Last week I downloaded the Timehop app and it showed me what had happened in my life across all social media, for the last four years on this day. July 13 2010 – I booked my first holiday alone, in Thailand. It would turn out to be a momentous move. I and my then husband had agreed to split in May that year – I had initiated the split. We were sharing the same house, in separate rooms and I longed for freedom and to start leading my own life. I called Trailfinders and said ‘where can you take me?’ and they suggested 10 days in Phuket at a lovely resort. I booked it before I could think about it too much.
That was the first of six holidays I’ve been on, on my own. I am now a seasoned solo traveller, used to pacing my days to my own rhythm, not having to think about anyone else’s likes, dislikes, lack of energy or enthusiasm. I can see everything I want to see, when I want to, for as long as I want to. It’s gloriously liberating. Even a day out now, with friends, reminds me how much I end up compromising my own desires to fit in with theirs, and how much I long for that holiday space alone.
But it didn’t start like that.
Those first few days in Phuket, I was wretched. I seemed to be surrounded by happy couples, mooning over each other. Everywhere. That first night, I sobbed into my beautiful dinner and it heralded three days of the same pattern: bawling my eyes out throughout the night, dragging my piglet-eyed self to breakfast the next morning (thank god for shades) and recovering throughout the day on a sun-lounger at the end of a jetty with no one else on it.
I had travelled far away from home deliberately, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to hop back on a plane if I couldn’t stand it any more. It worked. A combination of supportive texts from friends urging me to get out of the hotel and explore (and one particularly good one who reviewed the hotel’s website and suggested a few trips and beauty treatments for me) made me do it. I sat at the hotel bar at Happy Hour, dressed nicely with a little makeup to hide the piglet eyes. I needed a couple of margheritas to give me the courage to leave the hotel and go into Patong – the ‘Brighton’ of Thailand.
I laughed when I tentatively stepped into a tuk-tuk only to find it took me about two minutes to get into town – I resolved to walk next time. Then I hit on a course of action that never fails to work abroad – find an Irish or Aussie pub and go sit at the bar with a drink. There was live music playing and I sat there, no one staring (except a British couple, which I’ve found is always the case), smiling into my Thai beer as I swung my legs on the bar stool. No one spoke to me that night but they did when I came back the next night, this time dressed in a more relaxed style in shorts and a vest. A crowd of Aussies took me under their wing. They couldn’t believe I was on my own and to be honest, neither could I. I was 43 and all my friends were holidaying with their partners.
Well my partner for that holiday was Dougie. Aussie, Thai boxer, black-haired, hot-as-hell Dougie. Riding around on the back of his hired motorbike, I felt a sense of that freedom that I envy guys for – when you see gangs of them, shirts off, riding around Thai islands without a care in the world. (Do you ever see gangs of girls doing that?) I still envy those guys. The world is made for them and they rejoice in it.
The world is seemingly not made for a forty-something woman who decides to leave her marriage (to a really nice guy), not to have children and go it alone. This blog is going to look at some of the unexpected things I’ve encountered since I’ve gone solo (they’re pretty much all unexpected), from men my age assuming I want to trap them into coupledom, to women buying me congratulatory drinks at the bar; from dining alone to finding myself sandwiched between two Thai women on a tiny bike on New Year’s Day. There’s a story to tell, and I want to share mine.
Because I can.