I really wanted my one year of travel to feel significant. For those who’ve been following for some time, perhaps you’ve noticed I have a habit in seeking sentiment and beauty in small moments. But what about the big moments? Here I struggle.
So, what do I do about today? 1st May 2019 should be a date of huge meaning to me. It is one year since I began solo travelling which, correspondingly, makes it one year since I changed my life.
But it doesn’t really have significance right? How can it be, when this date affects no one but me? People celebrate all sorts of one year anniversaries with a partner, but a solo traveller giving herself a pat on the back for an anniversary that is not shared seems a little odd. Self-sufficiency and courage are hugely eclipsed by society in favour of ‘romance’ and celebrating the norms. So, until we celebrate solo achievements as much as relationship milestones, it feels weird to shout about it.
And how would I mark one year anyway? I could take myself for another cheap dinner that would merge together with all the other solo dinners I’ve had in the past year; my thoughts get muddled in the hours I spend alone, with no other out-loud voice to help me filter them and straighten them out. That’s why I write so much I guess; it’s how I make sense of things when ‘real life’ conversation is absent. As I always have done.
Solo travel can feel like a REbirth!
I had this date – 1st May 2019 – in my mind for so long; my first REbirthday! I liked the idea that this date was more important than my actual, not often celebrated, birthday; this time around, I got to decide to make LIFE happen for myself. I had control. I was finally ready for it. It’s hard to explain why I used to be fairly uncomfortable with my true birthday without revisiting my past life, which I have no intention of doing today. But it does seem against all the odds of what I went through that I ended up travelling. That today I’m in Indonesia. This is not the background I came from. But this is my future. I’m so grateful for that.
For what it’s worth, I asked my Instagram community to help me mark the occasion and reminisce with a ONE YEAR OF TRAVEL Q&A.
And, luckily, for me, they obliged. I copied some of the questions below so I can look back in the future and remind myself of how totally crazy and predictably lonely but unimaginably beautiful the end of my 20s turned out. Because two years ago? I was sleeping on a different sofa every night in London unable to pay rent (technically I was homeless), having gone years unable to afford a holiday and in a job I hated. Your life really can change guys; you just have to believe it can. I don’t disregard the fact that my Western privileges such as a strong passport and currency, plus English as a first language, certainly made it tons easier though.
Q: How did you decide to travel solo? I am afraid to do it!!
A: The honest answer is that I wanted to leave the UK for good but I had no one to go with – so I had to! I’d never backpacked before so from that point of view it seemed quite bold, but I’ve always been very self-sufficient and free-spirited – I don’t think any of my close friends were surprised, even though it came out of nowhere (especially financially, it was an uphill battle)! On the other hand… I have serious anxiety. An Introvert. I have chronic insomnia yet now have to sleep in hostels dorms etc. I am feeble AF. Which makes me an unlikely candidate, right?
So it’s been hard but the best hard decision I could have made! Nothing worth doing is easy.
I really think anyone can travel solo! You just have to be willing to do everything for yourself and keep going on tough days with no moral support – that sounds daunting, but it teaches you how independent and competent you are! Which is awesome. I hope you decide to do it and let me know if you have any specific questions I can help with.
Q: Did you save a lot before travelling? Or do you work – have you been working and travelling?
A: Both! Saving was really an obsession before I left; both working as much as I could and selling almost everything I owned (which wasn’t much to be fair, but wow… it’s weird to think I used to own books). Life is really boring when you’re single and saving because even socialising has to be cut. I also cut all streaming services; I started watching YouTube as it was free haha. I was kinda either at work or holed up in my room scheming.
Also, 6 months of my first year travelling I was working abroad full-time (40 hour weeks) plus back on a strict saving plan. And after my Indonesia trip I’ll be back to a full-time job too (I’m on a Working Holiday Visa in Australia) – I need to get stuck in and save like crazy again!
Q: What gave you the urge / idea to get on that first flight?
A: I always wanted to travel and thought I could never afford it… to put that into context, just 2 years before I got on that first flight I spent 4 months switching between different friends sofas because I couldn’t afford rent. (I was living out a backpack for totally different reasons, funny that haha!)
I was lucky to get a better-paid job (I was a corporate receptionist, nothing out of reach to most Westerners who aren’t sure how to save). I quit everything I’d ever worked towards and made Travel my sole priority. I don’t even know what pushed me so hard. Everything was kind of shitty I guess… And time had to be up on that unhappy life one way or another. I think something snapped and I just knew I had to do something amazing!
