her early twenties, could travel the world alone. Another friend of a friend who had heard my story gossiped over across a sticky pub table decided to go on a solo trip as well.
I realised that people actively want to travel alone. Women actively want to travel alone. It’s empowering to know you can navigate the world by yourself, that your own company is enough, that you can make all the decisions.
Since that lady stared at me, aghast, in the Buddhist Temple, I’ve done plenty more things perfectly alone. I’ve relished a quiet weekend exploring London, taken myself to restaurants, enjoyed glasses of wine in total solitude, and visited museums, galleries and cities.
I’ve got lost and found again, I’ve stayed in tacky hotels and hostels on the sides of mountains, I’ve wandered around familiar places and new places – all quite alone.
This alone time to me isn’t a hindrance or something to be wished away. It isn’t time to kill. It isn’t something to be waited out from the safety of my home. It’s precious independent time. It’s time to luxuriate in, time to crave, to seek out, to cherish.
Sometimes you want someone there with you – to take photos of your gorgeous outfit, to laugh with when things go a bit wrong, to ask, “is this the right train?”
But sometimes, you want to be alone to experience the world through your eyes only, to spend as long as you want in a gallery looking at only the paintings you like, to read your book and drink your wine and to not share your Danish pastry.
I’m no expert on solo travel, other women have been far further than me for far longer – but the small amount I have done has convinced me that I want to take more trips on my own in the future.
Have you travelled alone? Do you spend time by yourself regularly? What’s your favourite thing to do by yourself? Let me know in the comments or email firstname.lastname@example.org.