Solo Travel Q&A – the brutally honest truth after 2 years

It’s been 2 years since I packed up, left home alone and took a one-way flight to Tokyo. I’ve travelled around Southeast Asia, completed a one year Working Holiday Visa in Australia (Melbourne and Sydney), had a huge adventure in Java, backpacked through The Balkans, quietly lived in Chiang Mai for a few weeks while taking a social media break to get over depression (deep breath)… and then I moved to New Zealand before getting stuck with strangers!

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Yep, this year’s Q&A comes from a slightly awkward lockdown situation.

I’ve faced… some of my fears. And definitely faced my lifelong mental health issues head-on in crazy conditions. Heck, I’ve finally made the switch from veggie to vegan while on the road! Who knew I could get through all of this without the comfort of chocolate?

And, as I slowly made the switch from dirty backpacker to full-time nomad, I’ve even gone and got myself a bigger backpack. Shorter trips will still be carry-on only, though… not that much has changed!

There are other things that haven’t changed too. I’m STILL struggling with anxiety, perhaps as much as before, but I’m learning how to manage it better and how I need to adapt my travel style appropriately. Still solo, obviously. And – this is a good one – I’m STILL keeping up my travel blog and instagram! And that’s why we’re here today.

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As I explained in my one year of solo travel Q&A, this date has more relevance to me than any other. I’m not one to celebrate birthdays or Christmas. I usually spend New Year’s alone. And I sure don’t have any other anniversaries… but this day is different. I made this happen and my ‘re-birthday’ means a lot to me.

From the safety of isolation, please celebrate with me by helping me reflect back on my time on the road.

Feel free to leave any further questions in the comment box below.

Was there a point, or several, in your journey that you felt truly at peace?

Although I experienced panic attacks during my PADI (and I still do on diving boats out, before I get in the water) probably diving, swimming or being close to the water is the closest I get to ‘peaceful’.

I never considered myself a water baby as I didn’t grow up near the coast, but nowadays it’s when I feel the most calm. Although some mountains would go down well too, I just tend to avoid remote nature on my own.

Being in the in water is the only time I feel I can actually focus on the present moment. I also love marine life and the whole otherworldly experience of being underwater.

Feeling myself: underwater in Koh Lanta or by the coast

What has been your favourite place and why?

This answer 100% has to do with the way things came together rather than the places themselves, so don’t take it too literally, but New South Wales (Australia) and Java (Indonesia).

Any place that was completely different to your expectations when visiting?

Auckland hahaha. I gotta admit guys, my expectations were not self-isolation and it being illegal to make friends.

Haha, obviously there are lots of places I liked more or less than expected but it wasn’t so much about the places themselves being different, just my enjoyment. For example, lots of places were lonelier than I expected… it’s easier now I can manage my own expectations based on two years of travel. But when I started, my expectations were based on what potentially more extroverted travellers were saying.

Which country had the best local people?

Every country has amazing and slightly less amazing kinds of people haha. Also, working in Australia for a year made it easier to make friends, so of course I met loads of amazing locals there.

If I must give a less wishy-washy answer, Java and Romania did have particularly nice people in terms of locals going out of their way again and again despite having no obligation to do so.

With hindsight would you change anything? Do you regret anything?

Not anymore but I really regretted my last backpacking trip to Europe while I was there because… ah man. It cost so much money and I then I got depressed. The bad kind. It was awful. The fact it felt like I waste financially caused me to have panic attacks too. I know what it’s like to be in a bad financial situation – to not have three meals a day or know where I’m going to sleep – and even though I was careful to save enough (and I had enough), it triggered loads of memories of my past. Plus being closer to my birth country triggered a whole load of other memories too… it all round seemed like the most stupid idea of my life.

So I really had to pay attention to what I learned from that trip and practise self-compassion. I take great care to consider what I learned from bad situations… even when it feels like they reiterate hard lessons I’m already well-versed in. I also researched how to properly practise gratitude without it leading to guilty feelings, which helped too.

Everything is a step… whether that’s a step forwards or sideways or even backwards, any step is better than none at all. Or something else that’s more profound sounding.

