The two things I love most in this world (bar actual, real life people) are travel and food. Preferably combined – I enjoy eating in different parts of the world more than anything. When I book a trip – ok, even when I merely think about booking a trip – I spend hours researching the local cuisine, the best restaurants, trattorias, cafes. I have a book filled with handwritten notes I’ve jotted down from these hours of reading and browsing, recommendations listed under each destination with mentions of specific dishes I’ve learned are must tries. Whenever I travel, this notebook comes with me. Don’t get me wrong, I take huge pleasure in eating my way around London and discovering new favourites, but when travel and food combine? That’s what I love most.
Much of the food in different countries I’ve written about on First We Eat is food I’ve had whilst travelling solo. I’ve been lucky enough to travel extensively, often alone, the solo trips including two round the world trips, two long haul holidays and one city break. I’ve dined all over Bali, lived in one of the most foodie cities in the world in Australia, eaten my way up the West Coast of the U.S. and come as near to food heaven as I can imagine in my life so far in Florence. All of these were solo trips.
You don’t need to be a foodie to warrant a solo trip somewhere of course, that’s just my preferred method. There are hundreds of things aside from food I wouldn’t have seen or experienced had I waited for someone else to want to go to the same places as me, though the idea of a city break focused on food is where I’m leaning for my solo breaks these days. I’m planning a weekend in Bologna this year, purely to eat my way around what is known as Italy’s food capital, and going by myself is one of the best parts about it. I can spend an hour looking for the trattoria I read about months ago without someone insisting ‘here will do’; I can go at my own pace, having as many Aperol Spritz with my book as I want before exploring the town further; I can get up and go to bed whenever suits me. Solo travel can be daunting to many, and I understand that. But the positives far outweigh the negatives, and I can counter any ‘what if’, just try me. The best thing about it is the self-indulgence. You get to be totally selfish because this is your holiday, you don’t have to share. And of course, sharing travel is a wonderful thing, but this feels different. It feels special. I’ve been travelling solo for seven years and I still feel a well of pride in my chest when I arrive at Heathrow to take a flight, or get from the airport to my hotel in a new country, even if I did get lost twice on the way.
The most commonly asked question when talking of travelling solo is “don’t you get lonely?” and frankly, most of the time I really don’t. I like my own company, I like chilling in a cafe with a glass of wine, I don’t mind going for dinner by myself – though I do take a book with me. I also talk to friends as I would at home – just because I’m on holiday doesn’t mean I have to cut myself off from the world completely if I don’t fancy it, and if I do, what better way to do so. There is wifi almost everywhere these days, and with an internet connection it’s hard to feel completely by yourself. I just make sure to take in everything around me as well. Hostels are great if you think you may like to meet people whilst you’re away, and many of them have private rooms these days so you can enjoy privacy at night whilst enjoying the communal aspect at breakfast and in the day.
As for where to go, where is best to start off with a solo break? A short city break makes sense if you’re apprehensive: it’s more manageable and often not too far from home, but there are no rules – my first solo jaunt was months around Asia and Australasia. Everyone has somewhere they’ve always wanted to go. Go there. If you go somewhere that you’ve daydreamed about, fear will be overshadowed by the sheer excitement and anticipation of seeing that place first hand. The pride you will feel at having done it will be even greater, because not only will you have conquered somewhere by yourself, but it will have really meant something to you. Combine your solo travel with something you revel in: art, architecture; history, sport, wine, craft beer. Love food like me? Well I can help you with that – but Italy is a good place to start. There is so much out there, you’ve just got to pluck up the courage to book it and go.
And remember, no matter where you visit, whether it’s a short haul city break, a long haul holiday or a trip to the other side of the world – you are never more than 24 hours from home. It’ll be okay. Be brave. And tell me all about it – most importantly, what you ate – when you get back.