The Ups, Downs and Highlights of Solo Travel – My 2018 Year in Review

So, let’s start from the beginning. At 27, I decided to change my life. I was unhappy and had been on one week away (and 2 weekends) in a 10 year period – Adult-Me had never really travelled! I believed I’d never be able to travel due to my background, so 2017 I’d done a good job of trying to change that.

The first step of 2018 was to continue saving in everyway I could!

JANUARY TO MARCH – Saving money in England

DOWNS: At this point I was still saving, so little to report. It was kind of a miserable time, eating budget dinners off a shoebox table and giving my all to my obsession for saving money. Every Sunday was ‘ebay day’ and I spent verrry little time socialising due to my strict budget. I still believe ‘downtime’ can be the hardest part of the Solo Travel Lifestyle – without the distractions of exploring, it’s when you get lonely.

UPS: My flatmate Pete was super supportive and made sure I had some wind-down time on occasion by encouraging me to play his PS4 with him hahaha.

How to SAVE money for travel – budget tips, how to sell stuff, motivation

APRIL – a practise run to Transylvania

UPS: Since I’d never really travelled before, in April I went to Transylvania with my friend Becca. It was a good practise run before my solo backpacking trip, as I had to solve problems on the road and make plans within a comfort zone of having a friend there with me.

Romania remains one of my favourite countries of the year! In a week we went travelled in Cluj-Napoca, the medieval town of Sighisoara, Brasov (close to the famous ‘Dracula’s Bran Castle’) and Sibiu. I was fascinated by how the true history of Vlad Dracul had become a cultural phenomenon over the years.

One Week Transylvania Itinerary + costs and advice for your trip to Romania!

DOWNS: In the final week of April, I said goodbye to my friends and packed my life up in evenings after work. On Monday 30th April? I flew to Tokyo. Being scared of flying, taking such a 14.5 flight which included my first ever layover was terrifying.

MAY – Japan

OMFG I’M IN TOKYO: Arriving in Tokyo on the 1st May, I spent the first few days exploring the city. Tokyo was magical. I quickly discovered the biggest downside of solo travel so far: not feeling comfortable to explore in the evening. Although people say solo travel is an ‘excuse to do whatever you want’, I disagree. Some things are safer with friends, or in the case of certain activities, hard to do alone.

Day Two in Tokyo! Ueon Park, Asakusa, Akihabara – The Moment I Fell In Love With Japan

DOWNS: Next up was Kyoto. Other female solo travellers I’ve met since reassured me they also found Kyoto difficult… It’s beautiful but crowded with tourists, and the only city in Japan where I felt a bit judged for eating alone.

Trying to find the magic in over-crowded Kyoto – a solo traveller in Japan

HIGHLIGHT OF MY TRIP! The biggest challenge of my entire backpacking trip came next  – a 4-day solo hike along the Kumano Kodo, an ancient pilgrimage trail once walked by samurais and emperors.

Solo Hiking the Kumano Kodo – 4 day itinerary – the spiritual history and Q&A

UPS: Next up I travelled South to Hiroshima and Miyajima, a profound experience for me which I’m still struggling to put into words and have thus made the decision not to blog about, at least at this time.

And my fourth and final week in Japan was spent in Kyushu, where I travelled from Fukuoka to Kagoshima. I connected with a friend in Fukuoka who took me to arcades and karaoke – it was the first time I really had Fun in weeks! And I enjoyed the challenge of travelling solo in Beppu and Aso – the latter in which I even hitchhiked for the first and only time in my life.

One to two weeks in Kyushu itinerary, Japan. (inc costs)

SHOULD HAVE BEEN A DOWN, BUT IT WAS AN UP: My final weekend in May was spent in SOUTH KOREA where I spent 3 days. My phone got stolen as soon as I arrived in Seoul the airport, so I had to spend the night on an airport bench and then wasted an entire day with the Korean police. It was tricky to get around without any kinda device. But I wasn’t phased, Seoul was great.

