Single in London, England
Just last week, I wrote about the benefits of solo travel, that is, travel you do on your own. As I mentioned in that post, solo travel can be one of the best things you can do for yourself – it causes you to learn, to grow, to reflect, and, well, to have a ton of fun.
But what about single travel? I’m defining this as travelling while single, whether you are solo or with a friend or in a group. What are the benefits of travelling while single?
I openly and happily talk about how I’ve been single for a while. I’ve even written a post about the honeymoon destinations I’ve been to as a single woman, and why you shouldn’t worry about falling in love while you’re travelling.
What I hate is that – and this is often especially for women, although I’m sure every single person experiences it from time to time – it’s almost as if our lives aren’t seen as complete if we haven’t found a romantic partner to share it with. I’m not entirely sure why finding a partner or getting married is the be-all and end-all, but it seems our society still places great emphasis on finding love.
For the record, just in case you feel that you simply must know my entire dating history, I had four different boyfriends in my twenties, including two travel romances that turned into relationships of about six months, one travel romance that turned into a relationship of one year, and one travel romance that turned into a relationship of two and a half years (we lived together for two of those years). Do you see a pattern here? Anyway… I was single for half of my twenties (and for many months/years in between those relationships) and I’ve been single for the past four years, bringing me into my thirties. While I’ve definitely dated over the past few years, I haven’t been with anyone longer than a couple of months or so in that time.
Single in Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia
All of this means that I’ve been single for a lot of my travels, too. The last trip I took with a boyfriend was in 2011, when I drove across America and Canada with the guy I was with at the time, so every trip since then (that’s over thirty-five countries) have been taken as a single woman. In fact, the only countries I’ve travelled to as a couple (and never as a single woman) are New Zealand, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. I wasn’t necessarily solo for the rest of the eighty-odd countries I’ve been to, but I was definitely single during at least one of my visits.
I am not in any way advocating that you rush out and break up with your significant other – I’ve written a whole post about how to choose between a relationship and travelling, and in the end I concluded that you shouldn’t have to choose at all. Hopefully, if you indeed want to be in a relationship, you find an awesome person who either travels with you or totally supports your decision to travel without him or her. And don’t get me wrong – I’m also not denying that being in a loving relationship is one of the best feelings in the world, and I hope to one day find one myself. Emphasis on one day. Because right now? Right now, I love being single. OK, and yes, I know what you might be thinking… but I feel like I’ve really hit my stride as a single woman, and I’m totally enjoying this life.
On my own, I’ve carved a home for myself in London, I’ve completed a master’s degree, I wrote a book, I’ve found a fulfilling career, I made an amazing group of friends, I ran this blog, and, oh yeah, I travelled a whole bunch. I’m not saying these things to brag, but rather to show you that being single doesn’t have to limit you in just how amazing your life can be. I get a lot of emails from other single people who feel pressured to find a relationship or feel that their life isn’t validated until they do, and I’d love to be an example of how great life can be as a single person.
Not only that, there are amazing benefits to travelling while single. Don’t believe me?
Single in Punta del Este, Uruguay
Travelling while single means that you can do whatever the hell you want. OK, again, if you are in a loving and supportive and healthy relationship, you should be able to do whatever the hell you want anyway. BUT! I’m sure you know what I mean. Whether you’re travelling with your significant other or not, they may have some small – or large – influence over where you go, when you go, and what you do. As much as I’d love to believe I’ve always been a strong, independent person, the truth is that I sometimes allowed myself to be held back by the men in my life. I considered giving up dream of travelling for six to nine months through Southeast Asia when my then-boyfriend threatened to break up with me if I left for that long, and I’ve not once but TWICE told my family I was moving to Australia (which were the dreams of my then-boyfriends, not my dream… not that Australia isn’t amazing). Without a partner in my life, I don’t have to question if it’s OK for me to take that spur of the moment trip to Paris, or go on my own to Thailand this autumn, or plan a fun holiday with my friends.
Single in Jaisalmer, India, and travelling with this awesome group of women
Travelling while single means that you don’t have to worry about keeping someone updated. Don’t get me wrong – talking on Skype, texting, Facebook messaging, emails… all of those things can be absolutely wonderful with the right person, and I’m sure that there are many healthy relationships that are able to maintain communication with each other happily and easily. I myself have been in them before – when travelling in Turkey one year, for example, I used to delight in checking my email knowing I’d have a lovely one from my boyfriend back home from our then-base of Edinburgh.
But I’ve experienced the other side of this, too. Worryingly running from coffee shop to coffee shop, trying to find one with a strong enough wifi signal to Skype my partner. Becoming distracted by too many texts or not enough texts from someone who wasn’t travelling with me. Getting excited to open my Facebook messages only to discover he didn’t leave me one at all. Having too much fun to want to stop to write an email. Anxious that if I don’t write an email – or if I mention that I’ve been travelling platonically with a bunch of dudes – that I will make him upset or jealous. Again, the fact that I had these problems and that they were indeed stressful probably means that I wasn’t in the right relationships anyway; if I found the right person, keeping him updated would be a pleasure. For now, however, I have no desire to worry about it. I love that I can just disappear offline for a few days if I want to. Besides, I’m lucky enough to have a great support network of friends and family, so I’m in no short supply of those Skype calls, texts, emails, and messages, and chances are, if you reach out to people, you won’t be either.
Single in Havana, Cuba
Travelling while single means that you only have to worry about your own finances. I imagine that most couples share the cost of travelling, which can occasionally lead to problems. In the past, when I’ve travelled with a partner (even just a travel fling), it has always been quickly agreed upon that we’ll split everything right down the middle, unless we want to treat the other to something. This has backfired on me, though. I once was briefly dating a guy who wanted to go to Cornwall for a long weekend, but, as he earned significantly more than me, he wanted to stay in a really nice hotel (and still wanted to split the cost, knowing it would really stretch my budget for the month). We never ended up going.
