For the past decade or so, I have enjoyed almost all of my trips alone. I choose the verb ‘enjoy’ deliberately because there seems to be some preconceived idea that it’s boring or, worse, dangerous to travel without a companion, especially if you’re female. Of course, there are some countries where it’s probably not advisable, but in my experience these are limited to a select few and are usually the places you’d prefer to explore as part of a group anyway. The vast majority of places are perfectly safe for a single woman to traverse independently.
The only issue I’ve had to deal with so far is the unhelpful combination of being British, and therefore ridiculously polite, and female. It’s not a good mix. You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or come across as rude or abrupt so you put up with smarmy, sleazy behaviour that you’d never tolerate in your local pub at home. As a result, the slimy offender believes they’re making great progress and steps it up a level, resulting in you losing your cool and then causing a scene. Over the years, though, I’ve learned that it pays to be firm but polite from the offset to a) save time and b) nip any dodgy suggestions in the bud.
This technique was tested a few weeks ago when I was taking a week-long break in Lombok and decided to take a boat trip out to the Gili Islands. I popped into a nearby travel agency to see what kind of tours they had available and was immediately pounced on by a man in his late fifties with a very obvious hair piece, who grabbed my hand in a vice grip and introduced himself as ‘Eddy’. I’ve had uncomfortable handshakes before but this took things to a whole new level. It was a good five minutes before I finally broke free and by then I’d booked a day trip and signed the receipt. As I was doing this, Eddy was gazing into my eyes and telling me how he felt a special connection between us. I smiled politely, trying to ignore the beads of sweat which had broken out on my forehead, and watched as he placed my receipt into an envelope and then proceeded to lovingly draw little flowers around my name. He asked for my mobile number so that he could call to ‘confirm’ later and I got the hell out of there.
Over the next couple of days I received about 6 or 7 text messages telling me how amazing I was (fair enough, he had a point), how he couldn’t stop thinking about me (well, I do make quite an impression) and how he hadn’t felt like this in thirteen years and wasn’t that something? Erm, no, actually, it was just creepy. Eddy had taken it a text too far. I replied with a message which was firm but polite: I’m here on holiday, I’m not looking for a boyfriend, would you please stop texting me? A couple of minutes later I got a plaintive ‘OK.’ Job done. Another amorous desperado dispatched.
We shouldn’t have to deal with that kind of crap on top of all the other stuff like remembering our passport, trying to fit 20kg of stuff into a 10kg carry-on bag and finding the bar which serves the best mojitos, but unfortunately it’s there, and it would be silly to pretend it didn’t happen. In my time as a solo traveller I’ve been chased through the streets of Como, Italy, by a balding man in a grey trench coat, been threatened by a bloke with a baseball bat in a hostel in Maroochydore, Australia, (it’s okay, it was a case of mistaken identity – he was looking for his daughter), been phoned incessantly by bored Korean pensioners wanting to practice their English and invited into the bedroom of an old Vietnamese man (again, it was a false alarm. It was the only room in their little wooden house and his wife was in there making coffee).
I suppose what I’m trying to say is, if you travel alone, you may get hassled. It kind of comes with the territory. But you’ll also make yourself far more approachable to other single travellers and those who might just fancy a chat. You’re more likely to meet like-minded globetrotters who might pass on some handy hints and tips or just simply keep you entertained for the evening. Some of my very best friendships started with a nod of acknowledgement across a crowded beach bar or a common fear of heights whilst navigating a 200m waterfall.
Never, ever, ever let someone persuade you that travelling alone is a no-no. I wouldn’t be the person I am today – confident, daring, a little bit daft – if I hadn’t decided to pack up my stuff 14 years ago and backpack solo around Australia. After waving goodbye to my parents that day and striding through the departure gate, I’ve never looked back.