Thursday, June 13, 2024

How Solo Travel Opened My Eyes to a New Way of Living

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I remember the excitement of planning my dream solo trip, combining Central America, South America and New Zealand. I remember the butterflies, and the thrill as I booked my flight to Mexico, where I planned to begin the trip I had been dreaming of my whole life. I had already spent the last five years solo travelling around the globe to Asia, Australia, Europe and I was excited to explore a new continent under my own steam.

Not every solo trip needs to be a year-long backpacking tour around the world. Start with what makes you feel safe, ready and comfortable to step outside your comfort zone.

“You’ll get shot,” was the response I had when I told someone I was travelling to Mexico solo. “It’s too dangerous,” said another, when I said I couldn’t wait to wander the colourful streets of Guatemala and trek to Colombia’s lost city.

“What if something happens to you?” I heard as I expressed my excitement to dance in the bars of Rio de Janeiro, then head on to hike and climb the wild mountains of Patagonia. Everyone was fixated on the worst possible outcome.

Trek Colombia’s Mountains and Lost City | Much Better Adventures

Journey through dense jungle and high-altitude paramos, wade across waist-deep rivers and climb ancient volcanoes to discover the secrets of Colombia’s Lost City.

It’s interesting that listening to these voices is exactly what put me off choosing Central and South America as my first ever solo trip. I was nervous to go it alone – without realising it was the media and the voices of those who had never left their hometown who had infiltrated my mind with fear and worry.

Five years on, I was an experienced solo traveller. I was excited for a challenge and to explore somewhere new. I had spent years carrying my life in my backpack, catching local buses wherever I went, climbing active volcanoes, hiking through the jungle in the dead of night, being chased by wild elephants and monkeys, swimming with sharks, jumping out of planes and from jungle cliffs.

A woman looks out over the coast after hiking to a summit
Lucy has spent almost a decade solo travelling the globe to nearly 50 countries. Photo: Absolutely Lucy

You know the worst thing that happened to me? I craved more of this adrenaline-fuelled lifestyle and it lit a fire inside me to chase more of these life-altering moments. I realised how good and pure the majority of the people in this world truly are, felt their kindness as they welcomed me into their families and their homes, while I was thousands of miles away from my own.

It opened my eyes to new ways of living, to the struggles and worries of people across the globe, to the poverty and scarcity that exists alongside vast wealth. I breathed it all in and learned from it; it shaped who I was as a person.

Solo travel is still without doubt one of the most rewarding and life-changing experiences you can have as a woman.

I’m never going to romanticise solo female travel, because it is hard. Every single day you face a new challenge and just because you are travelling doesn’t mean life is suddenly a breeze. The Instagram photos don’t show the late nights, the broken down buses, the dodgy streets, the pushy tuk tuk drivers, the pickpockets or the creepy guys at the bars. It is that much harder when you are the person who has to organise every scrap of travel, who finds the accommodation, carries the bags, deals with the stresses and pressures alone. That’s not even taking into account the fact you have to look after yourself if you get sick or injured. But no matter how long that list gets, solo female travel is still without doubt one of the most rewarding and life-changing experiences you can have as a woman.

There are still stigmas around the topic, and many will make assumptions. Some thought I was running away after a bad break-up but realistically I was running towards a life of freedom that has turned me into the most confident and empowered version of myself. Now I help other women to discover that version of themselves by giving them the tools and the confidence to try solo travel.

Watching the erupting volcanoes of Guatemala. Photo: Absolutely Lucy
Watching the erupting volcanoes of Guatemala. Photo: Absolutely Lucy

Safety when solo travelling is one of the topics I get asked about the most – what will happen if I go? Will I be safe? I always reply very honestly – no-one knows!

Speak to real travellers and find ways to fill your social media feeds with solo travelling females who inspire you instead of feeding your fears.

Every traveller’s experience is unique to them – to the time and place they travel, and to the people they meet. There will always be the lucky and the unlucky ones. The more important question to ask yourself is ‘what will happen if I don’t go’? I was supposed to travel with my best friend from university, but she had a new job and relationship so couldn’t go. I had the choice to go alone or risk never going at all. I’m grateful every day that I took that risk because it transformed my life, my career and my entire understanding of this world.

There have now been several moments in my life where I have been lucky enough to experience the feeling of being totally isolated and alone.

Guatemala Adventure: the 5 Volcano Challenge | Much Better Adventures

On our Guatemala hiking tour you’ll summit 5 volcanoes, watch Volcan de Fuego erupt & reach the highest point in Central America with like-minded adventurers.

“But don’t you get lonely?” I hear you cry.

The truth is, there’s a huge difference between being lonely and feeling empowered in the time you spend alone. That’s one of the greatest lessons I have learned from travelling solo. When you’ve felt lonely lying next to the man you love and unfulfilled in the job that was your passion, you have to find other ways to feel whole. While some turn to less savoury methods and addictions to fill the void, I turned to adventure.

If you're going to travel solo, you can do worse than to get yourself a van. Photo: Absolutely Lucy
If you’re going to travel solo, you can do worse than to get yourself a van. Photo: Absolutely Lucy

There’s something really beautiful about sitting on top of a volcano in Guatemala watching the best sunset of your life, hiking trails and exploring Sri Lanka solo, or sleeping in the jungles of Vietnam or Costa Rica knowing that no-one in the world knows exactly where you are at that moment. It’s freedom and space to breathe in a world and society that can be so oppressive.

Don’t get so caught up in what ‘could’ happen that you miss out on travelling at all.

It’s the reason I’m passionate about adventure travel. It combines that physical challenge with the cultural experience and gives you a thrill like no other. Those moments that make the hairs on your arm lift in anticipation of this once-in-lifetime experience that you no amount of storytelling at home will do justice.

For those who are feeling nervous about travelling solo for the first time, let me give you a few pieces of advice from someone who has been solo travelling the globe for a decade. Don’t get so caught up in what ‘could’ happen that you miss out on travelling at all. It’s so easy to think the world is a dangerous place but realistically the media has a large part to play in the portrayal of a country and particularly how safe it is for women to travel.

Solo travel allows you ultimate flexibility to go where you want, when you want. Photo: Absolutely Lucy
Solo travel allows you ultimate flexibility to go where you want, when you want. Photo: Absolutely Lucy

Speak to real travellers and find ways to fill your social media feeds with solo travelling females who inspire you instead of feeding your fears. If you’re still nervous about going it solo, you could book a group trip to make friends with other travellers, book group activities or stay in a hostel for the community vibe.

Kayak, Hike and Tree Camp the Rainforests of Costa Rica | Much Better Adventures

Get off the beaten track on a small group adventure: trek through lush jungle teeming with exotic wildlife, kayak vivid coastline and fall asleep in the trees.

As ever, preparation is key for solo travellers and will help to give you peace of mind. So if spontaneity is giving you anxiety, try booking ahead so your journey is as easy as possible. Book the flights, transfers and accommodation to take the stress out of the experience. Not every solo trip needs to be a year-long backpacking tour around the world. Start with what makes you feel safe, ready and comfortable to step outside your comfort zone.

The most important piece of advice I can give? Trust your gut. It seems so simple, but it’s everything we women have been socially programmed not to do. Solo travel asks you to trust your intuition, to respond when you feel uneasy or unsafe. Listening to your body, trusting these reactions and feeling strong enough to take action and leave any situation that makes you nervous is extremely brave and could save your life. Not just while travelling, but at home too.

Inspired? Check out our full range of adventure holidays now!

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