So, my three-and-a-half-month solo trip around the world has come to an end. I won’t lie, I was pretty nervous when I boarded that flight for the first time on my own. I even wondered if I would survive the trip or return a sobbing wreck a week later.
Its true solo travel isn’t perfect every day. There were days where I did feel lost and lonely, and it sucked. But for the majority of the time travelling solo was one of the best experiences of my life and I would do it again a hundred times over.
The most important factor I’ve taken away from my trip is how much I’ve learnt from travelling alone. I don’t just mean how to use public transport or how to book a hostel. Solo travel teaches you about yourself and even more generally about life.
Here are a few of the things I’ve learnt from travelling the world solo:
1. Keep that tourist mindset alive
My favourite aspect of travelling was the sheer excitement of exploring and seeking out fresh experiences in somewhere completely new. On the road, you become adjusted to a permanent state of curiosity which can often get neglected among the day-to-day activities of our busy lives. If travelling solo has taught me anything, it’s the importance of fostering this curiosity even when we’re back at home. Allow this curiosity to turn you into a tourist in your hometown. Go to that concert or exhibition you’ve been meaning to see or take the weekend to hop on a train somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit. Just because your trip abroad has ended it doesn’t mean you have to give up searching for those exciting new experiences closer to home.
2. You don’t need to go far to keep travelling
Travelling comes in all shapes and sizes, and you don’t have to go halfway across the world to feel like you’re doing it right. It took going as far away as possible for me to realise that there were so many countries right next door that I was desperate to visit but felt like I didn’t have time. In reality, you don’t need to take weeks off to travel. All you need is a free weekend to take the plunge and go. So, if you have that travel bug itch research the countries close by and you might be surprised at how cheap and accessible they are. Personally, I’m going to make it my mission this year to pay more attention to Scotland and Ireland. After all, what’s close to home for you is someone else’s long-distance bucket list destination.
3. It’s not as hard as it looks!
Travelling is not actually as hard as it looks thanks to the various travel apps and offline maps on our phones. True, there have been days where I’ve spent the best part of an hour trying to locate a phantom bus stop, or I suddenly lose the ability to read a map at the most crucial stage of my journey. But it turns out you do always land on your feet and you somehow do end up where you’re meant to be going. I owe a lot to Google maps in helping me navigate public transport abroad. But even when you don’t have a clue what’s going on there’s always someone nearby to help you. Thanks to technology, travelling has become a lot less stressful than the days of relying on a piece of paper for directions. Just remember to take a spare power bank or two because there’s nothing worse than having a dead phone for company in the middle of nowhere.
4. Travelling leaves you wanting more
A naïve part of me believed that once I had glimpsed the world it would be enough and I would be ready to get on with my life. Yes, I was wrong; painfully wrong. If anything, my trip to the Southern Hemisphere has left me desperate for more and instead of getting on with my life I find myself dreaming daily of escapes to Machu Pichu or exploring the Norwegian Fjords. I’m afraid to say that travelling is dangerous. Once you realise how easy that one trip was you only want more, and then you’re hooked. After that, settling back into the daily routine you promised yourself you’d do becomes very hard, and it takes everything you’ve got to not go on Skyscanner at any spare moment. Your only hope is to find a balance…So I guess it means planning the next trip, right?
5. There is a limit to what you can endure for the sake of “experience”
Yes, there’s a limit to how cheap a hostel you can stand. I came to this realisation shortly after a brief stint in a particularly rough and ready hostel in Auckland, New Zealand. No matter what your style, whether you’re a broke backpacker or a luxury package holiday devotee there are limits to what you can endure in the name of “experience”. For me, uninhabitable accommodation is one of them. On the whole, hostels are great fun and pretty comfy but after coming across one too many kitchens with, no joke, camping stoves (!) to cook on, mould, and an alarming lack of fire alarms in sight I’ve learnt that it isn’t always worth booking the cheapest accommodation you can find. At the end of the day it makes for a hilarious story but when you’re trying to have a good time is it really worth it?
6. You realise you don’t need so much stuff
The beauty of travel is that it’s a discipline in how not to carry too much stuff. It’s an art form which can take years to get right. Stuff is a hindrance when you’re on the road. We’ve all felt the pain of trying to run for a train with a huge rucksack weighing down on our backs. Or, trying to heave a wheelie suitcase that’s almost equal to your size and weight up a flight of steps. It’s hard! And exceedingly painful. So, we avoid having stuff and try to limit our clothes to a handful of interchangeable outfits. It’s a subsequent shock when you get back home to a house full of stuff and half of it you don’t really need. Even one glance in the wardrobe is enough to be overwhelming. Travel teaches you to make the most out of less and having more than the contents of a rucksack takes some getting used to. On the plus side, I have recently rekindled my love for some of my old clothes I haven’t worn in years!
7. The world is beautiful and needs protecting now more than ever
I recently spent a few weeks in Fiji and was lucky enough to snorkel in some of the most beautiful and untouched coral reefs in the South Pacific. It was a pleasure to see so much of the exotic marine life making these reefs their home but I couldn’t help feeling a little sad. How long did they have before they started going the same way as The Great Barrier Reef? I only visited three countries on my trip abroad but each one had a unique and delicate ecosystem which would bring devastation to the world if it was lost. Travel wouldn’t exist if we didn’t have the planet (nor would we!) And, with climate change and pollution becoming bigger threats every day we must fight to protect it before it’s too late.
8. There is such thing as post-travel depression
My last couple of days in Hong Kong was threaded with a sense of dread and sadness at the pit of my stomach. My trip was over and I had to go back home to normality. It was a sickening thought, and it only got worse as I boarded my last flight home. When I landed at Heathrow Airport it took everything I had to resist the urge to use the little money I had left to buy a ticket to somewhere far away. The familiarity of being back felt strange and it was horrifying to experience how quickly those memories of my time abroad become faint and hazy. Post-travel depression hits hard and can take weeks to recover. For those who have been travelling long-term, it can sometimes take a year to feel fully normal again. Fortunately, giving myself a plan to look forward to has made coming to terms with being home a little easier.
9. Time flies when you’re (having fun) on the road
As everyone knows time flies when you’re having fun, and the same applies to travel. Those three and a half months which looked pretty hefty at first flashed by and I was suddenly back home again. Pretty soon the memories of all those weird and wonderful experiences start to fade and your whole trip feels like a dream. I can’t stress enough the importance of keeping a blog/travel journal or taking as many photos as possible of your time away. Once you come home they will be the reminders that yes, you did actually travel across the world. After a while, having this evidence will become more precious than any souvenir you might collect.
Thanks for reading,
If you enjoyed this then you might like 10 Things that I’m learning or have been told as a solo female traveller.