What Inspired Me To Start Solo Traveling
I’ve been travelling on and off since I was 21 but I didn’t start my blog until I took a trip to Africa in February 2012 when I was 36 years old. I had just left my job, and was in the process of separating from my ex-husband and was ready to throw myself back out into the big wide world. My background is in the travel industry and I’m a freelance writer so starting the blog just seemed the perfect way to record my adventures on the road for my friends and family to follow.
Twenty years ago I took my first solo journey in Australia and built up enough confidence to travel back through Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos by myself. It was the most liberating experience and I still remember my final night before I was due to fly home, sitting in a bar in Laos toasting myself. I had such a feeling of accomplishment that I had travelled to all of those countries by myself! It was amazing.
I love figuring it all out by myself and going to countries where I can’t speak much of the language and meeting the local people. When you’re travelling solo you have so many more adventures and more interaction with people than you do as part of a group or a couple.
In my twenties, I travelled to gain confidence. In my thirties to get over my divorce, in my forties to find projects to help. I think I've become addicted to the self-empowerment that solo travel brings.
I Travel Full Time Now
I have been living my life as a digital nomad (pre-Covid) since 2014 so I usually live on the road. In the last three years, I have had to return to the UK every three or so months so I have been planning my trips around that. The longest I have been away is 20 months when I was living in South America. I love visiting emerging destinations that I don’t know much about and learning about the culture of the country. Visiting West Africa two years ago was such an eye-opener for me as it was so different.
I’ve been lucky enough to have seen the Seven Wonders of the World and have visited so many places that now I just want to learn about the other parts of the world that I haven’t travelled to. I want to give people a better understanding of the world so I always try and visit a project in the country to learn how local issues are affecting vulnerable girls. My aim in this lifetime is to see every single country and I hope that will be possible.
How I Choose Where To Travel Next
My bucket list grows all the time! Each time I meet someone who raves about a country that I haven’t been to, I get intrigued and add it to the list. I love going to places that I don’t know much about and finding out more when I’m there. Albania really surprised me and although I was apprehensive about visiting there, it turned out to be one of my favourite countries in Europe.
I use the ‘everywhere’ function on Skyscanner and look for somewhere that I haven’t been! I want to see every single country so I try not to go back to the same ones (except Barcelona and Oslo where I have friends). I like to visit more than one country and look at travelling overland between them. Then I check to see if I need a visa and how easy it is to obtain one.
Then I check the Foreign Office website (FCO) for safety information. I also research for projects in those countries that I can visit to write about, decide what I want to do in each country and work out a route. I can honestly take hours planning trips. I love it!
How I Pack For My Trips
This is a tricky one as I’m not a light packer and I take as much as I can squeeze into my backpack with me, but here’s what I definitely don’t travel without.
My laptop is the most important thing I take. It’s my office and my whole life is there but it’s so light to carry.
A universal plug if I’m going to more than one country, (it saves taking more than one as it covers the majority of continents).
A rain jacket, especially if it's the rainy season.
My sleep mask! I am such a light sleeper and staying in dorm rooms means that it’s hard to get a good night’s sleep. Since wearing this I have slept so much better (along with good earplugs too of course).
Also my make-up. Travelling around I usually go bare-faced but at night, I like to make an effort and feel more girly.
I also carry a couple of smart dresses for any events or business meetings as well as my bikini and sarong (which doubles up as a cover-up for temples etc), so I can lay on a beach and just chill with a book or my Kindle, that I don’t travel without either. I try to pack using layers so that I can travel to countries with different seasons. It’s not unusual for me to take sunscreen and a pair of gloves and tights too.
Common Safety Precautions That I Take
I look for safety advice on the FCO website and blogs from other women who have travelled to that country alone. I don’t walk around by myself at night and take taxis or public transport instead and if I want to experience the nightlife, I try and find others to meet up with through hostels, evening tours, Facebook communities or the Meet Up platform.
The advice I give to others regarding safety is to always listen to your instinct and be as vigilant as you can. I believe that you can get complacent when you’re with someone else but when you’re on your own, you’re constantly aware of who is behind you and where you’re walking. Asking your accommodation for their recommendations on areas you should avoid is a wise idea, and avoid walking anywhere at night.
And you need to get used to the stares too. Most people are just curious but if you try and blend in with your surroundings, listen to local knowledge about which areas to avoid and walk tall with confidence (even if you don’t feel it), then you’ll be fine.
My Travel History So Far
I have been lucky enough to have visited 131 countries and 101 of these alone. Plus other territories owned by the US, UK or France too. I love exploring places that people don’t know that much about to inspire them to travel there too. I’ve had some of my best adventures in the countries where I had the least expectations - Albania, Azerbaijan, and Colombia for example.
I was really lucky to visit Easter Island which had been on my bucket list for decades. This island is simply magical. I’ve yet to see Antarctica and there are still so many more places to explore.
Cambodia is one of my favourites. The people seem so humble and happy after such a horrible history with the Pol Pot regime back in 1975 where 1 out of 3 Cambodians was killed. To come out of something so brutal and be happy with the little they have is remarkable and very humbling. Bosnia as well for a similar reason. Visiting Sarajevo and seeing the bullet holes in the buildings and learning about their history with the war and how seeing their resilience, just made me appreciate the country even more. But then on a complete contrast, I love Dubai with its man-made structures and artificial palm island. I guess deep down I’m still a city girl.
