Monday, 22 August 2016

Just one...?

I've just got back from a short break in Dublin. I'd never been, and it turns out Dublin is a beautiful, fabulous city. You may have already known that! But if you didn't, I'm telling you - you need to go! I visited St. Patrick's and Christ Church Cathedrals, Dublinia, the GPO and the Witness History, Dublin Castle, did a walking tour, the Literary Pub Crawl, the 1916 'Beyond the Barricades' bus experience, went to Once at the theatre, did a tasting tour at the Irish Whiskey Museum, saw the Book of Kells at Trinity College and travelled all over the place on the open top tourist bus. I also ate a lot of food and drank a lot of beer! All in all, it was a very splendid holiday. I could have lived with the sun shining a bit more, but that's my only real complaint...!

It was a fairly last minute decision to go to Dublin. I went to Ljubljana for a week in May with a friend (also a gorgeous and wonderful city!), and am lucky enough to have a sabbatical from mid-October, some of which I'll be spending in the US. With all that going on, I hadn't really planned in much other time away - but it turns out that almost a whole year with only 1 week of actual holiday isn't really enough! So, to stop myself from losing the plot entirely I squeezed in this almost-a-week away.

I have a lovely friend with whom I go on holiday fairly often - generally once a year for the past several years. We like pretty much the same things, holiday-wise, so it works well, and we've got a good system going now! I also occasionally go away with my best friend's family, or I go to stay with friends around the country. That's all good.

There are times, however, when I want to go away, but either there's no one available to go away with, or we don't want to go to the same place, or we're not free at the same time, or whatever. It's the single person's holiday curse! In the not-at-all scientific survey I did of some single friends while I was writing my book, I asked them to rate various 'issues' faced by single people. 'Lack of touch' came out at the top of the list of things people struggled with, and 'holidays' came in second.

Whenever I share this list with groups of people when I'm speaking about singleness, married people are generally surprised by holidays being on the list, and certainly it isn't usually something they would guess. (The single people, of course, TOTALLY get it!).

It's a dilemma, especially for me as an extrovert. When I told some people that I was going away on my own, they sort of went quiet, and looked at me in that certain special way and asked "er, are you going to be... ok?" I tended to grin and cheerfully announce "well, there's only one way to find out...!"

I have been away on my own before, for a couple of days to London, and for a few days to Morpeth. However this time was my first holiday "abroad" (I know, it's Dublin not the Far East - but still!). It was only for 5 days and 4 nights, but that's a long time to not know whether I'd have any sort of meaningful conversation with another human person!

Anyway, the good news is that it was fabulous, almost all of the time. It helped that the Olympics was on, so when I got back to my hotel room each evening I could catch up on the day's events. It helped that the hotel had wifi so that I could spend time on social media when I was there - in fact that and a central location were my only 2 real requirements hotel-wise.

Often when I speak about singleness I have conversations with people who are too scared to go on holiday on their own. Sometimes they're too scared to go out for a meal or to the cinema or theatre on their own. I get that, I really do. But the thing is this - how much are you willing to miss out on? All those places you won't have visited, all those restaurants you won't have eaten in, all those films and plays and shows you won't have seen. So be brave! If I can do it, you can (and actually if you're more of an introvert than me, you might jump at the chance!).

