Somewhere in my 20s I discovered that being alone didn’t mean being lonely. That I was much better off enjoying meals by myself instead of having to pass time in the presence of people whose company I didn’t particularly enjoy.
I still remember the look of abject horror on a friend’s face after he chanced upon me, hidden in a corner from the Business District Lunch Crowd with my lunch wedged between a book and my chewing trap. After I repeatedly assured him that I was perfectly fine and not eating myself into a funk, he gave me a dramatic pat on the back for ‘being so brave for eating alone in a public space where everyone and anyone could see you being alone’.
That same sort of response was often encountered whenever I shared any plans to travel by myself. Some well-meaning, concerned for my safety; others clearly eager to know why I was travelling without my partner. Was her relationship in trouble? Is she finding herself? There’s an almost palpable sense of relief, if and when I do say I’ll be meeting up with some friends abroad.
Don’t get me wrong – I love a shared adventure and quality time with my loved ones as much as the next person. But as much as I enjoy being around people, I equally love being by myself.
Two years ago I had left a job which had entirely consumed me. My time, my energy, and most significantly, my mind. I was never fully disengaged or ever switched off from the job. At some point as law students or lawyers, we all had lofty aspirations about the pursuit of justice and fairness. As a young associate, there was much satisfaction in a job well done for your clients and clinching the win at the end of a hard-fought court hearing. But as with all things worth doing, it came at a cost.
As a service provider, you answer when your client calls and you spring to action when you get an email. As a litigator, you fight. You constantly fight and before you know it, everything becomes a battle. The barista who didn’t get your coffee right, the person who cut in front of you in the train station, the airline check-in counter that took too long with your bags.
I had grown accustomed to recording every 15-minute block in my day and according to it a file matter and activity. Drafting submissions – 1 hour. Loo break – pause timer. Phone call with client – 15 minutes. Reviewing correspondence – 30 minutes. Walking to the pantry for a coffee – pause the clock. Attending court hearing – 5 hours. Not a single minute went by in a day without being accounted for, at least for me. We were essentially all units of chargeable assets, meant for the purpose of being deployed. Every minute unbilled was a minute wasted. Only one other profession follows the clock that tightly.
I guess you can see why plenty of lawyers are deeply unhappy people.
After spending some years in this cycle it had become the case that my time was no longer mine. I decided to spend some time away alone before going into my next job. Like all millennials my first port of call was the Internet. After spending some nights googling ‘Solo Female Travels‘, I somehow found myself in Slovenia for two weeks.
Slovenia is one of those countries you don’t hear that much about, at least not where I’m from. It’s a curious little gem, bordered by Italy, Croatia, Austria, and Hungary. Unlike most of its former siblings in Yugoslavia, Slovenia was fortunately left relatively unscathed by the war. Today it is a tiny country teeming with unspoiled nature and extremely educated citizens. Everyone speaks English, it is perfectly safe, and surprise surprise, the place was alive with many other solo female travellers like myself (I guess we all read the same google search results).
The first order of business: learn how to accurately pronounce Ljubljana (it’s loo-blee-yah-nah).
Kralj Žara Restaurant
Kongresni trg 3, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
After several porcine days while transiting in Munich I was beside myself with glee to find a beef speciality restaurant near my apartment.
Sitting in that Slovenian summer I suddenly found myself faced with an enormous stretch of time, with nothing I had to do and nothing planned. This was the way I chose to arrive in Slovenia. I wanted peace, I wanted to unwind, and most of all, I wanted control over my time back.
I still look back to that lunch date with myself with an immense feeling of lightness. It’s like being out at open sea with neither horizon nor shore in sight. Time felt infinite, and that afternoon’s sunshine felt like it would go on forever. I ordered my first course, I read my book. I had a steak, I pondered over a map. I had dessert, I scribbled down some places I wanted to see over the next two weeks. I ordered a ristretto, and I opened up my book and read.
Three hours went by just like that, and they were all mine, only mine.
“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is richness of self.”
– May Sarton