I’m writing in an airport, alone, having spent the past five days on holiday, alone. I flew out alone, mostly wandered alone, and have come back alone. And it was brilliant, and I’d do it again instantly.
Firstly, I hate travelling. Not going to different places, but the actual transit. If I have to catch a bus or train in the UK, no matter what happens, I always only manage it with seconds to spare, so flying stresses me out immeasurably. On the way out, I somehow managed to book my airport transfer the wrong way round, then lost the ticket on the train, then arrived at the airport to find they charged £1 for those pathetic plastic bags for hand luggage liquids and of course I only had Euros. On the way back, I nearly had a meltdown when I spent an hour in Thessaloniki at 6am trying and failing to find the bus stop to the airport. And at moments like that, when I’m stressed, flustered and utterly convinced I’ll miss my flight, having people around me is the last thing I want. I can remember scores of arguments and silent resentments springing from train, plane and bus journeys, and know far too many couples who’ve returned from holidays after breaking up in airports. When it all comes together, being alone in quiet relief is far preferable, too.
But once you arrive, it’s different. You’re in a foreign country, where hardly anybody knows you, and you don’t have to be anywhere. After a while, the timidity wears off. On your second or third meal alone, your shoulders relax and you stop worrying what everyone else in the restaurant is thinking about the strange lone woman. For some reason, when men eat alone, it’s automatically assumed they’re on a business trip. Women, conversely are thought to have been stood up, hoping to be approached, or just heartbroken.
So you get bolder, quickly. Not just in your decisions, but in your movements. You stride more purposefully, you stand up straight with your head held up. And like the first few days at university, you can reinvent yourself, and the image you convey. No one can tell you’re an ultimately hopeless, disorganised ball of nervous energy at home if you’re composed and reading a studiously impressive book by the seafront, sipping a frappé.
But best of all is the fact that time is yours: you can sleep and wake when you want, eat and go where you want and not once do you have to submit to the angry worry that you’re annoying your friend, they’re not enjoying themselves, or that they’ll be offended if you’d just rather read a book than talk. You can contact local friends at your leisure, and email when you fancy, but you’re not at the behest of anyone else. You spend so little time speaking, and so much time thinking, you wonder how you manage, day in, day out, going from office, to pub, to home, chatting to people every step of the way.
And then there’s the singular pleasure of that weird, liminal space – the airport lounge. A kind of holding pen where you’re suspended in time, with little to do except enjoy a rare sense of comforting boredom. Nothing pressing to do until your gate number is announced. Seats and peculiar shops everywhere. And no reason for anyone to attempt to talk to you.
I might be won over to the idea of travelling alone forever. For my good, and for everyone else’s.