- The Crap Hotel
16:15 pm, Wednesday June 29th 2016, Pai
The floor is dirty, there a more spiders than I’d like, it’s a party hostel and I do NOT want to go out tonight.
After consulting with no one but me myself and I, I lift my bag from the floor – not one item unpacked, and head straight for the door.
“I’d like to check out please.” I say to the distinctly hippy, slightly high man on the reception desk.
“But you just checked in..”
“…You know we won’t be able to refund your stay, right?” He tries again.
“I know.” I smile. I give him my key and walk away. With no idea where I am going, I head in the direction of the nearest, most comfortable looking hotel.
I book a double room for one, with air con and breakfast included.
And every fibre of my body smiles, as I go to sleep at 4pm.
2. The Best Night Ever.
8:33pm, Tuesday July 5th 2016, Koh Samui
I really want to see the night life tonight. There’s a bar downstairs and I can feel the music moving my bed, the base trembles through the sheets and my body wants to follow suit.
I glance over at my two new hostel friends. One is tucked into bed watching game of thrones, the other is writing her diary. I can almost see the party atmosphere flowing out of them. I sit in silence and pretend to be busy for another 20 minutes. Another 20 minutes of party roars beneath us.
“Do you guys still want to go out tonight?” I finally sum up the courage to ask.
Thus starts the uneasy apologetic excuses. Except these two aren’t apoligetic at all, they know themselves and they don’t want to go out any more. I appreciate their blunt, emotionless honesty.
“Yeah probably not”, he looks up at me from his screen to say.
“That’s cool,” I smile and pick up my bag, heading for the door.
“Are you still gonna go?” He looks a little bewildered now, and I can see curiosity in his eyes.
“I thinks so, it’s only downstairs so if anyone tries to kidnap me I’ll simply walk back up.” I exit the room with confidence and every single step fills me with dread.
What am I doing..?
I stand in the club doorway to observe for a moment. There are groups of people laughing, dancing and having fun. Then there’s me – Sara no mates. I take a seat at the bar and order a drink.
One drink, I tell myself. I’ll at least have one drink. Someone will definitely come up and talk to me…. any time now…
I nervously drink my “one drink” way too fast. So fast that no one has time to come over and say ‘hi’ – or at least that’s what I tell myself. I order a second drink with the full knowledge that as an infrequent drinker, this is pretty much my limit. I pick up number two and walk towards the only other person sat alone. Loner number 2 is a male Asian guy, watching the fire dancing on the beach. I sit beside him and sip my drink. The fire dancers call for partiers to try the fire limbo. “You’ll win a free shot if you limbo!”, they shout to the excitable audience. Now is my chance. I turn to face asian lonely guy with a light smile on my face.
“You should go try it!” I jest. Well done Sara! I congratulate myself on delivering the perfect, casual one liner to open the doorway to an engaging, friendship building conversation.
“Hm” he shrugs. He doesn’t smile. There’s an awkward silence. Then he gets up and leaves.
I pause for a moment and consider my sad-ass self. Suddenly. I start to laugh. No, I guffaw at myself. I laugh aloud and a tear seeps out of one eye because Lord have mercy I am sat in a bar alone!
I sip my drink and laugh some more. That magic extra sip helps me I realise that I do not care. I will never see that man again, and I wish him a great life.
4 sips later, another man sits down next to me, this one to my right side. He’s tall, caucasian and handsome. I use the exact same line, albeit this time with a bigger smile, because at this point rejection is something of an inside joke.
He looks at me and beams, a smile races across his face as he laughs at the thought of his 6 foot body limbo-ing under a fire lit rope.
“I’ll go straight after you do!” he jests in return.
YES!! A FRIEND!! stay calm Sara, be cool…
I laugh and tell him I didn’t fly 2000 miles to die, thanks. The conversation flows, we get a drink, he introduces me to someone who I think is his boyfriend. There are 3 of us. We get another drink, we dance, a brunette girl comes and dances with me. She’s chatty and fun, we get on incredibly well.
I go to the beach and learn to fire dance, I meet blonde lady from Birmingham and I almost cry because her accent reminds me of my best friends back home. I miss them and she hugs me. She comforts me and tells me that she is my new best friend. We dance, she leaves me for one of the fire dancers who I think she is dating. I reconnect with the chatty brunette girl who introduces me to two guys she’s with. Both are Californian. We dance some more. Me, brunette girl, six foot man, his friend and the two Californian guys.