I was once on the metro in Seoul, South Korea and an old man sat next to me and was asking me questions about where I was from and what I was doing there alone. He said, “you’re going to make a president one day.” I felt really flattered even though it’s obviously not going to happen.
One of my best experiences was on an overland trip to Africa. I was fortunate to have an amazing group of people for the whole five weeks but you just need one person who is not on your wavelength to upset the dynamics of your trip.
Travel Apps & Websites That I Use Regularly
I use Rome2Rio for planning my journeys whether that’s public transport from the airport, getting around countries or travelling overland between countries. I use Skyscanner for flights as I love their ‘everywhere’ function. Currency is a great app that has helped me so many times especially in countries where the currency exchange rate is in the 100’s or even 1000’s.
I usually book my accommodation through booking.com as I’m now on genius-level so I can get discounts and I like reading the reviews from other solo female travellers to check if it’s solo friendly.
Maps.me helps me find my way around. It’s an offline map which is ideal if I don’t have any data and I can mark where I’m staying with a little flag so I can always find my way back. I have also recently downloaded Uber for countries where I struggle to speak the language. It takes that awkwardness out of trying to find your destination when the taxi driver is too proud to say that they don’t know where it is.
How I Manage My Travel Costs
Over the last twenty-plus years of solo travelling, I’ve definitely learnt a few travel hacks such as travelling in the low season to save money on flights and accommodation. I always travel on a budget which allows me to see more countries. I’m really frugal with my money and tend to focus more on having experiences than staying inexpensive accommodation.
I travel on a budget and stay in hostels so I keep my travelling costs to a minimum. Saving money when you travel also seems to give the best adventures too. I am lucky enough to get press trips or complimentary stays so this definitely helps too. I don’t have a fixed place to live so I’m lucky that my ‘rent’ money can go on travel. I don’t really take tours to countries unless I’m unsure about the destination, such as West Africa, and prefer to travel around independently which helps to reduce costs. I cook my food as much as I can as well. Because I don’t have fixed dates that I can travel means that I can look for affordable dates and countries to travel to.
Some Of My Best Travel Stories
I’ve had so many! Staying with a Mayan Family in Belize and washing dishes in the river with the local women, surviving in the Brazilian Amazon for 5 days and sleeping in a hammock, and dancing at a voodoo ceremony in Benin. I’ve definitely had some very unusual experiences. One of my absolute extraordinary experiences has been trekking the Sahara Desert for War Child. My favourite landscape is the desert as I find it so magical and mysterious and being able to spend a few nights sleeping in a Bedouin tent, under the desert stars was such an incredible experience that I will never forget.
And I also appeared in a Thai soap opera! I was sitting in a cafe in Bangkok by myself when I was approached by a Western woman and a Thai man who asked me if I would like to earn £15 (which was about 5 nights accommodation in Thailand in 2001). The next day I found myself in the back of a taxi heading towards a temple to be an extra in a Thai soap opera. Apparently, they needed Western Women for a scene where they went back in time to England so I had to walk arm in arm with a Thai man dressed in a green Victorian dress around a market scene. I think the name of the programme was ‘White Rose.’ I even got free noodles too!
Some Things That Prevent Me From Traveling More
When I was travelling in India and the Middle East, I understood how a solo female can be perceived travelling alone. If you’re in a country that doesn’t share the same western values, being alone can be easily frowned upon, especially once you’ve reached a certain age. Not having a husband or even being divorced is unacceptable in some countries so to make my life easier I invented a boyfriend who I would be meeting in the next place.
Sometimes it can get lonely especially in countries where you can’t speak the language and you miss being with others. The longest time I can do alone is 3 days then I feel as though I need more human interaction than just speaking to waiters for example. The best way to get over this is to check into a hostel for some social interaction or join a tour even if it’s just a walking tour to meet others.
Being vigilant constantly and having to navigate your way around a new city and make sure that you are constantly safe. It can take more energy being by yourself than when you’re with others. You need to remember landmarks to make sure that you don’t get lost and have to find people to go out with for the evening but the pros definitely outweigh the cons. My biggest challenge is balancing work and travel. When you write about travel as your career you need to travel and research destinations whilst making sure that you get enough time to actually rest and enjoy where you are. I definitely travelled too fast in the past and experienced travel fatigue so I’m aware of building rest days into my plans now.
My Advice To New Solo Female Travelers
Don’t allow others to project their fear onto you. Friends and family will obviously be concerned for you but unless they have travelled to the destination you’re going to, they won’t know the reality of it. The only information they would have heard is the negative stories you hear in the news but this isn’t a true portrayal of what the world is really like.
Read travel blogs of people who have been to the country you want to travel to and get their opinion of what it was like a solo female visiting there.
Decide how comfortable you want your trip to be and choose a destination based on tourism infrastructure, culture and language (i.e. same language). Then just book the flight! Book your first 2 nights accommodation and a transfer from the accommodation. Then join a Facebook community, and plan what you want to do there.
My biggest piece of advice is to be open when you travel and not expect things to go to plan. To listen to your intuition, slow down and not sweat the small stuff. To learn from other cultures and understand their way of life and realise that deep down we are all the same. Travel teaches you not to judge and be open to any experience, whether good or bad. It’s a never-ending learning curve and every time you travel solo, you will learn something new about yourself. If you are thinking of travelling, just book the flight and take the first step!
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