A brisk air-conditioned breeze plays with tangles of my blonde hair, loosely held up in a pastel pink clip, as I stroll through the airport. Cheap ‘House of G’ sunglasses dangle from my neck, attached to my body via a beachy-homemade chain of shells and beads.
I feel cool wearing it in Europe’s summer; numerous compliments gratefully received from an array of people. British girls in dingy club bathrooms. Shirtless Danish boys sweating under the sun as we dance on table tops in the middle of a French ski field. A fellow Kiwi checking in music festival attendees on a beach in Albania.
I haven’t washed my hair in a couple of days, and I’m wearing my last pair of clean knickers. My dress, worn 10 times in the last month, is an op shop purchase. I have neither the funds nor the space to divulge my passion for fashion.
I’m attempting to wrestle myself, a huge Macpac tramping pack and another (smaller) hiking pack, into a tiny public toilet cubicle. The smaller pack, filled with thousands of dollars worth of a laptop, cameras and passports, is worn like a swaddled baby on the front. I couldn’t look like more of a tourist if I tried.
Finally, I’m in. I precariously balance myself on the toilet, sitting down in relief, my legs pretzeled between my luggage.
This is airport number 12.
“Go travelling by yourself,” they said.
“It’ll be fun,'' they said.
I have to chuckle. Because, my god, it’s been fun.
I left the cosy comforts of the familiar, back of my hand, New Zealand at the end of March. Since then, I’ve been falling more and more in love with Europe as each day I find myself lost in this continent passes.
It has also been a huge challenge, because I’m doing this on my own.
Solo travelling forces you to think and act completely for yourself. You’re in charge of where your feet take you that day and where you rest your head by sunset. It’s exhilarating, but it’s also scary.
After day three in London, my phone was stolen. I’ve been to the hospital and an emergency dentist in a small Austrian skiing village, attempting to explain to non-English doctors that my gums are infected.
I spent hours touring around English castles on the phone to my best friend, exclaiming about all I saw, wishing he was strolling beside me.
I’ve turned back to watch the love of my life walk away in the opposite direction, wanting to take in as much of him as I possibly can, before I catch my own flight to another continent.
I’ve cried so much. So often I’ve been wandering along a pretty street and have caught myself turning around to exclaim to someone about a joyful thing I’ve noticed, but no one is there. I’m trying my best, but I’ve been feeling so much pressure.
The solo female travel trend has grown in recent years and now the pandemic is easing its grip on the country’s borders, it’s likely even more women are going to pack their bags and flee happily into the arms of the unknown.
The Google results of “female solo travelling,” tell me I should be having the time of my life, that there’s “so much beauty to be found in a trip alone,” and I’ll be making more friends and discovering more about myself than if I was travelling with friends or a partner.
Through my hostel stays, I’ve met many marvellous women travelling by themselves. When I asked one, a doctor from Colombia, why she loved solo travelling, she said it’s all about being able to have the freedom to do exactly what you want.
However, sometimes it’s nice to have a copilot. For a week, I travelled with one of my best friends. I was able to bounce off him and I felt so relaxed and more like myself than ever.
Together, we made heaps of new friends. Picture this - me on a mission to explore Geneva nightlife, drunkenly swanning down the streets with my ducklings (three Americans, a Brazilian, a Dutch man and my patient Kiwi) trusting my directions. I felt safe being able to do this because I knew my friend was looking out for me.
I remember a moment when I travelled briefly with a new Australian friend, and she looked after my bags as I walked uninhabited to the bathroom. Bliss.
It’s not so much about feeling lonely. I love time to myself. But more often than not, these incredible moments happen and you ache to share them with the people you love most.
I wanted to write this piece as a love letter to all those out there who find discomfort in travelling solo. It’s okay if you don’t enjoy it so much and you crave a familiar face. There are so many ways to travel and you don’t have to do it alone if you don’t want to.
But life is funny, oftentimes cruel, and more often than not, it’s quite laughable and this love letter of advice ends on a different note.
After airport number 12, I’ve found myself with an aching heart, living in a small, secluded bay in Cornwall. I’m working, trying to save as much as possible so I can hit the road again. I’m more alone than ever, and my perspective on solo travelling has changed.
I set out overseas because I wanted a challenge. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it alone. To feel confident and dependent only on myself. To reach out towards my own dreams, not reliant on anyone else.
Travelling is so much more comfortable with someone else. But solo travelling IS the challenge - it’s uncomfortable at worst, exhilarating at best. And that’s what makes it miraculous.
Travel solo and do it alone until you know what you want from life, outside of trying to mould around what your friends, family, lover, or partner want - or what you think they want.
Travelling by yourself offers the perfect reminder to be present. To put your phone down, gently tuck away those you long for and miss in your heart, and instead, open your eyes to the world within and around you.