I’ve travelled the world, on and off, for more than ten years. In that time, I have made some major mistakes, and learned some hard lessons. Solo travel can be an education in and of itself.
Time for some tough love, kids.
1. EXPERIENCES ARE OF GREATER VALUE THAN THINGS:
To be honest, this one is probably cheating. This is something I intrinsically knew to be true, even before I began travelling. Most surprisingly, the hard part came with discarding society’s norm that I should be buying a house, meeting a man, getting married and having 2.4 children. Throwing away years of accumulated stuff was pretty hard too. You collect a LOT of junk when you stay in the same place for a long period of time, but it is remarkably easy to learn to live without it.
2. LIVING WITH CONSTANT NEGATIVITY FROM UNSUPPORTIVE FAMILY AND FRIENDS: This is a doozy. This is something I have had to learn to manage, and I had to learn it quickly. Your family and friends are unlikely to ever understand why you travel long-term. But the ones who love you unconditionally will just accept it, and learn to live with having you in their lives part-time. The ones that can’t accept it? They aren’t worth keeping around.
3. APPRECIATE: I come from a very normal childhood. We were comfortable, I didn’t want for much. My mother made sure we had everything we wanted, even if it meant she had to go without herself. People who haven’t known me long, or don’t know me well, usually assume that my parents foot the bill for a lot of my travels. This is 100% untrue. I work really fucking hard for what I have done and seen, and no one will take that credit away from me. It really irks me when strangers tell me I’m “so lucky” – usually with a jealous tone. None of my life is down to luck. On the other hand, I am lucky. I was lucky to be born in a country where women are given their freedom, I’ve had a good education and I am able to support myself. If I had been born in any number of countries elsewhere in the world, this would not be the case. For this, I am forever appreciative.
4. LEAVE YOUR EGO AT THE AIRPORT GATE: Life on the long-term travel road has no room for over-inflated egos. Leave it behind, with your hair straightener and your high heels. Chances are, unless you are extraordinarily fortunate, something will go wrong during your travels. I cannot count the number of times I have gotten lost, had luggage lost or stolen, lost my passport, lost my dignity, gotten ill, been in hospital, missed flights, had transport plans cancelled, been caught in places where riots have caused airports to close – you get the picture. The list is seemingly endless. You’re best to just smile and get on with life. And invest in some good travel insurance.
5. LIFE WAITS FOR NO ONE: Seriously, there are that many lame excuses for not realizing your goals out there. If your goal is to travel the world, start saving. Literally no one is going to say to you “Hey, how would you like to have a whole bag full of cash? And a years worth of paid leave from your job?” Literally. Not one single person. Be proactive, get off your butt and get out there. Making enough money to travel the world is easy. I’ve been doing it on a minimum wage job for years. Cut back on your luxuries at home. It really isn’t rocket science. Plus, long-term travel is cheaper than a lot of people think.
6. EMBRACE THE WORDS “I DON’T KNOW”: Seriously. Who are you? You definitely don’t know everything, and I don’t care how many times you look at the map, the London tube will still be as confusing as it was ten minutes ago. Stop. Breathe. ASK SOMEONE. I’ve been lost more times in more cities than I can count, and as a woman, while it’s fun, sometimes it’s not a great idea safety-wise. You’re not Google, you don’t know everything. And that’s ok!
7. TRUST: Just open yourself up to others and trust them. Sure, not everyone in the world is going to do the right thing by you, you’re likely to get scammed on something – but nothing will ever be perfect. Nothing. Not a damn thing. So get over yourself, stop being so anti-social and just say hi to some people. Any people. Other travellers, locals, the hotel staff, ANYONE. This is what travelling is all about, making connections the world over. It’s amazing how many friends I have in all different places, just because I sat in a bar and had a conversation. And trust yourself to make decisions, because at the end of the day, when you travel solo – it’s just you and your head.
8. EMBRACE SPONTANEITY: When you travel alone, all your decisions are up to you. There’s just you and your head, and your budget. If it fits with my budget, I will usually say yes. Unless it involves jumping out of a perfectly good plane, or attaching a rope to my feet and plummeting off a bridge. I’m just not good with heights…. But some of my best decisions have been purely spontaneous. When I lived in London, weekends in Hvar, Crete, Mallorca, the Canary Islands, Helsinki, Paris, Rome, et al were not unheard of. Now I’m back in Australia, and a lot of my short-term travel either has to be closer to home (Asia), or for a few weeks at a time, but everything is still spontaneous. Africa for three weeks? Leave in a week? Sure! Solo travel means you have to be flexible, and with flexibility comes spontaneity. Embracing this will make you be the most confident and independent version of yourself.
9. MANAGE YOUR FINANCES: This is something I was never good at, but had to learn to be pretty quickly. When you first start travelling, you tend to throw money at every single experience. But let me tell you, those helicopter rides over Niagara Falls are pretty fucking expensive. So unless you have an unlimited budget, or you won lotto, then you will miss some things. Managing your money on the road means you have to learn to manage your fear of missing out. For me, this wasn’t so much about learning to not be afraid to miss out, but learning find other ways of getting a similar experience. Safaris through Zambezi National Park? Cheapest way was on horseback, and I had a great day. Dinner at the Eiffel Tower? Too expensive. Picnic in the park surrounding the Eiffel Tower? Much more affordable. You get the picture.
10. EVERY ITEM YOU CARRY IS CRUCIAL: You need the same amount of junk for a three-month trip, as you will need for three weeks, or three days. I can get around with about 10-15kg (approx 20lbs) of stuff. As women, we often lament that we need more stuff than men. This is just untrue. You don’t need a hair straighter and make up. You think you do, but you won’t even end up using it. My hair is wavy, frizzy, fine and prone to dreadlocks, and at home takes a serious amount of styling to make it look effortlessly tousled. I take a hairbrush with me when I travel. Sometimes I use it (like in Europe and big cities when I need to be presentable), but most often I don’t (hello Asia, home of the great tan and the hippy dreadlocks).