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. 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 who treat approaching a women with the amount of natural finesse and style usually reserved for a starving chimp rummaging through a landfill site for a 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.
Budapest stag party with the lads? No problem. Birthday booze up in Hamburg? I’m there mate. But what about something a little more adventurous than these male rights of passage which, in essence, are about as mind expanding as an evening spent in the company of a DVD of ‘Mrs Browns Boys’.
Today’s hike past the base of the Lanin volcano straddling the Chile/Argentina border pic.twitter.com/nSjtWZhbO9
— Rob Crossan (@crossantravels) December 5, 2016
Because my own experiences of solo travel over the years have proved the same salient truth over and over again. Namely, that 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.
Whether it be 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) by letting me live in their house, to the complete stranger who drove me to the only functioning dentist in Maseru, Lesotho so I could have an emergency op to have my wisdom tooth removed, to the Kiwi sisters who let me live in their penthouse hotel suite in Los Angeles for three days merely because I, and I quote, ‘look like I need spoiling’.
All these people whose e-mail addresses I’ve mostly lost track of were, fleetingly yet beautifully, part of my life as a male solo traveller. And all I had to do was leave the house, get on a plane and start wandering.
You don’t need mates to do that. And women seem to have figured this out a long time ago. The stats don’t lie; every tour operator repeats the same mantra- women have no problem with travelling solo. Men, however, just don’t seem as keen.
But the crunch here is that men are keen. Desperately keen to travel. But the British social fear gene seems of succeed in geographically stapling us to the confines of our home town.
There’s only one lesson to learn. And by a curious happenstance I genuinely consider myself to be one of the lucky men who absorbed this lesson at an early age. Namely; people are nice. It’s the blandest of truisms but if you’re that guy who would love to backpack 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. People in cafes, parks, banyas or beaches are usually up for a chat. And unless you have the dress sense of a serial killer and the halitosis of a Bulgarian sewage pipe then you will be astonished how easy it is to become, if not the centre, then certainly a major player in the arts of social bonhomie and conviviality.
Still don’t believe me? Well just walk down your nearest high street in the next hour or so after reading this. Take a look at the menfolk. Some of them look pretty awful don’t they? Mullets, teeth the colour of pub ceilings? Tracksuit bottoms? Red trousers and gilet combo? OK, you probably won’t see the last one if you live north of Muswell Hill but the point still stands. Namely, you look better than these people. These people go travelling. Why can’t you?
— Rob Crossan (@crossantravels) March 25, 2017
So what are you waiting for? Not only is the country you pine to visit going to be, if anything, even more surprising and awesome than you could ever imagine. You’ll also surprise yourself too at just how damn easy it is to travel alone. And anyway, what’s the alternative? That Mrs Brown’s Boys DVD won’t get any better- no matter how many times you watch it…
Words by Rob Crossan – Travel & lifestyle writer for GQ, Telegraph, Sunday Times, Daily Mail, CNN, Escapism, Departures & more