The accidental (single) tourist
One of the books that I studied in my English classes at school was The Accidental Tourist, by Anne Tyler.
I can’t really remember the importance of the numerous paragraphs that my yellow highlighter emphasised, but The Accidental Tourist tells the story of Macon Leary – a travel writer who shares his insights on how to minimise the personal disruption of travel by recreating your comforts of home, wherever you are.
I’m doing Tyler a disservice – The Accidental Tourist is about a lot more than just travel writing, but it’s a novel that’s stuck in my head as I look around the dining room of Hotel Neptuno in Gran Canaria.
I’m single. I’m here by myself. I’m eating dinner alone. I’m totally okay with my own company, I generally prefer it. But, looking around this dining room, I’m surprised that I’m not the only person dining by themselves – there’s numerous tables for one.
I know why I’m here. I wanted a break from London’s disappointing weather. I wanted a break from the lockdown routines that had come to define my existence. Braving the shifting sands of international travel seemed easier than trying to find a cottage in Cornwall.
I know why I’m here, but who are all these other single people that are dining alone?
Looking around the numerous tables of single diners, they mostly seem to be about my age – 40-something. Mostly men, but some women. None of them seem miserable, or lonely – everyone just seems content to be sitting by themselves, immersed in their own company.
Solo travel is obviously nothing new. People travel by themselves for all sorts of reasons – many by choice just because they prefer it that way.
I don’t have any data to back this up, but it seems a plausible assumption that the forced isolation of our Covid-19 lockdown experience may have made solo travel an even more appealing option for those that can afford to do it.
While every aspect of our lives has come under pressure during the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s our relationships that have really faced a make-or-break moment. There’s lots of examples of couples who report that going through lockdown together has made their relationship stronger, but for many, it was the end of the road. One UK law firm that specialises in divorces logged an increase in inquiries of 122% during lockdown.
If you’ve put lockdown and a relationship behind you, the idea of a bit of quality time by yourself is undoubtedly appealing. But the impact of lockdown can probably also be seen on single people.
For those of us that have spent lockdown alone, we’ve got used to entertaining ourselves. We work remotely. We communicate with friends and family online. Some kind of mini-break that gets us out of the house is obviously going to be welcome, but it makes sense to keep it simple and keep it single.
While it may be tempting to follow the example of Macon Leary and cushion your single travel experiences by recreating the comforts of home, this is probably not a time to be playing it safe.
If you’ve made the leap to book that solo vacation, throw yourself into it. That doesn’t mean that you have to force yourself to talk to other people if you don’t feel like it, but make sure that you get the most out of whatever destination you find yourself in.
Treat yourself to a nice hotel. Upgrade your flight. Book an expensive restaurant. Go out dancing. Hit the local spa for a massage or a facial. Buy new clothes for the trip. Fire up the apps and have some meaningless sexual encounters.
You’re not travelling to please anyone else – you’re travelling to make yourself feel good. You need to make the most of your holiday. Having lived in isolation for months, you’ve got to make the most of every opportunity to reconnect with the world.
You’re the hero of this adventure. Make sure that you make your story as compelling as possible.