So below (in no particular order) I offer you a few plus points of holidaying alone, a few suggestions of things which might help, as well as a few light-hearted grumbles and warnings...
  • The first and most obvious positive is that you get to make all the decisions! Where to go, what to do, what time to eat, what time to sleep, etc etc. You can entirely please yourself, and it's marvellous!
  • There is, though, a direct flipside to this, which is - you have to make all the decisions! Sometimes it would be nice to just have someone else make a suggestion, or a decision.
  • Do take a book with you everywhere you go. It is a million times easier to sit in a cafe, restaurant, pub or bar while reading, than simply doing nothing. I tend to take my tablet and then I can read the newspaper or my kindle app or whatever. Without that I would get bored more quickly and also feel more awkward.
  • Vary the things you do each day between things where you're on your own, or things where you'll be mixing with other people. I make a bit of a plan each evening about what I might do the next day.
  • Sign up for some trips, or tours, where you'll mix with other people. All the tours I've ever done on holidays have included some people travelling alone. It's great, as you get to spend a bit of time within a group, and to share the experience with others. The walking tours and literary tours I did in Dublin were great for this, and on the literary pub crawl in particular I got chatting to some other girls travelling alone or in pairs.
  • One annoying thing is there's no one else with you, so they can't go and reserve a table while you order or pay. The number of times I've missed out on a cafe table because someone behind me in the queue has had a friend to go and bagsy a table for them...!
  • If you're going to the theatre and there's an interval, my suggestion is to buy a programme. I know they're ridiculously overpriced and are 80% adverts, but it really helps in the interval to have something to do! I never quite feel I can get out my book, but flicking through a programme helps me to feel less of a spare part!
  • The last night was tricky. It was a Friday and I simply hadn't bargained for how busy everywhere would be. I wanted to find a pub with traditional music but everywhere was rammed. I wandered around for ages getting more and more hungry (hangry, if I'm totally honest!). I ended up in one pub where there were no tables, but you could sit at the bar and order snacks. I did so, and for 15 minutes was ignored by the bar and waiting staff. RUDE! I left...
  • Do be brave - do the things you feel like doing, and don't worry about what anyone else thinks! I know it's a cliche to say you'll never have to see these people again - but it's a cliche because it's true! This was especially true for me on the last night. After my slightly trying evening, when I eventually did find a pub to eat in, I wanted a last-night treat. I ordered the special - lobster salad. The waiter genuinely paused, looked me up and down, and said "for one?" I thought "how many do you flipping well think it's for?" It's not as if it was a sharing platter - it was a single meal, for one, and I was on my own. So what if it was a fancy meal - I fancied it! I love lobster, I was near the coast, the seafood was amazing. Out loud, I said "yes, please." In my head, I said "DO AS I ASK AND BRING ME A LOBSTER AT ONCE, MY MAN." 
  • In a similar vein, eat ice cream, or chips, or order Prosecco, or whatever the heck you feel like doing, regardless of whether you're on your own. Why shouldn't you?!
  • The one thing that did drive me a bit mad while I was in Dublin, and prompted me to start mulling over this blog post, and was the inspiration for the title, was the number of times I went in somewhere and was asked "just one...?" Restaurants, cafes, bars, even, bizarrely, a bus... I have reached the point where I have no shame about this. Yes, I am only one, and I may well occupy a table that could take 2 or even 4. So what? I will spend money that is as good as theirs - and if you'd seen me eat, you'd realise I may even spend as much as they would! If people are rude about this, I leave. Whatevs. If they're friendly and accommodating, it scores them many points - I will return. I'm not deliberately difficult - if I start off at a big table and a smaller one becomes available I'll happily move, but I have as much right as anyone else to a table in the first place!
  • I was on the open-topped bus one time and someone on their own got up to get off. The driver (who fancied himself as a bit of a "comedian" started to chat (into the mic which the whole bus could hear) - "where's the rest of your gang then? What - you're on your own? Billy-no-mates are you?" How flipping cheeky is that? When I got off I raced down the aisle and straight off, because if he'd said something like that to me then I can't guarantee I'd have been polite!
  • I wonder what's in people's heads, sometimes, with this "just one...?" business. Is it that they could never conceive of going out, or away, on their own? Is it that they think you must have temporarily mislaid your partner or friend, and they're pointing it out in case you go "oh flip, I knew I'd forgotten something!" I mean, I realise it could just be a request for information - "what is the size of your party so that I know what facilities you require?" - but 9 times out of 10 it doesn't feel like that. And the question "table for one?" is perfectly reasonable, and generally I say it myself as I walk in. But it's the "*just...*?" that gets me - the unspoken feeling of "good gracious what on earth is wrong with you?" But maybe I'm just over sensitive...
Anyway, what about you? I'd love to hear. Do you agree, or disagree? Have you holidayed alone? How did it go? Or would you like to but have never quite had the nerve? Do share your thoughts and stories.

