Reframing Solo Travel

I’ve never considered myself a ‘solivagant’. Never heard of the word?! Neither had I until I decided to embark on a six day solo trip to the Balearic Island of Ibiza four weeks ago. For the past twenty years my travels entailed family holidays or city breaks with my beautifully boisterous children in tow. Provencal camping trips with tetchy toddlers wedged in the back seat between sleeping bags. An Ireland holiday where my two under 5s crawled the length of the plane under seats and received a round of applause at the end. A Croatia visit where both boys spent the entire holiday dressed as Batman and a pirate respectively. Happy Days! Also stressful days!

Any solo itinerary for me back then, was purely the process of getting to a place, the promise of a friendly face at the other end and safe in the knowledge you definitely wouldn’t be alone once you reached your destination.

I booked Ibiza on a WHIM. It was a Friday night in early September and there I was, sat at my kitchen table in my new flat (my boys with their dad for the week) and feeling properly alone. The years 2020 and 2021 have been tough and not only for the reasons we’ve all had it rough. Divorce, selling a house, moving, buying a flat and dealing with the emotional fallout for everyone involved almost drove me to the limit. In fact I think I went there. The great gaping unknown that is a family breakup. The grief, anxiety and multi-layered complexity of extricating one life from another and trying to carve it up so everyone gets something tangible, workable and amicable. A malleable mess that can only be shaped over time and with steady process. Hit and miss, try again, one step forward, two steps back. It’s a drawn out and slow ache that no painkillers or solution can miraculously ‘fix’. Like a medusa’s head, where one severed snake or problem solved, grows another, hissing mercilessly in its place.

The truth is I was sick of waiting. Waiting for everything and everyone it seemed. Waiting for What’s App confirmations and who could make what date. Waiting for my house sale to complete – a painful drawn out process of Kafkaesque legal complexities. Tired of asking people for their time, including my own sons, as they transitioned to teenage years, spending entire days holed up in darkened bedrooms. Waiting for Lockdowns to end, schools to re-open again and my life to commence. Waiting for Godot.

I realise this says a lot about my own mental state during this period and nothing to do with the very supportive and kind friends, loved ones and family who surround me. 2020 was also one of the happiest years of my life for other reasons. Life is complex right? However, being properly physically and viscerally alone when you haven’t been for literally YEARS, takes some getting used to, no matter how much you enjoy your own company or how many lovely people are at the end of a phone. Either way, I knew I could wait no more or the opportunity of this great Secret Escapes deal that landed in my inbox would pass and I would go back to ‘waiting’. The notion of hope to me then was fine, making future plans was ok, but there had to be some action, something tangible in these empty kisses it seemed or things and my life would just evaporate like a bad magician’s trick. This was my immediate state of mind, which says a lot I realise this now. Maybe I have no patience, it’s something I’m working on. But after a year and summer spent waiting for so many things it seemed (including being able to live properly with my sons and all the pain that waiting for this caused), I was done. So I made the leap and booked the hotel and flight to Ibiza, intending to fully go it alone once there. I wanted peace and the kind of mental decluttering that going away and a change of scene would hopefully bring. I also wanted the feeling of immediacy and new sights, beholden to none! Boy did I need these things and I realise how fortunate and privileged I am to have been able to do this now. I was also physically exhausted by moving and doing most of it alone and wanted to do absolutely nothing and relieve the physical weariness of the past few months. I envisaged reading three books back to back and sitting by the pool all day, solitary and mediative. I was truly scared at the thought of going it alone, but soon got used to the idea and started to welcome it and even will it on. There I would sit in splendid isolation, staring into space and observing all the life going on around me and I would write all my thoughts down meticulously in a notebook…

The Arrival Fallacy

The reality was somewhat different. I thought I’d have some soaring moment of joy once I saw the island of Ibiza below me from the plane window. I thought walking through the arrival gates and seeing the famous Pacha sign would herald the clarity I craved like something out of a bad Rom Com. None of these things happened. I was exhausted from only 2 hours sleep the night before and a 3am taxi to Gatwick. It also felt odd to be in transit again after so long and with the world having changed SO much. The quiet, airless monotone of the plane such an alien zone to inhabit at the best and most ‘normal’ of times. The EasyJet staff so eager to please, so kind and earnest after their enforced 18 month break from their profession. Everything felt overplayed, like a rehearsal. For what? It made me fearful, suspicious. The whole thing felt surreal and unsettling. It seemed nothing had changed above the clouds, but below a catastrophe had unfurled.

I arrived at 9am in Ibiza and got a taxi straight to the hotel. It was too early to check in so I put my luggage into storage and had breakfast in the dining area. The noise of families and chatter of couples and groups and the clatter of plates was overwhelming – an affront to begin with. I felt OUT of my body as I went to get a coffee. I sat down at a table for two and wept quietly and profusely behind my sunglasses. Nothing could have prepared me for it. It was as if all the stress of the past two years had landed right there in my coffee cup. Memories of family holidays when my children were young flooded my inner world and all my senses. A child called for its mother and I looked up startled. What the hell was I doing here? Why didn’t I bring my boys? What had possessed me to think it was a good idea to come to Ibiza of all places, and alone? I texted my lovely group of friends on Whats App in panic. Reassuring words flooded back. ‘You’re tired’. ‘This is a big thing for you’. ‘Of course you’ll feel like this at first, plus you’ve had no sleep!’

