This article is part of our summer content series celebrating the concept of being ‘positively selfish’. We’re turning our focus on the self, recognising how a little selfishness can be a positive thing – how it can even promote your personal growth
When was the last time you enjoyed being alone? Really, truly, deliciously solo?
Us humans are social creatures, but some past-times are best enjoyed right outside the pack. Often, these are the very same things prescribed as “group activities”. But when you go them alone, they take on a whole new and more satisfying dimension.
So throw any lingering self-consciousness you have to the wind, and get involved with these nine gloriously selfish rites:
Gorging yourself on street food
Street food is a serious business; one that requires a certain amount of tunnel vision. You need to be agile enough to zoom in on all the best places – and also dodge between the crowds for a front-row pew.
If you’re meandering about the maze of street food stalls in Djemaa el Dna square, Marrakech, for example, or getting to grips with the best pavement pop-ups for steaming beef pho in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, you can do without an entourage weighing you down.
If you think about it, street food feasting is really more of a sacred ritual than merely a fun thing to do. This is a very personal mission; a way of teasing the taste buds and exploring what exactly speaks to you, food-wise.
Whether it’s a Bolivian llaucha filled with creamy cheese sauce or a puffy egg waffle from a street corner in Hong Kong, street food is of a calibre that deserves your undivided, finger-lickin’ attention. Not only that, but by hopping between street vendors in a new city, you really tap into the soul of a place and meet new people in a way that you just wouldn’t if you were busy nattering to a loved one.
… And eating in general
Come to think of it, nearly all food has a special kind of quality when consumed alone.
We’re all for a convivial meal and sharing bread, of course. But there’s a definite poetry that comes from picking out that one decadent desert or aperitif dish that could have been made just for you.
Because who says solo dining (at home) has to mean ready meals? You can hold your own ceremonial gathering for one that involves zero planning or pressure, and is entirely impromptu.
Read more: The delights and challenges of dining alone
Pop by your local patisserie, mix up a martini and light up a few candles; this is one-on-one time for relishing life’s finer treasures.
Equally, you might want to head out to a nearby restaurant, and indulge in a meal for one. No distractions, no chit-chat: just you and the food of the hour.
Swimming in a hotel pool
Swimming in a pool of people is an innately stressful experience. First, you have to swerve clear of aggressive crawl man (he’s always there) who attacks the swimming lanes with all the veracity of a foam-mouthed pitbull, churning up vast sprays of water while executing a series of hostile takeovers.
Then just when you think you can chill for a moment by the shallow-end water baby class, a mysteriously warm patch of water drifts your way; or you spot a wayward plaster floating merrily on past.
Read more: 6 of the best hotels with statement pools
Solo swimming, on the other hand, is the very essence of zen – as anyone who’s ever had a hotel pool to themselves for five seconds can attest. There you are, willing everyone else to bugger off – and then, hey presto! they do.
And for a tiny snatched window of time, you can pretend like you’re in a tropical shampoo ad, complete with palm tree skyline and a swim-up bar.
Singing with reckless abandon
Countless studies show that singing in a choir is the ultimate mood-booster, conjuring up warm, fuzzy vibes related to community and belonging. But you know what feels even better? Singing alone.
There’s nothing like the feeling of a solo singalong, whether you’re in the car, the shower or trying karaoke for one (… in your living room). One amazing thing about it is you get to let loose on all those throwback tunes you’d normally be too sheepish to listen to.
As you belt out the lyrics to Destiny’s Child, or give Wham! a run for their money, there’s no sorry soul with superior taste to come along and sneer at your choices.
Better still, you can give your voice a good airing in a way that a choir would almost certainly stifle. Those gravity-defying Mariah warbles? Those are yours for the taking. No-one will so much as silently wince. It’s powerful, powerful stuff.
Camping out in the wild
In her excellent book Extreme Sleeps, British adventurer Phoebe Smith documents her journey to becoming a solo wild camper. Though far from a traditional outdoorsy person, she finds herself drawn to the thrill of being “out there” alone in the hillsides of Britain.
