So what is the big deal about travelling solo? Being a solo female traveller? I get that solo travel is not for everyone but I think until you have tried it don’t knock it. I am a people person but I also enjoy my own company and independence. I believe travelling solo gives you the best of both worlds. For me I have discovered it is the most exciting and satisfying way to travel and I if you haven’t tried it then I hope I can inspire you to at least give it a go. Then decide if it really is something you enjoy or not.
In early 2016 when I set out on this nomad life the first adventure I planned was to hike 500 kilometers from the top of New Zealand to Auckland following the Te Araroa Trail. ON MY OWN! I had done a bit of hiking in New Zealand but not so much by myself and here I was about to head off on a 500 kilometer adventure across the countryside without another soul. What I didn’t really think about was how little time I would be completely ‘on my own’. Of course I realised I wouldn’t be the only person doing this trail but from the very first day I was meeting loads of people and it was on this day I met a German couple who would later on turn out to be good friends that I still keep in touch with today.
The five weeks I spent making my way to Auckland gave me a new sense of confidence that I never had before. I would have considered myself a confident person beforehand, otherwise I don’t think I would have taken on an adventure like this in the first place. But after walking 500 kilometers with the very bare essentials on my back and only myself to rely on for my safety and well-being, I felt like anything was possible. No obstacle was too big or going to get in the way of me achieving what I wanted.
So what I am saying here is the gain is not just about having the confidence to travel solo without the fear of something going wrong, but having the confidence to do just about anything. Maybe it is the confidence to talk to a stranger that caught your eye, quit that job you hate or be crazy enough go bungy jumping. It is a real sense of freedom and something I believe one needs to truly live the YOLO life.
Later on that year I began another adventure, travelling around Europe. For the first two months I travelled with one of my best friends, someone I had been friends with for over 25 years. There is definitely something to be said about sharing travel experiences and I wouldn’t have changed our time together for the world! We made some amazing memories that we will share for the rest of our lives and I will truly cherish. However, it also gave me a chance to really compare travelling with someone and travelling alone.
After we parted ways I spent the next six months travelling solo. What I learnt very quickly was how it was much easier to meet new people. On the very first day on my own I made another new friend who again I am still in touch with today. The two of us met in Nice, France and spent the next week exploring Nice and neighboring places like Eze and Monaco. Not long after that I settled in Zagreb, Croatia for a few months and it was there that I attended my first InterNations event. This is an online expat community that you can register with and connect with people in just about any major city in the world. Because I was going to be in Zagreb for a while I figured it was a good way to make a few new friends. And of course I did! The next friend was from the USA and for the next few months we had loads of cool adventures together including a trip to Slovenia and the most amazing day at Plitvice Lakes.
Those two stories are not about being solo but what being solo has to offer. I love to meet new people, I love the diversity it brings into my life, the new experiences it has to offer and the friendships I get to make. Also, having friends all over the world is a big bonus! Especially when it comes to a place to stay and having a local to show you around. While hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc I made a friend from Bristol, we ended up hiking a whole day together. It was the most amazing day and we had got to know each other pretty well having spent about nine hours walking in the wilderness. The cool thing was I ended up in England about 4 months later and spent a weekend staying with her in Bristol. She was a fantastic tour guide and if it wasn’t for her I probably would never have got to see and experience Bristol the way I did.
Now the flip side of all this is that being solo I get to choose when I want to spend time with people and when I don’t. If I want to make last minute plans, have no plans or spend the day doing my own thing I can. Travelling with someone else often means compromise, you have to decide things together and the other person, or people, might have different ideas about what to do, how to do it and when to do it. I love, as a solo traveller, that I get to make all the decisions.
And what about safety some of you say? I haven’t been to some of the most dangerous places in the world but there are places I have been where people warned me not to go due to safety. Don’t listen to scaremongers and do your research. For my big walk my biggest concern was that I might injure myself and have no one to help. I minimised that by not taking unnecessary risks and investing in a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). For most of my life I had always wanted to visit Jamaica and when I had the opportunity to do so I was adamant I was going to spend my time staying in Kingston. I wanted to get among the locals and experience the culture. Kingston has a reputation for being unsafe but not once did I ever feel unsafe there. I had an amazing time, met some super friendly and helpful locals and was also completely out of my comfort zone. I loved it! Another place I am glad I went to was Tijuana, Mexico. Again a place with a reputation for not being the safest but like Jamaica, I did my research from using public transport to avoiding certain areas. Research is key, talk to others who have been and come to your own conclusions about whether a place is safe to visit or not.
Fear of travelling alone is more about the unknown that the facts. There are many risks in life and we take them all the time but usually they are risks we are familiar with. When it comes to something bad happening to us we are more likely to be in a car accident than be attacked in a strange city but we still get in cars. We just make sure we put on our seat belt and drive safe. Travel shouldn’t be any different, just make sure you know how to limit the risk and keep yourself safe.
If you are not a solo traveller I hope you find the courage one day to give it a go, maybe you will be converted and enjoy many more solo adventures. For those of you who already love travelling solo I hope you enjoyed my perspective and experiences. Below I offer a few of my own personal solo travel tips and if you have more please don’t hesitate to add a comment. Happy and safe travels to you all, YOLO!
Solo Travel Tips
if a city offers it, do a free walking tour as soon as you get there. Its a great way to get the local tips and advice and maybe make a new friend or two
stay in hostels to meet people, you can do share dorms or private rooms but either way you are guaranteed to meet people and make friends
ask a trustworthy looking family/group to guard your minimal gear (because you would trust strangers with anything important) when you want to swim at a crowded beach
join online communities like Facebook Groups, Couch Surfing, Meet Up, InterNations
keep in touch with friends and family back home, make sure they know of your plans and check in regularl
don’t do drugs or have more than a couple of drinks if you are out alone or with strangers, you should always have your wits about you
don’t be shy to ask a stranger to take that photo.
do your research. Safety is mostly common sense but for some places it pays to know the dos and don’ts of keeping safe.
learn to say no, if you are not comfortable with a person or situation walk away
if you are worried about being hassled by guys, wear a ring on your wedding finger
smile often and learn to say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ in the local language