On the move: why solo travel is the new luxury

Particularly when your job involves non-stop communication, travelling alone can be a valuable tool to help recalibrate

Travelling alone opens up new pathways that may not have been revealed if you'd been held back by others.
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After reading an opinion piece I wrote this week about water wastage in hotels, a colleague suggested that I might be a bit of a tricky person to travel with. People might also have got this idea from last week's column about smoking bans on beaches.

It's probably true: I won't compromise when it comes to travel experiences, so in the past I've gone ahead with a 31-hour train trip in India while a friend decided it would be too uncomfortable and caught a flight instead. I've been known to take off ahead of the pack on hikes, perhaps most notably while descending Mont Blanc in the French Alps.

But what I've noticed through the past two decades of travel is that the trips I've done alone have been by far the best. By "alone" I include trips where I've been a single person among a group of other single strangers, thrown together on an organised group trip. Some of these trips have got me a large number of out-of-the-way, spectacularly beautiful places that it would be impossible to do by yourself in the same time frame. Yet even with these, there's always something about the group situation that gets my goat.

The worst trips have been with significant others who you hope, at the time, will love a place as much as you do, but in fact only end up tarnishing your experience of it. There are some places I now feel the need to go back to alone to purify the memory.

The best thing about travelling alone is, of course, the freedom. There's no need to constantly check with the other person about which restaurant to go to or when to fit in what activities. On a road trip, while it can be good to share the driving, you're at the mercy of someone else's moods, who may get tired or simply refuse to go any further.

On a lone citybreak or backpacking itinerary you can simply take off on a whim, which is wonderfully exhilerating, and you see and experience a lot more because you're not constantly cross-referring with someone else. You take more risks, or calculated risks, that form both character and genuinely worthwhile memories. You're constantly pushing your own boundaries. You form deeper connections with people and places than you would if you were travelling with, say, a friend you've known your entire life. Those people can be fun to travel with, but there are significant drawbacks. You're travelling in a kind of bubble.

Quite often, people mistakenly feel sorry for me for "travelling on my own." In restaurants, staff members might bring me magazines to read and make banal conversation. In fact, there is no greater luxury than having dinner in a hotel by yourself at the end of a long day. It's time to savour both the food and the day, organising one's own thoughts in delicious privacy and making plans for tomorrow.

There's nothing more empowering than being in control of your own experience of life, and the world, unhindered by others. That's not to say I'm antisocial on the road - on the contrary, travelling alone makes you more open - not just to other people, but the widest possible world.


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