And to end, the final downside of holidaying alone - you end up with lots of photos of where you've been, but hardly any of you! (I know, I know, selfies, but I feel so daft!). And so here is the only photographic evidence I have that I was actually in Dublin at all - from the Irish Whiskey Museum, no less!


  1. Sounds like you had a great time Kate! I've been away on my own and always enjoyed it, booked excursions, used local transport, walks, pubs and restaurants, I've always had a guide book in my bag, only once in Spain, in the hotel, a lovely couple wanted to take me under there wing! Because ii was alone they wanted to look after me! Which was very kind, but I wanted to do my own thing, it was hard going trying to dodge them every now and again!! Hahahaxxx

    1. Bless! Yes really kind of them but I can just see you hiding behind curtains till they'd left! Thanks for the comment.

  2. I think your very brave person enjoy to hear more about your adventures! Craig.��

  3. Well Kate,
    I thought I'd share my thoughts and experiences of holidaying alone.

    I feel lucky that I have lots of interests and enjoy my own company; always have. I also think you're right Kate, you have to be brave and just do it. Having the confidence to do what you really want to do.

    I know lots of people who won't eat out on their own or even drive to town or drive on motorways despite wanting to.

    I've clearly not had some of your experiences and I think that's because I have tended to holiday with a purpose other than sightseeing.
    I.e. skiing, painting, yoga, which probably eliminates the chances of the awkward looks questions that you have at times felt or encountered.

    For the last 11 years Ive not had the chance to go away on my own anymore since I am lucky enough to have my little girl Izzie, but I did used to go away on my own and positively loved it.

    Personally,I feel that you tend to make more effort to meet and speak to people that you perhaps would have missed out on had you gone with friends or a partner.

    When I went to Sydney Australia I spent just over a week on my own as a girlfriend I'd travelled with had gone up to the gold coast to her cousins wedding. Much as I enjoyed her company, I relished the week of being alone to explore Sydney which turned out to be one of the best weeks out of the four that I spent over in Oz.
    Why? Because I was free to decide what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go and when. I met the most interesting people whilst being on my own and learned more about the city and the people. It was truly liberating being there anonymous in the city without the people I had originally travelled out with. One tourist experience I opted for I found myself being the only girl joining a stag doo night walk across Sydney Harbour Bridge. I did ask them if they wanted me to let them go on their own but they really welcomed me seeing I was alone. At first they were pulling my leg and teasing saying I could come up with them if I promised not to cry and be a man about it but in the end it was me who was coaxing one of them to keep going. He was literally crying and fixed to the spot which prevented us all from moving on as we were all linked together in the rain wind and darkness and his chums were being quite hard on him.It was a truly memorable experience amd we celebrated with champagne at the bottom!

    Other trips I've taken alone were skiing in France on two occasions. You always meet people on a ski trip, plus, you're with people who have the same interest in common. I can ski already which also helps with confidence.
    My other love is painting. I used to totally indulge myself with like minded folk and a wonderfully supportive and creative atmosphere.
    I guess I'm not quite as adventurous as you Kate Because most of my single trips have had a holiday theme or purpose but I have had weekend trips to cities just for the fun of it.

    I do find now that I often long for a bit of self indulgence amd time alone again sometimes but I feel really guilty for it. Equally, I can't bring myself to leave iz with anyone or indeed miss sharing my trip and experiences with her as it is so very special to be able to share amd make our memories together just her and me. She's also rapidly growing up and it won't be long before she's wanting to go on her own holidays with her friends which will no doubt leave me pining for the days of now!
    But by then I will hopefully be one of the retired single oldies that I used to meet on my painting holidays when I was younger, and I'll be able to self indulge perfecting my wet into wet watercolour technique to my hearts content be it at a local art group or if I'm lucky, on a little holiday somewhere. And maybe I'll try ordering lobster for one, just for entertainment value!

