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I spent two weeks travelling in Europe on my own – if you get lost, you delay no one’s breakfast but your own - The Guardian

Author: The Guardian

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/oct/28/i-spent-two-weeks-travelling-in-europe-on-my-own-if-you-get-lost-you-delay-no-ones-breakfast-but-your-own

Image of I spent two weeks travelling in Europe on my own – if you get lost, you delay no one’s breakfast but your own - The Guardian

I got my first glimpse of Paris in almost 20 years on a sunny afternoon stepping out of the Métro at Pont de l’Alma.I could see the Eiffel Tower through the trees and, despite the jet lag, my luggage was the only thing stopping me from heading towards it.Once offloaded, it was the first thing I did.I spent less than 10 minutes in the hotel after 21 hours travelling, but off I went.When you’re on your own, you can do just that.In the lead-up to going on holiday there are always many questions. Where, when, for how long?But quickly after, one more always follows: who with?Having been asked all of the above many times before going to Europe for two weeks, I couldn’t have been happier with the final answer: by myself.Autonomy can be associated with many things.Independence.Selfishness.But solo travel is a rare opportunity to call all the shots and feel your way through a day, reminding yourself what you like and learning to enjoy your own company.Setting out on a gap year or a sabbatical for the first time and figuring it all out – that’s different. It is not always about #findingyourself.At that stage of life, you’re also often near-broke, in many cases working to afford to stay the course, and navigating other challenges like being away from home for the first time.‘You may only talk to the barista, the bus driver or the barman in a day, as much or as little as you like.Photograph: Maddie Thomas/The GuardianBut being on holiday, just you, you may only talk to the barista, the bus driver or the barman in a day, as much or as little as you like.If you’re up and exploring early, famous sites from postcards are deserted, you can get a clean shot with only the street sweepers, school kids and the grocers bustling around you.If you get lost, you delay no one’s breakfast but your own. Sign up for a weekly email featuring our best readsYou can eat when you are hungry, snack when you are peckish and have gelato for dinner if you wish.You can run yourself off your feet to make sure you see everything and change plans at a moment’s notice.You can spend the night in your hotel room with a book or with locals at a bar.Having crisscrossed Paris in those few hours after I landed, I’d ticked off a museum and seen the sun set against the spires of Hôtel de Ville.During dinner, watching the waitress with glittery flares weave through tables, taking orders in French from one, in English from the other, my next move was upon me.Would it be a walk back to the hotel? To Saint Germain?Should I take the Métro?You can be on the run a lot when there is no one else who might need to take a breath, so travelling solo can also be a lesson in learning to sit.You must watch, pause and take it in.When you remember to do it, the conversations of those around you and the goings on of the cafe or restaurant you’re in will fill you up.‘Travelling solo can also be a lesson in learning to sit’ Photograph: Maddie Thomas/The GuardianDon’t be worried about being alone at a table.While the world can be harsh on those going it alone – when a restaurant in London charged diners double for dining solo, those in favour were outraged – more often than not, you’re given the cosiest spot by the window, and paid close attention. A journal, a book or a map is your friend here though – you can be a writer, a reader or a traveller, simply wanting to watch the world go by.You need those moments, because being alone means you also bear all responsibility for yourself.You must get yourself from A to B.You must have eyes on your luggage, ears on airport announcements, and feet moving forward at the same time.You may need to get yourself out of a locked bathroom, but won’t you feel just a little proud when you do.Of course, all the things you have witnessed are there to be retold.You share them with others at home and it makes them richer somehow. One day, you will take those people to the places you fell in love with.Because none of this is to say that travelling with others – be it parents, friends, school mates or a group of strangers on tour – isn’t wonderful.Making memories together while running for trains or eating the best [insert local food here] is one of the best things you can do in life.But like road testing a relationship on a first weekend away, do your tastes, budgets or energy levels differ?Will you get decision fatigue from constant consultation about where to next?It can be fraught.In the end, that night I walked back along the Seine, watching scores of teenagers eating McDonald’s (popular in France) on the grass. I went through the Louvre with its pyramid lit up, watched the spotlight of the Eiffel Tower spin through the sky in the distance and saw the clock on the Musée d’Orsay tick past nine before I caught the Métro one stop closer to home.It may not be for everyone, but travelling alone is not something to be scared of.Nothing beats thinking, “I may just run back to that shop again.” You get up, and you go.Wherever you are in the world, you’ll have no trouble raising a glass to that at a table for one, I promise you.

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