Marlene Dietrich photo via The Cut

Recently, I spent two weeks on my own in Mallorca, says Elaine Kingett. I went for one short business meeting but decided to stay on for a bit, to get my head together on an island I love and first visited 45 years ago.

Every day I would take myself off up the hills or down to the sea, armed only with a notebook, pen and factor 20. On rugged, well-marked paths I would pass earnest hikers in top of the range, performance sportswear and there was me in my old black kaftan, a bum-bag and open-toed Tevas. I pride myself in my minimalist packing but my head was stuffed with confusion, worries and unresolved life-changing decisions. Walking on your own for hours, without the distraction of a partner, means that your subconscious is free to crawl out and stare you in the face. You can’t ignore it. Especially if you have no phone reception…

Far too nervous to eat out on my own in the evening – fearing that I either looked like Billy No-Mates or like I was waiting for some ‘action’ – every night I retired to my room to read everything I could find in my Airbnb and then when that quickly ran out, to write down what was inside my head. In silence.

By the end of the first week I was staring at Skyscanner, desperately searching for an early flight home. But I stuck it out. And my God, it did me good.

Alone in the Tramontana Mountains, away from my comfort zone of work-work-work and with no kids popping in or neighbours to bump into, I eventually found clarity. I use periods of silence, for an hour or so, on my writing retreats (Elaine runs Write it Down! retreats in Spain and the UK) and I know by experience how they help us all to slow down and become aware of our place in the natural world, but this was the first time I had forced myself to listen to what I was thinking for an extended period of time.

There’s a pink neon sign in my favourite bar in Mallorca – ‘Silence Is Sexy.’ But it is also scary. I didn’t want to know what was in my head. Silence can be used as a weapon, too: being ‘sent to Coventry’, the silent sulk in a relationship that can kill love. But by unplugging our distractors – phone, computer, radio, TV – by spending time in an unfamiliar location, away from friends and family, we give ourselves space. Space to reconsider, to re-create. And we can return to our noisy, everyday lives a little stronger, a little more confident in our own abilities and a little more determined to try again.


22 thoughts on “Sounds of silence: the benefits of spending time alone

  1. Taking the train into NYC to wander around a museum, by myself,
    to look at art and people watch does this for me. I understand.

  2. Hi Elaine, Traveling alone is an area of great interest to me. I’ve traveled solo for business but that’s very different because you have a purpose and usually a full schedule. To have the time to just be on your own in an unfamiliar place, preferably in nature, is something I’m yearning to do. Next year when my younger daughter goes off to college, that’s the plan. Thanks for the story.

  3. Wonderful post. A beautiful, very sexy and popular woman I met as a teenager used to say “if you find yourself unable to spend time with yourself alone, you need to spend time with yourself alone to find out why.”

  4. Every year (maybe twice if I come into extra cash) I make it a priority to spend a period of 2-4 weeks alone in Paris. This is a gift of deep self care that I give myself…. of course it could be anywhere but there is the legacy of writing and art and cafe culture that gives the experience another layer that nourishes me. I also learnt to eat out alone there. To take my time and to ask for what I want. It has changed my life in every way. I recommend it to every midlife woman!

  5. Could not agree more! I enjoy going out & meeting friends/ acquaintances but LOVE coming home. I can happily spend a few days holed up reading, painting, gardening…. bliss. I regularly holiday alone & walking in the great outdoors is divine! Really essential that as mature adults we learnt to enjoy, not just tolerate our own company. Am off to US next week to see my baby granddaughter….v.excited, but will also be happy to return to my ‘nest’.

  6. There is so much to guide and inspire me in Elaine’s words and the comments from others. I have been a widow since February this year and am trying to adjust to my new life. I am lonely a lot of the time and I feel a bit unsure of the future but, after reading this post, I am encouraged to ‘get out there’ and discover more of myself and the world. Thanks so much everyone.