On the flip side, I remember having a bit of a travel crush on someone but soon found out that he was travelling as cheaply as possible, refusing to eat at any of the local restaurants and instead subsisting on sandwiches he made himself in the hostel kitchen. It’s not like he didn’t have the money; he just took some weird pride in living on very little, which also embarrassed me in public (buddy, don’t barter over the cost of a $1 beer, especially when the price is written on the menu). I didn’t even mind that he was living this way himself, but he would repeatedly tease me for spending more money on things like, you know, food and tickets to landmarks. Heaven forbid I buy a souvenir. That travel crush lasted approximately one day.
Another boyfriend I travelled with was so weirdly cheap that he kept painstaking records of the cost of everything in a notebook. This wasn’t to keep track of his own spending habits but of mine, keeping a tally of every euro I owed him. I still remember that at the end of our trip together he told me I owed him fifty-one euros. Not fifty. Fifty-one. He insisted on me finding the extra euro. Keep in mind that I was sleeping with this person.
All of this is to say that, when I’m single, I get to budget exactly as I want to. If I want to be cheap and eat sandwiches every night, I can. If I want to splash out on a lavish meal, I can do that, too. I don’t have to worry about someone else’s budget, because I know exactly how much money I can spend on my own.
I wanted to splurge on this really expensive brunch in Copenhagen… so I did.
Travelling while single means that you get to learn as much about yourself as possible. I absolutely and totally agree that life is better when shared. Those moments when the sun rises over the horizon and the whole sky explodes into pink and gold and you just feel at peace with the world? Yeah, it’s awesome to look over and see someone you love beside you. However, that someone doesn’t necessarily have to be a romantic partner. It can be a friend, or a family member, or hell, even a stranger you met at the top of the mountain after that arduous hike.
I will also argue that it’s really important to have these moments on your own – to experience and appreciate pure and unadulterated happiness with nobody by your side at all. I think that it is in these moments that we really learn a lot about ourselves and what we want to do to make the world a better place. You also learn what exactly you want – and what you don’t want – out of a relationship. I personally believe that if you can’t be happy on your own, you will never be truly happy in a romantic relationship.
While I believe it’s totally possible to find this joy while at home, there’s something about throwing yourself into the challenges of travelling that really brings out your independence and confidence. We learn who we are when we’re faced with the new and the unusual, and what better way to experience these things than on the road?
One of two photos I have of myself at the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The rest are all with my then-boyfriend. Damn it!
Travelling while single means that you get to have travel romances. Yeah, and it’s amazing. When you travel, you are often put in high-adrenaline situations – everything from bungee jumping to eating the best damn gelato you’ve ever had – and you’re often surrounded by like-minded people who are also out exploring and learning. When you’re on the road, you meet a lot of other people who are also open-minded, curious, and full of stories, whether they’re a fellow traveller or a local. Put that together with the thrill of adventure and you have the perfect recipe for romance. I admit that I’ve had a couple amazing travel romances in the past, and I’ve been really fortunate that I’ve met (mostly) extremely kind, interesting, and inspiring people to share a week or two with, or even just a fun night of making out, or even just a few moments that made my heart skip a beat. Just remember, if you decide to sleep together, there are a few things to consider. And of course, if you’re in an open relationship, you… get the best of both worlds? I don’t really know how it works, but I do know of a few couples who are OK with their partners hooking up with other people when they travel, and it seems to work for them.
Check out what I had to say about travel romances back in 2012 – start the video around the seven minute mark if you don’t feel like watching the whole interview.
And yes, travel romances can occasionally turn into a relationship, one that continues when you get home. It’s happened to me before – uh, see above – and I think it’s a great way for people to fall in love. But hey, if you don’t meet anyone, that’s totally fine, too! As previously stated, I think it’s really important and healthy for everyone to be single for a while. OK, so maybe you married your high school sweetheart – but for most of us, I think it’s good to be single and to prove to ourselves that we can indeed function (and blossom!) even when we’re on our own. But yeah, if you want to make out with that hot Brazilian one night, that’s cool, too.
Single in Bocas del Toro, Panama… and for the record, neither Kerri nor I hooked up with either of these men. I just needed a photo to go with the paragraph and I wasn’t about to actually post a photo of a person I’d made out with. Unless I already have on this blog before……..
As I mentioned in the opening, it is one of the greatest feelings in the world to be in love, and I do not in any way want to knock people who are in happily committed relationships. It’s just that I’ve personally discovered what I think is just as great a feeling, and one that shouldn’t be discredited: to be completely self-sufficient in this world, and to navigate travelling while single. While I’ve mentioned the benefits of being single while travelling, there’s no doubt that some of these could be flipped on their heads: it’s fun to plan trips with someone, for example, and it’s fun to open up your email and get a message that gives you butterflies. It’s also fun to sit on the top of a mountain and cuddle up to the one you love (sorry Kerri, in this case you don’t count). On the other hand (are you getting confused yet what with all the heads and the hands and the flipping?), I know that people like my sister Zalie and my best friend Kerri will always be in my life, and I’ll always be able to recreate the memories I have with them with happiness and positivity. I can’t say the same thing about some of my ex-boyfriends.
So for now, I’m going to continue to travel as a single woman*, and I’m going to continue to create the best possible life for myself. Maybe a romantic partner will come along soon, maybe not. The worst thing you can do is sit around and believe that your life can’t start until you’re in a relationship. I was never going to let being without a partner stop me from going out and exploring the world, and I hope that it doesn’t stop you, either.
Single in Basilicata, Italy… though not for long, apparently
*still gonna make out with people on beaches, though
What about you? Have you ever been a single traveller?