How did she do it?

How That First, Scary Solo Trip Can Turn Into the Time of Your Life

Continuing with our “How did she do it? “ series, we heard from Deborah Ives about how she went on a trip originally planned for two, despite her anxieties, and came out of it changed forever. Now, she shares her experiences with other women to help them get the best out of their own solo adventures.

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Does my bum bag look big in this?

I’m not quite sure why I decided that I absolutely had to have a bum bag for my first ever solo trip. Not just any old bum bag and certainly nothing like the stylish, classy ones that are all over the high street at the moment. No, this was enormous, boringly brown and very practical. It had hundreds of slots and partitions into which I stashed all my travel documents, money, cards, passport, and lists of places to see; you name it, it was in there.

Certainly, when I travelled with my ex I didn’t see the need to have one but then this was my first holiday alone; no group just me, and as I sat nervously at HeathrowT3 waiting to board my flight I spent my time opening, checking and rechecking the contents hoping that it would in some way make me feel less anxious. It didn’t.

Prior to my divorce, I had booked a ‘must do’ trip for two to Borneo including a hop over to Sipadan Island, which is on every diver’s hot list. As there was no way that I was going to lose my deposit, I suddenly decided “sod everything!” I was absolutely going to go on the trip that I’d already planned, and I’d go by myself. I remember sitting at the airport feeling absolutely petrified, looking and feeling like a nervous wreck with my great, big bum bag, wondering why the hell I had thought it was such a good idea. I called a couple of friends and my sister and then I was off.

It was such a long journey, changing planes twice and ending up on some small regional flight to Sandakan – I was starting out in Sepilok to see the orangoutangs – and as I waited for my luggage to show I remember thinking if I walk out of this airport and there’s no one waiting for me with my name on a card then I’m in serious trouble! Luckily, there was and from then on I could relax and start to really enjoy the experience.

It’s not all highs on your first solo trip; expect some lows too.

There were so many highs and plenty of lows on that first solo trip. The wildlife was amazing, I stayed in some fabulous places tucked away in the jungle and I met some wonderful people. I also became strangely comfortable getting into Toyota vans and trucks and being driven for miles and miles by complete strangers, some of whom spoke no English. I was amazed at how quickly that became absolutely routine.

At this point, I would normally share some incredible photos of the proboscis monkeys, orangoutangs and the other stunning wildlife that I’d seen along the way but unfortunately, I dropped my camera over the side of the boat on the ride to Sipidan island, not only losing my camera but all my photos as well. That was a major low!

Turning any lows into special memories – the key to loving your solo trip 

Other difficult moments included travelling for hours through the most stunning jungle scenery and ending up in a fabulous resort in the middle of nowhere only to find that I was the only guest! I wept for hours on the first night there but then the staff were incredible and after bonding with the safari guide over an unfortunate incident with a leech (let’s leave it there!) the 3 safari drives and walks that I did each day/evening were just me and the guide and I ended up having a very personal and special experience which will stay with me forever. How totally different it all would have been had the resort been full!

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When I finally arrived at Sipadan, bereft after having dropped my camera in the sea, it was so beautiful and so special that I couldn’t help having a moment of thinking how I should have been there with my ex. That was especially difficult, but then I started diving and it was all so unbelievably wonderful and a group of divers from Melbourne turned up who was so much fun that I ended up having the best time ever.

This holiday stays with me for so many reasons. It was extremely special and afterwards, I was completely bitten by the solo travel bug. The world was my oyster. I had the confidence to choose whatever holiday I wanted (although I met 2 ladies along the way who told me how amazing Argentina was and so that was my next trip – not so successful for lots of reasons and many lessons learnt from that holiday that have helped me since, but that’s another story!)

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I have long since ditched the bum bag but I still remember the feeling of excitement I had on that first ever, independent solo trip. Even now, many years on, I get a huge buzz from my travels and if I’m ever in need of cheering up I think back to that holiday and remember how important it was to me then, and still is today, to make my own travel memories. I look at the only 3 photos I have from my time in Sipadan – yes, a nice couple I met there took pity on me and sent me a few snaps – just in case I need reminding!