    1. Skiing, painting and joining a stag do sounds pretty adventurous to me!

  4. I travel alone all the time, I love it, I can do what I want, go were I want, no restrictions, last year I went to L.A, San Diego, Washington and New York! And like you Kate, nearly every one I know said your brave or don't you get scared? But the way I see it, if something is going to happen to you,it's going to happen were ever you are, what's the difference traveling to work everyday on your own, then travelling around in another city. I read up on where I'm going, I plan my excursions and book in advance when I can, I always get tour bus tickets in a strange place so that I can get my bearings as that helps me identify different areas and check out places I've not thought of. My only pet peeve when travelling on my own is how much more expensive it is for one person then two! I was going to go on a cruise this year I'd seen some good prices or so I thought! When I looked into the price went up by half because of single supplements! Their loss, I hope that cabin stayed empty��

  5. When I was single (and planning to remain so for the rest of my life) I purposely went on holiday to explore places. I'd fly into somewhere I had se friends, stay 24 hours with them to acclimatise and then head off in a hire car exploring! I've driven over most of the West of the US using this model.

    I never had a problem with the idea of eating by myself, seeing a play on my own etc, but then I've always been an extrovert. I understand how for some that might be a harder thing to do, but sometimes it just takes a bit of planning and courage to have a brilliant time somewhere new.

    I do quite a bit of business travel and some of that is by myself in new countries. Again, I love just going out and exploring a new city after a bit of research beforehand.

    And yes, one of the best things about being single is that you are always in a majority when it comes to decisions about what to do. You can view that as a negative ("I'm alone") or a positive ("I can do whatever I want"). From my experience that choice ultimately comes down to whether you have or haven't "befriended" being single (even if just for the short term). There are great opportunities in being by yourself, you just have to be able to see them and take them.

    1. Thanks Peter! I like the idea of 'befriending' being single...

    2. Some friends in Ware introduced us to the concept of "befriending" a situation. It was (unfortunately) in much more painful times (Zachary).

  6. I so resonate with this post.

    Holidays are unquestionably the thing I find most stressful as a single person - and the thing that most of my married and coupled friends struggle to understand as they simply have no comprehension of how complicated it can be to find a holiday buddy - someone you get on well enough with, who likes doing the same things, wants to go to the same place, has the same budget, can take leave from work at the same time, etc.

    So I'm increasingly resorting to holidaying on my own. And so far, it's been OK, as long as I'm feeling brave; I'm willing to chat with strangers; I'm in a good place to handle all the remarks about being 'just one'; and I've got a good guide book and a good novel on the go ...

    1. Thanks for your comment Jo - and here's to more happy holidays!

  7. Funnily enough I read this on my last morning in Zambia after a two and a half week holiday by myself travelling in Tanzania, Zambia and Botswana!

    I LOVE holidaying by myself! I am an introvert and so the time by myself doesn't worry me at all and I am possibly really selfish too as I love getting to do what I want whenever I want. I love other people's company as well though and I often find when I'm travelling alone that I have really nice times with people I meet - I think you are a lot more open to chatting to people if you are by yourself. It can get a bit draining having the same "getting to know you" conversation over and over but it's fascinating for me to meet people from all over the world.

    The only two things I often find hard are the cost - I don't want to do dorm rooms in hostels anymore and so I spend the same on a hotel room as a couple would - and how to spend evenings. I am more than happy going out for dinner on my own but it's what to do afterwards, I don't really fancy a bar alone and so I often end up doing a lot of early nights.

    A little tip I've picked up is to invent a husband (including sometimes wearing a fake wedding ring) as, particularly in certain countries, men can start to get a little too interested! Saying I'm just on my way to meet my husband can be helpful!

    1. Thanks Kerryanna! Wow your trip sounds amazing! When travelling in Asia and Africa I have also done the wedding ring thing - it can work well!