I stepped out of the terminal building and took my first lungfuls of warm Spanish air. I looked up and squinted a little, the afternoon sun hanging low in the sky, waiting to reveal a sunset that would throw a charm offensive in my direction. I dug out my phone from my pocket to look at the map, and turned around to gesture at my travel companion.
Except there was no companion. I was travelling alone for the first time.
It was a reflex to discuss the next step of the journey with someone else. Working out strange directions and metro lines and buses together. Except this time, I had my own sense of direction to rely on. A little chill ran through my body. A thrill, a frisson of excitement. This trip, it was all about me.
I was so nervous about travelling alone. In fact, until this year I’d never even considered flying solo. I’m in that position where I’m part of a couple, and we always spent our holiday days together. But over the past couple of years, my voracious appetite for travel started to climb higher than my husband’s, and I was left with a serious case of daily wanderlust.
So what’s a girl to do? Well, she plans a trip of her own, that’s what.
But I was seriously fearful. I’d written before about why I was afraid to travel alone, a mix of emotions about loneliness, what my family and friends would think, safety and bizarrely eating alone. Eating out feels like such an intensely social thing to do, and to do it solo gave me the shivers. And not in a good way.
But I knew I had to conquer this fear. Firstly because I hate being afraid of anything, and secondly because I knew that if I wanted to fulfil all my travel desires I’d have to suck it up. I put it off all year. I was supposed to do something in April and as 2017 was closing out I knew I had to get this done.
It all happened really really quickly. An email dropped into my inbox about Ryanair’s flight sale, and before I knew it I had (within about 30 seconds) booked super cheap flights to Barcelona. So cheap that it would be criminal not to travel, whether on my own or not. I knew my husband wouldn’t want to go to Barcelona having been before, so there it was. I had six weeks to get my head in the game.So it's finally time to go solo. Here's what it is like travelling alone for the first time.Click To Tweet
And Barcelona felt like a really great choice for me. I had already travelled to Barcelona on three different occasions, and I had been desperate to write about it but my photography was so poor. It was like I had an excuse to go. I’m just going to update my photo collection. This line making me feel a little better at explaining to people who couldn’t understand why I’d want to go alone.
But Barcelona also felt safe to me – even though I hadn’t visited for 11 years, it felt familiar. I understood how things worked, roughly where things were and I knew about the pick-pockets on La Ramblas ahead of time (having been pick-pocketed myself there way back in 2005).
By the time I got to the airport, I was extremely excited. Nervous, but excited.
So how did it go down? Well, in a word it was the most incredible three days I’ve spent all year. In fact, possibly in a very long time indeed.
It turns out, I’m living for solo travel.
I didn’t have to dance to anyone else’s tune, and as it turns out I have a pretty strong view of what I want to get from a city break. I could see more because I’m a pacy kind of woman, and I changed my itinerary on the go to suit where I was. I could linger when I wanted to, leave when I wanted to. I could take a nap when I wanted to (and yes, I wanted to) and I could wake up and go when I wanted to, catching the sunrise each morning.
It was so freeing.
I spent lots more time investigating the back streets of El Born and Bario Gotic, seeking out little hidden things that I’d never normally bother with, and I wandered those back streets like the cat the got the cream I couldn’t take the smile off my face the whole time I was there.
There were challenging moments though. At first, I struggling with eating alone, and as I sat in my hotel room on the first night, I wondered whether I was actually that hungry and could do without dinner. I had to talk myself round and really force myself to leave and head to my pre-planned diner location. In general I had no issues with eating alone, and wasn’t treated any differently (duh), although in this first place I was shoved in a corner and it felt like I was the only solo diner they’d come across in a while.
But as I ordered that second glass of red wine to elongate the experience as I flicked the pages of my book, I felt like a queen. Like I belonged. I wasn’t rushing to get out of there – I was standing my ground and sipping my wine like that cosmopolitan jet setter that I am.
I came prepared though, to make sure that I could really enjoy my time alone and minimise worry and doubt. It was my first time after all.
- I booked a table for dinner for my first evening, meaning I couldn’t back out and meaning that they were already expecting a table for one so no awkward exchanges about dining alone. Not that I had any exchanges like that at all, but it eased my mind.
- I booked on to a night food tour, meaning things were a little more social for me on my second night, just in case I was feeling a little lonely. I wasn’t but the night food tour was an absolute blast, and I’m glad I took advice from my solo travel ideal Beverley about what to do at night when alone.
- I took my trust selfie stick and even though I felt like an idiot, it meant I could feature in my own travel memories from a photography perspective, and I look at these pictures and feel really happy.
- I planned to go to familiar sights I’d already visited, and sprinkled in a couple of new to me attractions so I felt comfortable, but also like I wasn’t trying to repeat and experience I’d had with other before.
Look, I know I haven’t conquered the world yet. I’m very aware I was only away for two nights in total, and travelling to a European city. It really isn’t Eat, Pray, Love or Wild. But it was a step forward, and I loved every second. It was the trip I never knew I needed. But I did.
Sure, I’m not going to always travel alone from now on, because I love to travel with my family and friends, but I’m so excited at the options this has opened to me. I can see some more solo city breaks in my near future.
If you are on the fence, try it – you never know how transformational it might be.
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