Deborah is active on her blog and welcomes fellow female travelers to reach out for advice and/or questions. You can follow her on Instagram & Facebook.

Want to share your solo travel adventures with Wanderher? Submit your story to marketing@wanderher.com. For guidelines and more information click here!

Three Top Reasons to Travel Solo

Continuing with our “How did she do it? “ series, we heard from Rebecca Ashley about how solo travel unexpectedly found her when she wasn’t looking for it. 14 countries later, she proudly wears the “Solo Female Traveler” badge and shares her top reasons to try it for yourself!

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“I caught the travel bug in 2008 when I went overseas for the very first time at the ripe old age of 21. It was to Thailand with my friend, and we spent two glorious weeks travelling around the country, taking in the sights, smells and tastes of Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket. We went to Bali the following year, and my passion for travel grew even stronger.

But, while Southeast Asia is undeniably beautiful and exciting, we knew we wanted to venture further afield on our next overseas adventure. I’ve always been good at saving money, but my friend? Let’s just say saving money isn’t her superpower. So after ‘making a plan’ to go to Europe and talking about it for over a year without actually going, and with my friend’s bank balance looking less than healthy, I made the decision to go it alone. A solo traveller was born!

Since then, I’ve travelled to 14 countries on my own, and have come to realise that travelling solo is actually my preferred way to travel. Solo travel is so rewarding, but it comes with its challenges. And these challenges are what make you stronger, happier, and more driven than you thought possible.

Here are my top three reasons why all women should travel solo . . . 

1. You’ll realise you are much stronger and more capable than you thought

This is the big one. While I knew I wasn’t some useless weakling dependent upon others for my very survival, I didn’t realise just how capable and independent I could be when put to the test. Navigating foreign airports and transport systems, communicating without knowledge of the language, making decisions about where to stay/eat/sight-see, being aware of your surroundings and personal items, it all takes a lot of energy, organisation and determination. And, believe it or not, it was all so much easier than I thought, and the feeling of accomplishment and empowerment I felt afterwards can’t be beaten. It’s funny how self-reliant I’ve become, even in my day-to-day life at home, preferring to figure things out on my own rather than relying on someone else to swoop in and help. Travelling alone promotes you to a level of independence that even Destiny’s Child would be proud of! 


2. You’ll learn to love your own company

Being an introvert, I already knew that I enjoyed spending time on my own and never craved the company of others, but I was still apprehensive about whether I could cope with being completely on my own, in a foreign country, with no familiar faces to keep me company and no one to rely upon in those sticky situations. I was worried I’d get lonely, or that the things I experienced and the sights I saw wouldn’t be as special because I didn’t share them with anyone.

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Well, I needn’t have been concerned. Being on your own gives you time to really soak in the experiences you have, to reflect on your day, to savour moments that you don’t have to share, that are made just for you. You’re in charge of your own schedule, which means you can go where you want and do what you want, when you want and how you want. You can travel as fast or as slowly as you want, without having to justify your choices to anyone, and you don’t have to compromise on things like which sights you’ll see, where you’ll eat, how long you’ll spend at each stop, etc. You’re free to meet new people, or not, and enjoy your holiday in the exact way you want to. There is no one else to please but you, and that is extremely freeing.

3. You’ll never settle for second best

Once you’ve seen the world as a strong, independent traveller, you’ll return home with a new-found sense of who you are and what you want in life, and you won’t be willing to sacrifice your time and energy for anything that doesn’t make you happy. My favourite quote, and life motto is, “whatever you decide to do, make sure it makes you happy.” And I try to live every day with this in mind. Because life is made for living, not just existing, and if you’re not truly happy then you’re not living your life the best way that you can.  

For me, right now, the thought of being in the one place for any longer than two years gets me down; it makes me yearn for faraway places that I’m yet to experience and for adventures I’m yet to have. Travelling solo has given me an insight into the person I am when I’m free and happy and curious about the world, and this is in stark contrast to the person I am when I’m at home and at work, where I feel tired and restless and trapped. Travelling gives me new life, new energy and new outlooks on the world, things that I can’t achieve if I stay in one place and continue to live the day-to-day monotony.  

