There are many reasons why women in their middle years might live alone. Some of us choose solitary living and relish getting our own way all the time. Others have it thrust upon them, and it takes time to spread oneself across all that living space.
But we share the same challenges when it comes to holidays. Friends, who have offered companionship and comfort and countless hours over coffee and cakes, return to their partners when holiday time comes round. Others work so hard that they can barely shrug when you suggest they might like to join you on a trip to …
It’s hard, that first time you go on your own. There’s no one to help look through your bag when you think you’ve lost the tickets. No one to offer a sweet as you take off. No one to look after your luggage while you go to the loo.
But turn this on its head. You can go exactly where you want, and when you want. You can eat and sleep when you like. If you feel like spending all day reading one reminding you that you suggested a trip to the art gallery. You feel like going to the art gallery – and there’s no one tugging at your sleeve suggesting it’s time for a cup of tea just when you’re are engrossed in Renaissance paintings. There’s no one looking at her watch reminding you that she needs to buy presents before the end of the day. There’s no one chattering at that moment when all you want is silence.
Deciding where to travel solo
The hardest bit is deciding to go in the first place. You trawl through sites on the computer and all the images are of couples, or families, and you imagine yourself tagging along at the back of all that like an afterthought.
You are convinced that people will look at you, think you are Nellie no-mates. They won’t – most will barely notice you, as they will be too busy trying to find the sun cream or coping with little Johnny who has been stung by a bee. Or maybe finding to talk about with someone they’re not used to spending all that time with. In practice: you can watch them with impunity, grin to yourself at their tiffs and at their secret smiles. The joy of some families might give you a twinge of envy; but others will have you quietly giggling. Have a book with you for those moments when you feel vulnerable.
Then, just as you’re beginning to enjoy yourself, someone will begin to chat to you. They may be sitting beside you with an ice cream, or at the next table in a restaurant, or relaxing on a bench in a musuem. At first you might feel a little awkward – it’s a long time since you last struck up a conversation with strangers. If you’ve no idea what to say, fall back on the question that travellers all over the world use: ‘Where are you from?’ And then listen – you’ll find that everyone has a story to share.
Are you tempted? And wondering where to go? There’s a whole world to choose from, but if you’re a little wary, then you could do worse than hopping across to northern France. It’s a short flight from anywhere in the UK; if you are within two or three hours of London, then you can make it on the train or in a coach within a day. Not long ago I went to Lille – and it’s a lovely little city if you can’t face the hurly burly of Paris but want to dip your feet in the solo travelling waters. The Old City has nooks and crannies to explore, a wonderful Cathedral with a modern west wall built onto an ancient structure – it looks like it should be ugly but go inside and it’s inspirational – and plenty of pavement cafés where you can sit, take in the sunshine, and watch the world go by.
And the food … do I really need to tempt you with descriptions of French food, and wine?
JO CARROLL’s Gap Year adventures can be found in her book: Over the Hill and Far Away.
You can find more of her writing, photographs from her travels, and links to ebooks of her trips to Nepal and to Laos on her website: http://www.jocarroll.co.uk