Solo travel, a term that echoes independence, that promotes transformation, and an act of self-love, as you travel the world with only yourself to please. With so many of us facing our fears and throwing ourselves out into the big wide world, travelling alone must be amazing right?
As life has its ups and downs, so does travelling alone. After travelling to 100 countries solo over the last 22 years, I think I’ve learnt a thing or two about solo female travel. I’ve experienced the highs, the lows and the mundanes and this article is my honest account of my solo travel evolution. I hope you enjoy my 100 lessons from 100 countries solo.
100 Lessons Learned From 100 Countries Solo…
1. You lose FOMO (fear of missing out). When you first start travelling there is nothing that you wouldn’t do. Bungee jumping off the original bungee bridge in NZ; bring it on! Lunch in Sydney and dinner in Adelaide; I can make it! Bar crawl in Milan on a Saturday night after a long day sightseeing; yes! But then you learn to slow down and realise that just because there is so much to do doesn’t mean that you have to be the one to do it all.
2. You become complacent. “Hmmm, well I saw one in Ukraine so is it much different?”
3. You get travel fatigued. “How long’s the flight?” Flying no longer feels exciting and you reminisce on how air travel has changed.
4. You realise how much of the world you can’t travel to. “Armenia and Azerbaijan are neighbouring countries so I can just cross the border, right? What do you mean there’s a war happening?”
5. Visas become harder to get.
6. You develop a coin collection with the change from each country that you have no idea what you’re ever going to do with.
7. You stop buying shot glasses from each place (from any that still sell them). This also goes for souvenirs. After all, you’ve got enough for an entire bar (which is still on your life list to start after being inspired by the amount of bars you have travelled to over the years).
8. You stop buying presents for friends and family (unless it’s nearly Christmas and you can get something very unique for a bargain).
9. You realise how many of the same souvenirs are sold in the same countries. Picking up a wooden statue in Thailand you find yourself exclaiming “I brought one of these in Bali!”
10. You develop a packing list for certain regions of the world and know exactly what to take.
11. You travel out of season as you know it’s going to be quieter and cheaper. You don’t mind travelling in the winter as it’s cheaper and you’re guaranteed that no one else will be sharing that warm dorm room.
12. You have a list of countries that you would like to go back to (if you’re not too old after you’ve seen every single one in the world).
13. You go to MacDonalds just to see what differences they have on the menu in that country (mash potato in Prague!) And you also realise that the price of MacDonalds in each country is always more than a local can afford.
14. You try to travel to countries where other tourists don’t go just to be cool and start a trend.
15. You start running out of new experiences to be had and look at weirder ones just for something to do; ‘Segway across the river in a wetsuit on an Instagram tour.’ Cool!
16. You get spoiled. Seeing another elephant doesn’t hold the same wonder as it did before.
17. You always get jealous of other travellers even if you’re travelling to where they have just come from.
18. You get annoyed at the world for having bad customer service.
19. You get annoyed at the world for not having any manners.
20. You just get annoyed at the world and the amount of people travelling everywhere (even when you’re one of them).
21. You differentiate yourself from tourists as a traveller but then go and do the touristy things.
22. You go to places where there is absolutely nothing to see (hello Togo) just to say that you’ve been there.
23. You carry a variety of currency with you including Sterling, Dollars and Euros and you begin to trade your cash on the borders because you know it can sometimes be the best deal. You invest in a good travel cash card as you’re tired of paying to withdraw your own cash.
24. Your phone has barely any memory space due to thousands of photos that you take and never look at again.
25. You start wearing things for three/four days in a row because you’re constantly moving around and no one in the next place will recognise that you've worn them before.
26. You’ve been to so many places that you forget what you did where. “I remember this in Albania. Oh actually, maybe it was Serbia?”
27. You can’t wait to be alone then after 24 hours you spend all night on Facebook ‘chatting’ to friends.
28. You receive a message from a Facebook friend who you can’t even recall meeting.
29. You see the problems in each country (including the Western ones).
30. You get offered an African or Caribbean boyfriend because you didn’t do your research properly and are staying in locations that attract women sex tourists (yes, that is a thing!)
31. You start to see male sex tourists everywhere (hello Thailand).
32. You get better at researching destinations.
33. You don’t understand why no one else wants to go to the Middle East.
34. You won’t book a holiday unless you haven’t been there before.
35. You give-up rolling your clothes and buying compressor bags and just pack less.
36. You have more make-up free days.
37. You forget how to look nice.
38. You return home from your first backpacking trip wanting to become a minimalist and downsize. You give everything away that you think you don’t need including your hairdryer and straighteners.
39. You buy a travel hairdryer for your next trip as the humidity is too much for your hair 🙂
40. You start saving your old clothes for your solo trips to not draw attention to yourself and can’t understand how other solo travellers have their pictures taken wearing the most amazing revealing clothes.
41. You get so excited about your trip and start doing IG stories to share everything. One week later, you’ve given up with the stories.