 

From Weeping to Whooping in Five Easy Steps…

Ibiza has a pulse. A literal beat. A soundscape all of its own. Whether far on the horizon or somewhere below your hotel balcony, there’s always music playing, especially in the more built up areas of course. After a morning by the pool and a day and night of lunches and dinners alone, I realised I couldn’t NOT experience its beating heart. To be so solitary on this magical, musical island for six days straight just didn’t seem right. So I did the following: –

  1. Joined a Facebook group for Ibiza solo travellers and wrote a post about how I’d like to meet other friendly female travellers (felt safer to limit it to women only) for low key nightlife in the Ibiza Town. Got a great response almost right away. I learned that there are SO many solo travellers of all ages and nationalities out there and especially on an island like Ibiza which kind of oozes friendliness. You also get to understand who the local characters are and stalwarts of the ‘scene’ – always entertaining!
  2. I mentally ignored and discarded any irrational worries about appearing too old, too desperate, too friendly and responded to a Facebook post about a famous club night. Travelling solo, you just cannot carry any of these emotional hang ups around I realised or they will translate to the way you behave outwardly. This is no good. As a solo ‘warrior’ you need to build up your defences and not tear down your own! For a start you need to exude confidence even of the quiet kind or you will get ‘targeted’. At my most discombobulated, on the morning of my arrival, I was approached by two guys, on separate occasions, who tried to sit down at my table like they were fully entitled to it. It was a wake up call to exhibiting the right kind poise and energy, even if you have to fake it. Thinking ahead to where your boundaries lie and being armed with lines such as “No thanks, I’d really like to sit on my own” are also useful. Unless of course you don’t want to sit alone, but that’s a whole other blog post surely and not one I’m going to be writing any time soon 😉
  3. Then you have to get past your overthinking about getting in touch with a literal stranger and thoughts of “Will we have anything in common?” “What if we don’t get on?” I shelved these immediately knowing I had to get out of my hotel room and challenge myself and realised it didn’t matter if any of these things turned out to be true. After all, I could politely leave. After the year I’d been through, we’ve all been through, it really didn’t matter in the scheme of things. I no longer really care if people like me or not or if I’m palatable to them. I mean close friends, yes of course that’s different. But new people and those I’m not close to? Nope. My people pleasing days are over and it’s the best, most freeing feeling in the world.
  4. Once I was free of these hang ups, I came to life and realised in some circumstances I am WAY more of an extrovert than I perceived myself to be. I love talking to people and have a lot to say. It was as if realising my fallibility made me more infallible or at least immune to it. I meet people easily and can hold an interesting conversation with a total stranger if I choose to. This gives you a feeling of unbelievable confidence, something I had lost a little in the years prior, due to various reasons. Eating alone was the game changer for me. The first few times I did it, I brought my book and read, worried about what people might think. Shy in myself and self conscious at people staring. After a few days this shifted and I brought the book only to make sure no one sat at my table. My manner became totally self-assured and I could just sit there and be, literally not caring one bit about how I came across or what anyone thought of a woman sitting on her own. Again such a self-empowering feeling. I controlled the situation, it didn’t control me.
  5. Just do it. Take the leap and say yes, within reason of course. I mean don’t do anything stupid kids. But if I hadn’t said yes on Messenger to my (now) friend Emma, (who I had never met before) and her invitation to come down to a beach party RIGHT NOW, then I’d never have gone on to have the most brilliant heart-warming, spontaneous and fun evening. I’d never have gone on to meet three other wonderful women. We went on to hang out and have a great time in each other’s company – a lucky strike on a jewel of an island.

Of course sometimes it won’t work out and this is fine too. I emailed another contact that a friend kindly gave me on Instagram and nothing came of it but did I care? Not one bit. Small talk with a friendly mother daughter duo at my hotel was nice, but I knew beyond that we’d probably have nothing in common, which was absolutely ok.

Ibiza itself is a wonderful place. I had no real idea of its breathtaking natural beauty, its civic pride at its landscape and cultural past (including its history regarding dance music and clubbing) and its strong identity. The island takes pride in itself and its inhabitants. It’s incredibly friendly and not what I expected. The Tanit Beach Club I visited on my second night was a chi-chi mix of club and family restaurant. Punky girls with mohicans danced alongside men in preppy loafers with sweaters tied artfully around their polo shirts. Old ravers and drunk German hausfraus who proudly announced they had left their husbands at their hotels, whooped it up alongside 30 year olds who looked astounded and very happy to have found somewhere so fun, friendly and carefree and with amazing music. The age range was 25-70! It was like re-living the best moments and club nights at The Zap Club in Brighton when I first discovered House music. A feeling of togetherness, non-judgement and pure innocent joy and just an ode to really GOOD music.

Would I travel solo again? I don’t know. I mean there are too many places I want to see with people I love and share the experience so WHY go it alone? The Ibiza Divas and I have even talked about meeting up again back on the island or in our respective countries – UK, Hungary, Spain or Germany. So many potential experiences to be had with them, it makes me happy to think of it. The point is I know I CAN travel alone no problem and almost definitely enjoy it or at least make the most of it. The confidence it has given me has changed me profoundly and this translates to my everyday life back here as I start on a new journey of my own. To hear other people’s stories and the remarkable independent women I met by chance was a total and utter tonic. It was the ultimate in self care which as we all know, isn’t really about baths and candles and eating salads. It’s about self respect and coming back to yourself, asking the difficult questions with radical honesty, no matter how hard that is. I cannot recommend it highly enough and I think it saved my mental health somewhat. Whenever I feel scared about what the future holds or how I’m going to manage things going forward, I think of the moment I was in Playa den Bossa, Ibiza, watching the surf at dusk and looking out over a cloudy peerless horizon and feeling that beat, like the pulse of my own life mapped out before me. Safe and strong for now.

 

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