Welcome back to our guest author series in which we invite other intrepid travellers to share their most memorable travel moments.
In episode one we jumped head first off a waterfall in Bosnia with Emma, who’s love of travel had taken her through more than twenty European countries, to teach in Barcelona and to work on a Canadian dairy farm.
This week Izy talks to us about her experience of solo travel and the life lessons she has learnt while on the open road.
So buckle up and lets go…
What I have learnt from my solo travel adventure
I spent 2.5 years travelling the world ‘alone’ although most of that was spent in the company of others.
I love people and, honestly, I’m longing for the day my partner and I will explore the world together. But a secret part of me loves travelling alone, it’s just such a different experience and I think it forces you to be more open.
In October of 2010, I went through a breakup.
I’d moved to a city I ended up liking a lot less than I thought and was working at a job in an office where I simply wasn’t valued.
It sucked and it took everything crashing to a halt to make me realize I needed a drastic change.
So I did the most dramatic thing I could think of; I gave notice on my apartment, I handed in my notice at my work, I packed up my things and booked a one-way flight to Thailand, alone.
Finding the strength to just be me
Image | Izy befriending elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand
I was intimidated.
I’ve always been quite a social person, but I’ve had the comfort of my friends and their friends. I imagined my trip might wind up sitting on a beach somewhere, sipping cocktails while drowning my loneliness in a book and wanting to run home.
This never happened.
After processing through customs in Phuket, I made my way to the taxi stand. I was being gently tugged by culture shock from every direction. I had no idea where I was.
I knew no one.
Then a minute later a couple greeted me – “First trip to Asia?”
Turns out we were heading to the same place, we spent the hour long bus ride exchanging stories of how we’d ended up here. They had been travelling around Asia for a few months and I was just at the beginning of it all. They told me their favourite places and I tried to jot them down on loose tickets I had in my handbag.
As we pulled into Patong we parted ways and I realized I’d probably never see them again.
These two friends I’d just met, who opened themselves up to me and told me as much about themselves as they could cram into an hour conversation, would pass as quickly out of my life as they had come into it.
And that’s when I learned my first lesson. Travel opens you up, to people, to experiences and to things you simply never knew existed.
Every day brought new friends, new experiences and new lessons.
Learning the hard way
Image | Making friends on the open road
I learned how to make friends with strangers in a matter of minutes.
I used to be the type of girl who wouldn’t bother someone by approaching them. I wound up being the girl who would happily ask someone if the spare seat was free and would join them for breakfast. I learned how to interact with locals, without sharing any words.
When I was volunteering in Cambodia I learned it was possible to get cramp in your face… from laughing and smiling too much. In Chiang Mai, Thailand, I experienced what it feels like to hug an elephant’s trunk and how to make a killer red curry.
I mastered the art of sleeping on a moving bus, how to cross the road in Ho Chi Minh city and stay alive, and how it feels to cycle the streets of Hoi An.
Towards the end of my first stint overseas, I decided to go to India.
I had a spare month in my travels before some friends were meeting me and I was ready for the challenge that India provides, although I definitely wasn’t ready for what presented itself to me.
The day after I arrived there was an earthquake that destroyed my home town, Christchurch. This was the 22nd of February 2011 and 185 people were killed.
Of a city of 400,000 I thought the odds were pretty small that anyone I knew, let alone loved, would be hurt. I was wrong.
I lost my aunty, who was like a mother to me.
I cried on the side of the road for four days as my insurance sorted my flights home. I knew no one as I’d just arrived and by the time I found out the news I was too miserable to make friends.
I sat on the sidewalk, stealing WIFI from a random store while local people fawned over me and brought me food, chai and water.
And that’s when I learned the biggest lesson of my travels – that at the end of the day we’re all people.
We have family, goals and dreams. We all want to love and be loved. We want to meet new people, see new things and share experiences with like-minded people.
I learned that complete strangers, that had so little, would care for me.
Little old ladies walked past me and invited me into their homes, for a big hug some chai and to talk. Security guards took it upon themselves to ensure that I always had some fresh chai in my hand. The men operating the street food cart opposite me refused to let me pay for the curry and unlimited roti they kept bringing me.
Now I’m not saying it’s good to travel alone because a natural disaster will shake your home town and you’ll experience great loss and get free chai. But travelling alone allows you – and even forces you – to be more open.
When you travel with someone it’s easy to get caught up in their company and you become less approachable. When you’re alone, you take more time to wander, soak up your surroundings and find yourself searching to make new friends.
I love travelling alone, despite the challenges it brings. Do you prefer to travel alone or with someone?
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Share your thoughts below and help inspire others to see the world on their own terms.