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Lessons from Solo Traveller

Updated: Jul 10, 2023

Travelling the world has really shaped who I am, I’ve been to 47 countries and counting. I chose to prioritise this in my 20s and early 30s over saving for a house or settling down, and I have no regrets. Along the way I met interesting people who taught me lessons about life, tried foods I never knew existed, lost countless of hours of sleep getting up early or flights or tours, saw incredible wildlife (baby sloths, whale sharks and sea turtles laying their eggs on the beach in Costa Rica) and have seen enough churches, mosques, temples and ruins to last a lifetime. I’m as comfortable in hustle and bustle as solitude. Here is what I’ve learnt:

1. Relying on yourself

Travelling alone forces you to be an epic problem solver. I caught a 48hr train from Lhasa to Beijing once and they only had third class seats left (three people facing three people with a table in between). Horrified at my fate for the next two days I settled into my book - Shantaram - until a lovely passenger told me in very broken English that as a foreigner I'd be able to bribe the conductor to upgrade me once the train got going. This landed me in second class, with a bed to sleep at least. I’ve always had a ‘things will work out attitude’ and they generally do.

Chinese dinner
Vegetarian option train food

2. Blend in to avoid unwanted attention

When I arrived in India for the first time at 23 years old it was so hot and I thought ‘I’m going to wear what I want’ very naively. Shorts and singlets may seem practical in the heat but for your own sake it's much better to cover up your shoulders and above the knee in places like this and the Middle East. Sellers in the local bazaar can be relentless with tourists and the unwanted male gaze will never leave you. Always tell them you have a boyfriend or husband! Even then don’t be offended if they offer a male companion some camels for you.

Woman wearing a sari
Blending in

3. The ultimate sense of freedom

Travelling alone is the ultimate sense of freedom, you can go where you want everyday. No negotiations over where to eat, how much to spend and which adventure to have. I met an Aussie girl my first day in Mexico City and she told me about the then not so well known Isla Holbox, it wasn’t on my itinerary but I was sold. We met up there a few weeks later and it was one of my highlights of Mexico.

Woman at Isla Holbox
Worth the detour

4. It forces you to meet new people

People shy away from solo travel for the fear of being lonely, but you might just meet your soul sister like I did with Chloe on a walking tour in Cartagena. We ended up spending two weeks travelling Colombia together and even though we live on other sides of the world still keep in touch. I met some Mexican brothers on a bus ride from Bolivia to Peru and ended up climbing Machu Picchu with them, and met a Russian girl on a bus ride in Mexico and we ended up meeting throughout Central America. If I had not been alone I would not have been as open to talking to them.

3 people at Machu Picchu
Tagging along with new friends

5. Understand other people's lives

Out of all the incredible people i've met travelling a couple stand out - the mother running a homestay and cooking school in the West Bank to pay for a teacher for her disabled son, or the walking tour guide in Havana who made more money doing that on the weekends than he did as a doctor for an entire month. These people just wanted to provide a good life for their families as we all do. After watching Netflix shows like The Serpent I realised I've been pretty lucky to have generally positive experiences travelling, always trust your instinct - and watch your bag - but people are inherently good, talk to them.

woman cooking
Cooking class in with homestay mum in Bethlehem

6. Just be in the moment

The best thing about Cuba is that there is no internet (besides in Wifi parks) so you have no option but to put your phone away and enjoy the moment. Sitting down and watching someone play music on the street, or observing people going about their daily errands is a beautiful thing. In our busy lives we hardly ever get to stop and smell the roses at home. Have that cocktail at the beach bar, go to the party with new friends, if someone offers to cook for you say yes and try it.

Street music in Trinidad, Cuba

7. Spend the money

Most of my travels have been on a budget but I’ve learnt that if you don't think you’ll ever go back, spend the money on the tourist attraction, even if it's way over your daily allowance. It was much cheaper to fly from Panama to Colombia but I chose to sail for $500USD around the San Blas islands. I had to hire a Tibetan tour guide and Chinese driver to see Yamdrok Lake by myself, but when am I ever going to have that opportunity again? You work hard for your trips, enjoy your money.

Group of young people on a sailing yacht
Sailing San Blas

8. Be aware of your privilege

I did a three day jungle trek in Chiang Mai which I bought trainers at the market for. At the end of the trek I left them next to the bin, knowing I'd be wearing jandal for the rest of the trip and didn't want to carry them. Next thing you know the tour guide, who had done the whole trek in jandals, was wearing them and stoked with his new pair of kicks. I was mortified by my wastefulness and have never done it again. I take a reusable water bottle and bag with me everywhere. Also no matter where you are in the world someone will speak English, don't let that stop you from learning a few local phrases.

Rules for any travel

  • If it seems too good to be true, it's probably a scam

  • Load where you want to go into Google Maps before you leave your accommodation and the blue dot will move without wifi

  • Use packing cubes to organise your bag so it stays tidy

  • Restaurants with pictures of the food on the menu usually suck (except in Japan and Korea)

  • Look for where the locals dine

  • Get local drugs for local bugs if you get sick

  • Don't wear your best jewellery or anything too flashy

  • Never store valuables under the bus, have them in your hand luggage

Solo travel is good for the soul, I challenge you to try it at least once in your lifetime.

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