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If you feel the same, if travelling is your passion, your dream, your purpose in life, the thing that makes you happy, then don’t let anything hold you back. Don’t wait around for someone to go with you, create your own experiences, live the life you want to live, get out there and see the world. There is nothing and no one to stop you.”

To keep up with Rebecca's adventures, check out her blog and follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, & Pinterest.

Want to share your solo travel stories with Wanderher? Submit to marketing@wanderher.com. For submission guidelines click here!

Life Through the Art of Travel

Continuing with our “How did she do it?” series, we talked to Michelle about how her love of travel and passion for art have grown together. She always followed her inner compass and believed in her self and her capabilities to get where she is today. Michelle now encourages others to do the same.

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Travel is my muse . . . as long as I can remember, I dreamt of far off lands. As a child I was convinced that I was from India, it always held a deep connection and is still one of my favourite places on the planet. I grew up being called a gypsy . . .by my family, having no similarities, desires, or interests. Since I come to discover this is not uncommon for us bitten by wanderlust.

As an Artist, throughout my life, my mediums I have used have changed but the inspirations that I gathered have always come from my travels, the stories, experiences, the textures, the sites and scents, all woven into each layer of my being. . . textiles, food, design and of course the art that I make. My art reflects my life and life reflects my art.

Being self employed, as my children grew, my travels grew too, both in frequency and in duration. Always happiest on route to an airport and saddened by my impending arrival home, other than missing my family, the truth was, I was the most in alignment with my truest self when away and living out of a bag, making decisions on the fly and making connections as I wandered. Capturing and documenting the details, often the daily mundane, seen with new eyes as I traversed new cultures and landscapes.

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In some way, the traditional North American lifestyle was never my dream, it was just what I was born into and as with most women, the older I got, the more my decisions and actions reflected who I really was, instead of who I grew up thinking I was supposed to be. My life and work started to merge and people started to ask me to scout locations, destinations and connect them with people and places I knew from my travels.

During a scouting trip, I was in the Sahara, in Southern Morocco where I met a man, . . . and since relocating to Morocco and creating a new life in the desert, renovating a Kasbah, my art practice has become more transient, without a full time studio, my practice needed to shift, be more portable and simplified as has my life living in a Berbere Village, still always a camera + journal and few supplies, I continue to capture and document what I witness, and where I am called . . . the tales + treks of a life of misadventures in creating a life in a Sandcastle in the desert.

Little did I know that this would be the bases of what is now become part of my work . . . hosting portable/retreats, workshops + gatherings here in Morocco, as part of my latest business.

CamelsandCouscous.com, is a Hand Curated Travel Company, where we build bespoke custom Itineraries for solo travellers or groups, specializing in Retreats + Gatherings, for the curious and creative traveller, here in Morocco and beyond.

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The path in which we are called is often a windy road to travel, it is my belief that both Art + Travel, transform . . . whether around the block or around the world!

My advice is follow your inner compass, if you feel it make it happen . . . there is only ever now, and if not now when? There are reasons for what we want and desire, even if it doesn't make sense at the time. Art + Travel Transform, this I know for sure!!

Paint + A Passport,

Michelle

Michelle is constantly creating incredible art and exploring beautiful Morocco and you can follow her personal journey on Instagram @michellefletcherart. To learn more about her business, visit www.camelsandcouscous.com or follow on Instagram @camelsncouscous.

Want to share your solo travel stories with Wanderher? Submit it to marketing@wanderher.com.

How Solo Travel Turned Me Into a Fearless Entrepreneur

Continuing with our “How did she do it?” series, we talked to Somto about how she broke out of her shell and embraced the unknown. By facing her fears, she discovered a new found confidence through solo travel. She now successfully runs her own business and is living her dream lifestyle!

