I sat in my Uber on the way to Melbourne airport, making small talk with my driver about where in India he was from and what he missed most about home (apart from his family). Unsurprisingly, it was the food. I hoped I was behaving normally, because in reality my stomach was in knots. I felt anxious, borderline panicky and I had no idea why.
For someone who works in the travel industry and has taken at least five overseas trips in the last 12 months, it felt strange to be nervous about a trip, when normally I only feel excitement and anticipation. But what was weirder still? It was Bali, of all places, that was unravelling me.
As an Australian, Bali is almost considered a ninth state or territory of our country. Even though I was one of the few who’d never travelled there before, visiting this new destination wasn’t my problem. It was the fact that I was going completely alone, joining Peregrine’s small ship Adventure Cruise around the Indonesian isles on a sold-out trip with 48 other travellers. Plus, the thought of arriving in an international airport in the middle of the night, without anyone else to bounce ideas off about where they thought the best place to find a taxi was or why our bags were so slow coming out of baggage claim was a daunting prospect.
The first afternoon in Bali, buoyed by the fact I had successfully managed to eat two meals alone and only called my partner once (twice), I set off for the Panorama II, the ship that was going to be our floating home for the next eight days, to meet my fellow Adventure Cruisers.
I’ve been in the same relationship my whole adult life, so I’m used to being part of a couple. I grew up in a close-knit family and, while I’m comfortable in my own company, the thought of making small talk with a group of strangers isn’t a prospect that fills me with excitement. I was expecting my group to be made up of loved-up couples, or clusters of friends and families, and I was concerned about getting in the way, or being a third wheel.
But once I arrived, I didn’t feel like that at all. Yes, there were some couples and families. But one of the most important things that I had forgotten was that the types of people who choose to travel on a group tour are a sociable bunch, hailing from all over the world. They see a solo traveller? Rather than ignore you, they’re excited to welcome you to their table at meals, ask questions about where you’re from, and include you in their conversations and banter.
In the first day or two, before I started to remember names or understand the dynamics of the different groups, it was hard to know where to put myself. Sitting on a quiet beach, the last thing you want to do it plonk yourself down and interrupt people enjoying a moment. But similarly you don’t want to continuously wander off alone, seeming aloof. That old adage of ‘feeling lonely despite being surrounded by people’ can ring true when you’re travelling on your own. But push through that first day and you’ll find your place among your brand new, multicultural, multi-generational family.
Besides, it’s hard not to have a good time when you’re cruising around uninhabited Indonesian islands, pulling into a different secluded beach every few hours to enjoy world-class snorkelling, a refreshing dip or just the chance to unwind on the white sand with a good book.
This beach time, combined with a range of activities like a hike to the waterfall – once visited by Princess Di – on Moyo Island (and an amazing hour of swimming to reward you for your efforts), a visit to Rinca Island to see the Komodo Dragons, or a day spent meeting village locals and sharing a traditional meal on Lombok meant I quickly bonded with my fellow travellers over the incredible experiences we were sharing.
On top of this, we had plenty of fun together in the evenings once we were back on board the small ship. Ricky, the friendly, Indonesian bartender, kept the cocktails flowing and the entire crew made sure we had plenty to keep us entertained, with everything from fishing off the boat, a movie night under the stars on deck, and an impromptu karaoke session!
One tip? If you think you might be the sort of person who needs some time alone, book a single supplement. That means, for an additional fee, you’ll have a two-person cabin on the ship all to yourself, giving you more space to spread out and somewhere to go if you need a moment. Otherwise, if you’d rather be sure that you won’t be lonely, as a solo traveller on one of Peregrine’s Adventure Cruises, you’ll be paired with a fellow traveller of the same gender at no extra cost.
For me, one of the main joys of travel is challenging myself. Normally this comes in the form of trying a new food I would never try at home, getting up early for a sunrise hike, trying to understand the complexities of a culture utterly different to my own or mastering a few words of the local language. But this trip? The challenge wasn’t so much in the experiences themselves, but finding a way to enjoy them, without your loved ones alongside you. Finding joy in a breathtaking sunset in a moment of quiet solitude or laughing like crazy with new friends, as you take far too many silly slow-motion Baywatch running videos on the beach. Solo travel might be different to the travel I am used to, but I now know that it’s rewarding on a whole other level.
Do you want to experience the magic of some of Indonesia’s lesser-known islands? Book your place on Peregrine’s 8-day Indonesian Island Cruise.
All images by Amy Foyster.