My Experience Of Solo Travel

In last week’s Lenny letter, Lisa Goldberg addressed her experience of solo travel, the circumstances that lead to it and the lessons she learned from it. It was a piece of writing that particularly struck a chord, especially since returning from my 17-day sojourn throughout Europe.

“I just couldn’t stomach the idea of censoring my own life’s experiences based on the absence of a companion. It felt so hopelessly Victorian.”

Preach. If I lived by the tenet that I needed companionship to complete all activities, life would be an organisational nightmare. No more popping or pootling anywhere. Invitations would be sent and declined and altered and accepted for even the most banal of enterprises. Do join me on a turn about the room. I can’t bear to appraise these four walls without a second opinion. Independence would be a distant memory. And if you couldn’t source a companion? Well then experience be damned.

No thank you.

When I started thinking about what I was going to do for a holiday this year, it became wonderfully freeing to sidestep consultation and deliberation and flirt with the utmost decisiveness. Look at me go booking trains, planes and, well no other transport actually, without so much as a second thought. If I wanted to experience parts of Europe, then I absolutely could and what’s more, I could do it uninhibited.

“The experience was abstractly luxurious and soul-nourishing.”

Goldberg hits the nail on the head. It’s the most luxurious trip I’ve ever had. I wallowed and delighted and rollicked in every whim and desire I had. I ate a whole loaf of Czech bread sitting by a stream post-hike because I wanted to, and didn’t have to get up to move until my digestive system signalled that that would be ok. I meandered around an exhibition in Berlin twice, because I’d paid for it, and if I wanted to gaze at pictures taken by Helmut Newton for longer than is the norm, then I absolutely could.

The operative word here being ‘want’. And it’s not lost on me that that is a complete luxury. It’s a product of a selfish culture increasingly fuelled by instant gratification, a culture where the self and individualism is more than ever placed on a pedestal (which, incidentally is not always a good thing. Oh hey there Brexit). Not many people get to do what they want – all of time, or any of it for that matter. Which is why this trip felt so damned extravagant. Not because I sipped on champagne at the opera (I did do that though), but because I allowed myself and was fortunate enough to indulge in a rarity; that of acting upon my inclinations 24/7.

As Goldberg also acknowledges, the idea was met by my mother – not with resistance exactly – but a keen desire to dissuade otherwise, or at least to join me on parts of the trip.

“Honestly this is what I want”, I emphatically replied.

Which is both true and not. It came about as a product of circumstance. I was single and my schedule didn’t align with that of friends. If there’d been a group trip to Morocco going, I would’ve been the first to sign up. But there wasn’t, and circling back to the aforementioned point, I didn’t agree that that meant I should miss out on the experience of travel altogether. So it became what I wanted.

So was it? Did the trip turn out to be that which I’d hoped it would?

Yes and no.

It was never going to be the stuff of a best-selling memoir, but that didn’t stop me from harbouring a tiny hope that as soon as I stepped onto foreign soil I’d be living on a diet of enlightenment and ground-shaking, perception-changing discoveries. But as soon as I came round to the idea that I wasn’t Christopher McCandless, or Ron Swanson for that matter, and going ‘off the grid’ wasn’t really realistic, I had the best time.

I’ll be the first to admit, that if by some stroke of absurdity this trip became the plot to a film, it would 100% be rated U. Maybe PG-13. I did go to Amsterdam after all. But ‘best time’ is not some wink-wink lingo for a pleasure-seeking, bar-hopping rampage. Y’all should know me better than that.

It was the stuff of early nights and evenings spent sat on balconies reading Kurt Vonnegut. I traipsed and trailed and traversed through street after cobblestone street, stopping only when the desire for coffee became too resounding to ignore. I brunched and cycled and filled my brain to the hilt with cultural ventures; the highlights of which were the C/O gallery in Berlin, FOAM in Amsterdam and a David Cronenberg exhibition in Prague. Wild it was not. Ridiculously middle-class perhaps. Antiquing and café-crawling were the two most prominent past-times of the trip. But it was bloody lovely nevertheless. I relaxed completely. And though on a couple of occasions I was plagued by the anxiety that I really wasn’t doing everything in my power to be adventurous and meet new people and acquire eye-popping stories that proved to my peers how fun I was, I realised that wasn’t the agenda at all. Maybe another time I’ll go back to Berlin, squad in tow, and show Berghain how to dance, but not today. Not this trip.

It didn’t have to be every colour under the sun and everything I dreamed it would be. It just had to be enough to make me happy, and it was.

The other thing I learnt on this trip, aside from the fact I’m really due a pension and concessionary travel, was to suck it up.

Companionship gives you an immediate outlet for complaint. Of course that’s cathartic and you can bond over mutual woes, but it felt very healthy to avoid that as my go-to reaction. My train’s delayed for an hour? Excellent! I can sit and read my book. I’ve been walking in completely the wrong direction from my hostel? No worries. I can walk myself back. I’ve given myself blisters on day one of the trip? Fucking nightmare, and I complained to the thin air that would listen, but had to get on with it anyway. I never felt like I was hindering or impeding someone else’s fun and if I didn’t fancy seeing a particular attraction, or wasn’t in the mood for cocktails, I was not obligated to pretend otherwise.

