Why I Started Solo Travelling
Initially, I began travelling solo in my twenties because I was determined to see the world but my friends weren’t available to come with me. I then met my husband & settled down for the next 2 decades. Six years ago, my life came crashing down around my ears when I tragically lost him, but travel came in on a white horse to save me. My passion for exploring allowed me to grieve & heal. Cliched though it sounds, it helped me to find myself & who I was now I was alone once more. As a result, I’ve fallen in love with solo travel again.
I Try To Travel Often
I am fortunate that circumstances have allowed me to have the choice to go away when I like, for however long I want to. Before the pandemic, I was spending 8 months or more away within a year. Often, it’s for a month or two, but more recently for 6 months at a time.
I like to mix things up when I travel between going it alone completely & putting myself into situations to meet like minded people. I love hiking (I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to celebrate turning 50), have learned to sail in the Caribbean & speak Spanish in Cuba, volunteered at a wildlife sanctuary in Namibia & sometimes join tours or retreats. It all depends on what I fancy doing in the destination I have chosen.
How I Choose Where To Travel Next
To give me direction after losing my husband, I created a Life List of all the places I wanted to go & experiences I wanted to have. It has been my road map for the last 6 years & taken me to some amazing places. I often like to spend at least a month in a country to try & get to see as much as I can & am a fan of slow travel.
To prepare for a trip I usually go to the Lonely Planet Guides & blogs first to decide where I want to go, for how long & what I want to do. I tend to book my time & accommodation based on this. Then, when I arrive, I ask lots of questions of everyone I meet. This really helps me to mold my experience & discover hidden gems & top tips along the way from both locals & travellers alike.
How I Pack For My Trips
I’d love to say I’m a carry-on only traveller but so far, I haven’t perfected the art! I think a lot of the weight I carry is face cream! I have most recently discovered packing cubes of which I am now a convert, although it does always make my room look like a bomb has gone off in my bag as soon as I arrive.
I usually travel with a backpack & have recently discovered the joys of having one with wheels. I like to take multi-purpose clothes & buy jewelry as souvenirs as I go. That way I am wearing my memories all the time back home.
My rule of thumb is that everything I pack needs to take up the minimum of space & be as light as possible. And I always pack a corkscrew, bottle opener & manicure set (you’d be surprised how often tweezers, scissors & nail files come into their own!).
I also always take a bandana. It's perfect for bad hair days, as a neck protector on long hikes & was a godsend to protect from the smoke when I was helping to fight a bushfire in Namibia.
Safety Precautions I Take When I Solo Travel
I have a whole blog post on the tricks I’ve picked up after 30 years travelling. Be aware of your surroundings, keep your eyes & ears open to what’s happening around you. Don’t always have your eyes on your phone or your earphones in as you may miss something.
Always walk with confidence; good posture, eyes in front & stride with purpose even if you think you’re going in the wrong direction!
Don’t stay out late, don’t arrive anywhere in the dark (if possible), eat a main meal during the day & if you’re out for a drink, never leave it unattended.
Use a crossbody bag & wear it on your front, don’t take out all your money, always have an emergency fund, keep friends & family informed on where you are & where you’re going next & never take anything with you that you will be sad to lose, for either monetary or emotional reasons.
If you do have anything valuable keep it hidden at all times in public places.
Countries I’ve Visited So Far
So far, I have visited 73 countries across 6 continents (Antarctica is in my sights!).
My favorite country is Cuba & I believe it is perfect for solo travel. My first trip there was for a month to learn Spanish & I fell in love with the country. I stayed in a residential area in Havana for 2 weeks, taking Spanish lessons in the morning & learning salsa in the afternoons. I loved it!
It is so different from any other place I’ve visited & although women generally get a lot of attention there, it is not threatening. I walked many times alone at night & never felt at risk which I can’t say about many other countries.
After this I spent 2 weeks travelling solo, taking long journeys in beaten-up old American cars. I stayed in the casa particulares where you have a room in a family home. They were always welcoming; the food was delicious & it was the perfect way to progress my language skills.
I have since returned twice for yoga retreats (my usual motto is “never go back”) & always feel a sense of exhilaration at the beauty & chaos of the country.
Some Of My Favorite Travel Apps & Websites
Lots! Tripit I can’t do without. It keeps all the aspects of my trip organized & in one place. It has also come to my rescue a few times when I have accidentally booked something for the wrong date! Maps.me is another one which I love as it is a great way to find directions using the offline maps but also put pins into all the places you visit along the way. Finally, Rome2Rio can be really useful to find the best way of getting from A to B with public transport.
Why I Started My Blog
Initially, I started blogging to share my adventures & it helped me feel I was justifying my life choices. However, it was so effective at giving me a focus that I decided to make it much more. My mission is to create a one-stop shop with ideas, resources & inspiration for all women over 40 to have the confidence to travel solo.
