“You’re in Sri Lanka? You should definitely visit the Dunkeld Estate,” my friend texted after seeing one of my posts on Instagram.
That’s how I found myself in a car trundling towards the Dilmah Tea estates in the central highlands. Upon arrival, I was greeted by a surreal landscape of endless swathes of green and swirling morning mist. I felt grateful – if I’d been travelling with a group, I may not have had the freedom to take this memorable detour.
This is why I love solo travel: the chance to do things at my own pace and the pleasure of not knowing what I might experience.
Clearly, I’m not alone. According to Google Trends, the term “solo travel” rose 50% from January 2015 to December 2017. In Singapore, data from global home-sharing platform Airbnb showed that the number of outbound female solo travellers doubled from January 2016 to January 2017.
The travel industry is tapping into this burgeoning trend, with operators such as Contiki and Intrepid Travel offering tours for solo travellers. For women like me, there has never been a better time to travel alone, with various women-only retreats and tours emerging.
My first foray into solo travel was when I was 26; I travelled to Gili Trawangan, off Lombok, to get my Advanced Diving License. Two years later, I travelled through Sri Lanka alone.
However, my biggest solo adventure took place last year. I was turning 30 and decided to take six months off work to travel through Europe – it turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.
Yes, I had lots of fun (and even fell in love), but it was so much more than that. Besides negotiating rentals and navigating foreign spaces, I endured unexpected train delays in England and learnt how to deal with creepy dive instructors in Croatia.
Most importantly, I mastered the art of being alone. I became acquainted with the various shades of solitude – from the occasional bouts of loneliness to the unencumbered joy of absolute freedom.
I now have the courage and wherewithal to see myself through life’s vicissitudes. And that, I think, is the true reward of solo travel.
3 tips for your first solo adventure
Be open-minded – For safety, go with your gut. But the rest of the time, be open-minded. Try that new dish, accept that invitation – these serendipities are what solo travel is all about.
Do your research – While it’s tempting to wing it, it’s a good idea to be prepared – get to know some basic phrases, familiarise yourself with public transport and places to avoid.
Be flexible – Plans may change unexpectedly – flights get cancelled, the hotel may lose your booking. Be ready to go with the flow. Most, if not all, things will be solvable eventually.