So recently, I’ve had a couple of moments where as a solo traveller I’ve felt a little bummed.
Scenario number 1 was when I had decided after several weeks of budgeting and eating baguette for breakfast, lunch and dinner that it would be nice to treat myself to a proper meal. Because in Spain, lunch is a pretty big deal, I settled for an affordable restaurant in the old quarter of Oviedo, offering a set-menu for €10. That’s low-mid range really. I had definitely done my research and walked around for at least an hour comparing places, prices and popularity until I settled on this particular one. In my best Spanish and with a smile on my face, I asked politely for a table. My reply was, “sorry we don’t set tables for one”. Thanks buddy.
Scenario 2 was today, here in stunning San Sebastian. Even though my experience here so far has not in any way lacked in quality company (I’ve met and had the opportunity to hang out with some quality fellow travellers, thanks Roger’s House!), however, I took it upon myself after my first “treat” flop to splash out and take a cooking course here. The food here is world-renowned, I love cooking and I love learning about new cuisines – so it seemed the perfect match. “Sorry,” said the lady at the information booth, “that’s the problem you see, all places take a minimum booking of two people.”. Thanks again.
Finally, before I arrived here, I decided it’d be a great idea to go off the beaten track a little to a small seaside village called Castro Urdiales. It was a three-hour bus journey from Santander and yes, it was stunning. But they obviously don’t really target the young budget traveller there. I mean, it’s a relatively sleepy little place so I don’t suppose many of us visit and hence, there were no hostels. So I opted for the cheapest hotel I could find. It was still €30 a night, so at least €10 more than the standard hostel or pension I’ve been paying for. It was the first that I went for that hadn’t been reviewed on tripadvisor. And it will be the last. It was horrible, filthy, smelly, full of old, drunk men and… Wait a minute… Is that umm… a prostitute he’s taking in there? It’s no surprise really that they make you pay in advance and then post a disclaimer in your room that under no circumstances they accept refunds if you abandon your room. Abandon I did. You live and you learn.
But these minor exceptions aside, I still think that solo travel is seriously the best thing since sliced bread. At least, most of the time I do. Here’s why:
1. You can do what you want whenever you want. This cannot be underestimated. Ultimate freedom.
2. You are never really alone anyway. If you don’t just limit your stay to hotels and opt for a hostel instead, you will inevitably meet people. Some are dooshbags. Others, most, are amongst the most interesting friends you’ll make in your lifetime. You must be prepared to put up with a friendly bunkmate (and the occasional snorer), sometimes an extra bit of grime in the bathroom that calls for the trusty pair of flip-flops for hygienic protection and little or no space to yourself but the tradeoff is more than worth it. You are guaranteed to meet people to hang with.
3. You are never given more of an opportunity to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and learn about yourself and how you deal with situations than now. It’s a sure exercise in Growing-up 101.
3. You don’t only learn about yourself, you learn about the world. Knowledge breeds open-mindedness and we can never have enough of that in the world.
4. You pave a path that memories are made of. Once-in-a-lifetime experiences that you will treasure forever (with the added bonus of making your friends and family drool over the pictures).
5. You learn to appreciate time when it seems to be at a standstill. No work, no place to be, no agenda to stick to… In fact, what the frick day is it? It’s OK to do nothing! Relax. There’s not much opportunity in life to feel this way so enjoy it. Sit and read a book or people-watch. There’s a lot going on around us that we are often oblivious to.
As for the cooking course – I might just have to wait until I am back in San Sebastian with someone.