‘Out traveling, I have met some of the most wonderful, friendly people in the world. Like musical notes, they sounded in my life with unutterable beauty and left a great poignancy when they were gone. Yet there is a sadness that lingers from travel. All those goodbyes to old friends, to new friends, to five-minute friends, to two-day friends. Travel, as life, is always full of goodbyes. But travel itself has mellowed my life and let me loosen my hold on others. It has let my hand open for the swans to come and feed and also to fly away.’
– Jan Haag, “Last Minute Terror”, A Woman’s World: True Stories of Life on The Road
In November of 2012, I found myself on a plane with a three-seat row to myself, a small duffel bag filled with my camera, a book I’d considered leaving behind, a brand new notebook with an appropriate map design, and every possible declaration of my identity and paperwork for the daunting customs process. I was en route to spend a year in Australia; while I had friends who lived there, I had accepted the fact that I was going to be spending the majority of the time either being or feeling alone.
Six months of painstaking work in a call centre led me to jumping off Brunswick Bridge into clear waters, walking the city streets of Melbourne, wandering barefoot through the New South Wales countryside, and driving with the windows down along the Great Ocean Road. I had the time of my life.
Travelling alone forces you to depend solely on yourself. It may sound obvious, but the countless hours spent inside your own head is not something you can easily prepare yourself for. Bad moods are hard to shake when you have limited human interaction and low funds in your back account, but restlessness is easily remedied by going on a long walk and spending time getting lost and discovering hidden gems.
I spent four days in Sydney, walking through the city alone, and spoke to a handful of people while I was there. For the first time in my trip, I broke down and cried because of how lonely I was. It wasn’t until I landed back in Melbourne, which had become my home base, that I felt completely better. Part of me felt defeated by this, but it taught me a lot about the concept of ‘home’, and how you can find it in unexpected places. Exploring a place alone gives you the opportunity to make it yours. Nobody will be able to see things exactly the way you did.
Here are my top ten tips for travelling solo:
- A torch saved me from snakes and spiders on the grassy walk down from the house to the caravan where I slept, and came in handy when I was searching for things I needed inside my bag at night.
- I quickly got into the habit of carrying my journal with me everywhere I went, and now I have a rather battered Moleskine full of memories, from writing down little things I saw and lengthy entries with precise details of my days.
- Take care of yourself! Make sure to stay hydrated, get enough vitamin C and sleep.
- I organised a clothes swap with my new friends before travelling further down south from sunny Brisbane to chilly Melbourne, where I swapped my summerwear for winterwear. Swaps have become increasingly popular – check out whether there’s one going on in the city you’re travelling through.
- Wake up early and make the most of the day. There’s so much to see out there!
- Associating different songs with the places I travelled to is a way that I’ve kept memories alive. Creating playlists for plane rides and bus journeys intensifies the experience and provides a soundtrack to your adventures.
- Compression sacks are a clever way to store clothes in as little space as possible when travelling light.
- Give yourself a gift by documenting as much as possible. Find the balance – be careful of constantly having your nose buried in your notebook and seeing things through a lens.
- I arrived in Melbourne with $2000 and half of it was gone within a month. Take time to understand the conversion rates and budget, budget, budget!
- Postcards are a wonderful way of letting those back home know what you’re up to without having constant communication.
There is definitely something amazing about travelling with a group of people, whether it be simply a family holiday or a trip away with friends, but wandering alone is magical, once you’ve adjusted to it. I feel so lucky that the threads in my life are all interwoven through my biggest passion, ambition and aspiration – travelling the world.
In order to be happy, and in order to write, my feet must take me places. They say that you go away so you can come back and fall in love with where you’re from, and returning to England certainly did just that. Remember: there is always something to see, there is always somewhere to go.