Solo Travel Week editor's letter: Francesca Specter on embracing traveling alone

The 'Alonement' author writes a love letter to traveling solo to mark the beginning of our Solo Travel Week

Francesca Specter pictured while solo traveling
(Image credit: Francesca Specter)

Curious about Solo Travel? We teamed up with Francesca Specter, author of Alonement: How To Be Alone & Absolutely Own It, for a week dedicated to celebrating the joys of Solo Travel.

Dear present and future solo travelers, 

Welcome to the beginning of My Imperfect Life’s dedicated Solo Travel Week. 

I wish, when I first began traveling alone, that someone had told me how thoroughly unalone I would feel. The trouble is, it takes doing, rather than theorizing, in order to know this. It’s only once you’ve navigated flight delays, language barriers, strange cuisines and single supplements alone that you know it’s all going to be OK, whatever happens. Because in the end, these things are a small price to pay for the sheer thrill, self-discovery and badassness associated with traveling alone as a woman. 

But—you can’t be what you can’t see. That was my mantra while writing my first book, Alonement: How To Be Alone & Absolutely Own It (opens in new tab), and starting a podcast around the same topic; to champion the voices of those who have learned to value positive solitude—what I call ‘alonement’. In the same way, when it comes to solo travel we need aspirational people we can point to. Not a wind-beaten mountaineer climbing Everest, nor the seasoned backpacker who quits their day job and moves to Thailand. All too often, extreme examples are more of a hindrance than a help; they can feel unrelatable, only serving to make solo travel something reserved for those ‘other’ people; something that’s not for you. 

I’ll gladly hold my hands up to say, I am not a solo travel expert. Yet, over the past three months, I’ve traveled alone in Colombia, Barcelona, Bordeaux, Valencia and Florence. It’s from a place of ‘work in progress’-ness that I’m chronicling my experience—my wanderlust stronger than ever. And I want to take others along for the ride. 

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So how do we get there? First off, the person most would-be female solo travelers need to hear from is the everyday woman; the one who could, under different circumstances, be your best mate. The one who felt the fear and did it anyway. Who managed to find the annual leave and currency—both emotional and literal—to pack a suitcase and take off alone. Who is still learning the ropes of solo travel—working it out as she goes. Who one day experiences the exhilaration of circumventing Paris by foot, the next the thud back to the reality of a six-hour delay at Charles De Gaulle airport. The most worthy travel accounts come from those who are not only brave enough to travel alone in the first place—but to share its nuance. And it’s through hearing these stories that we might find a suitable response to all those internal barriers we build around traveling alone: ‘I could never eat dinner by myself’, ‘What if I get lonely?’, ‘Will people think I’m weird’, ‘I’m not organized enough to do a trip by myself’. Because—well—she did it. 

In commissioning this solo travel section for My Imperfect Life, I’ve put together complementary accounts from published authors and travel writers who have taken recent trips alone. There’s Radhika Sanghani, who consulted her astrology on the best trip for her zodiac sign: her spa trip to Dublin was written in the stars. There’s Georgina Lawton, who has spent the past few years traveling to Black-majority countries like Colombia and Brazil. And Angelica Malin, who reflects on how a special trip-for-one to Santorini helped her learn to care for her body. What these writers have in common is that they show how solo travel can teach us lessons that persist long after our return journey home. 

And then there’s me. I’ve spent the past three years writing about alonement: solo dates, meditation, you name it. Yet, before this year, my own alonement had taken place mostly on home turf. Because, well, the pandemic. Travel of all kinds is very much back on the cards this summer, a phenomenon that’s been dubbed ’revenge travel’—effectively, more ambitious than ever travel plans to make up for lost time. And my form of revenge travel was taking the solitude skills I’ve cultivated over this period and exercising those muscles globally. For my lead feature for this section, I took myself to Florence—my favorite city in Europe and, in my mind, the most romantic. Since spending my gap year there a decade ago, I’d held myself back from returning—so resolute that the next time I’d return would be with a future husband. In taking myself alone, and enjoying the most shamelessly romantic vacenza per uno imaginable, I leaned into my alonement rule: that whatever I love doing with others, I want to learn to enjoy by myself, too. And, and you’ll read, it was glorious—in fact, looking back, there’s no one I’d rather have visited with than myself. 

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Right now, I’m writing from the somewhat less inspiring setting of a workstation in Bordeaux airport, as I sit out a two-hour flight delay. It's nothing compared to the 24 hours I spent in Bologna airport last week, doing an all-nighter after my original flight home from Florence was canceled and then relocated. And yet I’m calm now, as I was then—because I know I can spend time in my own company, and because I know that no matter the travel chaos, solo travel is almost always worth it. My only regret is that I didn’t discover this sooner. 

We sometimes hold the things we do solo to an impossible, perfectionist standard; like, if something goes wrong, it’s because we did it alone. We wouldn’t say the opposite—oh, you shouldn’t go on holidays with your partner if you were going to bicker over who’s holding the passports, you shouldn’t travel in a group if one of you was going to get food poisoning. So I suppose I’m here to tell you that things will go haywire, plans will change, and there will be moments when you wish there was someone else to take up the slack of driving the hire car or packing your suitcase. But you’re capable of doing it alone—and all too often it’s easier, because there’s no one to contend with but yourself. You’ll develop faith in yourself, a self-admiration that can only really come from experience. From looking back at this time in your life, and thinking to yourself: I did it.

Running parallel with your literal journey will be a journey within; as you feel not ‘by’ yourself but with yourself, befriending and trusting yourself more with every step. So I hope you enjoy reading this week’s stories and watching the content we’ve put together. And I hope, even more, that this solo travel section inspires you, offering you a permission slip to do the same. 

Francesca

Francesca Specter is a freelance journalist and the author of Alonement: How to be alone and absolutely own it. Based in north London, she's previously worked for Yahoo Lifestyle, Express.co.uk and Healthy magazine, and has written for the Telegraph, Red and Huffington Post.