Solo holidays aren’t necessarily singles holidays. Andrew Dickens explains why it’s healthy to travel alone when you’re in a relationship.
There is a certain type of couple – you know them – who declare that they are effectively the same person, just in two separate bodies, which means it was fate or a near-impossible twist in the space-time continuum that they met.
They say things like, “she’s like a female me,” or “I can’t believe how we’re both really into the same things, like eating and breathing.”
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You might find this sweet, you might find it nauseating, but one thing you won’t find it is true. No matter how happy a relationship, how deep the love, in some of life’s departments, we all want different things.
It might be what to have for dinner, whether we get a cat or a dog, or our taste in soft furnishings – and sometimes, it’s how we want to spend our holidays.
The rise of solo travel in relationships
You like a beach holiday, they have an insatiable urge to climb things. Or it’s city break versus spiritual retreat.
The logical answer is to have separate holidays (as well as holidays together), and it seems Brits are being logical; a recent survey by Travelzoo showed that 60 per cent of all solo travellers are either married (43 per cent) or in a relationship (17 per cent).
It’s a lovely concept, but is it really practical?
Most of us have limited annual leave and limited finances; pennies spent on solo holidays are pennies you can’t spend on a holiday together. Yet we also have our own desires and ambitions. So, should we do it? And if we do, how will it affect our relationship?
“Differentiation is very important in a relationship,” says Sarah Alpert, a psychosexual and relationship therapist. “It’s about allowing ourselves to be separate in order to be together. The opposite of that is enmeshment, where people lose their sense of self, become inseparable. This is not good and is usually a symptom of trust issues. Two individuals make for a healthy couple.”
Well, that’s encouraging. It certainly helps alleviate any guilt for being a little self-centred.
“I’m doing it for us, dear.”
Is solo travel worth it?
One person who is fully on board the solo travel train, quite literally, is Flora, a 26-year-old PR, who this year discovered the joys of travelling alone without her long-term boyfriend, Alex.
“I’ve often travelled alone with work and enjoyed it,” she says, “but I’d never done it for pleasure. This year, Alex’s step-dad had an operation, so he didn’t want to be away. I used the opportunity to spend 10 days travelling around Italy by train, which is something I’d always wanted to do, but not something Alex would want to do.
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“I’ve definitely got the solo travel bug now, especially as it’s given me much more confidence to use public transport in other countries. Travelling alone allows you to be more spontaneous and you see more when you’re on your own. I’d definitely do a group trip, too, and maybe go farther away, but only if there was an activity. I think an activity helps, because towards the end you can get very sick of your own company.”
Did Flora miss Alex?
“We’re used to being apart, so we’d send the odd WhatsApp message, but that was it. There are definite benefits to separation and not having to think about someone else. The times I missed him were in the evenings – nobody likes eating alone – and the last two stops, which were Venice and Florence. They’re so romantic and people are snogging around you. When I was there, I was thinking, ‘Alex would like this.’”
Circumstances favoured Flora. Alex wanted to stay at home (his step-dad’s okay, by the way), hates the idea of a train holiday and, because they’ve travelled so much with work recently, the urge to flee these shores has been less pressing. They’re also off to Portugal together in the next few weeks.
But what if that’s not your situation? What if your annual leave well is running dry? What if a solo trip munches on an enormous slice of your travel budget pie? Such pragmatic concerns might not squash the bug.
Running solo travel past your partner
“If you want to travel alone, talk to your partner,” says Alpert. “Ask if you can afford it, emotionally, financially and time-wise. Ask how it might become a possibility. Reassure them that they’ll have enough support at home while you’re away.
“And be willing for it to be a quid pro quo arrangement – they might want to go away by themselves in the future. It’s about negotiation. The rules will differ from relationship to relationship.”
These aren’t the only issues when it comes to travelling without your partner. If you pack your bags and vamoose to Nepal to hike the Everest trail with a group of like-minded strangers, you need to know that your relationship is as solid as the massive great rock looming above you.
“If you’re going away with a group of people,” says Alpert, “your shared experience is going to be very intense, particularly if you have a common interest or goal.
“Friendships will form, so you need to be very careful and prepare for that – and be sure that your relationship is solid. It might make your partner more anxious, so take that into account.”
The answer is yes to travelling alone
One person who travels solo for his passion, but seems to have it all under control, is Chris, a 41-year old IT engineer.
He’s been with his partner, Helen, for more than 13 years and in each one of those years he’s been on a snowboarding trip – nearly always without her. It ain’t cheap, so swinging off to the slopes without her blessing could be more painful than face planting the piste.
“Helen likes me to enjoy myself,” he says. “She knows it makes me happy, that it’s important to me, so she lets me go. I’m doing an activity – it’s not like I’m heading off to Tenerife to lie by a pool. We plan around it, so there’s no clash with holidays together. We only go away in the UK because we’ve got a dog and don’t like to leave it behind, so the money I spend isn’t preventing us from going on some big trip. There’s no ‘deal’, but if she wanted to go on a solo trip, I wouldn’t receive that negatively.”
“I used to be a backpacker, so I’m very happy talking to strangers,” Chris adds. “I think it helps if you’re a bit gregarious. I’ve made friends on snowboarding trips that I still catch up with. I wouldn’t mind visiting a few other countries, and I’d definitely consider going by myself, but maybe I’d miss her. I miss her a bit when I go away, but snowboarding keeps you distracted.”
The answer to the big question above is a resounding ‘yes’.
It’s not only okay to travel solo when you’re in a relationship, it should be encouraged, if both parties are happy.
But, as with all good things in life, moderation is key.
If you travel alone too much, there is a chance you’ll drift apart. You could get used to life without each other and also create a gap; a gap that will be filled, be it with, as Alpert says, “knitting or a new partner”.
“Holidays together are also essential,” says Alpert. “We lead such busy lives, it’s important to go away together at least once a year. You’ll be less stressed and have more relaxed, intimate time together. It’s no coincidence that couples have more sex on holiday.
“My best advice would be to ask why you want to go away on your own. If it’s a burning ambition to hike the Inca Trail, then travelling by yourself is very healthy. If it’s because you want a fortnight away from your wife and kids, maybe you should be seeking help instead.”
Ready for a solo adventure? Try these:
Discover the secrets of Vietnam & Cambodia
From the rice paddies of the Sapa valley to the wonders of Angkor Wat at sunrise, this is a 14-day solo travel adventure that takes in kayaking Halong Bay, the secrets of cooking Vietnamese and incredible 4-star hotels like the Shinta Mani.
Excite your senses in bucket-list China
Learn Kung-Fu in the shadow of the Temple of Heaven, explore Beijing from vintage motorcycle sidecars and watch an epic sun rise from a VIP private vantage point on the Great Wall of China.
A wilderness weekend in Slovenia
Paddle board through the mythical beauty of Lake Bled, go canyoning in the rugged ravines of the Bohinj Valley and wallow in lakeside hot tubs after hiking through lush green valleys. A whirlwind weekend of adventure solo travel.
Photos from Flash Pack and Shutterstock