42. You swear you will not take a flight again and then you see a cheap deal to Lithuania.
43. You push the boundaries and need something more to excite you (hello camping in West Africa).
44. You start to include all the ‘nearly’ eighth wonders of the world on your list.
45. You start travelling to the romantic destinations you had saved on your travel wish list to do with a boyfriend.
46. You say to yourself ‘this is the last time I will travel solo,’ then two weeks later you book another trip.
47. You become a badass and stand up for yourself.
48. You start hating taxis and use Uber instead.
49. With each country that you travel to and each interaction with locals, you realise that everyone has the same needs and are just trying their best to survive.
50. You develop an anxiety for flying that comes out of nowhere and wish that you weren’t constantly sitting next to strangers on planes.
51. You start to understand the history of a country and region, and your knowledge of the world deepens.
52. You become more cultured and to start to understand why countries act in certain ways.
53. You have more stories to share at dinner parties including the time when you were the only Westerner on the bus in Laos and were sat next to a clucking chicken for seven hours.
54. You no longer ‘wing it’ and get off the bus at random stops just for the adventure.
55. You start seeking out projects that are helping the communities as you want to give back to the country you’re travelling to.
56. You realise how important getting a sim card is and can’t believe you didn’t do it before.
57. You agree a price upfront for everything. You won’t be caught out again.
58. You start to book female-only dorms instead of mixed dorms.
59. You upgrade to private rooms because you can’t share a bedroom anymore.
60. You upgrade to a whole studio instead of staying in a local’s private room because you begin to value your own space.
61. Your trip duration becomes less and less. That year-long backpacking trip that you took years ago gradually reduces to a two-week trip.
62. You start to look for more cultural tours in the evening rather than bar crawls.
63. You download Netflix for those lonely nights and get engrossed in a mindless series.
64. Your kindle becomes full of books about the destinations that you travel to which you never read.
65. You no longer buy guide books as you prefer to figure it all out yourself and take recommendations from locals and other travellers instead.
66. You begin to admire the architecture of the city that you’re travelling to (“what a lovely door.”)
67. You book a holiday with a friend then after a week you wish you were solo travelling.
68. You no longer scrimp on accommodation to be able to do the experiences. Instead you prefer to have your own room and only do a few selected tours.
69. You tick off everything on your bucket list and start looking for alternative tours.
70. You run out of places to travel to overland as you have already been to a country that is en route.
71. You become amazing at bartering.
72. You become amazing at budgeting.
73. You get to the airport earlier to avoid that stressed anxious feeling that you know so well.
74. You start booking a seat on a plane as you know exactly where is better for you to sit.
75. You stop taking tours and instead do your own whilst Googling everything to learn about it.
76. You research exactly which terminal your plane goes from as you’ve turned up several times before at the wrong one.
77. You remember that the museums are probably going to be closed if it’s a Monday, and that the shops will probably be closed in the afternoon in Spanish-speaking countries.
78. You get used to things breaking down and not running on time and begin to appreciate a five-minute delay with National Rail in your own country.
79. You become really good at planning and saving time. As soon you arrive in a city, you pre-book your bus and train ticket out to save time and money.
80. You start to ignore the person who says “Taxi Taxi” as you walk out of an airport and go to the quieter ones instead.
81. You become more selective with who you hang out with. You’re no longer that clingy first-time solo who looks for people to do things with. Now when you hear someone say “I was thinking of getting the night train too. Maybe we can hang out and share a carriage?” you run a mile.
82. You know that you can cope with any challenging moments that you may encounter and that it definitely makes you a stronger person.
83. You start to appreciate hot water and other amenities that you take for granted in your own country.
84. You no longer care if it is seen as rude to walk away from a situation that you don’t feel comfortable in.
85. You stop being too friendly to local men just in case they get the wrong idea.
86. You leave your favourite heels at home because no one will really see them anyway and start to pack flat shoes instead because they are just much more practical.
87. You constantly check that your bus, train, camel is going in the right direction because you no longer believe the first person that you come across.
88. You become amazing at dodging motorcycles whilst crossing the road.
89. You start packing food in your suitcase even though you know that there are supermarkets where you’re going but they won’t be stocking your favourite foods.
90. You constantly carry toilet paper and hand sanitiser with you (just in case).
91. You stop wearing a fake wedding ring on your finger to pretend that you’re married and just ignore the sleazy men instead.
92. You don’t get drunk when you’re on a night out walk home alone. You save that for when you’re staying in hostels and are with others.
93. You start doing a risk evaluation on situations that you once deemed adventurous and stop thinking “This will make a good travel story” when you encounter an unpredicted situation.
94. You research the Foreign Office advice for the country that you’re going to and finally understand the importance of staying away from the red zones.
95. Instead of finding someone to pair up with in the hostel to go sightseeing you feel happy and confident going alone.
96. You only eat out during the day and buy something from the supermarket to eat in your room at night.
97. You start travelling to countries where you can’t speak the language to feel like you’re ‘proper travelling’ again.
98. Everybody wants your tips on how to travel to a country, and always ask you which is your favourite country (which is always a difficult one to answer).
99. You know with each trip you take that you’re going to change and for the better.
100. You learn to go with the flow and never say never, as you never know where an opportunity will lead you… Hello world!
I hope that you enjoyed my lessons and that it has inspired you to travel solo (or entertained you at the very least). If you found it useful please share. Thanks 🙂 Don't forget to become a Girl about the Globe and join our mailing list for monthly travel inspiration.