How 5 Years Leading Educational Tours Taught Me Solo Travel
Published by GAFFL
Last updated - 09:59 AM
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GAFFL connects travelers around the world who have similar itineraries to share costs and experiences as they backpack around the planet. Simply type the destination you are traveling to, connect with travelers and locals, chat, meet up and explore together!

Jeannie is a teacher who is using GAFFL to find travel companions while she adventures the globe. You can connect with her on GAFFL and also follow her on Instagram @MSTrvlLib. 

From Small Town, Mississippi, U.S.A. to European Destinations, My New Hometowns

I was seventeen years old and on a flight to Zurich when I met a girl my age who blew my mind with her independence. I am from a small town where the only international travel once done was when required by military service. The girl had been backpacking all over Europe and was talking about her favorite spots. One was a place where she could survive on $5 a day. It was the island of Crete in Greece. Gone are those days in Crete, but the travel bug had bit me.

"Snow-covered Alpine lake." Photo 2016 by Jeannie Thompson

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Fast forward to my career as a public-school, teacher-librarian in Mississippi. I have had the joy of teaching research and fostering a love of reading in high school students, but I still felt I had something to give that included sharing my passion for European languages and travel. My journey to solo travel in the last five years was a result of the desire to inspire students to get out of their comfort zone, aka a sleepy Mississippi town, and become part of their global community. 

"New friends in England." Photo taken 2017 July.

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In 2015, I came across an opportunity to travel internationally and share it with my students. I started leading international tours in summers for a company named Explorica Educational. I wrote a Donor’s Choose grant to help give funding to my first student group. I also started taking adults and college students with me. At that time, I had traveled internationally, but had never traveled solo. I met other group leaders who stayed after tours and explored on their own. I started thinking I could do the same.


"Dinner in Edinburgh" Photo 2017 July by Jeannie Thompson

Necessity Is the Mother of Invention

It comes down to time. We only have so much of it. The Chuck Thompson quote is from Expert Vagabond by Matthew Karsten. It echoes what I hear from every seasoned traveler I meet. It addresses a common fear associated with doing new things, and travel is a great way to discover that most places we encounter have something unique to teach us! 

  • The problem is you think you have time. -Buddha
  • Time and tide wait for no man (or woman). -Geoffrey Chaucer
  • No place is as bad as they say it is going to be. -Chuck Thompson

Beginning is the Hardest Part

I started solo traveling in 2016 with a trip to Germany in February. I survived an ice storm flying back into the U.S.A. and getting stuck overnight in Charlotte, N.C., sleeping on the floor of the airport. It was a great initiation into the not so fabulous times associated with travel. This is something Anthony Bourdain echoed in his statement, “Travel isn’t always that comfortable.” Credits again to Expert Vagabond.

"November in Bordeaux" Photo 2017 by Jeannie Thompson  

At first when traveling solo, I kept to the beaten path, going places I could speak the language reasonably well, and then I began to branch out to places I had always wanted to see. I have stopped in London on every trip to Europe. I will never see all there is to see in the UK as a librarian and archivist. Plus, I recommend London to every American traveling to Europe for the first time. It sits culturally and geographically between America and Central Europe and is a great international travel trainer-trip. A fabulously international city. I also recommend Jess’s Love and London and her 3-Day Itinerary for first time travelers there. She makes living like a local doable with her information.

Six Favorite Things in Europe

  • Apricots in Durnstein and the Wachau Valley of Austria.
  • Bordeaux wines in November when the vineyards turn gold in France.
  • Mt. Pilatus hiking in Lucerne, Switzerland. The views are unmatched.
  • Portobello Market in London on a sunny Saturday. 
  • Ravello, Italy and swimming off Capri Island.
  • Tate Modern in London followed by finding something new for lunch at Borough Market.
A vase of flowers is sitting on the side of a building

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"Ravello." Photo 2019 by Jeannie Thompson

Overcoming “Yourself” While Traveling

There are times you will feel lonely. Push through it. The cure for loneliness is remembering why you are traveling. Get outside in nature. Join a walking tour with a local guide, a foodie tour, a hiking trip, or a watersport, go to lunch in a place with locals, visit a museum. Use GAFFL to get advice or meet those in the area who can show you around. Stay in a hostel or locally frequented accommodation, or an Airbnb, rather than an impersonal luxury hotel. Be cautious and trust your instincts ALWAYS, but most people you will find are generally helpful and friendly. Find tips from other female travelers on staying safe.

"Staying Hydrated in Rome." Photo 2019 by Jeannie Thompson.

I have met lifelong friends who have joined me on the tours that I have led. I have also met people traveling solo who have stayed in touch afterward, and those I never spoke to again who I have awesome memories of meeting. The people I have met and the things I have seen have inspired me to keep traveling.

"Rome Markets." Photo 2019 by Jeannie Thompson.

Covid-19 Challenges to Travel

Solo travel has extra challenges right now. In times of COVID-19, I am purchasing GeoBlue or WorldNomads medical insurance, wearing a mask, and packing lots of hand sanitizer and wipes. Social distancing of 6 feet may give a whole new meaning to “solo.” I am registering my travel at STEP and watching travel alerts more closely at the U.S. Department of State.

"Museum Cafe Cappuccinos." Photo 2017 by Jeannie Thompson

Flight bookings I have found to be a challenge lately. As of June 2020, there are fewer. Most have inconvenient schedules and duration times compared to what has been the norm. This article from the NY Times tells a little about the situation with Coronavirus and flying.

"Warm Summer View from Tate Modern." Photo 2018 by Jeannie Thompson

I follow guidelines as social responsibility when traveling. Some island destinations, like Hawaii and islands in Greece, have been requiring a two-week quarantine for all entering, regardless of temperature and virus positive status. Though some of these requirements are changing and easing, I must consider coming back to work or school, as many universities, schools, and businesses are not allowing a return to work until 14 days after international travel. 

"Alps from Neuschwanstein Castle." Photo taken 2016 February.

“Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained”

Should you try solo travel, or travel at all right now?  It seems travel is overshadowed by Coronavirus right now, but people are still venturing out. A friend is texting me as I write this post. Telling me his flight over to Germany was easy. He said, “No trouble at all.”  Guidelines are being followed. Of course, nothing is certain, but has it ever been? There is a lot to gain from solo travel, and I plan to venture out again and again. 

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