Going it alone – perks of solo travel

Men and women travel very differently when they are alone observes Leigh-Ann Pow

I used to love travelling alone when I was younger.

Deciding on a whim where I wanted to go and what I wanted to see. Never having to consult with anyone else about what they felt like eating that night.

Indulging in hours of shopping without feeling guilty for dragging anyone else along with me against their will (or for spending too much on shoes; it was only me who would have to dine on a sandwich back in the hotel room to balance the budget).

Standing in front of an artwork for longer than the 46 seconds I am now allowed as a mother. Ah, those were the days.

So I was surprised when a male colleague mentioned the trepidation he felt before travelling alone to New York: he was worried that he wouldn’t meet people and accordingly canvassed friends and acquaintances before leaving on the best places to go to commune with the locals. I couldn’t think of anything I would rather do less!

For women, travelling alone represents a chance to recalibrate the balance in their lives, from putting everyone and everything else first on a daily basis to worrying about just one person, however fleetingly it might last.

Various friends who travel solo for work, and those who do it for pleasure, have described the decompression process: they spend the first few days thinking they’ve forgotten to do something or be somewhere, going through their minds in minute detail what should be happening at that exact time somewhere else (school drop-off or meetings or dry cleaning pick-up).

By about the third day they mention a sense of calm that washes over them as they realise that it will all be getting done without them. After that, it’s all long showers in the morning, room service and sleeping in the middle of the bed.

A cursory search of the internet brings up various websites dedicated to women travelling solo – there are blogs by those doing it, travel companies who specialise in it, and advice sites listing the best places to go and the precautions that should be taken.

There are not a lot of equivalent sites exclusively for men – even sports tours to South Africa to watch Mitchell Johnson and his moustache welcome women if they are brave enough.

Of course, there are a few things to remember when you are a woman travelling alone, but nothing as drastic as the advice I received the first time I travelled to New York solo; I was told by more people than just my mother not to go out after dark and not to look up above eye level or I would be tagged as a tourist and mugged where I stood.

Instead you should: register with Smart Traveller so that you are always traceable; don’t do anything you wouldn’t do back home, from getting a tattoo to walking around unfamiliar neighbourhoods after dark; embrace new experiences or there’s really no point leaving home in the first place; check in with loved ones regularly, an easy one in the age of social media; pack light as you are the only one who is there to carry your bags; ask for advice on where to eat/drink/be merry.

The last thing to do is enjoy your own company – you just might be the best travelling companion you ever have.