Solo travel, particularly for 20-something year old women, seems to be gaining popularity. World of Wanderlust is a remarkable example of someone who sold everything, packed up, and travelled the world by herself. I’m never going to do that, but it’s still inspiring, and I can relate. I’ve always enjoyed getting out there and getting just a little bit lost by myself. Going for hikes in the Surrey Hills without a map, following the little National Trust arrows and assuming they’ll get me to where I need to be. But I’ve not done it for a long time.
The summer before I started university I felt like a challenge, so signed up for a Plas Y Brenin sport climbing course, wanting brush up my skills on some real rock. I packed my tiny rucksack for the weekend and settled down on the train for the long journey to Llandudno. I didn’t even think twice. On a whim hit ‘book’, and off I went. It was fantastic. I had a lovely room to myself, thoroughly enjoyed getting onto the slate – my favourite rock type to climb – and there were no preconceptions of who I was or what I could do. In our little group of three plus the instructor, I was the only girl, nearly 19, and the best climber. It was refreshing and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
In 2012 I agreed to hike up Kilimanjaro and spend 17 days with people I didn’t know. It turns out two of my course mates also signed up, which was great, but on that June day 8 months later when I walked to the airport, I knew almost no-one, and had signed up to spend a lot of time – and a lot of emotional energy – with them. But also with myself. Anyone who knows me knows I’m actually pretty shy, and don’t like new situations or new people. Yet every now and then I can’t seem to help but at least try to test my independence.
Finding a significant other means that you spend a huge proportion of your life – willingly and blissfully – in the company of another. That is wonderful, and the things I’ve done with Simon are incredible and I know there’s even better to come. But I missed that feeling of just getting in the car and going somewhere by myself. I did it last year for a long weekend in Devon, and even managed to navigate my way home via a 1 hour detour after being stuck in horrific traffic.
Which is why this weekend, with Simon halfway through his three-week trip, I thought I’d take myself up to the Peak District, flying solo. We go up there so frequently, but I’ve never got myself there of my own accord. So, little Yaris filled with petrol, I set off to navigate the seven (yes, seven!) motorways to Glossop. What would usually take four hours took six. Through the town – my future home – across the Snake Pass (yay for my car getting up the hills!). As soon as I set eyes on the scenery surrounding the pass, the hours of traffic behind me disappeared and I once again thought how lucky I am that one day I’ll be able to see such views from my window. After lots of wiggling and following signs, I arrived at Chatsworth House. Chatsworth is a beautiful stately home, the set for Pemberley in the 2005 film, and a place Simon would never really enjoy. Walking around I couldn’t help but imagine myself in an Austen novel, exploring the multitude of hidden paths in the beautiful garden, wondering if Mr Darcy was going to come around the corner.
The hotel just outside of Matlock was a lovely castle, and it turned out to be a favourite among elderly church groups. I appeared to be the youngest resident by at least forty years (something the young waiters apparently noticed…!), but it was friendly, and the three course dinner was made all the more amusing as I was sat next to some lovely ladies having fun with a bottle of red. The room was small but functional, and I felt safe up on that little hill.
Overall it was a successful trip, driving 430 miles without a satnav, using printed instructions and some common-sense to get myself up there, even managing to divert around some bad traffic on the M6. But this weekend helped me realise something. I used to relish time by myself to do my own thing. Getting from A to B without anyone else to help, just relying on my own initiative and independence. I wanted to try it out again, as it’d been a while since I’d done something alone. I don’t think I want to do that anymore. Having a day or two is okay, but ultimately, I no longer want to do things on my own. I want to do them with Simon. The biggest thing I noticed during the trip is it just wasn’t quite as good without him. With him, journeys are better, more exciting, and the shared memories are so precious. I am an independent woman who can do things when and how I want, and I want to do them with my other half. I’ve made a choice to be with one person. I want that one person with me throughout all of life – I cannot wait for more.