“A place can seem more remote when you’re by yourself, away from the distraction of a companion,” she writes. “Alone, the silence and the time for quiet contemplation can make you see things you wouldn’t normally notice when entrenched in conversation.
“But very few people will ever purposefully go out of their way to find that extra dimension to an outdoors adventure,” she adds.
Read more: Come camping in the tree-tops of Finland
Though we think of camping as a social activity, it opens up in a completely different sphere when you go it alone. And contrary to what many people assume, it’s not rife with danger, either. As Phoebe points out, you’re far more likely to come across someone dodgy in a city street rather than a cold mountain-top; and the biggest risk is nature itself.
This is about you vs the landscape in a way that few things are these days. You tap into a very particular form of freedom and independence. It’s a good idea to head to somewhere like Scotland and Sweden to start with, too, where legal rights make wild camping that much easier.
Getting a good night’s sleep
Bed sharing is a bit like flat sharing. It’s a nice idea in theory and often you can’t avoid it, but it’s rarely without angst. Duvet tussles, grinding teeth, people who splay flat out across the mattress… the whole thing’s a minefield.
And it’s funny how we think of sleeping alone as a lonely thing when there are plenty of people who would pay good money for a bed of their own – minus a snoring partner or two rambunctious toddlers.
Read more: Sex and sleep are the two keys to happiness
Time and again, studies show that our quality and quantity of sleep improves when we go it alone.
Of course, this mostly doesn’t happen. And it’s nice to have someone to cuddle up to sometimes, too. But having a clear night’s sleep all to yourself, along with an unhurried wake-up over a cup of tea and the papers, is one of life’s most potent unsung pleasures.
Mooching around without purpose
The problem with being with people is that you constantly have to defer to what they want to do. Or else you feel obliged to explain your own actions and plans (as if you actually had any).
But if you’re the kind of person who likes to just amble, it’s definitely a past-time to indulge in on your own; and a fun one at that. Rather than arrange what to do, simple mosey around for an afternoon. Explore a new city, or get reacquainted with the one that you love.
Read more: Get lost in the world’s most walkable cities
You might sunbathe in parks, wander around a boutique or two or dreamily drift to the nearest coffee shop/pub. Who knows where the vibe will take you? The point is, that delightful, free-flow state of being is only achieved by being fully alone.
Better still you can shake loose and grab a little head space, free from the obligations that shape your everyday life.
Bingeing on a box set
Sure, you *can* share a snippet of sofa with someone as you work your way through a double season marathon of Breaking Bad or The Good Fight. Just like, theoretically, you *can* go for a jog instead of lying in on a sunny morning. But the question is, do you really want to?
To box set binge in the company of another (or worse, a crowd!) is to agree to a series of slippery compromises. Even the basics, like bingeing snacks, are fraught with contention. One man’s salt and vinegar crisp sandwich is another’s bumper pack of cheesy Doritos; and really, the difference is huge.
Then you have to think, what’s your policy on phone scrolling or interruptions? How do you work the lighting? Are you the kind of person who sensibly holds back on season 8 episode 3 of Game of Thrones (rookie mistake) or do you keep limping through to the bitter end?
Much like composing a piano masterpiece, or writing a novel, a truly good session of TV bingeing requires dedication and focus. All alone, you can choose to retreat within your duvet for an entire weekend and only a box of Maltesers for company. And really, isn’t that what life is about?
Following your heart around the world
Solo travel comes with so many benefits, we’re surprised anyone goes with friends anymore (none-withstanding all the politics that a holiday with your mates inevitably stirs up).
When you travel alone, you’re more likely to reach out to those around you; you make connections and friendships in a way that massively elevates your mood.
You also develop bags of resilience and prove to yourself just how much you’re capable of: all of which is a boon to self-esteem.
And away from the hustle of your job and people who know you, you develop some perspective – you draw inspiration from the change in environment, and start thinking in a super-creative way.
But you don’t have to go it completely alone, naturally. Just being apart from all the demands of your everyday life in the company of like-minded strangers can spark off all kinds of positive changes. So, what are you waiting for? Jump on-board.