One of the many (and I do mean many) burdens of being British right now is that, despite centuries of invasion, colonisation, package holidays and backpacking, there’s still one valuable lesson we haven’t learnt from other countries. Solo travel with strangers doesn’t have to be scary.
Despite our adoration of giant rucksacks, budget flights and overseas branches of Nandos, we still tend to assume that all other nations share our own uniquely awkward emotional repression and fear of social embarrassment.
This all-encompassing fear of intruding upon others’ time, space or sun lounger is something that seems to affect men more than women.
It’s a tragi-comic lesson we’ve adhered to from the most tender of ages. Go to your average UK nightclub and watch the battalion of teen to twenty something male wall flowers prowling around. They treat approaching a women with the amount of natural finesse and style usually reserved for a starving chimp rummaging through a landfill site for the last banana peel.
We’re so terrified of being embarrassed. We fear blushing more than we fear baldness. And this is why men are so reluctant to travel on their own. Even on group trips.
Budapest stag party with the lads? No problem.
Birthday booze up in Hamburg? I’m there mate.
But what about something a little more adventurous than these male rights of passage which, in essence, are about as mind expanding as an evening spent in the company of your favourite ‘Mrs Browns Boys’ DVD.
Because my own experiences of solo male travel over the years have proved the same salient truth over and over again.
Embrace solo travel
People in other countries (and I mean, almost any other country) have an ease of manner and an openness to conversation with strangers that us Brits simply can’t get used to.
For me, it was the German couple who saved me from being homeless on the streets of the capital of Liechtenstein (on the week of the Icelandic ash cloud crisis in 2010 too) by letting me live in their house.
Read more: Solo travel fuels this major happiness habit
The complete stranger who drove me to the only functioning dentist in Maseru, Lesotho so I could have an emergency op on my wisdom tooth.
The Kiwi sisters who let me live in their penthouse hotel suite in Los Angeles for three days merely because I, and I quote, ‘look like I need spoiling’.
All these people, whose e-mail addresses I’ve mostly lost track of, were, fleetingly yet beautifully, part of my life as a male solo traveller. And all I had to do was leave the house, get on a plane and start wandering.
You don’t need mates to do that. Better still, solo travel gives you new mates, over new travel experiences.
And women seem to have figured this out a long time ago. The stats don’t lie; every tour operator repeats the same mantra – women have no problem with travelling solo. Men, however, just don’t seem as keen.
But the crunch here is that men are keen. Desperately keen to travel. We love travel, for goodness sakes.
So why don’t men travel solo? The British social fear gene seems to have succeeded in geographically stapling us to the confines of our home town. Solo travel is most definitely not on the cards.
There’s only one lesson to learn. And, by a curious happenstance, I genuinely consider myself to be one of the lucky men who absorbed this lesson at an early age:
People are nice.
Meet new people
It’s the blandest of truisms but if you’re that guy who would love to take a solo trip around Vietnam but you’re worried that nobody will talk to you and you’ll be branded a tragic loner, then this is a statement that you probably need to have tattooed on your retina.
The vast majority of people in this world either actively wish you well on your travels or are utterly indifferent to your presence on the streets of Melbourne or Hanoi.
Plenty of people in cafes, parks, banyas or beaches are usually up for a chat. Single travellers – and there are loads of those – definitely are. And, unless you have the dress sense of a serial killer, you’ll be astonished how easy it is to become a major player in the arts of social bonhomie and conviviality.
Read more: Being single makes you a brilliant traveller
Still don’t believe me?
Well just walk down your nearest high street in the next hour or so after reading this. Take a look at the menfolk. Some of them look pretty awful don’t they? Mullets, teeth the colour of pub ceilings? Tracksuit bottoms? Red trousers and gilet combo?
Okay, you probably won’t see the last one if you live north of Muswell Hill but the point still stands. Namely, you look better than these people. These people go travelling. Why can’t you?
So what are you waiting for?
Not only is the country you pine to visit going to be, if anything, even more surprising and awesome than you could ever imagine. You’ll also surprise yourself too at just how damn easy it is to travel alone as a man.
And, anyway, what’s the alternative? That Mrs Brown’s Boys DVD won’t get any better – no matter how many times you watch it. Time to go travel the world… solo.
Images: Flash Pack, Shutterstock
Three solo adventures to pop on your hit list
The peaks of Peru
Test your limits whilst also meeting a small group of like-minded solo travellers. Stay in boutique Amazonian lodges and head out on jungle treks packed with wildlife and stunning canopies. Take on Rainbow Mountain, at 5,000 metres, in the Peruvian Andes. Conquer this, and you won’t believe how beautiful it is at the summit.
Challenge yourself in Chile
Throw yourself into white-water rapids, glacier hikes and geyser spotting on this mesmerising 13-day trip around Chile. The trip takes in the Casablanca Hills, the Atacama desert and jaw-dropping glacial scenes in Patagonia. It’s one that will leave you reeling from the earth’s natural splendours. You’ll also head home with some brag-worthy memories – who else in your office can say they hiked a glacier?
Discover the secrets of Croatia
Here’s a trip packed with adventure but also a little chill. You’ll go waterfall kayaking down the Mrežnica River (yes, straight down waterfalls – it’s fun, we promise). Then wild swimming in the emerald lakes of Plitvice Lakes National Park. Pure paradise. But there’s also time to wind down in ‘the new St. Tropez’ – the gorgeous town of Hvar. It’s the perfect mix of adrenaline and rejuvenation.