Actually… this trip inspired me to bulk up my blog’s mental health section! So that’s a great thing to come out of it. I also now hope that My Balkans Guides come in useful to future travellers… if they do, my trip had a small purpose. And I do like to feel like I have a purpose from time to time. 🙂

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A memory from my Montenegro road trip

I’ve been following your account for ages and don’t remember you living in Chiang Mai?

I very quietly lived in Chiang Mai from mid-December 2019 till the end of Jan 2020. Mostly I stayed inside a single room with no other furniture than a single mattress… or windows… and barely left the room other than to get food. I was working online at the time, rather than sightseeing, and don’t have photos to prove I was there…. so you’ll have to take my word for it hehe.

I felt very very privileged and lucky at that time to have a safe place to deal with getting over depression and practising mindfulness! It was also easy to avoid the fact other people spend a lot of time with loved ones at that time of year.

By the way, the quiet time worked and I did see improvement!

What would you tell yourself 2 years ago before you started?

That there is a global crisis coming and I should alert the authorities?

Related to the above answer, I think the discoveries on my journey were important. I wouldn’t pre-warn myself or give too much extra advice as overcoming and figuring out things on your own can be valuable.

I’d probably just tell myself to not read too much into what other solo travel personalities said about solo travel…. Comments like ‘don’t worry, you’ll NEVER be alone; if anything you’ll wish you had some space!’ kinda messed up my expectations haha. Other newbie backpackers would ask ‘what if I don’t make friends?’ and the answer was always ‘you will!’

I wish I’d concentrated more on remembering I’m different, and that’s okay. It just caught me a bit off guard is all. All good now.

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I began my trip solo travelling in Japan, where I struggled with loneliness.

You mentioned some places / times were lonelier than expected. Knowing that, how did you deal with loneliness?

I actually want to really think on this and give it a dedicated blog post.

Here are some ways I deal with loneliness off the top of my head:

  • To not feel pressured to NOT feel lonely. It’s a natural, human emotion. It’s okay to feel down sometimes.
  • To book more private – spending time alone in your own space can feel better than being lonely in a crowded room
  • To always have something to do in the evenings while travelling, such as a book, Netflix, or working on my blog
  • To try and find another introverted traveller who wants a quiet meal out or even just a movie night so you get some company without the pressure – one of my tips for staying in hostels as an introvert
  • Utilising social media so I have an ongoing, long-term community even though I spend so much time alone and move around a lot
  • I am trying to organise skype dates with mates which I wasn’t before… I’d go months without calling anyone but I want to do this once or twice a month.
  • Spending time in nature, such as going on forest or coastal walk or arranging a diving trip

Do you ever wear shoes?!?!

Haha yes! Usually when I travel, I take one pair of shoes for how ever many months. For example, walking sandals for Southeast Asia and these winter boots for my Europe trip. I don’t own any pretty, not purely practical footwear! So sometimes I go barefoot in photos so I can feel all feminine and the like… um, seriously.

Barefoot is obviously the most comfortable though.

If you’re intrigued to see what else I take on trips, you can read my Packing list for Southeast Asia and Packing list for Winter in Europe.

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Where is your next destination?

I never had any travel plans for this year as I actually need to save money. Shocking, eh? Borders closing and lockdowns didn’t affect me much in this sense. My current visa lasts until March 2021 (unless I extend till 2022) and I need to get my head down.

I would love for my expectations to be exceeded and end up with a regional holiday this year, but at this stage there are no signs of that happening. (Likewise, I never took time off work in Australia to travel.) I also want to put my mental health first. I would love a break from solo travel and maybe do something small with a new friend…

What countries would you like to visit?

Anywhere that excites, challenges, motivates and inspires me.

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One of my favourite photo spots in Sydney – Watson’s Bay!

Best photography destination?

Everywhere is my honest answer.

I’m probably not the best person to ask about this since I’m not a photographer! The talented photographers I know can make a very simple place into a fantastic place while still maintaining it’s authenticity… it’s a skill not many of us have.

However, I personally need a beautiful place to take a good photo as I’m not great with taking photos haha. I don’t have a great eye for it.

Case study: me at one of the most instagrammable places in the world (left – yes really) and on the right… whatever the heck this is. Me hiding in a curtain or somethin’? Okay maybe neither are that great but you get my point.

