Roam alone

Embrace the experience ... there is so much to love about travelling alone.
Embrace the experience ... there is so much to love about travelling alone. Photo: Getty Images

Breaking free of the tribe can deliver the holiday of a lifetime, writes frequent soloist Julietta Jameson.

Besides the odd hermit in a mountain cave, no man is an island.

We are seldom alone and even when so we likely remain subject to the needs and demands of others. Perhaps that's why most of us don't realise the difference between alone and lonely.

B&Bs are best for negotiating good rates.
B&Bs are best for negotiating good rates. 

From the comfortable familiarity of our tribal lives, alone can seem the same as its sad sound-alike - and therefore travelling alone looks a terrifying prospect.

Even if you live by yourself, leaving the place where everybody - even your barista and your bus driver - knows your name for a destination where not a soul does can be frightening. It shouldn't be.

Travelling alone can forge connections to new people, affinities to new places and participation in events that might not be possible from a posse. I've travelled alone a great deal and found it deeply, profoundly life-changing.

A friendly barman can help bridge the language gap.
A friendly barman can help bridge the language gap. Photo: Getty Images

But don't let that scare you. It's not all navel-gazing and epiphanies.

I have found it equally fun.

Oh, the places you will go. Itinerary ischminerary; the greatest advantage of travelling by yourself is being able to go wherever you want, whenever you want.

Minute by minute, day by day, week by week you can stay as long as you like, go somewhere different to what's been planned, follow your whims.

No one else's nose will be out of joint. But a solo traveller can't go absolutely anywhere they like. Don't go down dark alleyways at night by yourself, for instance (you wouldn't at home). And don't assume you are bulletproof or Bear Grylls. Do not, for example, set off for Papua New Guinea, Uzbekistan or Somalia on your own, particularly if you are an inexperienced traveller.

Government travel advisories are good guides (see smarttraveller.gov.au).

Consideration of your language skills or lack thereof, likewise the percentage of English speakers in certain countries, might restrict your choices. Don't let it.

I studied French at school but for years never set foot in France, petrified of the legendary French intolerance when it came to non-native speakers. Then one day I finally had to be in France, having trained in from London for a connection to Switzerland at Paris Gare de Nord. At the station, I accidentally put my euro in the turnstile to the men's loo and caused a scene when in a panic I tried to reverse out.

But instead of insulting me, the washroom attendant called out in English, "It's OK. I'm here.

I will look out for you," meaning she would stop unsuspecting men coming in while I did what I had to do. It was a small victory but a meaningful one: a phobia dismantled. I've had some lovely times in France since.

However, be warned: if you do not speak the language, on your lonesome you might at times be struck by the strangeness of not hearing your own voice nearly as much as you normally would. It might be a relief but it might also make you feel isolated.

Solution: seek out a friendly multilingual barman. Or Skype home once in a while. Or better yet, do your worst with a phrase book and some charades.

Bedding down

Safety is paramount. If you check in and your room doesn't feel secure, don't think twice about moving on.

You may need to be brave, though. I ended up in a hotel in Perugia, Italy, where though reception was well appointed, my room had no lock on an accessible window and a very flimsy door. I left immediately but had the mother of all arguments with the feisty Italian innkeeper who tried to charge me for a day's stay and refused to hand back my passport.

I threatened her, firmly but unemotionally, with a call to the police - a course of action that could have gone either way. Fortunately, it went mine.

Accommodation can be a big cost for one. Often, you face paying per room, so as much for a single as you might for two.

I've found B&Bs to be the most negotiable. A private owner of a small operation feels more acutely the cost of providing linen, cleaning, breakfast and add-ons to two rather than one. If you know where you're going, try to negotiate discount rates via email before you leave home. The longer you stay, the more likely a cheaper rate.

You just might get lucky, too.

I checked into a B&B in Switzerland and got a tiny single room. I didn't complain. I was just happy to be there. I spent one night in it, went out for the day and came back to find they had moved me upstairs to a lavish double with a bathroom bigger than the original digs.

It pays to be cheerful and grateful and to roll with it.

Eating alone

I've had some of the most memorable meals of my life on my own. The downside of that is having no one to share the experience with.

The upside is no requirement to share that dessert with anyone. For many, the solitary meal is the scariest aspect of going solo. It's not scary if you have the right props: a journal and pen. I much prefer the journal to the book, because a journal affords you opportunities to look up in thought and gaze about. A book keeps your head down.

Of course, if you don't want to talk to anyone, burying your nose in a book is ideal. But I've ended up joining loads of people who have made eye contact during one of my pensive look-around-the-room moments.

Most memorably, a riotous Greek family at a restaurant in Patras insisted I join them, ordered delicious things I wouldn't have tasted otherwise, footed the bill, then drove me to the beach the next day.

Whatever you do, when eating out, please don't sit and Facebook on your iPhone. Choose the experience in front of you, not the cyber version of home. Another note about dining alone: at busy times, some greedy restaurants don't like singles taking up what could be tables for four. I've been refused seating a few times.

