I love travelling, and I love my friends. But (no offence friends) I can’t take travelling with friends this year, seriously you guys, let’s not do that again anytime soon!
As I had grown out of family holidays after a longer-than-planned stint in a caravan with aunts, uncles and cousins at the beach, the next step was the mad holidays with my best friends. It’s a rite of passage that everyone must try at least once, but it’s not without disadvantages.
As well as planning a two week trip for over a year, getting the right date when all of us were free and had enough money at the exact same time (which is apparently never), once we got there we often we ended up having to decide what we all did by committee, one vote for going to a museum, one vote for clubbing, and so on. This resulted more than once with us just wandering around without a purpose and going to a familiar-English-looking pub or club, and on one occasion I had to be the designated babysitter to three paralytic drunk roommates at a hostel in Amsterdam on New Year’s Eve.
Despite all this I still had a hell of a lot of fun, but it led me to take my first trip by myself for the first time. I saw the poster advertising a photography course set in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest, instantly I wanted to go; I had the money and the time, but my friends were less than enthusiastic.
The thought of going it alone used to be daunting, a young impressionable lady going abroad where anything could happen. What would the neighbours say?
Being at that stage of my twenties of generally not giving a damn, I decided to not wait for approval and go it alone. Before I knew it I found myself on a boat traveling up the Amazon River to Tambopata – a secluded national reserve of wild rainforest. Although I arrived on the plane alone, I was greeted by the Fotoforever team (now known as Untamed Photography), who I would quickly become friends with.
The main thing to remember when travelling alone – is that it does not mean being alone the whole time. In fact you’re more likely to make more new friends when travelling alone than when travelling with other people, and you have more opportunity for romance if you’re looking for it.
There’s much more freedom of choice as well; while there were plenty of group activities to participate in, there was ample time for solo-wanderings into the jungle. I had to tell the camp first of course, in case I was gone too long and they would have to send out a search party, something I was grateful for when I saw the size of the spiders.
At the end of the trip I had a portfolio of photographs and experiences, which I would never have dreamed of getting had I not taken the plunge. I had a tremendous sense of accomplishment when I arrived home, and the whole experience emboldened me to travel by myself around the UK, for business and for pleasure. While not nearly as daring as going to the rainforest, I gained a new confidence in travelling up and down the country at my leisure, following no-one’s itinerary but my own.
I would recommend going on a package or pre-planned holiday for first-timers, such as volunteering for an overseas charity or development project, which usually sort out the most important stuff for you such as accommodation and food. It will also ensure that you will have something to do on your trip abroad – and make a difference to the lives of others – rather than just making it up as you go along, although that can be fun too if you are a confident lone traveller.
There are plenty of hotels, hostels and B&B’s that cater to single travellers, with solosholidays.co.uk being a good place to start scouting for accommodation and also finding people to travel with.
Homestays abroad are also increasing in popularity; Gay Homestays offers an affordable alternative to hostels and hotels with the added benefit of staying with LGBT-friendly hosts that’ll give you a more cosy stay that immerses you in local culture, while being flexible enough to let you explore the area on your own.
For the more adventurous you can try experimental travel, where there are practically no limitations. Adding an element of chance into a holiday – such as throwing a dart at a map on the world to decide your destination – can make for some weird and wonderful experiences.
Understandably, there are also risks to travelling alone, especially if you happen to be gay. The risk is doubled if you also happen to be a girl, even if you are a seasoned traveller unscrupulous people often consider you easy game just because of your gender. The best advice I can give you is to research, research, research, before you decide on a destination. Find out everything you can about the social norms and customs of a country, as you are almost certainly already aware, many destinations are not safe spaces for LGBT travellers. Even the clothes you wear might not sit well the locals or could give the wrong impression of who you are, or at least inappropriate for the weather.
For extra piece of mind you could learn a little self-defence (that goes for boys and girls), along with a few methods of avoiding awkward situations and protecting your personal belongings from theft. Just by knowing how to get out of a bad situation and recover lost or stolen belongings can increase you confidence when travelling; and exuding that confidence will make you seem less of an easy target and your trip less stressful. Be sure to have a plan if something does go wrong, even if you can fall back on a travelling companion, you’ll be much better off if you know where the British embassy is if you lose your passport or get into trouble.
Other than that, there are no special tricks to travelling alone, you can do whatever you want…so what are you waiting for?
Got a story about travelling solo? Or have any recommendations on where to travel?