 

JUNE – Malaysia and Thailand

FINALLY, I MADE FRIENDS! After travelling almost entirely solo in May, I made friends with a fellow solo backpacker almost immediately after arriving in Kuala Lumpur, MALAYSIA. From there we travelled to Taman Negara together, which is a jungle on mainland Malaysia. My highlight here was swimming in a secluded jungle river with no one else around. We met another female Celine here, and we travelled to the Perhentian Islands together.

Taman Negara – Malaysia’s mainland jungle

HIGHLIGHT despite panic attacks: Another highlight for me was getting my PADI and learning to scuba dive here! I had bad anxiety but my new friends were so supportive of me.

UP: We had to say goodbye to Kiki, but Celine and I went on to George Town, famous for street art and street food, before finishing our trip on Langkawi. Unfortunately, it rained the entire time in Langkawi. Oh dear… monsoon season was upon us!

2 – 3 weeks in Malaysia itinerary. See the varied landscapes + budget tips

Although I vowed to never go to THAILAND (it has a reputation for people full of English party-goers, a stereotype I do not match), Celine was spending the final 10 days of her travels going North up into Bangkok. Lieke and I decided to join her!

Rain ruined the trip but it was still an UP: The first stop was Koh Lipe… it rained the whole time so we stayed indoors watching Marvel movies. It was actually a welcome rest stop, although it was a shame to miss paradise. The storms pulled up all the plastic from the sea on to the beach which was eye-opening, but an important reminder of how much we’re damaging the planet and to be responsible tourists. I remember seeing a fish in a plastic bottle who we emptied back into the ocean.

Thailand in Rainy Season – ups and downs and dancing in the rain

UP: From there, we stayed in Aonang so we could take a day trip to Railay Beach. Probably about my only beach day in six months travelling, can you believe it? It was stunning there – we finally got sun and it wasn’t crowded due to it being low season.

HIGHLIGHT: Lieke and Celine said goodbye I went with Lieke to Koh Sok National Park. This was my favourite part of Thailand! We stayed in a lake hut, hiked through jungle rivers and swam through pitch black caves with head torches on. One evening, we all floated in the lake drinking scotch. It was a beautiful moment.

Sadly I had to say goodbye to Lieke as I headed off on a bizarre 12-hour coach ride to meet Celine in Bangkok.

DOWN because Celine was so lovely: In Bangkok, I had the best local Thai red curry of my life down a side street, went for an amazing Thai massage and – sadly – said goodbye to beautiful Celine, who by this point was like a little sister to me.

JULY – Laos, Thailand, Vietnam

UP: I flew from Bangkok to Luang Prabang, a truly beautiful ‘city’ in Laos. My most special stop in Luang Prabang was the beautiful Kuang Si Falls. I guess I should also call these falls a HIGHLIGHT because they must be the most aesthetically gorgeous place I saw on my whole trip!

NOT SURE? The remainder of my time in Laos was spent between Vang Vieng and Vientiane, and was more in partyish areas. Similarly, I then went with new friends back to Thailand where we went to Chiang Mai and Pai. I had a lovely time and got a lot of writing done during this time, as well as enjoying lots of free whiskeys (Laos) and relaxing.

NECESSARY: As such, the first 2 weeks of July were a necessary part of my trip but also the month when I felt like I saw the least, I think. I learned a lot about how I like to travel though. I’m definitely a cultural traveller, I enjoy getting shit done and feel like I’m challenging myself (with hikes etc). I also found out that downtime is incredibly important, and something I began to integrate into my future travels.

After travelling with a group, saying goodbye was tricky. I’d got used to being with people since Kuala Lumpur and was kinda gutted to be going back completely solo.

BIG LOW: I began my Vietnam trip in Hanoi. I was feeling very down and it was torrential rain, so I mostly stayed in the hostel. Then I went to Sapa but my appetite had got so bad, I couldn’t eat without throwing up and lost so much weight I could barely move. (Please note, I have a high metabolism and lose weight VERY quickly.) The people in the countryside looked after me till I was better.