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Growing up in Nigeria, I was the quiet, shy girl while my twin sister, Kosiso, was the outgoing tomboy. That identity stuck even after we moved to America at the age of nine. Surrounded by strange faces in a new world, I quickly developed social anxiety. I frankly didn’t know what to say to people so I avoided them. Also, I was so anxious that I would sabotage myself to avoid giving a speech or receiving any type of public recognition. I just wanted to dig a hole in the ground and hide there.

Kosiso, on the other hand, had an easier time making friends and putting herself out there. She read a poem in front of the whole fifth grade once. By high school, she seemed to know everyone and was the life of the party. For a long time, I envied her outgoing nature and wish I could be like her. But no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t stop being nervous.

Solo Travel Changed Everything

I spent much of college and my early twenties going to therapy to deal with anxiety. It helped somewhat, but the game changer was my decision to move to Spain alone at 23. Following a few years working office jobs, I was craving excitement, adventure, and new cultural experiences. I had studied abroad in Spain and also spoke Spanish so moving there was a logical choice. Without thinking twice, I packed my belongings into one giant suitcase and moved to Madrid to teach English.

With Madrid as my home base, I traveled around Europe solo for almost a year. My friends didn’t want to go to the same destinations as me so I just went by myself. I was scared out of my mind! What if I got kidnapped or robbed? At the same time, I was even more tired of waiting for people to travel with me.

Alone on the road for weeks, I learned that I was more capable than I had thought. I traversed Europe with ease, making friends in places like Budapest, Florence, and Santorini. In the process, I confronted my fears and self-limiting beliefs head-on. I realized that a lot of my fears were just a figment of my imagination. In reality, most people I met were more likely to help me find my way than rob me. The fear of getting kidnapped was also far fetched.

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I let go of many self-limiting beliefs

I always felt that I wasn’t outgoing enough, a problem exacerbated by having a social butterfly twin sister. My image of myself was: timid, anti-social, too quiet, too serious, insecure, and unadventurous. Before traveling solo, for instance, I believed I was too timid to meet new people and would end up stuck in my hostel alone, bored.

My ‘timid Somto’ persona died after my 22-day solo trip around the Mediterranean. On that trip, I found myself talking to strangers in hostels and bars or on buses and trains. I also had no problem yelling and causing a scene when a 50-something year old man stalked me around Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Through the experience, I realized that I’m an introvert, but I’m not shy. I used to think those were interchangeable. They are not. Since I had been known as the shy twin since I was little, I was in a way playing a role that people expected of me. But when I traveled by myself, I discovered my natural disposition. I was free to be myself, and it was liberating!

I learned to be comfortable with discomfort

My anxiety stemmed from the fear of public humiliation. I avoided plenty of activities, from social gatherings to school talent shows, because I was worried I would make a fool of myself or experience some misfortune – completely irrational thoughts. Whenever I was tempted to go outside my comfort zone, I would imagine an audience of people laughing at me. Abort mission!

When I started traveling solo, I felt self-conscious and vulnerable. In Italy, I worried about men mistaking me for a prostitute; I had read a host of horror stories by Black American women. How humiliating would that be! On multiple occasions, I worried about getting kidnapped and becoming an international news story. How embarrassing would that be!

The more time I spent traveling alone, the more absurd I realized those ideas were. After successfully navigating one country after another, I gained so much confidence in myself. I remember one time when I was walking down a major street in the center of Budapest. A local man paused and stared at me, puzzled. But I walked on, strutting like I didn’t have a care in the world. Before, I would have probably hidden my face and run away. But with my newfound confidence, I didn’t mind sticking out. In fact, I sought uncomfortable situations to hone my could-care-less attitude.

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I found the courage to create my dream life

After wrapping up my solo adventures in Europe, I went home fealing invigorated. Soon, I started to wonder what else I was capable of doing. What would be my next challenge? From the depths of my soul emerged a desire for a new life. I craved the independence I had in Spain. I wanted control over my time and location. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t last long in the 9 to 5 grind. Less than a year into my new job, I quit and started my own business. I took a leap of faith and pursued my dream of becoming a professional travel writer. Somto Seeks, my blog, was born.