“The idea of these solo trips isn’t to be the most swashbuckling lady out there, it’s to show up to your own life, reconnect with yourself as a single entity, and know that you never have to sacrifice an experience because there isn’t someone else there to share it with.”

Goldberg once again proves herself a wise lady. I figured there’ll always be time for more swashbuckling. One such perk of the millennial generation and our ever-receding acceptance of maturity is that I can easily fit in some more debauchery before 30. It’s not ‘now or never’. Just because my 23rd year (and in fact, all those before it) was spent outside of a relationship and beyond the tradition of a family holiday in August, didn’t absolve me of the desire to vacate routine. I wasn’t immune to wanderlust merely because there was no-one to lust with. After 20 or so years of making a lot of decisions to please other people, or at least letting those opinions influence and mould such decisions and quite frankly, wanting to be perceived in a certain light, this trip to Europe became one of the few times I’ve been completely and unashamedly myself.

And I showed myself rather a good time.

 

 

N.B. More specific summaries of each place to follow!

Dating In London: Why I’m All In

Like most adventures, moving to London has brought with it both boundless opportunity and potential predicaments in equal measure.

Dating included.

Akin to being met with a supermarket cereal aisle, unless you know specifically what you want and can smugly beeline for those bran flakes, the choice is frankly startling and the process of choosing, tedious.

There are so many people! I would ponder to no one in particular. The streets and their restaurants are crammed full of them. How am I ever going to filter out all the debris and find a suitor worthy of my company?! Where does one possibly begin?

One word. Tinder.

I began, as so many my age do, with the careless, almost indifferent swiping of fellows that fell into my selected criteria. (24-31, 5 mile radius, in case you were wondering).

North London has thrown up some woefully inconsistent options in that arena. For every match, you then have to endure the boredom of small talk, and one you get past that stage actually pinning down a person for an actual, face-to-face date can prove tiresome. I frequently waste a week, two weeks, if not more, vaguely getting to know someone in a casual back and forth way that often peters out like a lazy basketball as it dribbles into the corner. There is no momentum or spark on Tinder; you’re free to come and go as you please with little repercussion and it’s proffered more dead-ends and disappointments than it has candidates.

It’s fun to fallback on, like a memory foam mattress, but reliable it is not. The net is cast so wide that meeting someone with similar interests or ambitions, or who even wants to message you at all, is frustratingly scarce.

Another option, however arcane it may seem, is to head out to an alcohol-serving establishment and pluck up the courage to talk to someone in person, using your actual tongue.

Since moving to London I have done this on two occasions, (forgive the bragging), both with moderate success. On the first, I was playing darts – a sport which oozes sexual allure if ever I’ve known one – and struck up a repartee with a man whose eyeball I almost had out with a rogue throw. I continued chatting to him for this anecdote alone.

He was perfectly charming and at the end of the night we exchanged numbers, if just for the confidence boost. Yes, he was a pawn in my own game of self-assurance, but I have no regrets about the fact it felt good and I knew there and then it would be nothing more. The whole process took about one hour, and it was merely a side order to the delicious main course of a fun night out.

The second night took place at a pub known for it’s retro tunes and I boldly approached a gentleman whose shape throwing I greatly admired. We twisted, shouted, shook it up and worked it on out for a good few hours and come the end of the night I knew he was merely a dance – as opposed to life, partner. Ultimately I came with my friends and I left with my friends, but it was good to know that there are guys out there and that meeting them doesn’t have to feel like a covert chore or an arduous elimination process.

Beyond that, I have plans to attend a speed-dating night hosted by The Book Club and may or may not have signed up to go on a Guardian Blind Date (watch this space….), because why the hell not. Both provide environments where you’re guaranteed to meet someone who has similar intentions and desires to your own. Sure they might not be a cat-person (essential), or enjoy lie-ins (non-negotiable), but they are there to have a conversation and asks questions about more than you’re attire or cup size, which can only be a good thing.

Like streaming platforms (because this is a film blog and I love a metaphor) there are several options to account and curate for different taste. Netflix, much like Tinder, provides you with an overwhelming sea of options – not all great. You have to scroll/swipe for what feels like hours before coming across something which still runs the risk of being subpar. Mubi, on the other hand, professes to provide highbrow, art-house cinema; like the Guardian Soulmate of the VOD world. You might be narrowing your options, but in the hopes that every selection will result in an enjoyable experience or at least a  talking point at your next dinner party.

Just as I don’t commit to one viewing realm, I’ve come to explore a plethora of ways to find a companion (if just for the night… sorry Nan) in the big city.

There is no longer a right or wrong way to meet your match. Yes I’m still more likely to whisper Tinder, than I would be if I met the future Mr. Davis at a bookstore and both our hands reached for Richard Yates at the same time, but alas if the outcome is positive and brings happiness, surely the origin of our romance is irrelevant? And if I can boogie to Bruce Springsteen with a good-looking gent or two in the meantime well then dating is something I’m all for.