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On travelling solo

About 15 or so years ago, I travelled alone for the first time.  To be fair, it was a work-related trip and once I landed in my destination, the next morning I was sitting in a conference hall surrounded by colleagues. But the point remains that for someone who was cocooned for most of her life, having only had a couple of family trips abroad until the start of her adult life, this was a milestone of sorts. The irony perhaps lies in the fact that my destination then is the place I now call home.  But I digress.  If I remember well it was around the 1st of July 2015 when this first solo trip happened and I would say, when I caught the travel bug … the solo strain of it.

The thing is, even though I live alone and do spend a fair share of my time alone after office hours, I still seek to venture abroad on my own – even when I was in a relationship.  I will acknowledge that holidays taken with a partner, do have that added plus of having shared an experience with someone special. But once that someone would no longer be so special, there are two options: you can either return to the place to make new memories or just remember the place itself, the culture, the people you met and sites you’ve seen … and cherish the miles added on your frequent flyer card towards a future trip!

As I write this, I’m currently reminiscing about my last trip in Porto (all the photos in this post were taken there) and listing new destinations I’m contemplating for my next trip which will coincide with my big 4-0 (unless I manage to fit in something else in between!). As things are right now, another solo trip is on the cards and quite honestly, I have absolutely no problem with that. Let me tell you why …

Pros of travelling solo …

  • You get to choose where to go, when to go, how to go and whether to go or not … the only compromises you need to do (if at all) are with yourself (and perhaps the opening times of wherever you’re heading to). The sense of freedom travelling solo gives you is unsurpassed;

  • You can have better control on your budget.  Personally speaking, I’m happier paying €50 for an exhibition than for a plate of miniscule food by a Michelin starred chef (not that I haven’t done it). When you’re in company, the likelihood of eating and drinking - and spending - more is higher. So most times, I’ll have a light meal from a local café or have it Deliverooed to my hotel and keep the rest of my hard earned euros for the stuff I would have actually travelled for which in my case is usually art and fashion;

  • You get to discover so much about the place … Whether you get lost by chance or choose a lesser trodden street as a detour, walking around a city or village with your nose up in the air and no one to bother you because they’re too hot/tired/bored/impatient to get somewhere etc etc is an unrivalled way to really take in the fabric of the place and its culture and meet the locals;

  • You get to discover so much about yourself. Your confidence is boosted as you realise you had no one to turn to to get yourself from A to B in a country where they don’t speak your language so fluently ... but you still managed. You realise that you are more capable of handling yourself – and your heavy suitcases – better than you had previously given yourself credit for. You admit to yourself that yes, you can do it, even if the thought of being alone in a strange environment kept you up at night.

If I had to list some cons …

  • Being alone, it may be tricky if you fall ill as you won’t have anyone to support or take you to a doctor

My approach: always book a reputable hotel so that you have a formal and experienced support system which knows what to do should such situations arise;

  • You do have to be more watchful – as a solo female traveller you can be more of a target for the ill willed

My approach: (a) try to blend with the locals in the way you dress and carry yourself so that you don’t stand out; and (b) always make sure you carry any valuables which you can’t avoid carrying close to your body and keep your mobile in hand to make emergency calls (you’re using it to take photos anyways)

  • If you’re not used to it, it can get boring

My approach: try going somewhere locally on your own first – an exhibition, a concert, a local tour or even to a restaurant to test the waters first.  You might end up loving the serenity of solitude.

In the past, I always tried to extend my work trips by a couple of days to enjoy the place I'd be visiting by myself. Since then, I can pretty much count on my two hands the number of times I travelled with someone and almost find myself shuddering at the thought of travelling in group to be quite honest. I don't want to sound blasé about it but I do feel I'm a bit of a seasoned solo traveller by now and I want to close this with a few tips and final thoughts from my experience so far - these are pretty much how I go about planning and going about my solo trips more or less. Hopefully, if you want to give solo travelling a go but are still on the fence, this will give you some peace of mind and encouragement to go for it. Trust me, you won't regret it.

In no particular order of importance:

  • book yourself in a hotel - you'll have a structured group of people whom to turn to if things go awry, but also, on a more positive note, to give you all the insights and tips you need about the place you're visiting

  • book flights/train rides where you do not need to travel too late or too early. Unfortunately, we are still living in a world where a woman going about her business at night or early morning is a target;

  • check out Airbnb experiences in order to meet locals and keep yourself occupied

  • create a GoogleMap which you can refer to with the places you plan to visit. If possible, share it with your emergency contact in case anything happens

  • always locate your embassy. If you're reading this from Malta, download the Malta Travel Point app to keep updated with travel advice and make it easy to contact your embassy if needed

  • when packing, try to plan a capsule wardrobe which you can create multiple outfits from and limit your baggage. As a solo traveller you don't want to be trudging multiple suitcases especially if you would be city hopping

  • do not - as tempting as it may be in this day and age - do not share your location or post live features on your social media. I have been guilty of this, I must admit, but experience has taught me better. Sharing photos as you're boarding a plane is basically telling those with bad intentions that you're not at home for the next days and exposing yourself to unnecessary risk

Photos by Henrique Lenza

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