Every time I meet anotherbackpacker and tell them I have a boyfriend at home, I’m met with the samepuzzled expression. ‘Did he not want to come with you?’ they ask.
Since embarking on a four-month solo trip around SouthEast Asia, I’ve realised how unusual it is to travel without your other half – especially as a woman. I’ve met countless couples travelling together, or single backpackers enjoying their freedom in the sunshine – but not a single woman with a partner at home.
I first got a taste for travel three years ago, when I took my first ever solo trip for three weeks in Bali. I’d always seen travelling alone as scary and somewhat strange. Who did you talk to? And why would you choose to go alone when you could go with friends?
However, I had just quit my job and broken up with an ex, so it felt like the perfect time to face my fears. And I’m so glad I did as that holiday changed everything. I felt empowered, independent and confident in a way I’d never felt before.
It inspired me to keep exploring.When I got home, I saved like crazy to go on a longer break and when I managedto raise enough cash, I was just waiting for the right time to go. I foundmyself in a job I loved, and then with a partner I loved, and I persuadedmyself to wait.
Then a bout of depression hit me like a tonne of bricks and I knew I had to make a change. The daily grind of London was wearing me down and I longed to feel the freedom that travel offers.
My boyfriend Talal, 32, bore thebrunt of my sadness and spent his days picking me up when I was down. Heencouraged me to do whatever it was that would make me happy, and after savingfor years, it finally made sense.
I’d always planned to do it on my own and as Talal was doing so well at work, I didn’t want to ask him to give that up. It wasn’t even really a conversation we had – it was a decision I made alone. While I’m sure he had his concerns, he was supportive and never once tried to prevent me from going. I felt I had nothing to lose – so I booked a flight to Thailand.
I’m lucky to have such an understandingpartner, and if he wasn’t, I don’t think it’d work. I’ve always been fiercelyindependent, never letting anything or anyone stop me doing what I want to do,so I didn’t think twice about going.
It was only after I quit myfull-time job as a stylist when it really hit home what was about to happen.Prying people quizzed me about how being in a long-distance relationship wouldwork, Talal’s sister-in-law reminded me how difficult it would be, and onefriend even said, ‘Poor Talal’ when I told him about my plans. I started tofeel guilty about going, and grew concerned about us being apart for so long.
He assured me that we’d be fine and arranged to come and join me in Malaysia for a few weeks in the middle of the trip. In hindsight, I don’t think I could have coped going months on end without seeing him, and he seemed relieved by the change of plan too.
I’m now six weeks into my trip and the reality has been tough. While everyone talks about how blissful travel is – and it is – it also comes with its difficulties. For the most part you’re with other backpackers and sometimes the constant small talk can feel draining and forced. I’ve occasionally felt homesick and I’ve longed for easy conversation with people I know.
Sleeping alone hasn’t been easy either, and during one stay in a particularly sketchy guesthouse in Koh Tao, Thailand, I was up until 4am with fear. While I wish this wasn’t an issue for women, the reality is that you have to keep your wits about you all the time. I can’t wait to feel safe with Talal again.
The time difference also makes keeping in touch tricky. I’m currently in Vietnam, which is seven hours ahead of the UK. By the time Talal gets home from work and is ready to Skype, I’m fast asleep. Our video calls generally happen on weekends, when the time isn’t such a problem. While we text constantly, it’s a big change from seeing him pretty much every day.
After speaking to many women about my plans, it dawned on me that society expects us to do whatever we can to keep a man. I refuse to accept this narrative and continue to embrace my independence. However this is only possible in a relationship with trust and support, and we’re fortunate to have bundles of it.
I’ve never once worried about him going out without me back in London.
In many ways my trip has beengood for us. It’s given us both time and space to think about what we want inthe future, and has made us appreciate what we have together.
While I’m sure coming home and sharing my space with someone else will be a shock, I can’t wait to be with Talal every day again.
As nomad Christopher McCandless wrote after embarking on a solo excursion to Alaska, happiness is only real when shared.
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