The solo traveller returns

I got home from my recent holiday road trip on Wednesday evening. The last day was a long drive, about 8 hours in the end. I listened to podcasts for much of it and the kilometres flew by. Not literally: I was very careful about the speed limit and relied on cruise control because I am very bad at doing two things at once and knew that if I got engrossed in the podcasts I’d cease paying attention to my speed. I’d either speed up or slow right down, but either way, I’d be a menace. 

I had a grand old time at the second cottage I rented. It was a real throwback to the 1970s and I kept laughing out loud as I discovered long forgotten reminders of what was cool and groovy when I was a kid. 

And because this trip was all about new adventures, I did something I have never done before: I invited a friend to spend the weekend at the cottage with me. Non-aloners probably cannot begin to imagine how risky this felt. 

The friend I invited is a woman I’ve been friends with since we were 9, so it was, in the scheme of things, low risk. However it did occur to me that the last time we’d been on holiday together was when we were about 12 and we got conned by her father into spending our holiday cooking for the shearers on her father’s farm. I still feel sorry for those shearers. 

It turned out to be a wonderful time. Although we are quite different in our need for company and distraction, she was able to play tour guide as she knew the local area, and I got to sit in the car and admire the scenery while she drove. A perfect blend: she had something to keep her busy (driving) and I got to stare out the window and think my thoughts. 

We went swimming several times, ate fish and chips on the beach, watched the surfers, browsed the local market, and hung out in cafes. She loved the quirky cottage too and it gave us an excuse to reminisce about our childhoods, and commiserate over the appalling parenting we received. I had the opportunity, over a bottle of wine enjoyed on the deck as the sun went down, to talk freely about my sister and her death and what it all meant for me. 

At the end of the weekend she returned to her home and job and getting her teenage son ready to leave for university, and I had three days on my own where I got to swim, eat fish and chips on the beach, hang out in cafes, and read, all in blissful solitude. 

I realised two things: friends, particularly old and good friends, are fabulous creatures and I like spending time with mine; and solitude is essential and fabulous and I like it every bit as much as I like my friends. 

It’s all in the ratio and balance, which for me tilts heavily — but not exclusively –in favour of solitude. I think I got the balance just right this trip.