I’ve been very lucky over the past few years because I’ve had a graduated introduction to solo travel. It wasn’t purposeful, it was just something that happened.
My first solo flight
My first flight on my own was a short haul flight from the UK to Ireland in 2016. I was heading out to join some university friends for St Patrick’s Day (a trip that was affectionately called #DBPOnTour).
The trip there went off without a hitch. I made it onto my flight and then found my mini bus transport from the airport to my friend’s city.
The return flight ended up not going quite so well… The flight was delayed and then the flight path had to be changed. We were flown to a different city in the UK and then had to be taken by bus to the originally intended arrival airport. I was frantically messaging back and forth with my Dad to arrange when he’d be able to pick me up (and where from).
I figured this flight alone would be good preparation for my solo long-haul flight to Honduras just a few months later.
It didn’t make that trip any less scary though.
My first solo ‘group’ trip
I was 20 years old when I went to Honduras to carry out my dissertation fieldwork with Operation Wallacea. I flew solo and I was fully aware that I wouldn’t know anyone at all when I arrived. Well, apart from my dissertation supervisor, Grace. She’s an incredibly talented and hard-working individual who I’d met a couple times at my university in preparation for this trip (but, still, we hardly knew each other).
The reality of what I was doing didn’t truly set in until I arrived at the airport. I was lucky to be so busily wrapped up in the pressure of being on the ball committee, right up until the day that my flight departed.
And what was that reality?
I was going to be on a little island with strangers for 6 weeks.
My parents saw me off at the airport and obviously I cried. I can’t help it. It’s happened numerous times. I see security and break-down in tears. I think it’s kinda natural when you know you’re gonna be away for a while and you’re heading into the unknown.
My first solo trip was kinda like a group travel experience (with an added educational element). Albeit I’ve never been on a proper ‘group trip’ so can’t accurately comment on the two having a similar nature.
The first week or two was incredibly tough. I remember feeling like nothing was going right and I wanted to be anywhere but Utila (small island on Honduras); my stomach wasn’t too happy with the food, I felt like I was struggling to make friends and I was having nightmares about diving (the thing that I needed to do for my dissertation).
Surprisingly, the one thing keeping me on the straight and narrow was being involved with my dissertation project. I had a focus and a purpose and a small amount of familiarity with Grace, as a result of the few times that we’d met.
The resilience that I learnt from pushing through has been invaluable to my life and not giving in meant that I ended up having the time of my life for the remaining 4 weeks. I wound up going back to Utila the year after, grew a passion for diving and formed friendships that I believe will be lifelong (I’m still in contact with many people I met back then).
My first hostel stay
One of the most important things about solo travel is that at some point you might want to meet people. And arguably the best place to meet fellow like-minded travellers is to stay in a hostel.
I remember I was a little apprehensive about staying in a hostel alone. Luckily, my first hostel stay was with one of my friend’s, when we travelled to Wales to climb Snowdon. We were quite unlucky to have a late arrival of ‘dorm-mates’ who were very inconsiderate about how noisy they should be at midnight.
A few weeks later I decided to take my first hostel trip in a city that I know well; London. I didn’t tell my parents because I knew they would be worried about me but I felt safe in knowing that if anything went wrong I had several friends in London whom I could call. All was fine. I stayed out late with friends and arrived back to my dorm, where luckily everyone else was still awake.
Since then I’ve stayed in a hostel in almost every country that I’ve visited.
Solo travel can be hard
As I mentioned earlier, solo travel can be tough. Travelling involves a lot of adjustment and adaptation to a completely new environment. Not knowing anyone can amplify that
It can get lonely too. After I finished working in Malaysia, I spent a couple weeks travelling around peninsular Malaysia. However, I didn’t really put myself out there and so I didn’t end up meeting many people. I hadn’t had chance to spend much time on my own in the previous 5 months of working in 2 countries and I just wasn’t feeling like spending time with anyone. That’s okay to do. But it’s not always the best remedy for homesickness and loneliness. I was lucky to have a friend in Kuala Lumpur whom I could escape to stay with when I actually needed some human company.
Just after booking that trip back to my friend’s place in KL, I joined a tour at my hostel and ended up meeting some cool people. Sometimes that’s just how it goes. You don’t meet people for a while, and then at the last minute you do.
There are ups and downs to this way of travel but you never know what it’s like if you don’t try it!
Despite this, I’ve taken many solo trips…
The majority of my travel has been solo or has involved going abroad to work with strangers (who became friends over time). Here’s a little list of those trips:
France – I took a 36 hour trip overnight by bus. There were a couple of slightly sketchy situations but overall it didn’t dishearten my travelling spirit.
Croatia – I worked for Operation Wallacea on their Mljet site. Going in I knew no-one but I came out with a family of amazing scuba diving pals.
Malaysia – I again did some marine biology work but this time for Lang Tengah Turtle Watch. Afterwards I spent 2 weeks travelling around solo but I wasn’t in the best state of mind for this so didn’t fully enjoy my time. That can happen with solo travel, but it didn’t put me off.
Slovakia – Never did I think that I would go snowboarding solo but I did… well, kinda. I joined a snowboarding camp and made tons of friends (from 17 to 50+ year olds). Honestly, that trip was epic.
Thailand – For 3 out of my 4 weeks in Thailand I was solo, and I think it is the perfect place to be solo for the first time. I easily found pals to explore with and am still in touch with several of them to this day!
You can probably tell that I’m pretty into solo travel now… And I have a few more posts lined up about it so that you can feel more comfortable about taking your next trip solo… I promise you won’t regret it!