Why I Want To Travel Alone

No longer looked down upon as the past-time of the friend-less, but praised as an indicator of courage, chutzpah and curiosity, travelling alone is bang on-trend. You can hardly scroll through Twitter these days without being peddled 10 reasons ‘Why solo-travel is the best thing you’ll ever do’ and it’s increasingly framed as a necessary rite of passage. Yet I’m still approaching my 18 day inter-railing trip through Europe with a certain degree of anxiety. What if I am horribly lonely? What if I end up sitting in an apartment reading a book rather than going out to dinner because of the crippling fear I’ll be judged and won’t know how to sit through a meal without fidgeting? So why go? What is the allure of spending just over a fortnight with only my irrational thoughts and insecurities for company?

The freedom of travelling alone is that you only have your time to fill and yourself to please.

 Control

The anxious woman’s cocaine. Control is that which I cling onto to cement my sense of self. Call me anal. (Or not, because that’s rude), but I like it and I’ll exert it if I want to. Also, you should know that spontaneity is a myth. Up there with Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy and the notion that losing your virginity is going to be special, (I am going to be a terrible mother), spontaneity is a frilly, frivolous myth espoused by Jack Kerouac and clan, but with very little relevance in real life.

If you tried to jump on a train, plane or automobile in this day and age without any forethought you’d be rejected because everything’s already been booked, or expected to pay astronomical prices. I like organisation. Organisation is a budget’s best friend. You can find out what afternoons the museums are ‘pay what you want’ or there are free concerts in the city’s plazas. It’ll save you schlepping from one side of a city to the next because it’s your last day and this is the only time you have to do both of those things you hadn’t thought to do yet.

Planning itineraries almost gives me as much joy as travel itself and the freedom of travelling alone is that you only have your time to fill and yourself to please. A.K.A DO WHATEVER THE FUCK YOU WANT. Whether that means getting up at 4am to catch a sunrise on Charles Bridge or rolling in at 4am after a revelling at a sweaty techno club. Negotiation and compromise can well and truly go out the window and you can frolic boundlessly in a field of selfishness and self-gratification. No more resting at a coffee shop because someone else’s feet are aching, or mooching around shops you have no care to be in. I like to cram in the sights and plan every hour of the day to facilitate said cramming. Flow is not something I like to go with. It’s much more my style to shack up with scheduling and know exactly when I’m going to do something.

 

Creativity

I’ve been selling this trip to myself, and to others, as a way to spend some time reconnecting with my writerly self. WAIT. DON’T GO. I’m not a pretentious wanker. I’m only a little bit of a pretentious wanker. Writing is hard. It requires discipline and time and motivation and sometimes when you’re working a full-time job and trying to fit in exercise and a social life, it goes out the window. I have a rather ridiculous amount of ongoing creative projects. I’ve gathered them all together in a folder on my Mac, labelled ‘Ongoing Creative Projects’ to make it seem like, however untouched they sit, it’s part of the process and I’ll get there eventually. They’re not stagnant. I swear. They’re diamonds in the rough. And this is my chance to polish them. I have no illusion that I’ll come back with them all done. But hopefully with a couple of 6 hour train journeys and some lazy evenings with a bottle of wine, I’ll be able to carve out some time to devote solely to writing.

Also, what better than a bit of travel to serve up some inspiration. I often find it’s harder to put thought to prose when you desperately want to. It’s when you find yourself crouched over a Mac, hands poised above the keyboard that your creative juices evaporate. When you allow your mind to wander and to divert from it’s routine, the best ideas come to the fore.

You can decide wholly for yourself what statues or sights were worth seeing and as a result, come away with a greater sense of who you are.

Culture

London is a great place to live. A cultural capital, choc-a-bloc with exhibitions, cinemas, craft-themed nights, performance art, gigs, galleries and all sorts of activities to satiate your artistic cravings. Yet since living here; whether due to expense, laziness or lack of time, I haven’t quite soaked up as much as I’d intended. So I’m sacking it in altogether and off to find culture elsewhere. One of the best things about going on holiday is having an abundance of free time to explore. My adventurous spirit can once again emerge from the deeply repressed recesses of my psyche and I can finally return my walking pace to a wander or stroll, rather than the perpetual march I’ve adopted since taking on the role of city slicker.

I like a pool holiday with a library’s worth of reading material as much as the next gal, but considering my alabaster skin tone, high freckle count and general aversion to the heat, air-conditioned art galleries are much more within my comfort zone. I also think that if you really want to see and experience a place, at least for the first time, it’s best to do it alone. It’s nice revisiting cafes and courtyards with company in tow because you can relive it through them and act as a bit of a tour guide, but when you’re arriving without any expectation it’s best to shed that company to allow yourself to form an opinion unburdened by input. Your view of a place won’t be tainted by your friend’s grumpiness about the service in a restaurant or your boyfriend’s reluctance to climb the steps of a cathedral. You can decide wholly for yourself what statues or sights were worth seeing and as a result, come away with a greater sense of who you are.

I already know myself pretty well. I’m stubborn, controlling and very inflexible. (The penny’s dropped, hasn’t it? The solo nature of this trip is not a choice, but rather enforced because I’ve exhausted my roster of companionship). And that’s why I think I’ll get along fine. I can work to my own schedule, fulfil my own desires and not feel like I’m the bane of anyone’s existence because our booking for a train is in 20 minutes, and if we don’t leave soon, shit will hit the fan.

Top 10 Films About Literary Icons

With International Dylan Thomas day having just passed, I deemed it high-time to take a look at a movies that have dared to delve into the backstories of literary icons…and done it rather well.

Originally published on Top 10 Films.