Never in a million years did I imagine I would become an entrepreneur! I always thought entrepreneurship was for extroverted go-getters. But as I attended business conferences and took business courses, I realized that I had the traits to be an entrepreneur all along! Do you identify with any of these?

  • A love of learning and figuring out why things work the way they do

  • A dislike for being told what to do or reporting to a superior

  • A high degree of comfort with uncertainty

  • A willingness to risk everything to pursue your goals

  • An eagerness to challenge yourself and constantly grow

  • A stubborn and tenacious personality: you won’t take no for an answer

Today, I live a location independent life and get paid to write about travel. If you told me a year ago that I’d be here, I would have laughed in your face. Now, I can genuinely say I love what I do. Becoming my own boss has been the hardest and scariest thing I’ve ever done. But it is also the best decision I’ve ever made! I still have a lot to learn, but I’m excited about continuing to learn and grow my business.

If you identified with any of the statements above, then maybe you too have what it takes to be an entrepreneur! My mission is to help adventurous women become their own boss and create a location independent lifestyle. Subscribe to my email list to get access to my free resource library with loads of tips to make money online and work from anywhere.

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Somto is constantly on the move exploring the world and you can follow her journey on Instagram @somtoseeks. To learn more about her business, visit www.somtoseeks.com.

Want to share your solo travel stories with Wanderher? Submit it to marketing@wanderher.co. 

Paris is for Loners

Continuing with our “How did she do it?” series, we talked to Melanie about how she courageously embraced loneliness while traveling solo in Paris. Not only did she overcome it, but the journey back to herself on that trip became a pleasant surprise.

"When most people think of Paris, they think of old-world style streets and romance. A place you might go with the love of your life (or maybe just someone you want to have sex with in a fancy hotel. In Paris). Most people imagine beautiful buildings, bistro tables, slender cigarettes and wine glasses in the hands of slender individuals, European scooters buzzing past, and cinematic walks along cobblestone streets.

They do NOT think about dragging a broken suitcase up 5 very TINY flights of stairs to an Airbnb, alone. They definitely do NOT think about walking around the city (also alone) with headphones on because you don’t speak French and are too terrified to use Google translate because you pronounce everything so, so terribly. I am 100% positive they do NOT imagine dining alone at a bistro table in the 6th ward, surrounded by young, chic, men and women who are casually gossiping about why the woman next to them is eating a three course dinner alone, with headphones on.

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My desire to see Paris in 2017 was eclipsed by the fact that I was single and had no available friends or family willing to accompany me. Everything else was aligned- the flights were cheap, the most perfect Airbnb was available (and cheap) and I had a long weekend to burn. Having never been to Paris, and speaking little to no French, I was a bit naïve in my confidence that I would have no problems finding my way. The minute I stepped off the Eurostar, I was smacked with the reality that yes, I was finally in Paris, and no, I did not actually speak any French. This was the moment as a single traveler when I felt the MOST alone. I could sense tears welling up in my eyes when I realized that I had no idea what to expect in this place and I felt like I really stood out in an awkward way. This is sometimes the moment when headphones become your best friend. With headphones on, you immediately blend in. “Yeah, I was just stepping out to mail a package, buy some wine, and pick up my takeaway. I have headphones in because none of this excites me anymore- I live here. Ignore the giant suitcase”.

Loneliness aside, a magical thing happens when you travel alone- you spend less time talking and more time listening. Listening to the sounds of the city, the conversations (in French) going on around you. To dogs barking, kids laughing, street musicians playing, birds chirping, and even the rain falling around you (yes it rained but trust me, that will NOT stop you from exploring Paris). Sometimes it can be exhausting to make small talk or to engage in the active volleying of words to avoid silence. Travelling alone automatically removes these things as options.

In Paris, I was forced to observe the world around me. If I wanted to buy or to eat something, I had to listen to the people near me and mimic their words and gestures. I was learning how to be a social being all over again. Every tiny victory felt like a huge accomplishment for me- I ordered an almond croissant and full fat milk cappuccino (yeah, they don’t do almond milk at the good spots), I walked to and from my Airbnb without getting lost. I purchased a decent bottle of champagne. I took a (terrible) selfie in front of the Eiffel tower. Alone.

