Over the last few years I have pushed myself to be braver and do more things. One of them has been travelling. This is my story of going from travelling for the very first time aged 23 to becoming a solo traveller by the age of 26. Here are my adventures in solo travel as a single girl.
(For more information on why that needed to happen it may help to go back and read this post:Supporting singletons )
Flying over Chicago
The first time I went abroad was less than 3 years ago, in December of 2015 at the age of 23. It was my first time on a plane, in an airport, using a passport. And I was ready.
I’d only got my passport the year before, so I could start looking at going abroad somewhere. Up until University I had never really cared at all about travel. It just wasn’t on my radar. When I was younger my family did camping holidays with our cousins in various places in England and Wales. My parents have never been abroad and the cost of getting the whole family passports, let alone the cost of a holiday abroad was far more than we could afford (and my Mum hates heights so I doubt we’d get her on a plane!).
I had never once contemplated a gap year or anything like that and had for a long time thought my first flight would be a short distance with my family (you know, for the moral support). I even said no to friends who invited me on holiday because it wasn’t something I was interested in (and they were going somewhere hot and I am terrible in the heat, it didn’t sound enjoyable). But then as my other ambitions were being ticked off (like getting my degree) I started thinking about it. Despite not thinking about travel there were two places I had always wanted to go. Australia and America. The rest of the World hadn’t interested me.
At Secondary School I took part in a public speaking competition, and chose the Great Barrier Reef as my topic. I did hours of research and always dreamed of seeing the coral and the fish. I still hope that one day I’ll get there, hopefully before the coral reefs are destroyed…
And as for America?
Well I’ve grown up watching hours and hours of American TV. I became fascinated with their High Schools from shows like Saved by the Bell and 90210 and then became fascinated by everything American as I went on to watch more American TV and listen to more American bands. There was a time when I fantasised about moving there. So it’s safe to say it was top of my list for places to visit!
So in 2015, after spending yet another evening perusing various flight checker sites and finding some cheap flights to New York for New Year’s Eve, I persuaded a friend to come with me. It was great, I loved it. I still remember my excitement and anticipation of my first flight (I’ve become someone who enjoys flying) and how important they made me feel with my meal and blanket! I remember coming in to land in the darkness and lights of New York City whilst not quite believing I’d made it after months of being convinced that something would go wrong and I’d never actually make it to America. We packed all of the tourist attractions in to our week visit, even including a Christmas show! New York really is as magical as people say.
Brooklyn Bridge, New York
Fast forward a year and a half. I’ve now been to Belfast, Venice/Verona and Prague. I flew to Belfast by myself. It was a very short flight, but it was still another step in my longer journey to solo travel.
I yet again had no summer plans for 2017.
But with a 6 week summer holiday and no need to keep it free (I had previously been doing work for my Masters course) I needed to do something. I’d reached a point in life where I was wondering what I was doing with it (and to be honest, I think I’m still there). My answer to my questions was to seek an exciting holiday. But despite asking people, friends either had summer plans or couldn’t afford to go anywhere, so I was a little unstuck.
In the Easter holidays I had an idea. Wouldn’t it be great if I could go somewhere and use my Biology or teaching degree to get me into a cool project? Obviously this meant google became my best friends for weeks as I tried an abundance of searches to see what perks my job could get me. Apparently the answer was none. But I did discover hundreds of conservation projects all over the World that offered the kind of experience you could never get on an average holiday. I was all in.
Upon further research I discovered not only were they pretty expensive, they were all in places that I’d never heard of, didn’t know where they were or took days to get there. But the draw of volunteering on a sunny island, getting to spend time swimming with turtles, kept pulling me back. But could I do it on my own?
I decided that a volunteering project was actually ideal.
I would travel by myself, but be working for 2 weeks with a group of other people. This would give me the opportunity to meet new people and not be spending 2 weeks by myself. It also meant that my food, accommodation and activities were sorted too, so I really had nothing else to worry about, just getting there. It was exactly what I needed. So I booked it.
Beach Life in Malaysia
My turtle project was in Malaysia. I only realised quite how far it was when I went to book my flights and realised it was about 15 hours of travel time! Plus it was in a remote island that then required a further flight and ferry to get there! It wasn’t a straightforward journey, but I’m nothing if not a planner! But because it was so far away I realised it was unlikely to be somewhere I would visit again. It wasn’t on my list after all. So I decided I’d be crazy to not make the most of my time there. I booked a return flight for 2 days after the end of my project, giving me a day and a half to explore the capital city.
This was more of a challenge. I thought I’d be okay with 2 weeks of working with others in a foreign country, but a day on my own in a non-English speaking country- with no knowledge of the language, could be more of a challenge. But I was determined, and I researched. If I can read about something before I do it, I absolutely will. So I meticulously planned my time. I found out all of the best things to do in the city and decided which I wanted to do. I read reviews and found out how long I needed in each place and researched how to get between the landmarks (and I relied on google maps heavily too). One key factor in my success was choosing quite a central hotel to stay in, so I could then walk to everything else. Although navigating the public transport from the airport was one of my biggest challenges, I managed it with written down instructions and good old google!