I end up talking to one of the Californians. He’s super interesting and moderately funny. He invites me to come to a new beach with them tomorrow, they are riding motorbikes down. I ask brunette girl if she’s going, she says yes. I feel safer and say I’ll come too. We exchange numbers. We dance some more.While dancing, brunette girl calls me over at the same times as six foot smiley guy. In that moment, as I awkwardly decide who to go to, I pause and look around me.
One, two, three, four, five, six. I have six friends.
How did this happen?
I later find out that my new friends plan to go and do magic mushrooms on this secluded beach. I say no thank you, because like a true law abiding citizen I am terrified of all drugs except alcohol and I did not fly 2000 miles to die.
I walk back up to my room, tired from dancing, with a smile on my face. My two hostel friends are sleeping.
They have had a good night. And so have I.
3.The Bike Ride
2:33 pm, Monday June 26th 2016, Chaing Mai
I pause and sit on my bike. Looking out at the rice fields across this rich Thai land. Yellow and beige swirls dance before me. A little mud splash trickles down the back of my calf. It itches, but I dare not move.
There is so much beauty in this world.
I close my eyes and catch my breath, or rather – breathe my breath, as the rest of the groups cycle on.
They don’t know me very well, so I know that they won’t disturb me.
I pause a while longer and allow my mind to wander, wonder even, about life and love and earth and God and me and these beige and yellow swirls. The wind blows through my hair, a welcome ease to the hot sweat upon my neck.
I breathe more breath, take a selfie, and cycle on.
There is so much beauty in this world.
Why I Travel Alone
The three short stories are tiny examples of experiences I’ve had while travelling solo. I can’t tell all the stories because we’d be here longer than you can spare.
Travelling alone sounds dubiously edgy, as though I’ve run off to ‘find myself’ so that I can come home and tell everyone about it. And while I do love a good instagram story, that’s not the reason I do it. Or at least, it’s not the only reason.
Travelling solo is lonely sometimes. It’s a bizarre combination of terror and exhilaration and excitement. It’s scary, not just due to the lack of ‘safety in numbers’. It is scary because you are alone. And people are scared of being alone. It’s an entirely different experience to going away with a group of friends.
Being in a foreign country alone opens you up to be new challenges sometimes terrifying ones, that you have to face and solve yourself. From simple things like navigating from the airport to the hotel, to more complex issues like having your phone and passport stolen and having to figure out a new plan, you quickly learn to lean on yourself in a way that isn’t easily learnt.
Being in a foreign country forces you to meet new and different people. It’s so easy, when travelling with friends to sit there as a group of 4 and never venture beyond those walls. But when you’re alone, you pretty much have no choice but to put yourself out there. I’m no longer scared to talk to new people, and their reactions have given me a new found confidence in my own social ability. This crazy unspoken knowledge that if I ever had to pack my bags and move to Mexico, I’d simply make new friends and be absolutely fine. That knowledge makes you a little fearless.
Maybe another reason I travel solo is because we live in a very unique time. As a single, childless 24 year old black woman – I can travel to most parts of the world. That’s crazy, when you think about it. Just a few years ago I wouldn’t have been able to pee in the same toilets as my best friends in the US. But now – I can. Truth is, I don’t know when I’ll next be able to create these opportunities as easily. I might get married and my husband may insist on coming with me, or have kids and prefer to stay home with them. Or World War 3 might kick off and my passport become invalid. Either way, I’ll cease every opportunity to experience and learn as much as I can, while I can.
Travelling solo has given me some of my most treasured memories, and if it’s something that intrigues you, I encourage you to one day try it too.
Because when you’re in a foreign country alone, you can’t hide in other peoples perspectives of who you are. You can’t walk in the shadows of the last 24 years of your life. No one knows you. And there’s a freedom in that
Because if you watch the sun set in silence, you will truly see the sunset.
Because if you walk in there alone, you will likely meet someone new.
Because when you meet someone new, they will teach you something new.
Because when no one is tracking your every move, you’ll make the moves you really want.
Because your friends couldn’t get time off work – but you could.
Because while travelling alone you learn to be with yourself, to love yourself and to trust yourself.
Because you can’t learn those things with someone holding your hand, no matter how warm and comforting the hand.
And lastly, because you’ll wait your life away as you wish your youth away if you sit there and keep waiting for another reason why.
As I write this, I am sat eating cheesecake in San Fransisco. Saks Fitth Avenue lays ahead of me and it looks beautiful from this roof top view. I eat and I drink alone as I ‘people watch’ with the most glorious, peanut butter cheesecake melting between my lips.
Truth is, instead of writing this, I probably should have gone to see that famous floating prison, Alcatraz today.
But I really wanted cheesecake.