It’s lovely to travel alone. With only yourself to look after, there are no compromises; the destination, agenda, and all-important questions of where, when, and what to eat are entirely at your discretion. Bliss! For frequent fliers and homebodies alike, the feeling of losing yourself in the culture and people of a new place is an extraordinary and deeply necessary thrill.
That said, selecting the appropriate setting for your big (or small) adventure, especially as a woman, can be a complicated affair. Setting a budget for airfare, accommodations, ground transportation and incidentals is one thing, but how can you be sure you’ll feel comfortable wherever you’re going? That you won’t be too busy peering over your shoulder to drink in the sublime freedoms of being alone?
While there are few guarantees in this world, there are movies—and quite a few of them can come in handy here. There’s nothing quite like the medium of film for depicting travel and displacement; the annals of cinematic history have seen many dramatis personae set off for further shores. Numbered prominently among them are women, almost invariably in search of some thing (a farm in Africa, a villa in Tuscany, a “groove”) missing from their lives; and folded into their trials and triumphs overseas are some fabulous tips for the woman who just wants to wander.
I Know Where I’m Going / The Hebrides
Powell and Pressburger’s 1945 classic unfolds on the Isle of Mull, the second-largest island of Scotland’s Inner Hebrides, where the headstrong Joan Webster (played by the marvelous Wendy Hiller) awaits passage to the further Isle of “Kiloran,” the site of her impending wedding.
From the mainland (namely, the coastal town of Oban), Mull and most other Hebrides are easily accessible by ferry. Once you arrive, there is thrillingly little to do but explore the craggy landscape. In their exquisite remoteness, many of the islands still feature incredible ruins (the Dun Carloway, for example, a stone structure on the Isle of Lewis dating back to the Iron Age), and their people are uncommonly friendly. Even Joan is eventually charmed.
For a touch of luxury, stay at the Kinloch Lodge Hotel & Restaurant on the Isle of Skye, where you can enjoy breathtaking walks near the Loch Na Dal or around the Cuillin mountains before sitting down to a five-course meal by chef Marcello Tully.
Lost in Translation / Kyoto
For a day’s respite from the din of Tokyo, Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) boards a bullet train due west for Kyoto, where she meanders through the Heian Shrine in Sakyō-ku and the Zen Nanzenji Temple at the foot of the Higashiyama mountains. Left to her lonesome, the same feelings of uncertainty and unknowing that so distressed her at home become oddly liberating, bolstering her quiet curiosity and spirit of adventure.
As Japan’s onetime imperial capital, Kyoto attracts tens of millions of tourists each year with the enduring tranquility of its gardens, shrines, historic wooden townhouses (called Machiya), and traditional tea houses (especially in the famous Gion district); all ideal for reclaiming one’s peace of mind. For lodgings, a single traveler might try The Millennials Kyoto capsule hotel, which has sleeping pods fitted with deft modern touches (like a personal projector screen) and high-tech communal lounge and kitchen areas.
Summertime / Venice
Katharine Hepburn is Jane Hudson, a single American woman visiting Venice, in this romantic feature from Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago director David Lean. A year after the film’s 1955 release, The New York Times reported an uptick in female tourists following Jane’s lead, and it’s not difficult to imagine why. Prior to being swept into a love affair with a married antiques dealer, Jane can be seen having a leisurely drink on the terrazza of the villa where she’s taken a room, dining at an open-air café in the Piazza San Marco, and gleefully whipping out her adorable hand-held camera whenever inspiration strikes. Besides, of Italy’s largest cities, Venice is said to be among the safest, making it perfect for an excursion.
If you’re in search of some of the old-fashioned glamour of Summertime, the single rooms at Hotel Danieli offer handsome wood furnishings and beautiful damask upholstery while the structure itself—all parquet floors, polished marble walls and corinthian columns—sits directly across the lagoon from the San Giorgio Maggiore to the south, and about a twelve-minute walk from the Peggy Guggenheim Collection to the west.
The Green Ray / Biarritz and Saint-Jean-de-Luz
The protagonist of Éric Rohmer’s poetic Le Rayon Vert (known to some as Summer) strays from Paris to Cherbourg and the Alps before reaching Biarritz (and later still, Saint-Jean-de-Luz, 12 miles away), a small city near France’s border with Spain. In a film that takes as its subject Delphine (Marie Rivière), a lonely young woman unhappy in her personal relationships and in desperate need of a vacation, both Biarritz and Saint-Jean-de-Luz seem to balance the solitary pleasures of the seaside with the society of a minor metropolis. As a lone traveler, Delphine can float between sunbathing and people-watching, absorbing the leisurely pace of a Basque summer.
In Biarritz, consider spoiling yourself with a suite at the decadent Hôtel du Palais—originally a retreat for Napoleon III’s wife, Eugénie—which boasts a five-floor spa and three great restaurants. In Saint-Jean-de-Luz, the Hotel La Réserve is just a twenty-minute walk from the town center, and surrounded by seven acres of pretty parkland.
Frances Ha / Paris
In Noah Baumbach’s ebullient 2012 indie, the title character (Greta Gerwig) books a 48-hour trip to Paris with a brand-new credit card, taking advantage of a friend’s empty apartment.The damning financial consequences of this aside, it’s a great idea: Paris is a marvelous city to see alone, with unending amusements in every arrondissement. Frances opts for window-shopping, strolling through the Tuileries Garden, and having a smoke near the Seine, but others may prefer a tour of the Palais Garnier, dropping by the Musée Rodin, or picking up a fresh pastry from one of the thousands of quaint patisseries. Rain or shine, the city is much too beautiful and interesting to do anything other than exactly what you want, especially on a short journey.
Some purists will swear by the Hôtel Ritz Paris or Plaza Athénée, but for a woman flying solo, the 48-room Relais Christine on the cozy Left Bank is a lovely option, as is the elegant Hôtel de Vendôme. Either way, c’est si bon!
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