I’d barely recovered when I went to Halong Bay. This is meant to be a highlight of Vietnam, but the tour I was on messed up and took me to the same places two days in a row, and I found it heavily crowded. Also some random dude tried to kiss me… like he properly went for it… AND he was sobre FYI. So not the best start.

What it’s like to solo travel with social anxiety – why I found Vietnam so hard

AUGUST – Vietnam, Singapore, Bali

UP (Highlight of Vietnam): From here I went to Ninh Binh, which was my favourite part of Vietnam. I walked almost 20km a day just to try and see as much as I could because I can’t ride a bike!

Oh! And FINALLY I got better! I was eating like three portions of veggie burgers and chips a day and was constantly eating Pringles and junk food, which sounds GROSS but whatever. I was putting on weight again and had the energy to do all that walking.

Kind of an UP: Next I took a night bus to Phong Na which arrived at 4am. I remember this so well! The hostel, Easy Tiger, had hammocks waiting for us who arrived at this anti-social time and I couldn’t sleep… I just lay in a hammock till 8am when I borrowed a towell and then began exploring. After Phong Na I visited Hue which was a lot of fun.

Travel ‘essentials’ I actually used and the one’s you don’t need — Honest Packing List for Backpacking Asia

HIGHLIGHT: My best day in Vietnam was getting an easyrider to take me down the Hoi Van Pass, a winding road through the mountains best seen by motorbike. The local guide was so friendly and we stopped at some epic viewpoints along the way.

BIG LOW: Once I arrived in Hoi An, however, I was feeling really down. I’d been surrounded by backpackers the entire trip but not clicked with anyone. My social anxiety just kept getting worse and I knew I needed to escape from the young backpacker scene. I’d love to go back and explore the rest of Vietnam one day… but I knew I had to leave the country. I booked a last minute flight to SINGAPORE.

HIGHLIGHT!! Although I didn’t speak to a single person in Singapore… I loved it! I stayed in China Town and could walk everywhere. It was a dream for a solo traveller deep in thought; so safe to get around and an adult playground. At that time, Singapore was exactly what I needed and remains a highlight in my six months backpacking: a gem in the midst of some difficult weeks.

Singapore – This Futuristic Wonderland is an Adult Playground

THIS WAS BAAAAD OMG: Unfortunately, when I arrived in BALI I discovered other travellers were not interested in exploring the North and East and it was too expensive to do so alone. I had a stroke of travel bad luck in which my UK bank kept blocking all my bank cards and ended up getting stuck in a $2.50 hostel (including breakfast) for a week until they sorted it out. It kept being blocked on and off the full month I was in Indonesia, and since I was alone, I had to be so careful with whatever cash I’d taken out. I couldn’t do anything and was totally solo. I was mostly okay and got some writing done, but it also kinda sucked because Bali is meant to be such a travel hub –  I guess I didn’t expect to be so alone there.

Stuck in Ubud & the issue with Solo Travel in Bali

SEPTEMBER – Indonesia, Kuala Lumpur

UP! Thankfully my Indonesia trip did have an upside! I spent 2 days on gorgeous Nusa Penida where I hired a scooter driver to take me around. So worth it! An absolutely dreamy time in paradise.

Alone in Paradise! Perfect Nusa Penida 2-3 day itinerary for Instagram spots and off-the-beaten track

I also went to the island of Flores which was way less-touristy and felt like more of an adventure. On Flores I visited Maumere, Kelimutu National Park and the Komodo Islands. Definitely an UP.

10 days in Flores itinerary – Maumere, Ende, Komodos

DOWN: On returning to Bali… I felt stuck again. I was planning on going to the Philippines but it was typhoon season and it had been a long time since I made any travel besties (well, since June). Instead, I booked a last minute flight to the place where I first made a good friend… simply because I hoped it would be lucky!

