Where’s my oyster?

So I realised today that it is already May 31st, which means it’s June tomorrow, which means we’re sort of half-way through the year.

And with summer apparently here now (someone tell the weather, please), I also realised I have yet to make any holiday plans for this year and I haven’t had any time off work since Christmas – no wonder I’m so tired!

So I’ve started to think about holiday destinations and ideas and am trying to challenge myself to be brave and try something new. I always put on quite a good show of being fearless and undaunted, but the truth always catches me out in the end and I’m exposed as a big old wimp.

Circumstances are somewhat different this year than usual, as my travelling buddy of the last couple of summers is in a new relationship and making plans with the new love. In fact, this year I find myself in a situation where anybody I would normally plan a holiday with is no longer single and planning a couples trip instead.
So I’m left with two choices – stay home and feel sorry for myself, or be brave and go it alone.

John Cobb / Unsplash

John Cobb / Unsplash

Despite being a massive wimp, I do want to go away this summer, so that means it’s time to man-up and start being a bit braver.
So, today I’ve been thinking a lot about all the people out there who are alone like me, but who just get on with it and go places and see things and do things, and I want to be more like them.
There are entire holiday companies created for the solo traveller, whether they want some help planning an itinerary before they jump on that plane or whether it’s a group holiday that brings together fellow solos – it’s not like I don’t have choices.

And yet despite being single for quite some time now, I have never really travelled alone. I once piggy-backed a friend’s work trip to Prague and spent a surprisingly happy couple of days exploring the city on my own. I was a bag of nerves at the prospect of heading out alone in a strange city, but I ended up having a wonderful time. And last summer I spent the day wandering the streets of Bologna alone when my travelling companion felt ropey and wanted to sleep it off. Again – nothing bad happened!
And that’s it – those are my solitary experiences of solo foreign travel. For someone who spends so much time alone, it’s weird when I see it written down like that.

So now, the prospect of spending an entire holiday alone feels hugely daunting and I get that weird, non-specific, undefinable fear that something bad might happen even though the sane part of my brain knows that literally thousands of people manage it perfectly fine, every year in every country of the world!
I read things by the likes of Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat Pray Love, who continues to be an inspirational woman, I watched the film Wild, about Cheryl Strayed and was blown away by her determination and bravery. And yet I Know I am not like them, I’m not brave – I wonder if perhaps they would even consider packing a bag and going off somewhere a ‘brave’ thing to do.

Today I’ve been looking at the websites for two very similar travel companies – Intrepid and Explore – which both offer group holidays, which I would guess are mostly targeted at solo travellers. Something like this feels like the most likely option for me this year, and yet somehow still feels daunting.
So I’ve been reminding myself of some of Elizabeth Gilbert’s advice today too, and I found this picture, which I’d seen before on her Facebook page and it seemed timely to me today. I absolutely don’t own this picture, Elizabeth Gilbert does, so I hope that reposting it here is ok, because it represents the kind of inspiration I need right now, along with some of the words she posted alongside it:
“So that’s my prayer for you all — not that you will become fearless, but that you will always be SLIGHTLY more curious about the world than you are frightened of it.”

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That is what I need to keep in mind – to acknowledge a fear, but not to let it control me.

So, if anyone has any top tips for a first-time solo traveller, I would LOVE to hear them – destinations, travel companies, planning tips – anything would be most welcome!

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No spring chicken

Wedding season has arrived. Or, more accurately, hen do season is in full swing, shortly to be followed by wedding season.

Ryan McGuire / Gratisography

Ryan McGuire / Gratisography

This weekend I went to the first hen do of the year.
A late night and more than £150 later, I’ve spent today feeling old, awkward and like a very bright light has been shone on my singledom.
Yep, wedding season is most definitely here.

I was the oldest at this particular hen do by quite some years. At 12 years older than the bride, even my own ‘baby’ sister (she’s an adult mother of two…!) clocks in older.
I knew from the off this one was going to be a challenge. The only two potential other hens I would have known are both married with young children and both sent their best wishes for a great time but declined the invite early on, citing childcare reasons.
I had eyed up the cat wondering if I could get away with the same, but really, us single girls have no choice but to rock up, smile broadly and attempt to rock it out with the youngsters.

A day and night on the town with a group of mid-twenties girls I’d never met before was going to take some energy. I’d had an early night in preparation, secretly stashed some flat shoes for when it all got too much and planned to break the diet and nosh some carbs to help with the alcohol.

Except in the end I probably could have drunk them all under the table and instead they caught me out in a way I was neither prepared nor equipped to deal with.
The non-stop conversation topic wasn’t strippers or alcohol shots or nightclubs or man-horror-stories – it was weddings. Their weddings. Their engagements. Their engagement rings.
In a room where I was a decade older than my nearest contemporary, I was not just the only singleton, I was the only one not married, engaged or pregnant. Two had been engaged since Valentines Day, one was a newly-wed, one was three months pregnant, one was married with a five-month old and one was married with a two-year-old.

One by one the how-we-met and how-he-proposed stories flowed. One by one, I counted down the moments until it would be my turn.
“That’s not an engagement ring, is it?” one of them cleverly deduced from the genuine 100% cut-glass sparkler I wear on the middle finger of my left hand.

And that’s where the inevitable began. Even when you say with a smile that you’re single, when you don’t apologise for it and don’t look ashamed, the responses are the same: “Don’t worry! You’ll find someone!” and “I thought I’d be single forever too!”
And then if you make the hideous error of saying it really is ok and you’re quite happy single – which I did, because the prosecco had taken my brain away – nobody believes you anyway.
My personal favourite from the night was when a newly-engaged 24-year-old who was annoyingly beautiful and had the self-assurance only a 24-year-old can, placed her hand over mine, smiled gently and told me about her cousin who despite being 35 had recently found a man and they were all feeling hopeful it might work out this time, even though he’s a divorcee, so I shouldn’t worry, it really is never too late.
Oh phew. Thank goodness for that reassuring little tale.

It’s nights like this that serve to remind me that no matter how much I have worked hard to not give in to stereotypes and feel ‘less than’, that it doesn’t matter I’ve never made it up the aisle – to so many people there is only one way to live a life and the sooner I become more like them the better for all of us.
Momentarily, I thought about mentioning divorce rates, or pointing out that being single doesn’t actually count as deviant behaviour, but I didn’t.
As usual, I smiled back, quipped that her lovely story shows there’s hope for us all and changed the subject.

And this morning I woke up with the cat asleep next to me. But I also woke up feeling more alone than usual, a little bit like a weirdo and a lot like if I stared in the mirror long enough, I’d work out what was wrong with me.
I might have felt like the old-bird of the hen do, but age doesn’t automatically make you tough old-bird and it’s going to take me a while before I feel like shaking a tail-feather again – hopefully before round two at the wedding.