 1. Capote (Bennett Miller, US, 2005)

The late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman took home an Oscar for his expertly-calibrated performance as Truman Capote. Based on the research process that produced the controversial novel In Cold Blood, director Bennett Miller (of Foxcatcher fame) shows precision and integrity in his handling of the material, producing a film at once pervasively tense and quietly hypnotic. Hoffman captures the charm and power of the unparalleled Capote to electrifying effect, but the film never shies away from depicting the darker underbelly that facilitated his success. Capote dazzles not just as a character study of the immensely complex, and compulsive author but also as a fascinating look at the relationship between a writer and his subject, and a rare entity in the biopic canon in that it avoids idolatry.

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2. Bright Star (Jane Campion, UK, 2009)

Jane Campion proves herself a force to be reckoned with in this wistful and melancholic rendering of the unconsummated romance between John Keats and Fanny Brawne. Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish are the literary love-birds whose relationship seems doomed from the outset. Still, for the all the tragedy, Campion’s film is disarmingly beautiful, bursting with colour, restless camera movements, lingering close-ups and of course, Keats’ spirited poetry.

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3. The End Of The Tour (James Ponsoldt, US, 2015)

 Not a biopic of David Foster Wallace, insomuch as a rendezvous with the idea of him. Based on David Lipsky’s memoir of his five-day interview with Wallace for Rolling Stone during the tour for the eccentric novelist’s magnum opus Infinite Jest, The End Of The Tour is essentially an extended conversation, but an illuminating, meditative and ferocious one at that. Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg (harkening back to the rapid-fire dialogue he perfected in The Social Network) turn in career-best work as the two David’s. This emotionally and intellectually charged two-hander is fuelled by their effervescent chemistry.

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4. The Invisible Woman (Ralph Fiennes, UK, 2013)

A languidly-paced period drama that charts the intricacies of Charles Dickens’ extramarital relationship with ingénue Nelly Robinson, starring British acting pedigree Ralph Fiennes (also taking on the mantle as director) and rebel-trooper-in-waiting Felicity Jones. Sizzling with repressed desire and sideway glances, Fiennes shows a cunning eye for detail in his debut outing as director. With a keen grasp of the novelist’s talent and influence, as well as the era, The Invisible Woman makes for an aesthetically pleasing and engaging biopic.

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5. Saving Mr. Banks (John Lee Hancock, US, 2013)

Delightfully campy and quippy, Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson go head-to-head as Walt Disney and PL Travers in this chronicle of how the Mary Poppins film came to be. The shiny, upbeat veneer is balanced by a poignant backstory giving credence to Poppins’ origins, where Colin Farrell does empathetic work as Travers’ alcoholic father. It’s twinkly-eyed, without ever pulling too mercilessly on the heartstrings, and who better than Hanks and Thompson to make the sparring go down sweeter. Magic.

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6. Set Fire To The Stars (Andy Goddard, UK, 2014)

Exquisitely shot and elegantly staged, director Andy Goddard takes a monochromatic look at Dylan Thomas’ tour to New York in 1950, three years before his whiskey-fuelled death. Elijah Wood is doe-eyed academic John Brinnin, tasked with taming the beast, whilst Welsh-born Celyn Jones plays the poetic hell-raiser in question. What escalates is part bromance, part road-movie and though it never really digs beneath the surface of its characters, it remains a handsome snapshot of a bygone era and a beloved wordsmith.

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7. Barfly (Barbet Schroeder, US, 1987)

 Roger Ebert labelled Barfly one of the best films of 1987 and this semi-autobiographical tale of poet and author Charles Bukowski, is certainly an atmospheric paean to the sordid back-alleys and dive bars of 1980s LA. Worthy of mention for Mickey Rourke’s performance alone, his besmirched poet – a Bukowski type figure named Henry, as opposed to a direct invocation – is all the more resonant because you sense that the potential scuppered by way of alcohol abuse would come to haunt Rourke’s own career.

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8. Big Sur (Michael Polish, US, 2013)

Infused with a pragmatic perspective, director Michael Polish doesn’t condemn the Beat generation, nor does he revere them. In this coalescing of Jack Kerouac’s novel with the real events that inspired it, Polish achieves an intriguingly complex and impressionistic portrait of an elusive, much-fabled literary figure. Majestic, surreal and meditative, it doesn’t quite capture the charismatic intensity attributed to Kerouac (Jean Marc-Barr), but at a pacy 70 minutes it plays with the hyperactive restlessness that the Beat generation were so seduced by.

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9. The Edge Of Love (John Maybury, UK, 2008)

 A fanciful, fleeting peek into a supposed ménage à trois between Dylan Thomas, his wife Caitlin and his childhood friend Vera. Matthew Rhys, Sienna Miller and Keira Knightley captivate as the bohemian trio who flock to the Welsh hills to escape the calamities of WW2. Director John Maybury has flagrantly assumed creative license; regardless it crackles with desire, tension and jealousy and conveys Thomas’ zest for life.

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10. American Splendor (Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini, US, 2003)

 Blending documentary, drama and animation what emerges from this unconventional portrait of underground comic-book artist Harvey Pekar, is something as engrossing as it is poignant. Considered a ‘blue-collar Mark Twain’, the film’s exploration of Pekar’s quotidian lifestyle allows his true originality to shine through. Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis have great fun as Pekar and his third wife Joyce Brabner, rivalling some of the great screwball partnerships of the 40s. Directed by real-life couple Berman & Pulcini, whose screenplay earned them an Oscar nomination, it hums with the kind of oddball creativity you imagine the real Pekar would’ve appreciated. Exhilaratingly subversive.

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