Hi, I’m Gav and a few years ago my girlfriend and I booked to go to Japan together.
I’d arranged all kinds of romantic excursions despite firmly believing that anything called an ‘excursion’ couldn’t possibly be romantic. I’d booked us into an exclusive sushi restaurant after spending two months on their waiting list, got us a room in an incredible retreat with a private outdoor spa and arranged a special evening at Tokyo Disneyland. It was going to be incredible.
And then we broke up.
After a brief period spent staring out windows hoping for rain and endlessly rewatching Jonathan Creek (series 1-3, I’m not mad), I’d finally managed to crawl out from under my duvet and have a wash. Then the realisation that our time in Japan was just over a month away set in.
I’d never been on holiday on my own before and the idea of solo travel frightened the sh*t out of me.
I’m not a huge fan of spending time by myself (I’m sure anybody who’s been in my company for more than ten minutes could explain in detail why that may be) and the notion of visiting a foreign country alone was not one I fancied at all.
“What if I get lost on their tube and end up having to live there?”
“What if I ask for the wrong type of milk for my tea and end up having to live there?”
“What if I accidentally break into a building, get caught and end up having to live there?”
Bracing myself for a solo trip to Japan
Little travel tip for you: it turns out lots of Japanese activities are aggressively non-refundable.
So, I found myself looking at the prospect of losing a lot of money or sacking off every shred of doubt and fear that I had about solo travel and going on my romantic holiday by myself.
I’d arranged to meet a couple of friends who were also on a trip to Japan out there so I wouldn’t be totally alone for some of the holiday.
But there was still the matter of the lovely trips I’d booked for my now ex-lady.
I could handle sushi on my own (meet me at an all-you-can-eat buffet and I’ll prove it) and sleeping in a fancy hotel would be fine. But the one activity I was dreading was going to Tokyo Disneyland by myself.
In Japan, they have a regular Disneyland full of the regular baby rides for babies and they also have Tokyo DisneySea, which is more suited towards teenagers and adults and, from what I’d heard, couples.
That was the reason I’d booked it in the first place and now the idea of going solo made me feel more sadness than I’d felt during the break-up.
I am, however, fantastically cheap and, having spent a good bit of money on Disneyland tickets, I decided to venture to ‘The Happiest Place on Earth’ by myself. Solo travel, here I came.
On my own in a theme park – a thrill ride
With jet lag on my side, I arrived at Tokyo DisneySea a good two hours before the park opened.
You’ve not tasted melancholy until you’ve waited outside a Disney park for it to open by yourself for two hours. If I was worried before, at least I’d have a nice bit of time for my mind to replay the series of bad decisions that had led me up to this extremely low point.
When the park finally opened, I would say – conservatively – it took me about 20 seconds to realise I’d made a mistake going there.
I’d just spent my morning lamenting an 18-month relationship and then made my way into a theme park almost entirely filled with happy couples – all dressed the same. I didn’t know what ‘twinning’ was before but apparently, some couples like to dress exactly alike then go cut about Tokyo Disneyland together, it’s a thing.
I mean, good luck to ‘em, that is lovely, but it just sort of hammered home the ugly truth that I was slinking about DisneySea all alone for the day. That’s not on them though, in fairness.
The other thing about DisneySea, which makes it better than most Disneylands, is the fact that at 8:30am you can buy yourself a beer, if such a thing takes your fancy.
It feels slightly wrong walking around the Magical Kingdom with a pint in your hand, but it didn’t take long (two pints) for me to feel comfortable with the idea.
Solo travel = positive vibes
One of the best things I found about going to a Disney park by myself was that most of the big rides have a ‘Single Rider’ queue.
Some people will tell you that having to walk directly through the middle of loads of canoodling couples, all dressed the same, to get to the front of a line might accentuate the melancholy of a sad single man.
But I’d hazard a guess those people have never been on the Tower of Terror three times in ONE hour. I was starting to see the upside of this whole situation. Solo travel had its perks.
I might not have had the shared experience of queuing for hours with a loved one but I did get a high-five from the Disney lad in charge of the front of the Indiana Jones ride THREE times, so…
It became extremely apparent that I was having an incredible time.
I realised the main thing that had been holding me back, and the source of my anxiety about solo travel, was a weird feeling of embarrassment.
I’ve spoken to a few friends who travel alone or go on solo group adventure holidays about my ‘Sad Disney Day’ and turns out this unease is pretty common. It soon drips away though and I felt strangely empowered – something else these friends confessed to feeling.
I’d done something that had properly scared me.
Alright, I know it was only, “go to Disneyland on your tod,” but it still felt huge to me. And the fact that I managed to get over my own stupid stigmas about solo travel – going out and doing something by myself – was a massive learning experience.
It’s left me with an incredible sense of accomplishment. I would wholeheartedly now encourage anyone else thinking about trying it to do it. Get out there. Embrace your independence.
Also, I look fantastic dressed as Sully from Monsters Inc. so…
Photos: Gav Murphy, Shutterstock
Try Japan out for yourself (with ready-made non-monstrous friends)
13 days of Japanese adventure include ninja school, lunch with a sumo wrestler, whisky-tasting, hiking in the Hakone mountains, rejuvenating in the hot spring onsens of a traditional ryokan, a foodie foray through the market stalls of Osaka, sea-kayaking around the sacred shrine that “floats” on Hiroshima Bay and much, much more.