Winter, 2007. My first TV series had just gone out. I had just got my first tattoo. I needed a holiday, but having recently disentangled myself from a cul-de-sac of a relationship I couldn’t think who to go with. “Go on your own, you pussy,” a squeaky little voice said. I don’t like being called a pussy by anyone, least of all myself – so I booked an all-inclusive package, Boxing Day to New Year’s Day, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt’s Red Sea resort.
Holidays for one: why I love to hit the road alone
My first holiday alone. Would I like my own company enough to spend a week in it, exclusively, all-inclusive? Was I about to inadvertently take myself on a make-or-break holiday, and come back certain I was not meant to be?
First night: supper alone. First lesson: bring a book. Its mere presence will calm people down. On the second day I found a table that faced out to sea, and tipped the waiter to keep it for me all week. Then I and my fellow diners could all relax without the ever-present threat of catching one another’s eye.
I met another lone female traveller on the beach – she was around 60, and on a respite holiday from caring for her sick mother. She asked me to take her picture, and I got her to pose like a supermodel in the sand. We laughed about it, and she seemed pleased with the result; she was glamorous and I wondered what her life had been like before. I didn’t ask her though – it felt intrusive. She didn’t ask me anything, either. I don’t think she much cared what I did, she just wanted a bit of peace. That was why she had come alone.
That was why I had come alone, I realised that evening. Looking back, I hadn’t really made much of an effort to find someone to come away with. The next day I saw her again and waved. Her smile, though friendly, firmly told me to keep walking. She was not lonely, not at all. And neither was I, I discovered.
I ate when I liked, slept well, swam, read books. I sat by the sea with a cocktail. I drank it watching the sun go down and felt like a queen. I got brown. I was happy. Better than happy: content.
There was to be a banquet in the hotel restaurant to see in 2008. I had a call from the reception desk anxious that I had not yet booked a seat for myself and my partner. I explained I had no partner. The pause was fractional, and then an apology, and then the request again. I confess, I balked at the thought of sitting alone in my room that night.
My sun-soaked solipsism failed in the face of monolithic New Year’s Eve.
There were seven of us on the table, the only group not divisible by two. The three couples were already seated. I had a drink. They looked curious, and a little put out – were they going to have to feel sorry for me, they wondered? Were they going to have to include me at the crucial moment, maybe even comfort me? That wasn’t what they’d bargained for. I tried to reassure them with my jaunty demeanour that I had not been jilted, or widowed, and had very much come on holiday alone on New Year’s Eve on purpose. I looked for the woman from the beach. She wasn’t there.
I wished everyone a happy new year and sauntered back to my room. It was all I could do not to whistle
Midnight approached and we were all pretty drunk. I felt a fibre of tension between the couple to my left. She was looking at her plate and whatever he was saying wasn’t working. Her nostrils flared. He went for a smoke. One of the other women was dancing drunkenly while her husband slept on his hand. She shoved him a bit, but nothing – so she started dancing with the waiter. The final couple sat side by side in a silence that wasn’t quite companionable. They were both thinking of other things. Other people?
The countdown began. The couple to my left took a break from what had become an all-out row to join in. We put on our complimentary 2008-shaped glasses. I peered out through the 00s, feeling pleasantly disguised. All the couples kissed each other at midnight. The man to my left kissed me too, and his wife clenched her fist. I took a step back. The man across the table fell comatose while his wife slow-danced with the waiter. The silent couple returned to silence. I felt awkward, and then … then there was the glorious realisation that I could just … leave.
I have been all these people before and since, but not that night. I wished everyone a happy new year and sauntered back to my room. It was all I could do not to whistle. I did not owe a thing to anyone in the world. I wished myself a happy new year, knowing all I would have to deal with in the morning was myself. I flew back refreshed on New Year’s Day. Alone, but complete.
Katy Brand is an actor, comedian and writer