  7. Loved to read that other people go alone. I did for the 1st time this year, booked myself a holiday to Crete. I figured I was old enough to do it.(58) and experienced in holidays abroad with my family.. I enjoyed the peace, no worries of pleasing anyone else but myself. I ate in the same place most nights, there wasn’t much choice of restaurants around that’s why I chose it .swam, ate relaxed read books but mostly relaxed with my own thoughts..defo do it again.

  8. Really enjoyed this piece. I’m a regular solo traveller and it makes me sad when people say “oh, you’re so brave, I could never do that.”
    I really think everyone’s life (but especially women’s) would be enlarged, enlivened, enboldened if they got used to eating alone regularly, if not frequently, from an earlier age. Such a simple thing, but so fraught for so many.

  9. Inspiring essay, thank you
    You might enjoy the book “Silence in the Age of Noise” by Erling Kagge. I have rarely felt so connected with an author whilst reading a book.

  10. Thanks for this article. As I’ve got older I’ve acclimatised to spending more time on my own and enjoying my own company. But this is in the context of having a longstanding partner and the contrast of time spent alone. When he’s away I enjoy doing things by myself. For the past few years I have gone to Paris on Eurostar to spend two or three nights alone in a familiar hotel in a familiar neighbourhood. I book exhibitions ahead I want to see, window shop and eat out in cafes on my own in familiar situations. I’m never worried about going to the cinema or theatre matinees on my own or dance performances if I get a chance to see something of interest and no one is free to join me. Feels very satisfying and builds confidence to do this.

  11. I read this and found myself deeply moved by Elaine’s experience. I know Elaine and know what wonderful company she is; someone who is great fun to be with, to laugh and chatter with about just about anything!
    After being on two of her amazing writing retreats in Andalusia, I know how Elaine encourages her writers to use silence as a positive medium for inspiration. At first it is uncomfortable, but, after a while the thoughts flood into your head and these moments are incredibly productive.
    I work alone from home. Sometimes when my husband returns I use my voice for the first time since saying ‘goodbye’ to him at 6am. But, he comes home. I garden alone for hours, but he is nearby.
    After reading about Elaine’s two weeks of aloneness, I started to rather envy the immense space that this time had allowed, allowing oneself to just think, to let in all the negative but also all the positive things we think about ourselves/others/our lives etc, and in doing so, finding answers to the many things we shove to the back of our subconscious, to be dealt with ‘another day when we have time’.
    I though about how great it would be to try this out sometime. I might have to start with just a week….

  12. The trick that men seem to know and we women have to learn is that people will often ‘see’ what we project. So, project a confident and independent woman eating alone and enjoying uninterrupted people-watching, and that’s what people will see. Cast yourself as the nervous and/or desperate older woman looking for company, ditto. Having said that, I find the company of a dog to be the ideal halfway house between solitude and a crowd!

  13. I used to hate dining on my own, but now enjoy the peace. You need to be somewhere they don’t resent single diners per se. And a book is a great companion while you’re practicing.

  14. Like the song says: ” I came in this world Alone.” I have never had a problem being by myself: gives me time to work on my own fabulousness! If you cannot bear to be alone, if only for a while, you’re not good to be around. Like using moisturiser regularly, it’s good to get into the habit of being alone early. What’s the worst that could happen?

    P.S. Strange that a grown woman feels “too nervous” to eat out on her own. Very strange.

  15. Traveling alone is one of my greatest joys. I first did it in my early 30s and went to the Abacos, which had not yet been discovered by tourist. No phones, no TV and this was before the internet. When my husband cancelled our 10th anniversary trip to Paris at the last minute, I went without him. Seven years later I went back, again solo, to celebrate my divorce. Every trip was so special and far exceeded my expectations.

  16. I love traveling alone. I also enjoy traveling with others but don’t find it nearly as relaxing. And I really love dining alone, without a book to hide behind. I’ve found it most pleasant to sit at a counter when possible, you can talk with the server if so inclined and have happily had some wonderful conversations with other diners. Never has anyone seemed to think I was looking for action. But often I just keep to myself and observe. And I never let them seat me in the back of the room like my solo presence needs to be hidden! Why would eating in public make you nervous? I am puzzled.

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