What’s your favourite travel memory?

Often the challenging moments make for the best memories, like solo hiking in Japan, working out how to take local transport in Java or learning how to scuba dive despite my anxiety. I love the sense of overcoming something.

Or learning new things.

Or the simple things! For example, I was happy living in Sydney because I loved the coastal walks and was feeling motivated to work on my blog.

I also enjoyed my NSW work-related road trip last year. The hours were insanely long, without any time off, but I learned a lot from it. It was the perfect mix of inspiring and hard work that has absolutely changed the bar of what I want to experience when travelling, yet seems impossible to relive.

Scuba diving (left) and the New South Wales coastline (right)

Did you visit Transylvania and the famous Dracula hills???

Not quite sure what Dracula hills are but yes I have visited Transylvania and it remains my favourite trip so far in Europe.

What’s the scariest situation you’ve dealt with so far and how did you deal with it?

Oh gosh, I had a few! Here are three off the top of my head:

  1. Arriving in a tiny airport with no staff (??) and having to get in a car with a random man (??) with vegetables strapped to the roof (???) for a FOUR HOUR journey over these crazy winding mountain roads through the middle of nowhere… I honestly was scared I was going to get murdered.

2. Staying at a small, half-built hotel… there were NO other travellers or women around, just loads of local men around drinking all the time. There was blood on the floor and it had no WiFi, plus I didn’t have data…

3. I didn’t really feel safe during the recent lockdown.

4. Experiencing my first earthquake while alone in a hut on a tiny island

5. This one time in Sydney I got physically assaulted by a random man in a supermarket and they had to call the police (which made the number of the international police forces I’ve spent time with into a hat-trick! What a great achievement, eh?)

Okay that was 5. Apparently solo travel is scarier than I thought.

I remember after that last one it was kinda sad because the police asked if there was anyone they could call for me… I just said no and walked home alone and didn’t even tell the people I was living with, because I didn’t know them.

So how did I deal with them? I really would advise messaging someone, even your best mate at home, when something goes wrong. Speak to an official, such as the reception desk at your hostel, if something happens on the road. Personally, I’ll just text my best mate. And I’ll make a cuppa and enjoy some comfort food and a gentle movie to calm down.

I didn’t realise there’d be no one around at that tiny airport… maybe I should have organised transport in advance? Honestly, sometimes you just have to go with it. It’s mad to think about what you do sometimes as a solo female traveller.

Oh, but from now on, I’m ALWAYS getting data, haha. Read more safety tips for solo travellers.

Tips for dealing with mental health while travelling?

I take mental health advice very seriously and want to do my best to not give half-baked answers.

Here are some of my mental health resources. The top one gives a lot of in-depth advice. Any specific questions on this topic, please do feel free to ask.

A Mental Health Guide for Travellers

Travel Tips for Introverts and Anxiety

What it’s like to solo travel with social anxiety

How to Practise Gratitude during hard times

Thank you so much to everyone who got involved!

If you have any further questions, feel free to ask in the comments below.

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  1. You sound like one of the most resilient people Cassie! Really enjoyed reading this, the good, bad and ugly because it doesn’t sugar coat any aspect of it. It also sounds like you had some wonderful travel experiences over the years!

  2. Thank you Chelsea. That does sound like it could be really difficult. I am shocked I passed to be honest! But snorkelling is still a lot of fun, and often you see even more marine life that way, so keep enjoying it 🙂 Cass x

  3. Thank you for sharing your story, I know that can be difficult sometimes. I have panic disorder and GAD as well – I admire your fearlessness as you continue to dive despite your health condition. That’s extremely brave. I have a hard time with the ocean, and not being able to see the shoreline when getting out too far, it terrifies me. As does the diving portion, and the panic that comes from the claustrophobia of breathing under water… which is why I stick to snorkeling! haha well done, you must be so proud, overcoming your fears! xx

  4. Thankfully it hasn’t affected any travel plans as I’m here to work, but definitely not an ideal time to move to a new country. Yes that’s true, cheers to all the post lockdown experiences yet to come someday.

  5. Your experiences sound life changing! I loved traveling and living in NZ, but it would be such disappointment to be in lock-down around such beauty. Cheers to a new year post lock-down.

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