If you’re thinking of making the leap to travel around the world solo, I may be able to offer some good advice. As a co-founder of a UK based travel operator, I have spent years travelling and seeing things I never thought I would. My belief is that no matter what happens in life, either at an early age or an older age, it’s never too late to get out there and start seeing what the world has to offer as a solo traveller.
Once you have got past the ‘Oh Christ, what have I done?’ moment of realisation whilst sat on a bus, plane, train or taxi, solo travel around the world can be the most exhilarating, inspiring, adventurous, character-building and educational thing you ever do. I won’t lie and say there isn’t a huge requirement to hold your nerve, but once you’re over that initial sense of dread you’ve just got to buckle in and enjoy the ride.
And while there are endless practical things I could tell you about, what I have learnt on my travels is: Always check the bed for creepy crawlies, always get travel insurance and whilst it’s OK to be free and easy and live on the edge a little, do always book accommodation ahead. Here are the 13 major things I’ve learnt as a solo female travelling around the world.
1) MY INSTINCT IS PRETTY STRONG & USUALLY CORRECT
I can see a bus coming and I know it’s not the right one for me. I can walk down a street and get a sense I’m going the wrong way and I can see something ‘interesting’ in a street market in Phuket and think ‘on this occasion it is not wise to eat the local cuisine’. My sixth sense has grown strongly through my travels purely because I’m on my own and I’ve got to trust my own judgement.
2) I DON’T NEED TO CHASE SOCIAL MEDIA ‘LIKES’
Craving ‘likes’ and attention on social media can be pretty relentless and pretty unrewarding. My travels have taught me to just appreciate what you see and do, even if only you have seen it and done it. Nobody else has my specific memories. They are personal to me and therefore very precious and that is far more important than social media acceptance.
3) IT’S EASY TO COMMUNICATE WITH OTHERS
I’ve picked up the basics of a few languages on my travels, but you can pretty much get by with some universal methods of communicating that work in any country. Using the eyes, gestures, offering food or offering a smile; they all work wonders wherever you are.
4) I’VE LEARNT TO JUST SAY ‘YES’
I guess this goes along with my newly refined instinct, but I am far more ready to say ‘yes’ than I used to be, in terms of taking on adventure or another leg of my journey that takes me out of my comfort zone. I once dithered over a boat ride from Sorrento to Capri in Italy, because the waters looked a bit choppy, but I went and did it and Capri turned out to be one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been to.
5) I DON’T NEED PERFUMES, CLOTHES OR MATERIAL THINGS
This is not just about travelling light but learning to let go of things that don’t really matter. The world is an enriching place that has so much to offer and we are just a tiny little part of it. Travel teaches you to make the most of your time and your opportunities and that makes you realise that make-up, shoes and iPhones really aren’t that important. Except my phone takes great photos, but you know what I mean!
6) SOLO TRAVELLERS ARE EASY TO SPOT
They do exist! It isn’t a myth and I have found solo female travellers in all sorts of varied and remote places such as Croatia and New Zealand, who seem to emit this telepathic signal. It’s a wonderful thing and so helpful when it happens. There is definitely an unspoken sisterhood about encountering people in the same boat as you and in a couple of instances it has led to long and happy, if distant, friendships.
7) IT’S OK TO FEEL VULNERABLE TRAVELLING SOLO
This is a completely natural feeling but it can make the rewards so much better. When you land in your digs or come home from your first meal out it makes all the nerves and worry worthwhile. Furthermore, you would be surprised how many people might spot your vulnerability and stop to help you with directions or advice. Feeling vulnerable is to be expected, but the further along your travels you go, the stronger you will become.
8) I NO LONGER WORRY ABOUT MY APPEARANCE
There have been days when I have had to get up in the dark to catch a local bus to get to a train station for the only train in two days, and at that point my hair and skin tone isn’t too important. While the ‘earthy’ traveller look has its limitations and personal hygiene is doubly important on your travels, we are fantastic just the way we are and most of the world will agree.
9) I AM FAR MORE CONFIDENT THAN I THOUGHT
Give me a bus timetable in Marrakesh, a street trader in New Delhi or a waitress in Venice and I can now navigate my way safely through any awkward encounters and on towards life’s great pleasures, without any troubles at all.
10) I HAVE AN ADVENTUROUS PALATE
Whilst I always felt I had pretty varied tastes food-wise that was nothing until I encountered the street markets in Izmir and Bodrum in Turkey. They were a real eye-opener and essentially it taught me that you can’t travel to all these places and be timid and unadventurous with your food. And that you can’t say you’ve had proper Indian food, until you’ve had proper Indian food.
11) TRAVELLING IS INSATIABLE
Once you have returned from your first solo travel trip you might feel exhausted and emotional, but you will soon be thinking about your next journey into the unknown. And the more you do, the more the world opens up before you and new opportunities present themselves.
12) TRAVELLING HAS PREPARED ME FOR WORK LIFE
Through my travels I have found that I am not intimidated by situations, I can handle and judge people better, I can communicate better, I can build relationships easier and I can appreciate teamwork and people finding their strongest role. This has all helped me in a work environment, too.
13. I AM READY FOR MY NEXT CHALLENGE NOW
Whether it’s my next holiday, building an extension or conservatory at home or my next project at work, I am ready for it as a result of being empowered by my travels and regularly overcoming adversity.
This is everything I’ve learnt on my travels, and following your instincts and going for that solo holiday is something I can’t recommend strongly enough. I completely understand the fear and anxiety but I know my experiences aren’t unique, and the best thing is, my travels are far from over!