I go on holiday a lot on my own. It’s that, or not go away at all, and it’s fine by me. However, this small fact tends to catch many other people by surprise. Here are some examples of why I am increasingly pissed off with my solo travels being a ‘thing’.
1. I am in Himeji, a Japanese castle town. It’s cherry blossom season and the queue to get into the castle is ridiculously long, so I’ve decided to sit in the park and read for a while. A Japanese family sits on the bench next to me. The elderly matriarch strikes up a conversation.
“Where are you from?”
“Where is your husband?”
[That in itself would be enough to make me spit.]
“Oh, I’m here on my own.”
“You’re so brave!” she says, clutching her hands to her head.
2. I am in a restaurant in Osaka. The nice Taiwanese owner and her assistant are fussing around me.
“Where are you from?”
“You on your own?”
Always the implication: woman, where is your husband?
3. I am in a Pret at Gatwick, buying a bacon sandwich. The cashier is chatty and asks me where I’m going.
“On business or going home?”
a) There is no way I can ever pass for Norwegian, but thanks for the compliment.
b) I am wearing jeans and a schlubby t-shirt, carrying a backpack on the verge of falling apart. If I’m travelling on business I ought to be fired on the spot.
c) When I said I’m actually going on holiday, the guy was taken so much by surprise that he genuinely didn’t know what to say.
4. I am in a Starbucks in Oita. I love Starbucks in Japan. They do excellent iced teas. Anyway, I’m in Starbucks and momentarily confused about where to throw away my empty cup. A young man shows me and takes the opportunity to practice his English, having recently been to study in Bristol. He asks me if I’m an exchange student (bless him, I was 36 at the time) or TEFL. I tell him I’m on holiday. “Why?” he asks, baffled to the verge of distress.
(To be fair, he had a point; Oita isn’t a major tourist destination. But it’s very well connected for travel to various interesting towns so, you know, it’s my holiday and shut up.)
5. I am in Austria, waiting at a bus stop. A woman walks up and starts chatting to me in German. I break in and explain, in halting GCSE, that I’m English and on holiday. She looks me up and down in surprise, purses her lips and moves away.
6. I am in St Petersburg, Russia, waiting at a tram stop. A woman walks up and starts chatting to me in Russian. I break in and explain, with no attempt at the language because my knowledge consists of one 60 minute school lesson when our German teacher got bored once and tried to teach us Russian and Swedish, that I’m English and on holiday. She looks me up and down in surprise, purses her lips and moves away.
7. I am in Flåm, Norway. I am getting happily pissed on a stupidly expensive bottle of imperial porter. I realise the brewery restaurant is starting to fill up so I’d better let them know I want to eat. “Sorry,” says the barman. “We don’t do reservations for one.” But, I want to say, you just wrote down the name of that guy before me. Luckily the nicer barman who sold me the stupidly expensive bottle of beer appears, remembers me and scribbles me down on the wait list.
8. I am sitting outside a cafe in Cordoba. Everyone else around me has drinks. People come in after me, sit down and get served. Every single member of the wait staff ignores me. This may be paranoia, but by this point in my life it feels well founded. Do they think I’m waiting for my boyfriend? Eventually I get up and walk off.
9. I am sick of being given the shittiest hotel rooms. I once saw an episode of CSI – you know, the original Las Vegas version before they brought in Sam from Cheers – in which the chisel-jawed one describes the room at the end of the corridor by the fire escape as the ‘murder room’. I am always getting that fucking hotel room. I once got a room that wasn’t just at the end of the corridor, but through an emergency exit and into a tiny annexe where no-one would hear me scream.
This might sound like I’m asking for special treatment because I’m a woman on my own and, well, there is a sort of argument here that if a hotelier knows ahead that a woman is booking in by herself, maybe don’t punt her off in the room where she’s isolated. But mainly I’m just fed up of getting shoved in the corner. Nobody puts me in a corner. Except hotels. And restaurants.
10. I have no stories about the time I spent a week and a half in Qatar. Where you’d think there’d be at least some raised eyebrows.
Why is it remarkable – literally, to be remarked upon – that I, a female human, have left my home and ventured abroad? Without a chaperone, no less? I mean, we have the vote now, why can’t we be content to sit around the kitchen and plop out a series of babies?
The thing I hate most is that I know I’m already curtailing the range of my travel because I’m on my own. There are places I want to see but I wouldn’t feel safe without company (male or female). I’d also love to go to Chile, take one of those boats to Antarctica and see the penguins, but some fucking middle aged couple or other would attempt to ‘take me under their wing’ and I’d simply have to kill them. So to have it repeatedly brought to my attention that I’m travelling solo in places that I’m fine with – that’s annoying.
But what’s worse is that I’m not sure I even have the energy to rage about it any more. It’d probably just be easier to sign up for Tinder.