As an adult, I have travelled on only two occasions with friends. Our relationships were built on such solid foundations that when we returned home, we subsequently fell out with one another.
Initially I surmised that I needed to choose my travelling companions with a little more discernment until it occurred to me that suppressing my intrinsic need for space, yet at the same time radiating irritation at being in such close proximity to others for weeks on end, wouldn't have endeared me to my former friends either. As a result I now travel alone. But even in these so-called enlightened times it's still viewed as an anomalous endeavour to embark on, unless your name is Bear Grylls. Nonetheless, whether summoning the courage or planning a first trip, here are some pointers which you may like to consider.
Being Singled Out by Customs and Immigration
You may attract the attention of the runt of the litter also known as the jobsworth, whose sense of self-worth not only stems from regaling in the power to rifle through an array of dirty drawers in public, but the freedom to conduct elbow deep cavity searches with impunity. Suppress any righteous indignation at being suspected of moral turpitude, and watch in wonderment as smoke oozes from their ears because their pea-sized brain is unable to compute that since there isn't a man in attendance, you must be doing something untoward to fund your trip. Being financially independent is a fanciful notion to them. Hopefully, you may never be subjected to such Gestapo-like intrusion, but as the girl guides often decree; be prepared.
Dealing with Unsolicited Advances
This can be tricky. Depending on the country, British women irrespective of age, class or ethnicity have a reputation which proceeds us - it seems our emancipated western ways often clash with those of conservative nations, where walking around with your wares on display doesn't endear you to the local populace, who may misinterpret your attire and less than submissive demeanour as touting for business.
In addition, simple yet anodyne acts of body language such as smiling and small talk can be misinterpreted as sexual interest. Research and respect the customs of the places you intend to visit and use your intuition. Yes, it sounds blindingly obvious, but many women get themselves into a fix because while they believe they are just engaging in a spot polite repartee with a friendly local, Mr Lovermanmay be under the impression that not only does he have an invitation to treat, but somewhere to park his bike for the night.
Nonetheless, there will be some men who will be unrelenting in their rampant doggery irrespective of how you conduct yourself, and if this occurs deal with them as you would at home. Channel your inner Artemis, be fearless, confident and don't isolate yourself. Familiarize yourself with the art of stonewalling; ignore the stares, refuse to engage with the cat calls and resist the urge to tell them to go forth and multiply. Of course it can be draining and uncomfortable, but it's just a matter of applying skills which you already have to another environment.
An Unscheduled Rendezvous with The Little Englander
Whether this is a maiden voyage to their port of destination or they have created their own immigrant enclaves on foreign soil, the Little Englander's superior knowledge of their surroundings is infinitely more expansive than that of the indigenous population. Filled to the brim with bravado, bluster and bullshit, they are wistful for a time when they were free to demean and insult with impunity,and equate treating fellow human beings with a shred of decency and humility as political correctness and multiculturalism gone mad.
They are often found in former colonies, lounging outside cafes and bars soaking up the midday sun as if they owned it (well, remember, they used to) being waited on by unthreatening exotica, as they espouse naked foghorn bigotry masquerading as insightful political discourse.
On my travels I've encountered many - the most recent owned a bed and breakfast on a tiny island in the Caribbean. Basking in his condescension, secure in his stupidity, he wore his unwashed strawberry blonde dreadlocks and sense of Aryan supremacy like a badge of honour. Following my objections to one too many chauvinistic remarks concerning 'ungrateful, crack smoking' locals, Massa Ginger Bollocks and I had a couple of terse exchangesas he whined about being 'misunderstood'. The nonsense ceased, but it didn't deter me from examining my coconut bread and lemon curd with forensic precision for the remainder of my stay.
Engage with the Locals
You will learn infinitely more about the intricacies of your surroundings from locals than any guide book. They may tease you and mimic your accent mercilessly (or maybe it's just me) but they'll take you to places which are often much more interesting than the standard tourist spots. You'll invariably meet other like-minded souls too. But if you prefer to socialise exclusively with fellow westerners, try the all-inclusivewhere you can feel free to wear an ID bracelet with pride within a fortified complex, consuming a selection of generic culinary delights to your heart's content, safe in the knowledge that you won't be worried or pillaged by the surrounding indigenous population.
Travelling Alone is Empowering
Taken as its literal interpretation; as a means of liberation, and not its mangled contemporary association with flashing your gusset whilst sliding down a pole and posting it on instagram; there is no doubt. There are few things as exciting as travelling to parts of the world whose existence barely registers on a map, forging bonds with people you wouldn't normally encounter and uncovering inner resources you didn't know you had. Embracing a panoramic view of the world can be magical, scary and illuminating. It literally fills you up.
It's too Terrifying to Travel
Having to endure life in a fragmented war-torn country is terrifying. Famine and disease are terrifying. Unemployment is terrifying. However, habitually gawping in a boss-eyed manner at Sky News as it unleashes a smorgasbord of unrelenting atrocities on loop formation, while ruminating from the safety of your sofa like some pound shop soothsayer will give the impression that the world in its entirety is dangerous: it isn't.
If you do decide to take the plunge, be aware that you may be subjected to resistance from those closest to you. Refusing to follow the crowd often elicits this response, but irrespective of their reasoning, always remember that for some souls, there is nothing more annoying than the mere thought of somebody else enjoying themselves to disturb their mid-morning appointment with a cheese and onion pasty and a flat white.