The last couple of days have been tough. And not for any particular reason really. But this is something I’m realising about solo travel: it’s not the days when something, or everything, is going wrong that are the toughest. I can cope with those days. I dig deep. I batter up. I go into auto-pilot. Something needs sorting, and I’m bloody well going to sort it. They’re the days I feel strong. Brave. When I know I can do this.
No, it’s the days when nothing is going wrong, but I just feel, well, a bit weepy, that are the hardest. A few things might be niggling me, but I’m essentially fine. I’m just struggling and I feel like I shouldn’t be. Days when I really, really, just want a hug from a good friend, or my mum, and someone to take the reins for a while. When I just want someone else to find something to eat, somewhere to stay, or decide what to do next. I’m just tired of having to do it by myself all the time.
Because it’s this constant decision making that I find the most tiring aspect of solo travel. I was struggling to identify that this was what it was that was making me feel so drained, when I got the most amazing email from Rebecca (The Runaway Kiwi – please read her blog if you don’t already. She’s funny. A little awkward. And just a great writer.). She somehow managed to identify EXACTLY what was getting me down, and say EXACTLY what I needed to hear. I’m going to quote her:
Its exhausting. I know what it’s like, even if you are having an amazing day it’s you that has to find a place to eat, it’s you that has to figure the map out, it’s you that has to approach strangers, it’s you that has to push for the next thing to do. Solo is the most amazing thing in the world because it lets you be a selfish traveler, but it is just damn hard work.
And she’s so right. I’d been beating myself up a bit. Getting annoyed at myself that I was so behind with blogging (I’m still on Myanmar for Christ sake!), and feeling like I wasn’t travelling quite as “well” as I should be. She reminded me that it’s okay if sometimes just the travelling side of what I’m doing is enough. If sometimes the blogging, and writing, and sharing on social media takes a back seat. Sometimes the only way I can keep my donkey upright is by just forgetting everything else and focusing on getting to the end of the day in one piece.
So since then (a month or so ago), I’ve been trying to go a bit easier on myself, but it doesn’t always stop the blues. I’d been feeling down the last couple of days for a number of reasons – PMT mainly if I’m honest, and the fact that it was a friend’s hen weekend in London, and I wasn’t there. And I got an email which irked me. And I was just feeling a bit, well, lonely. I’ve been spending a lot of time in front of my laptop recently, and not staying at particularly sociable guesthouses or going on tours. I’ve been enjoying it, it’s been nice slowing down a little and writing everyday. But then I realised that I hadn’t had a proper conversation with someone for over a week. I think I just need to feel a bit of a connection. I need to take my own solo travel advice.
I call them teary days, as that’s basically what they are. I’m just on the edge of tears. Someone will be slightly short with me, or not particularly helpful, and I’ll feel tears well up behind my eyes. Someone will say something nice to me on Twitter, and they’ll sprout forth.
Essentially, I’m being pathetic.
But when I shared how I was feeling on Twitter and Instagram I got so many messages from other solo travellers, mainly female, saying “yes, I know how you feel”, and “yes, I remember that emotion. It will pass, don’t worry”. I definitely don’t think I’m alone in having these days.
So I’m learning to deal with them. I’ll try to find myself a nice little coffee shop. I’ll step away from my laptop and towards my kindle, and get absorbed in a book for a while. I’ll do a couple of the joyful things on these lists. I’ve started listening to the Harry Potter audiobooks which are just comfort. And I’m going to try to find myself some knitting needles and wool. I only started knitting just before going away, and thought about bring them with me before deciding against it. Something I regret. Rather like listening to Gardener’s Question Time (yes, yes, I know I’m going on 40), I find it’s impossible to feel anxious or upset with clacking needles in hand.
And while my natural reaction when feeling like this is to close myself off, I’m going to try to force myself to open up. To smile at other people in coffee shops. To start conversations and to see what happens.
But sometimes you just have to wait to wake up one morning feeling better. As I did this morning. I got up as the sun as rising and walked out to the suburbs of Georgetown and a little kopitiam (old-style coffee shop with stalls selling different foods around the edge) I’d been recommended. I had the most amazing apom manis, fermented coconut pancakes baked in clay pots. I had a cup of tea. I decided to explore two nearby Buddhist temples. I walked to the Botanic Gardens, getting lost a little, but getting help from strangers to find my way. I explored the gardens. I got rained on. I sheltered in a pagoda with a lovely Chinese couple who firmly told me not to say I was 29 years old (even though I am), but to say I was 30 instead, as that brings good luck and 29 definitely doesn’t. I got the bus back to town. I chatted to a lady on that. She told me I was very brave for travelling alone. People quiet often do, and I normally just shrug, but this time I replied: ‘yes, I am brave’.
*Cover photo of street art in Penang. More on that coming soon!