UP UP UP: I flew to Kuala Lumpur, where I connected with an amazing instagrammer who invited me to come and stay with her and her husband! It was absolutely amazing to be able to unpack for a week or so in their lovely apartment. I felt relaxed for the first time in months. It was so nice to be able to hang out and go for coffee or curl up with a glass of gin in the evening. We also went on some shoots together around Kuala Lumpur. Such an amazing experience.

FYI, the lovely instagrammer in question is @agirlwhoblooms!

OCTOBER: Sri Lanka, Sydney

UP:  The aforementioned awesome couple and I next went to SRI LANKA– at some point, I will write more about this, particularly as they were collaborating with Artravele and allowed me to use their driver! So I have many people to thank. I even stayed with them for 4 nights in the nicest accommodations I have ever seen, as well as getting my first ever hotel collab on my final 2 nights.

In Sri Lanka I visited the countryside outside of Kandy, Hatton tea fields, did the Kandy to Ella train journey, stayed near Diyaluma Falls, saw elephants on the Udawalawe and Yala safaris before finishing up on the amazing South Coast (Mirissa to Galle). Loads of HIGHLIGHTS there!

DOWNS: It was off season, and some of the accommodations I stayed in I was the ONLY tourist. Honestly, it was a bit scary. One place there were loads of male workers around, my room was in a basement and no other tourist (local or otherwise) was around… oh yeah, plus there was blood on the floor… AND I had no wifi if anything happened. Oh man.

But yeah, obviously, for the most part, Sri Lanka was a huuuuge up.

Australia Working Holiday Visa Checklist (all the links you need to get set up)

MIXED FEELINGS: Sadly, it was time for my Asia backpacking adventure to come to an end. I flew to Sydney and spent a week exploring the local sights (my highlights were the Coogee to Bondi walk and Manly to Split Bridge walk) and celebrating my birthday with a drink and two strangers in front of the Sydney opera house. It was a mixed week adjusting to Western culture again. But fine.

OCTOBER TO DECEMBER – Melbourne

UPS: I got a night bus to Melbourne at the end of October, and got a full-time job working at a children’s talent agency (most random Working Holiday Visa job ever I swear) the next day. It was a relief to get a job so quickly as others aren’t always this lucky.

DOWN: Working full-time while living in a hostel dorm sucked pretty bad… but UP: after around 2 weeks I found the nicest flat ever.

MIXED FEELINGS: I made friends in Melbourne, but also spent many evenings alone. Working full-time was great and so was having space to myself however, Melbourne itself? Thankfully the wage is good, but otherwise it is not totally suited to people saving money: people love Melbourne for its foodie scene and brunch spots which I couldn’t stretch my budget to. I also don’t personally think Melbourne has loads of cool sights in the way some cities too, and I try to avoid free events because most of them come with food and drink which I know I’d find it hard to resist. Saving money can be isolating when you’re strict about it!

Most Instagrammable Places in Melbourne 2019 (all easy to find and free)

There were certainly times when I felt isolated here and I couldn’t explore the state of Victoria as renting a car alone was out of the question. To be honest, I think moving to a new city alone is hard if you’re an introvert, particularly over the holidays.

UP!!! First off, my new colleagues were awesome. Secondly, I met blogging couple extraordinaires @highlandtohammocks, who are super cool people. We saw in the New Year together, standing over a rooftop that looks over the city. As the fireworks went off at midnight, I had a sparkler in one hand and a glass of prosecco in the other.

2019? And in that perfect moment, I knew that 2019 would have its fair share of downs but ohmygosh the UPS would make my life-changing decision to travel the world absolutely worth it.

 

 

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Twenty-something hag, travelling solo and no clue where I’ll end up. My motto? Scared of everything - doing it anyway.

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Alice v
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Wow, Cass! You really do inspire me to travel and i love that i am able to follow your adventures. My husband and I are planning our own family travel life that we’ll hopefully start in a year with our two girls. Can’t wait to see what 2019 has in store!