Q: Destinations that certainly did not live up to the hype?
A: Easy… Kyoto. This might surprise some of you, but Japan… well, it’s a very common occurrence for Japan to come up as a difficult country for solo travellers. Though often listed in ‘best countries to solo travel’ lists because it’s so safe and has good transport and polite residents… in practice, it can be very lonely for solo backpackers. All the crazy experiences you’ll have in Japan make it a must-visit, so I’ve struggled to put my finger on why this happens…@wanderingquinn is one of the many people who’s shared this feeling, we wondered if it’s partly because there are so many ‘quirky’ moments while in Japan, and it would simply be more fun if there was someone else with you could raise an eyebrow or giggle at it with you. Or else, you’re surrounded by locals who take it at face value, so to blend in, you do as well. Plus it’s an introverted society with very few English speakers off the beaten track.
Every location has it’s upsides.
My solo hike was great and I enjoyed Kyushu, but yeah Kyoto was particularly difficult. In one year, it was my least favourite place to eat out solo. Elsewhere, it’s common for the Japanese locals to eat alone, but in Kyoto it was full of Western couples… honestly, people looked at me like I was a weirdo. It was unpleasant.
Please bear in mind… Japan was my all time dream country before I ever planned on solo travelling. It was my FIRST country too. It remains my dream country to visit with a partner one day (…..) or a friend.
I also (oh gosh please don’t hate me, digital nomad friends!) had a terrible time in Bali. Unlike Japan where I know my dream trip is still waiting for me, I never want to go back to Bali. Don’t even want to talk about it haha!
As you can see, these are all based on my personal, SOLO, experiences. I don’t think they’re actually bad places and could enjoy them in different circumstances.
Finally, Vietnam was hard because my anxiety amped up a bit and I didn’t have a great time in Melbourne. People kept saying how great the bars and brunch spots were but I was saving and certainly didn’t want to do that solo. I also kept seeing photos of travel couples hanging out together and planning “van life” adventures while I was working full-time and having to pay double what they were for a room (no discounts for being single!) As a budgeteer, it irrationally annoyed me. Please don’t judge. 🙂
A: For consistently blowing my mind… Java! I was in Java for 2 weeks. For a full week, I had a bad cold, my bank cards all got blocked, I had multiple 6-10 hour journeys, and sometimes was awake 48 hours in a row between day activities and sunrise treks.
But something I’ve realised is that I’m bored when things come too easy. Give me a challenge and I start to feel revitalized! And Java exceeded my expectations every step of the way – 100% worth the challenges! And well set up for solo travellers too.
There have been highlights in EVERY country, even the places I listed above as finding difficult. There’s nowhere I’d take back going to because I learned from them. And every place I made friends became an instant highlight too!
Q: Favourite meal while travelling?
- A: Vegan food in Chinatown, Singapore. Because I’ve been veggie for almost ten years and was craving all those delish mock meats hahaha.
- Also loved the spicy local veggie food in Malaysia and Sri Lanka
- CHEESY CHIPS IN LAOS!
- Vegetarian food in Japan! I used the happycow app to find all these Buddhist vegan cafes or tiny untouristy restaurants and it sent me down alleyways or up fire escapes. I was almost always the only Westerner and it was so different from the tourist areas. They always smiled at me as I sat crossed-legged on one of their cushions. Also, ordering off a vending machine and being given a basket of veggies to then boil in an onsen (natural hot spring water) was a cool experience. (And no one spoke English, it was so fecking hard to work out what the was going on hahaa.)
Q: Where are you going next?
A: Next I am going to Sydney to work! My visa expires in October so I will stay in Australia till around then. I won’t be travelling in Oz because I DON’T want to burn my money travelling there (too expensive) so probably won’t see as much as other travellers who go there.. but I have a really good feeling about Sydney anyway! I went for a week when I first arrived in Oz and unexpectantly clicked with it.
I have a vague idea for after Aus but maybe that’s too far ahead for this question so I’ll leave it there. 🙂
Q: Where after Aus?
A: Haha, okay! The truth is, who knows what would happen? I ‘dream ahead’ as if there’ll be no curveballs and I’ll be alone forever cuz that means I always have something totally positive to work towards and not dreaming of something I don’t have (yet)! But I don’t actually make decisions until I have to. Does that make sense?