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Being alone is something that we all fear at one point in or lives or another. Traveling alone on vacation seems like one of the WORST things one could possibly do; especially to a city such as Paris. But I ask you, how often do you really spend time with yourself? When was the last time you actually observed the world around you and even “re-learned” how to be a human person? How many times has a vacation felt like a whirlwind of “doings” and “goings” and the only way you could remember your time in a foreign city was by looking at the 457 photos you uploaded to your Facebook Album “ I <3 France”?

Travelling alone doesn’t really require bravery or independence (although it DOES require money, just fyi). It requires a desire to spend time with yourself. To become a character in a bigger story. To close your mouth and open your eyes…and put your headphones in so that no one asks you for directions!"

Melanie currently resides in Philadelphia where she is pursuing her mba. You can learn more about her and what she's up to on Instagram @psychictears.

Want to share your solo travel stories with Wanderher? Submit it to marketing@wanderher.co

Dusting off the ol' passport

In our first post of of the “How did she do it?” series, we talked to Erin Hendley about how she went from a busy professional life of no travel, to suddenly feeling inspired to explore the world and ultimately embrace solo travel:

"I've been very fortunate to have my own successful small business as a Makeup Artist. There were times I felt somewhat bitter because I essentially never had a social life on weekends. The demand for makeup usually always fell (and still does fall) on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. More and more, I am learning to appreciate my job revolving around such specific days of the week, because I can successfully plan my life to do whatever I want multiple days in a row on the other days. 

About a year and a half ago, I was cleaning my house and located my passport. I hadn't seen this thing for nine years! The last time I used it, I was on a family road trip to Niagara Falls and needed it to cross over the Canadian border. In fact, that was the only time in my life I had ever used my passport. Looking at the date on the booklet reminded me I had one year left before it needed to be renewed. Doing that very basic mental math, I thought to myself: "Here is this gateway tool to see the entire world, and I haven't used it in nine years!" That's when the "travel bug" began.

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Since then I have: Traveled to California to celebrate my birthday | Traveled to Europe to celebrate extreme love as a Valentine's Day trip with my boyfriend at the time | Traveled to Japan with that same guy to celebrate our Anniversary, but we were actually freshly broken up by then (I got creative and used the hashtags #ExesAbroad #BreakupTour for that one) | Traveled with my 3 best friends to get away in Salem, MA for Halloween and Miami, FL "just because" | Traveled to Paris with an organized solo traveler meet-up group called Contiki | Traveled with a surprise company called "Pack Up + Go" where I didn't know my destination until the day I left | And most importantly and recently, I've traveled 100% solo to Iceland.

When I mentioned the plan of my solo trip to Iceland, I received comments such as "Why are you going alone?" "Why is this such a short trip?" "Aren't you scared?" "Don't you want company?"

I had 4 back-to-back days I didn't have makeup work lined up yet. Wow Airlines had amazing flight prices. Most people in Iceland know English and they drive on the same side of the road as we do in the USA. Why wouldn't I take the opportunity to see this amazing country on a whim? I knew if I waited around for someone else to be available to go with me, I would be waiting forever.

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In my 4 days of Iceland I felt the mist from Gullfoss Waterfall, held shiny ice chunks on Diamond Beach, walked along the mossy aftermath of the Eldraun lava fields, swam in the hidden historic pool "Seljavallalaug" embedded in the side of a mountain, bathed in the milky water of the Blue Lagoon geothermal pool, hiked 4 miles to see the United States DC plan crash site, snorkeled between two continents at Silfra, and walked the Black Sand beach at Reynisfjara. 

You can do a lot when the only schedule you're tending to is your own.

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Erin is a Makeup Artist based in Paducah, Kentucky. You can follow her travel adventures on Instagram @erinstop

Want to share your solo travel stories with Wanderher? Submit it to marketing@wanderher.co