I am usually surprised when someone else is surprised when I say I intend travelling abroad on my own. I shouldn’t be as a score or so years ago I would have thought it more likely that I might circumnavigate the seas surrounding Ireland, in a bath with a spoon for a paddle, that head off to foreign parts on my lonesome.
Now I happily do so. Not mind that I do anything adventurous, trekking solo across the Sahara using the stars as navigational aids is not for me. I don’t go far: I stick to Europe. And I go places where: I speak the language (the UK); enough of the language to get by (France); or where English is widely spoken.
On two occasions, in the last decade, to escape the force field of such limited choice, I booked a package holiday. One of those packages was a recent week long trip to Tuscany, so I wasn’t totally alone but alone as part of a group.
It worked well. It was a joy to exit the airport and get on a coach heading directly to my hotel rather than having to find my own way into Pisa town centre, and then find the station, and then the right platform to get a train to the town, Montecatini Terme, where I was staying. All with a case in tow and with an exceedlingly limited Italian vocabulary. Just six words!
There were a number of local tours included in my package and some optional ones on offer. As I had seen most of the towns on the tours’ itineraries I opted out of all but one. Choosing instead to head alone into Florence on three of the days and on another to retail heaven – aka The Mall, a large outlet – not far from Florence. I had one chill-out day in Montecatini Terme and on the only remaining full day I went on a tour to a local vineyard.
There are advantages to travelling alone not least of which is being able to choose to go where you want, when you want. There are others: I particularly like this take on solo travel:
“It seemed an advantage to be travelling alone. Our responses to the world are crucially moulded by the company we keep, for we temper our curiosity to fit in with the exception of others… Being closely observed by a companion can also inhibit our observation of others; then, too, we may become caught up in adjusting ourselves to the companion’s questions and remarks, or feel the need to make ourselves seem more normal than is good for our curiosity.”
Alain de Botton – The Art of Travel
I don’t have strict rules around travelling alone but obviously I don’t do anything or go anywhere that my gut tells me might be unsafe. In busy places I clutch on to my bag tightly and keep my wits in gear. And to ensure that the loss or theft of said bag wouldn’t be a total catastrophe I leave my passport and some cash in the safe in my hotel room. Along with a piece of paper on which I have written the contact details of two friends so in an emergency I could ‘phone a friend’.
I had a great time in Italy – more about that soon.