Having travelled alone extensively in my 20’s & now again in my 40s & 50s, it is a much different proposition. When you are younger, there are many more people who are walking similar paths but once you’re older, we are a much rarer breed. I am a very different person from who I was when I first began this journey too.
How I Manage My Costs While Travelling
I don’t travel on a budget per se, but I am always conscious of costs. I love taking public transport & see it as a way to better understand the culture of a country.
I usually stay in 3-star places & prefer privately owned rather than the larger chains. I love Airbnb’s or guesthouses to cut down costs & meet more people. I’m not averse to staying anywhere if it fits my purpose & gives me an interesting experience.
However, I also like to know I have some money in the pot to treat myself occasionally if things have been tough.
One Of My Most Craziest Travel Experiences
I have so many travel stories that I have a section dedicated to them on my blog!
My favorite comes from that first-ever trip, a 3-month overland adventure across Central & Eastern Africa back in 1992. We were camping every night around the truck where we lived for 9 weeks. That night, we were in the Serengeti. Over dinner, we heard howling sounds but were told they were coming from a long way away. So, we went to bed.
A few hours later, I was woken by roaring and growling. It felt like it was very close but repeated the mantra that everything was far away. I turned over and went back to sleep. It transpired that we had three lions in our camp for well over an hour. There were two lionesses and one cub. They played around a campsite while we all stayed terrified in a tent with only a penknife here and there to defend ourselves.
For one couple, it was an even closer encounter. They could hear and feel heavy breathing before the unwelcome visitor slumped almost on top of them on the side of their tent.
By the time morning arrived, the items they had left outside had bite marks and punctures in them. Still missing was the left shoe of a pair of trainers.
Some of the girls had a washing line strung up in the camp; this was long gone, as were all their clothes. One of them found a tatty square which was originally her favorite pair of denim shorts. Another found her shorts, but they had a huge hole bitten in one of the legs. She carried on wearing them with pride. It was certainly a lucky escape!
How I Fund My Travels
I’m an unlucky kind of fortunate person. I have suffered a lot of loss, particularly over the last few years. This has left me in a tragic position but with that has come some degree of financial security.
Therefore, I fund my travels using investments and money from renting out my property. I can’t choose my circumstances, but I have chosen my response to them.
I realized early on that I could change to a less conventional lifestyle. It has helped me heal and grieve while having some amazing adventures that most people only dream about. I have a choice, I am eternally grateful for that.
I am yet to earn any money from the blog but am hoping that will come soon while I plug away. Ironically, since I haven’t been able to travel, my blog has benefitted. I have a lot of stories, advice & destination guides to share from my 30 years.
Some Of The Biggest Challenges To Solo Travel
I do think age makes a difference. As we get older, we naturally become more cautious.
When I was younger, I used to throw myself with enthusiasm into all opportunities. I had no fear. I met a lot of people my age, with the same attitude as me. I made a lot of instant connections. I loved to stay in hostels where it was natural to make friends, no matter how transient. Many fun memories were made!
When you embark on the adventure later in life, you bring with you the battle scars, & these have their impact on your confidence.
There are far fewer people who can relate to how and why you are on your journey. I think it makes us more interesting, but I’m biased!
I certainly experienced sudden social awkwardness when I first restarted my solo journey. I found it difficult to embark on conversations with anyone as I was worried about my fragile emotional state. I was terrified that I may be asked those dreaded questions: “Are you traveling alone?” and “Why?”.
As a result, it was easier to avoid those situations. Then, I learned that it was depriving me of making deeper connections with people.
Nowadays, I am six years from ground zero and able to have a conversation without concern that I will be over-emotional in public. And if I am, people are always even more lovely.
Some Things I Wish I Had Known When I First Started Solo Travelling
I could name a myriad of things I’ve gained from solo travel. Resilience, resourcefulness, self-reliance, assertiveness, but the biggest things are confidence & freedom.
Initially, the confidence I gained set me up for a successful career in sales & management but as I have got older it has enabled me to retake control of my life. Freedom means I can go where I want, whenever I want to go there (global pandemics allowing!).
It’s hard to think back over 30 years to when I first started to travel alone. However, for anyone who is concerned about going solo for the first time, my advice is JUST DO IT!
You’ll learn the strength and power of your capabilities, the importance of feeling vulnerable, and how you need to trust strangers. You will grow in ways that you never thought were possible. The world can be a scary place but it’s full of very generous strangers.
There’s an awful lot of things that you can do to minimize the risks and maximize your enjoyment of the experience. Trust your guts, embrace every opportunity they say you should, and most importantly, just go out there and do it. When you decide to take the plunge, you will wonder why on earth you didn’t do it any earlier!
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