Commentary: Travelling alone sounds daunting but you should consider it anyway
Is it safe to travel alone? Solo travel can be daunting, but it can relieve some of the pressures that companions bring and give space to experience things without distraction, says this academic.
HUDDERSFIELD, England: When you think about booking a summer holiday, you might think of trips with partners, friends or family. The idea of going on holiday alone can be daunting, or even unappealing. It raises all kinds of questions – who will you talk to? Who will you eat with? Will you be safe?
There has long been a stigma against solo consumption. Societal norms encourage us to be with someone – leisure experiences are billed as something to share with others. There may also be a level of guilt or self-indulgence associated with solo travel, feeling as if you are shirking responsibility or abandoning time with family.
An increase in single-person households, however, means the hospitality industry is now serving solo consumers in addition to families and couples. The continuously blurred line between work and play, particularly for millennials and younger generations, makes it easier to work remotely or travel as part of our jobs.
We are more transient than ever and have more opportunities to work and travel alone without feeling completely disconnected from the rest of our lives.
RISE OF SOLO TRAVEL CULTURE
In recent years, people have been increasingly travelling alone – including younger vacationers. They also share their experiences with a large audience on social media – the hashtag #SoloTravel has over 7 million posts associated with it on Instagram.
Solo travellers are taking part in the growing solo economy – new products and services targeting the lone consumer.
Hotels, cruises, restaurants, tourism companies and festivals are showing how design, staff and technology can be tailored to accommodate – and even encourage – solo consumption in travel.
Our research into the experience of solo consumers in coffee shops offers insight into how solo consumption can be as pleasurable and fulfilling as going with a partner or friend. Through freewriting exercises, these consumers shared their own experiences. Their words offer some reasons you should try it too.
BEING ALONE CAN BE LIBERATING
Our research participants highlighted key factors that help them enjoy their solo experience – high seats and window views allowing them to sit back and observe others’ lives without any direct interaction or connection.
You don’t need to arrive with others to feel part of a social environment. Alone in a crowded square or on a busy beach, the proximity of other people and their conversations can be a source of comfort, distraction or even entertainment.
One participant wrote: "The seat is important -– I like the window especially a stool and “shelf” table facing out … I see people, imagine their lives, see cars and life pass by. I watch other customers, I watch the street out the window, the cliché of “watching the world pass by”. The setting, context and environment of the café are important to that moment of pause."
Being alone can be a therapeutic experience, a time to process thoughts, feelings and emotions, and leave you ready to tackle the world again. Perhaps take time to write, draw or practice another creative activity in your own time. Bask in your own thoughts without feeling pressure to please anyone else or force a conversation.
"Sitting alone with my thoughts can be a comforting experience; picking a seat, getting comfy…I can find silence with my thoughts and don’t feel any pressure to act for anybody or involve myself in a conversation that doesn’t interest me", wrote another solo traveller.
Being able to do your own thing, without needing to consider others, can be relaxing and can also give you the opportunity to do something you’ve never done before, free of judgement. You might want to go to some sort of class, shop or have a complete chill-out day.
Findings from our research indicate that time spent doing things alone can relieve some of the pressures that companions can bring. Alone time gives you the space to experience things in your own time and take in your surroundings without distraction.
In doing this, you may find yourself in new situations, away from your comfort zone – an energising and enthralling experience.
HELP EACH OTHER BUT ALSO LEAVE ONE ANOTHER ALONE
Solo travellers have their own way of doing things, they have shared behaviours and processes, and often become a collective in themselves. They acknowledge the process of travelling alone and respect others doing the same, and may even seek out spaces to be alone, together.
Solo travellers can engage in a shared experience and dialogue while maintaining their own individualism – helping each other when needed but also leaving one another alone. "We search for places where we feel we fit … We are happy to smile at one another. We don’t need to chat to engage. We are happy on our own with a coffee. I am amongst my tribe."
Claire McCamley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Huddersfield. This commentary first appeared in The Conversation.