The truth about solo travel

As someone who’s never been completely comfortable in her own company, I never imagined I would embark on a trip around the world on my own. It’s the best experience of my life, but the truth is that it was also one of the hardest.

It took me a long time to consider going alone. For years I wrote off the idea of travelling on the basis that I’d have no one to go with. Coordinating your time with someone else amongst both of your careers and responsibilities is not easy. But then I met someone who had travelled alone and was full of stories, and for the first time I considered the idea myself.

The problem is that when you’re planning something like this, you create a romantic vision in your head of what it will be like. You spend so long thinking about how great it will be that you don’t think about the potentially difficult times and how you might deal with them. The reality of what I was about to do only hit me about 2 weeks before I left. People would ask me how excited I was and I’d reply with what they were expecting to hear. But inside I was terrified I’d made a mistake, and I was faced with an overwhelming fear of what was ahead of me. I realised that the theory of booking something like this and the reality of going were two completely different things.

I’d never even been away for a weekend on my own. I struggled with moving to Birmingham (2 hours from my hometown) – how did I ever think I could cope with going around the world without any of my friends? I cursed myself for my poor decision-making and I was a nervous wreck saying goodbye to my mother at the airport. If someone had offered me a way out and all my money back at that moment, I would have taken it.

Then in my first few days I was faced with this. A flight cancellation, being stranded in Dubai for 24 hours, an extreme lack of sleep and missing the start of my Stray Asia tour.

plane

Finally boarding the plane in Birmingham 17 hours after my original flight. That was the only day of the year that flights were cancelled due to the snow.

Almost 40 hours after my original estimated time of arrival in Bangkok, and after getting very lost for two hours, I ended up at a bus station. I had missed the public bus my tour company had recommended to catch up with the group, no one around me spoke any English, my phone battery had died and I had no idea where to go next or what to do. Pair that with my lack of sleep over the past 4 nights and it was possibly one of the most stressful and overwhelming experiences of my life.

The bus station in Bangkok. Just looking at this picture makes me panic a bit!

I have to admit that there wasn’t one day in my first week where I didn’t cry. I had never felt homesickness like it. As soon as the sun would set I would literally feel sick with a longing to be home. It seemed so ridiculous. I could go days in Birmingham without seeing friends and be fine with it, but knowing I didn’t have the option to see them was completely different. I don’t see my mother very often when I’m in the UK but somehow within hours of being away I missed her. I’ve honestly never felt so lonely in my life.

I considered bringing my flight home forward and felt completely defeated. I wondered how I’d ever thought I would be strong enough and imagined it would never get any easier. I wrote a very honest account of my feelings in a blog and I couldn’t shake the feeling that some people would read it and think I was pathetic and ungrateful. I would tell those people to try solo travel themselves. Then come back to me and tell me they can’t relate to the way I was feeling. So many people have said to me that they’d love to travel alone, and I’m so lucky. It’s all well and good rambling on about how amazing it would be in theory, but how many people have actually got the guts to do it? Not many.

But guess what? I did find my way to my Stray Asia group in Sukhothai eventually. I realised that when I’m faced with a challenge like that, I rise to it. After a difficult first week, things slowly started to get better. I started to think about home less and less. I became more sociable, felt more relaxed and really started to enjoy the experience. I began to realise that all the lines people kept feeding me to make me feel better were actually true.

‘You will make so many friends – it’s easy when you’re travelling’

‘You won’t want to come home by the end of it’

‘It will be the best experience of your life’

Queenstown

Sharing a jump with a group of friends in Queenstown

I was so glad I hadn’t panicked and brought my flight forward (I would have missed out on a visit to my beloved New Zealand). It started to get better, then it got great, and then 3 and a-half months down the line I found myself at the airport in Melbourne, devastated to be going home. I’m a big believer in facing your fears and this was a big one. Although I’ve now done several extreme sports, I still credit the solo travelling experience as the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. I hate to throw a cliché out there but it really is true – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. My struggle at the beginning only made the rest of the trip more satisfying, and I feel like I’m better equipped to deal with what life throws at me because of it.

Bondi beach

Enjoying my own company in Sydney (and discovering the beauty of the self timer)

Since I got back I’ve read several travel blogs and realised that I wasn’t alone in feeling that way. It made me feel more normal and less weak for having a hard time when I should have been having the time of my life. This post is in no way intended to put people off travelling solo, but to prepare them for the reality of it and tell them that it does get betterI had my ups and downs but the good times by far outweigh the bad. After going through what was initially a tough experience I wouldn’t hesitate to go alone again. I now know that like any big change in life, it just takes a bit of time to adapt, and that realisation would make another solo trip a hell of a lot easier.

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