If I could find an online job (not mad on the idea but maybe teaching English online since I have a TEFL) I’d potentially spend some time in Eastern Europe/the Balkans because it’s dead cheap to live and I’ve not really travelled Europe… plus I could try to arrange a meetup with my best mate since it’ll be 18 months since I saw anyone I’m close to by then. If I managed to save enough for a backpacking trip, I’d love to do Latin America in 2020. (Maybe Central.) But this time next year I honestly have no idea if that’s actually what will have happened! Haha.
A WHV in New Zealand is almost definitely on the cards though.
Q: What is the one thing you have learned about yourself within the last year?
A: Good question. I’m not quite sure; travel more confirmed things I already knew about myself. I’m so adaptable that only meeting different kinds of people who don’t know me well enough for me to be truly comfortable around means… well, if anything ‘myself’ is more of a distant concept than ever.
Something that’s changed is that I’m more honest with myself! Am I doing the best I can to be the happiest I can at this moment? Am I prioritising things right? I’m honest about when I have to save harder or try harder. I also believe it’s okay to have bad days, 100%; I know when to be gentle with myself and when I need some tough love. I turn to myself for this, no one else.
I’ve always been self-sufficient but I guess I can rely on myself differently now. I feel more independent than ever before. That’s a good thing in some ways… bad in others. Anyways, there’s still a LOT more growing to do.
Q: What was your favourite accommodation you stayed in over the last year and why?
A: Obvz any hostel dorm with hard plastic wrapping over the entire mattresses to stop them from getting ruined by fluids is GENIUS. Hmmm.
The hostels in Java were great everywhere; I particularly loved Bodhi Tree on Karimunjawa. Helpful English-speaking staff makes a huge difference, gently social but quiet at night, comfy beds, good location.
I don’t want for much as accommodation is probably my biggest saving compared to most travellers I meet (over the age of 23 anyway)… usually it’s just whether there’s a snorer in the bunk above me that can ruin EVERYTHING.
Not gonna lie, I’m a 28-year-old with a CHRONIC sleep disorder who stays in hostels… accommodation is usually something I put up with, not enjoy haha.
Q: How do you deal with anxiety on solo travels? I struggle.
Sorry to hear this. 😔 I struggle too xxx
Remember it’s not your fault. It’s okay to have a bad day or even a bad week or month… Yes, even on the road! Try and build yourself up a bit at a time and not feeling like you have to go from 10 to 100%.
Treat yourself to something that is comforting to you. Whether that’s a cuppa tea, some western comfort food or two days in bed watching Netflix. Or Find someone to talk to! Whether that’s a friend from home or another solo traveller or someone on social media (we will always help each other out, so don’t be afraid to send a message!) or write it down.
Find something to look forward to! And it doesn’t have to literally be that day. If there’s cool stuff to do in the place you’re staying, but you aren’t looking forward to it/feeling it, you can move on! That’s the joy of travel. Don’t do anything for the sake of it.
For me, going for a long walk in nature and listening to music helps. I try to seek this out when I’m feeling down. You’ll learn what works for you too.
Remember it will pass! You’ll feel better soon.
Q: Do you ever fear for your safety as a solo female traveller?
A: Yeahhh but mostly because my anxiety makes me catastrophise; it’s easy to feel unsafe when you’re having an unrelated panic attack haha. In most instances, my usually highly rational self doesn’t feel unsafe!
Always be vigilant. Read up on what to watch out for in specific countries; scams, unsafe areas etc. Stay in a safe area and try to arrive in new places before sunset where possible. Personally, I feel safer in hostels than I would in Airbnbs, although I’m sure the latter is more comfortable; it’s all personal choice and what feels right. You learn to trust your instincts better than you think and will work out what habits keep you feeling strong and safe.
Q: What are some of the cities you can picture yourself living in someday?
A: My bio on Instagram is ‘travelling to find a home’. Finding home is very important to me and the key reason I left the UK was that I felt lonely there; I bought my ticket at the beginning of a Christmas week where I didn’t speak to anyone for seven days. Yikes. So safe to say it’s unlikely a city in England.
I’ve been to so many beautiful places but I always figured home would be a person/people and not a place. But who knows? Maybe some time I’ll go somewhere I love entirely and want to stay. 🙂