It’s Wednesday night and I’m leaving on Sunday morning.
The car gets sold tomorrow and there’s time for a few last catch ups with three or four people. The final, final packing happens on Friday. Surely, I should be feeling nervous now?
Not a whisper of doubt. I’m starting to feel, no, I’m trying to feel worried by the fact I’m not worried. I must have missed something.
I haven’t. Remember that spreadsheet I mentioned in Trains, Cakes and Planning? That has been supported with task lists, added to whenever people have asked: “Ooh, what about…?” or when I’ve spent hours reading blogs and Facebook discussion groups.
Yes, I’ve become a List Geek.
However, it does mean that I feel pretty confident that I haven’t forgotten anything. I’m cross referencing lists to verify this.
This is not ‘organised’, this is coping.
I’ve been really interested in the way that people plan their trips – short and long term adventures: how they pack, how they plan where they are going to go and how long to stay there.
A colleague at work told me about a friend who is taking two years out: “She’s bought a ticket to Nepal and then she’s going to see where she fancies heading next.”
Others plan destinations, routes, excursions and I fall into this grouping. I’ve always found the anticipation of planning as exciting as the actual trip.
Those are the practical details. What about the emotional aspect?
I’ve never done a trip as long as this one and I’ve also been looking up travellers’ conversations about challenges while they have dealt with while they’re away. There’s a LOT written about ‘traveller’s slump’, i.e. “oh, god, another beautiful temple/stunning sunset” and how to recharge your batteries from the unrelenting horror of it all.
I look forward to having this ‘issue’ to deal with.
As I’m a woman, I’ve been more interested (but not exclusively so) in other women’s experiences. These concerns tend to be around being alone for long periods of time, dealing with people’s attitudes to women travelling on their own (especially when they’re eating out) and safety.
In the ten or so years since I started travelling by myself (usually for conferences at first), I’ve seen an increase in the numbers of women travelling by themselves. We’re not that unusual.
Surprise is still expressed from time to time.
I hired a car and drove around New England in the Autumn for my 40th birthday in 2016. It was a fantastic trip and I met lots of great people. Middle aged women, travelling with their husbands regularly expressed concern about my driving alone.
“So, you’re travelling alone?” was usually the first question, followed up with: “But where is/what about your husband?”
“I’m not married,” I would reply.
“But won’t you get tired with all of that driving, and who will navigate for you?”
“Google Maps,” I would reply, while resisting the temptation to ask didn’t they wonder if their husbands would get tired driving all of the time. (I found it was usually women who told me their husbands were the sole drivers that asked me about being tired).
Then, they’d ask me about being lonely by myself.
It’s amazing how many people talk to you when you travel alone. When you’re with a friend or a group, people often assume that there’s no need to interact. Dining, drinking, walking, sight seeing alone encourages far more interaction – whether out of curiosity, pity or because they themselves are travelling on their own – people are more likely to strike up a conversation with someone by themselves.
I’m not anxious about being on my own – I think it depends on how used to your own company you are. I enjoy going out by myself, going to the theatre by myself and for lunch on my own.
I also have an amazing social life and am very lucky in my friends and family. Sure, I’m pretty certain I’ll miss them but compared with 20 years ago, social media makes keeping in touch a lot easier. I can be just as annoying from the opposite side of the planet.
I was discussing this with a friend, comparing notes on taking a month or two out to inter rail while at university. We had committed to phoning parents if we could find a pay phone (days before mobile phones, kids) and we even sent postcards. She sent one two days after arriving in India – it arrived six weeks later, one week after she walked through the kitchen door.
And then there is the safety aspect. A few people have asked me if I’m not worried about the risks of being attacked or harrassed. Sadly, that’s not only an issue outside the UK. Wherever I go, at home or abroad, I’m careful – there are things that I cannot do or if I did (like taking a dark shortcut home), I would be challenged for foolhardiness, that most men don’t need to even consider.
Last October I was first in the queue to climb the city walls at Dubrovnik, before the day became too hot. The man who sold me a ticket asked (here we go): “Are you alone?”
(Because it was pretty obvious that I wasn’t there with friends, I am pleased to report that I resisted the temptation to say: “You mean apart from my invisible friend, Harvey?”)
When I answered yes, he then asked me: “Do you feel safe?”
“Should I not feel safe?” I replied. “Is there a problem on the Walls?”
“Oh, no. No. Everything is fine”.
Then why ask? I should have told him about my mate, the invisible six foot tall rabbit.
*Featured photo: More cake… last dinner with a couple of friends for a year. We’re booking our next get together.