In the end I had the most amazing time.
My parents thought I was a little crazy, but were also proud of me for going out on my own and doing something different. I’d had this incredible experience of releasing turtle hatchlings across the beach and watching them crawl out to sea. I’d snorkelled in the clearest seas and seen the most magnificent coral. I’d hiked through jungle and slept in hammocks. It felt like I was really living my life.
So that was my first adventure into solo travel.
In October 2017 I went on my second American adventure, exploring California with a friend. We spent a few days in LA and San Francisco and did the long drive between the two. The sunshine and beaches were picturesque, Disney was more amazing than I’d even imagined and cycling the Golden Gate bridge was an absolute highlight. I became even more familiar and more in love with America. In May of 2018 I went to Copenhagen with some friends for a few days. The weather was surprisingly hot and it was great fun exploring the city.
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
This past summer I took my second, more real, adventure in solo travel because this time I really was on my own for a full two weeks. To be comfortable travelling for that period of time independently it needed to be somewhere I felt comfortable, with the main language being English. I wasn’t ready to dive into a completely new country and language, maybe that’s my next plan…
I had wanted to go to a music festival in America for a few years and when my favourite band were announced to be playing it seemed like an opportunity not to be missed! So the decision was made. I’d go to Boston and Washington DC and fly between the two. But what else could I do?
I am very much a planner.
I love researching and finding out where to go and what to do. In my research I gradually started to realise how close some places where and how surprisingly easy they were to get around by coach. I discovered that it was only a few hours by coach from Washington DC to Philadelphia, and only a few more hours to New York. So days in those cities were added in to my holiday. I then started to think about what else was in the East Coast that I’d like to see and eventually added in Niagara Falls and Chicago when I discovered I could get to them relatively cheaply by coach.
Destinations were planned so next up was accommodation. This was, for me, the trickier part as a solo traveller. With no-one to share a room with hotel costs were astronomical. Flights and travel in the US were costing me enough, and I hadn’t even booked activities yet. Could I really spend hundreds of pounds in each city?
No. Obviously. I’m far too cheap for that. So began my first adventures into hostelling! And to be honest, it was so much better than I had ever expected it to be, I highly recommend it! I looked for hostels in good locations to make travel around cities easy by public transport, or better still, walkable, and even more importantly- only those hostels with good reviews. Lots of hostels offered activities so I knew they would be sociable places with lots of friendly faces, which is what I wanted when travelling alone.
Capitol Building, Washington D.C.
My final stage was deciding what to do.
To maximise my time there, and not leave me feeling alone with nothing to do, I planned out each day. After researching where to go I planned the best order to do things. Even to the point of where I wanted to eat on some of the days! As well as booking as much as possible in advance. This saved me loads of time on holiday and made it feel like my time was best spent. It also enabled me to enjoy my holiday because I knew I wasn’t missing any of the ‘must-dos’ of a holiday destination and was doing everything I wanted to.
There was no going to an art museum I had zero interest in. There was no stopping and sitting when I wanted to keep going because someone else wanted a break from walking. There was no missing activities I wanted to do because I had to fit in multiple wish lists. It was my holiday, my way.
And it wasn’t lonely. As I’ve spoken about before I am highly independent. So I was fine with being by myself. But I also created lots of opportunities to talk to other people. I signed up for lots of tours- a night time tour of the monuments in Washington DC, the Freedom Trail in Boston, an architecture tour in Chicago, a tour of Independence Hall in Philadelphia and a tour of the Capitol Building in Washington DC. As well as lots of timed/ticketed activities with other groups of people. Such as a Lake Cruise in Chicago, the One World Observatory in New York and the Journey Behind the Falls in Niagara Falls. Plus of course I’d chat to people in the hostels, on the coaches, at the airport, waiting in line for various attractions. There are always other people around to chat to if you’re willing to chat to them (and quite frankly I wasn’t always!) So this means that solo travel really isn’t lonely at all.
It’s true that there are elements of my holiday that I think I would have enjoyed more if I’d done them with someone else. But there is also the pride and sense of achievement from travelling alone and the knowledge that I have no feelings of missing out. And I had no feelings of unease that I’ve had previously on holiday when I think the person/people I am with don’t want to be there with me or disagree with my idea for what I want to do etc. Being on my own completely eliminated that.
It also made me get much better at talking to strangers, doing things on my own and also taking better selfies! I honestly feel that the whole experience made me a stronger more confident person and that I can do anything I want to- being single is absolutely not going to stop me.
To read more posts about my adventures in solo travel click here: Solo Travel
All photos are my own.
Find me on twitter: @Singlesalliknow