But these places are usually in busy touristy cities where there will be lots of other options and probably something better just around the corner. Consider yourself saved from a bad-attitude experience and move on.

Getting lucky

Great things can happen to those on their own.

I missed a flight out of Bergen for Copenhagen. But the man at the service desk managed to squeeze me on the next one, free, even though my ticket was non-changeable. Try that with a tribe.

I've snaffled some amazing tickets to theatre shows because often there's a single seat left in a row and the venue has been mostly sold in groups. Sometimes that even means getting tickets to shows that are marked as sell-outs. So when by yourself and a show takes your fancy, always ask at the box office or booking agent on the off-chance. I got a ticket to the Killers for an apparently sold-out concert at Verona's amphitheatre. The seat was right up the front.

Beast of burden

Luggage is always a problem - for me, anyway. I don't travel light.

But on trains, at train stations, on ferries and other public spaces, your worldly goods and chattels are fair game for thieves and a restriction to your movements.

Never let that person who rushes at you as soon as you enter a station carry your bags. When waiting for a train, I find a spot against a wall with a good view of the departures board. I then put my suitcase against it and sit on it. It leaves little opportunity for crooks to do the old two-people distract and lift.

If you have to use the bathroom, often the attendant will watch your bag. But judge their trustworthiness for yourself. There are usually cloakrooms or lockers available. Use them.

I travel first-class on trains if possible. First, you have an assigned seat for not really that much more money. Second, the drinks often come to you.

And third, if you have to go to the toilet or buffet, chances are there will be friendly fellow travellers of a certain quality whom you can trust to keep an eye on your stuff.

All the same, take handbags, wallets, passports, iPads and other easily lifted essentials with you.

Put your suitcase within view. If you can't, when the train approaches a station, make sure you move to where you can watch it.

When your hands are full do not make eye contact with beggars. Period.

Use hotel safes and take advantage of luggage hold at hotel reception areas. And if you travel by bus and someone is loading your luggage underneath, make sure your things are on board before you are.

Insurance is non-negotiable because sometimes all the vigilance in the world is not enough, whether you're on your own or not.

What is also non-negotiable: talking to fellow travellers. I've met some wonderful people on trains, including a Californian soccer mum-turned-hippie Israeli B&B owner who's become a good friend.

Ransom cab

In places notorious for rip-off taxi drivers, ride with your luggage on the back seat next to you. Anecdotally, single travellers are more of a target for swindlers. At the end of a cab ride to Athens airport, my driver switched the meter off immediately so the fare was no longer on the screen and demanded a figure that was exactly double what had been displayed.

I couldn't just pay him what I knew was owed and alight. He could have taken off with my luggage, held hostage in the boot.

If I'd had it next to me, I would have paid the appropriate fare and huffed off. But I knew the reputation of the Athens taxi driver before I got in. And

I know the drill, which I did not employ. Lesson learnt.

That drill? Do your research on how much a trip should cost.

And discuss it with the driver before getting in the cab. If you don't know the standard fare, make sure the meter is on and keep your eye on it as you near your destination.

Personal growth

There will be rough times (a cry will do you good). Hyper-vigilance might exhaust you (that's what a night in and room service is for). And yes, you will be occasionally lonely.

But it's almost guaranteed you will return feeling more capable, stronger, smarter and confident.

All that and you will have the lifelong memories of a fantastic holiday.

Hot tip: the fake wedding ring

For single female travellers going it alone, there are some places in the world where things can get uncomfortable.

I was invited into a Malaysian imam's home for the evening feast. I sat in a circle of Muslim women who were full of pity for my single state and quizzed me endlessly about it. It was excruciating.

In Bali and the Caribbean islands, being single and alone can make you fair game for Lotharios looking for their ticket to a better life.

I've found taxi drivers to be the worst for that. But I've copped it from hospitality workers and men on the street, too.

This is where the fake wedding ring comes in handy, along with a story about how your husband will be joining you in a few days once his business commitments are done.

It might seem dishonest and not just a little bit backward but it sure shuts people up.

And if somehow you manage to meet someone nice, you can always just slip it off and put it into your pocket.

Almost alone

If baby steps are more your speed, or you're travelling solo by necessity rather than choice, consider a tour tailored to your needs and interests.

There are tour companies that cater just for solo travellers.

OzXposure is an Australian operator that does small-group adventure tours locally.

Another Australian company, Singles Travel Connections, organises overseas tours for singles. Departures depend on tours attracting 10 or more participants. www.singlestravel.com.au.

The American company Singles Travel International organises cruises, adventures and tours. singlestravelintl.com. Their tours are age-specific, catering for people in their 20s to their 60s.

Another avenue for the single traveller looking for company is voluntourism. You'll live communally with like-minded types working on charity projects.

Projects-abroad.com.au is a start but there are many options available, so do some research on the internet.

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