One of the many (and I do mean many) burdens of being British right now is that, despite centuries of invasion, colonisation, package holidays and backpacking, there’s still one valuable lesson we haven’t learnt from other countries: solo travel with strangers doesn’t have to be scary.
Despite our adoration of giant rucksacks, budget flights and overseas branches of Nandos, we still tend to assume that all other nations share our own uniquely awkward emotional repression and fear of social embarrassment.
This all-encompassing fear of intruding upon others’ time, space or sun lounger is something that seems to affect men more than women.
It’s a tragi-comic lesson we’ve adhered to from the most tender of ages. Go to your average UK nightclub and watch the battalion of teen to twenty something male wall flowers prowling around. They treat approaching a women with the amount of natural finesse and style usually reserved for a starving chimp rummaging through a landfill site for the last banana peel.
We’re so terrified of being embarrassed. We fear blushing more than we fear baldness. And this is why men are so reluctant to travel on their own. Even with group travel.
The kindness of strangers
People in other countries (and I mean, almost any other country) have an ease of manner and an openness to conversation with strangers that us Brits simply can’t get used to.
For me, it was the German couple who saved me from being homeless on the streets of the capital of Liechtenstein (on the week of the Icelandic ash cloud crisis in 2010 too) by letting me live in their house.
Meet new people
It’s the blandest of truisms but if you’re that guy who would love to take a solo trip around Vietnam but you’re worried that nobody will talk to you and you’ll be branded a tragic loner, then this is a statement that you probably need to have tattooed on your retina.
The vast majority of people in this world either actively wish you well on your travels or are utterly indifferent to your presence on the streets of Melbourne or Hanoi.
Plenty of people in cafes, parks, banyas or beaches are usually up for a chat. Single travellers – and there are loads of those – definitely are. And, unless you have the dress sense of a serial killer, you’ll be astonished how easy it is to become a major player in the arts of social bonhomie and conviviality.