I read something recently by writer Liz Gilbert on the joy of sitting at a restaurant alone, enjoying a meal, and simply observing the life around you. It really resonated, especially yesterday – as I sat at a sidewalk cafe under an Athens sky flinging the odd rain drop on to my head, and sipped on my beer, and lazily ate my salad. I noticed the couple at the table next to me exchange a sexy glance. I saw the waitress and waiter giggle about something behind their fists. I glimpsed a bird wheeling above. My sister had already headed back home to England so I asked for a table for one, ate my lunch alone, and it was WONDERFUL. Some people get lonely. I get energised.
I remember travelling alone in my 20s. I went to Nice, rented out an apartment and stayed for a week. I ate bread and jam on my balcony in perfect happiness. I went on walks, with a map in my hand. Then I decided that some company would do me good, so I paid for a night at a backpackers, refused an over-friendly Canadian’s advances at the bar, and then woke up in my mixed dorm a few hours later to find him comatose and on top of me (luckily a good backhand and hefty shove did the trick). The next day I packed up my things and moved on (and I never stayed in a mixed dorm again).
It’s been a while since I’ve travelled without my husband, and without my family. You get used to deferring certain tasks to one another, when you are a couple. For example my husband is the negotiator in the relationship. He’s also the one most likely to strike up conversations with strangers. But when you are on your own again, you reassess how you engage with the world, and it does you good.
So it was a joy and privilege to spend time travelling around Greece with my younger sister with no distractions, as we navigated the ferry system, puzzled over where everybody vanished to from 2-5pm (siesta time!), debated over whether or not to put the toilet paper in each toilet (NO), figured out what’s what on Greek restaurant menus, and generally giggled our way through an amazing experience.
I know I was more observant than usual on this trip too, because I didn’t have the distraction of a phone. I’m too cheap to pay for international roaming so I could access wifi only when I was at each hotel/AirBnB. And this made me simply notice things more. A lot of writing is, after all, about noticing.
For example I’m currently sitting in Heathrow airport next to a table of 20-somethings: 2 gals, 2 guys. One of them is explaining why he doesn’t drink. Another is explaining how his culture differs from that of English families with regards to eating out. The girls are giggling quite a bit. And I call them girls because they seem so much younger than me, even though I know they are actually young women. They are all in that phase when you’re trying to figure out who you are, but you’re also trying to impress people with your viewpoints (and yes I know I’m eavesdropping but they are literally one metre away from me and I’m sitting here writing, so what must a girl do?).
There isn’t a rousing summary to this post I don’t think, except to say that travelling “alone” has been good for my soul. Don’t be afraid to do it, if you want to, even if you’re married with kids. Of course, your kids need to be old enough to manage without you, and you need an amazing partner back home to take care of your responsibilities (thank you my love!). But make it happen if you can, and if you want to. Because it certainly doesn’t mean you love your family any less – in fact, you’ll love them even more when you return.
Anyway, I better finish off my beer (and stop eavesdropping!) and head towards my flight.