About this post: It is a common assumption that female solo travel is only for single women. That female solo travellers go it alone for lack of company, not because they want to. So I decided to pen this solo travel blog post, on what solo travel for women is like when you’re in a relationship, and why you should travel solo despite your relationship status.
Update 2018: After 7 years of travelling the world – 5 of those without a home or permanent address – I’ve written a book about my journey! “The Shooting Star” charts my journey from the cubicle to the road and from small-town India to remote corners of the globe. Published by Penguin, the book is now available on Amazon and Flipkart.
I began thinking of this post while strolling by myself along the brightly coloured colonial houses in Havana, the vibrant capital city of Cuba. Over the last two blissful months in Guatemala, my partner and I spent most of our time together – chatting, drinking beer, hiking, occasionally working, cooking, reading, doing nothing. Then life demanded we go our separate ways for a while, so after crossing the border to Mexico, we boarded flights to different corners of the globe… and I landed in Cuba, a country whose culture and revolutionary history has intrigued me for many years.
When people read about my solo adventures, they often mistakenly assume that I travel alone because I don’t have a “special someone” in my life. That I’m single (I’m not), unmarried (I am), looking for love (I’m not).
And others often lament that their own relationships are a strong reason (excuse?) for not travelling solo. It’s almost inconceivable that we could choose to travel to a destination all by ourselves, without the presence of our significant other.
Also read: How I Conquer My Solo Travel Fears
So I decided to pen this post – an honest reflection on what it’s like to travel solo when you’re in a relationship – hoping to offer compelling reasons to go it alone despite your relationship status, yet being brutally honest about what it entails:
At first, it sucks
I won’t lie to you: the first few days are the hardest. You’re trying to figure out life by yourself, while at the same time, probably trying to figure out the new place you’re in. When you notice an oddity or feel the rush of excitement surging through your body, there is no familiar person to share that feeling with.
Take me for instance: So much happened even before I got into Havana – the flight captain announced that the weather condition over Havana wasn’t suitable so we might have to take a detour and land on the coast to refuel; while in the immigration queue, the electricity conked off (hello Cuba!); they took away my humble Indian passport for further inspection at immigration (that’s another story!).
And I couldn’t share those moments – of confusion and thrill and curiosity – with the one person I had shared many memorable moments in the last 2 months. I couldn’t share the surreal feeling of driving into Havana with Che Guevara murals staring defiantly back at me, or landing on a forgotten island where Fidel Castro was once sent to prison.
But time fixes that feeling of longing, and dispels the “why am I doing this to myself” thoughts. Time not only fixes it, but let’s you grow to love that you’re doing this by yourself.
You end up talking to more people, even as an introvert
Or should I say, more people end up talking to you? I guess in a way, it helps that solo travellers still stand out like an oddity in most parts of the world.
In Guatemala for instance, I’ve travelled both alone and with my partner. Although people are typically friendly, I ended up having many more conversations with locals while alone. Together, we often attempt to chat with people, but also end up receding into our own little world. And when people see you already have someone to talk to, they are not as likely to approach you or indulge in a deep conversation.
And needless to say, the more locals we talk to and hang out with on our travels, the more adventures we’re likely to get ourselves into.
The anonymity can be rewarding
Imagine if you could wake up one morning and transform yourself into whoever you want to be. No one around you knows your past, or how you normally dress, or where you belong. Travelling alone, despite being in a relationship with someone who knows you inside out, is a lot like that.
Often on my solo travels, I find myself in a world where no one knows a thing about my personality or fears. I can challenge myself, surprise myself and experiment with myself, if I choose to. At times like these, I’ve ended up hitch-hiking in the Indian Himalayas, hiking solo in the Ecuadorean Andes and sleeping on the roof of a Mauritian home.
You start valuing your partner more
I think it’s only human to take someone you spend a lot of time with, for granted. You don’t hold back getting mad at someone you’re always with, or failing to acknowledge how important they are in your life. I know many relationships that have deteriorated over time that way. (And no, having a kid is never the solution, I think 😉)
But when you spend time apart, on your own, introspecting about your relationship and what makes the other person special to you, you are bound to gain perspective. You are likely to value, far more, the time you spend with your partner.
Besides, the road is a great teacher. And among other things, it keeps teaching me that life is too short and unpredictable to spend some of it fighting with someone you love.
Also read: Six Alternatives to Travelling Alone
You notice your weaknesses but gain some emotional independence in the process
Not reliant on my partner, or anyone else, when I travel alone, I’ve learnt so many surprising things about myself. Especially the things I don’t do so well. Like figuring out maps and directions, handling stressful situations without being able to control my tears, finding myself unexpectedly without connectivity and dealing with particularly bad travel days.
Learning to identify, accept and work through my weaknesses (although there’s no figuring out directions for me, I’ve realised) has helped me gain some amount of emotional independence. How? By no longer feeling overwhelmed by the things that I expect to feel overwhelmed by or rely on someone else to handle.
There are times when you inevitably crave company
As much as I try to stay optimistic about my solo travels, there are days when I inevitably curse myself and my choices. Bad days, triumphant days, days when I’m unable to have a good chat with my partner, days when I realise the geographical distance between us, days when there is no one to challenge me to be more daring, days when I feel selfish about having humbling experiences all by myself… those days make me wonder why I’m choosing to live the way I do. Why I’m that weird person who wants to revel in her own company, who wants to travel alone halfway around the world and live among strangers.
These feelings surface every once in a while, leaving me conflicted. Yet I can’t quite explain why I still continue to push myself to travel solo…
Solo travel can change you in unexpected ways
Travelling alone, especially for a long period of time, has certainly helped me gain confidence in myself, build my self-esteem and value my independence – especially as a young, unmarried girl from small town India.
In addition to expanding my comfort zone in unexpected ways, it has taught me a lot about my relationship too. That we can support each other’s dreams without sacrificing our own. That we can resolve any challenges as mature adults. That honesty is greater than any public certificate of commitment.
That I can be emotionally sufficient and dependent at the same time. That I can chase my dreams without guilt, and yet have a shoulder to cry on if I crash along the way.
The going is easier when you have someone to trust on the other end
There are so many fears, hopes, expectations and disappointments on the road that I just can’t explain it to my family or friends. But having experienced some of them together, I can trust that there is someone I can call who will understand what I’m going through. That when I find myself disappointed or overwhelmed by a place, I will only hear words of encouragement, not worry or panic. That when I want to shorten a trip or walk away from an adventure because I just can’t convince myself to go through with it, I will only hear words of support, not judgement.
I watched my last sunset in Havana sitting alone on the Malecon, with the cool sea breeze in my hair and besame mucho (written by Mexican songwriter Consuelo Velázquez) playing on repeat in my head, reading a book written by Che Guevara’s wife. As the brilliant orange sun dipped into the ocean and I reflected on the last two weeks spent alone in Cuba, I desperately searched for words to describe how exactly it feels.
Luckily, these beautiful words penned by Che came to my rescue:
“Farewell, my only one
Do not tremble before the hungry wolves
Nor in the cold steppes of absence
I take you with me in my heart
And we will continue together until the road vanishes…”