I listened to those who had done it. I remember my friend Anna-Maria telling me about her own experiences, explaining how South-East Asia was perfect for first timers, and how perfectly set up Australia was for backpackers. I had always had a fascination with Australia, plus of course there was no language barrier. And when I looked at the map of South East Asia, names of cities like Kuala Lumpur and Singapore sounded so exciting and exotic to me. At that point I had only left the country a few times.How long were you away from home for? On that trip, I was away for three months. However in hindsight I wish I had gone for longer, and made my money work harder (for example I didn’t get a working visa for Australia as I figured I could always go back to do that). I was also nervous about getting home sick and missing my family, which of course I did, but those lonely times on the road are often so fleeting, and I quickly learned that after every tough day, the next one was always ten times better.
Do you remember the funniest or most awkward moment of your trip?
I had a bit of an awkward stay at the budget hotel I stayed in, in Dubai, as it turned out to be functioning as a brothel. It took me a while to realise what was going on, but bearing in mind that these few days were the first of my trip, I did sometimes wonder (and in fact wrote in my journal at the time) ‘what have I done!?’. Thankfully I found an American TV channel and that gave me some comfort as I locked my door at night!
I really grew up on that first trip. Looking back (and reading my journals since) I realised how naive I was at the time. Very young for my age. I also pushed myself much more than I was expecting by taking surf lessons, scuba diving and sand boarding. My confidence grew and I was well and truly bitten by the travel bug.How many countries have you travelled to since, and where would you like to go next? I can’t remember the exact number but it’s somewhere in the mid 40s. A few years later, I spent 6 months in South America, which presented more challenges, such as a language barrier (although I did study Spanish before I left and also whilst there), and also cultural differences which varied from country to country. But again, I pushed myself even more with 4 day hikes in Patagonia, climbing a very active volcano in Guatemala and even becoming proficient enough in Spanish to hold a simple conversation. That felt like such an achievement.
When did you become so passionate about inspiring women to travel solo?
When I realised how much confidence solo travel gave me, and when I realised that travel writing was (at the time) still dominated by male writers.
What is your advice for women who are considering their first solo holiday, but are unsure if they will enjoy it?
Do your research first. What do you want to get out of this trip? And what is it that’s holding you back? Are you craving some downtime? In need of a change of scenery? Or do you want to immerse yourself in to a brand new culture? When you decide where you want to go, just book that flight. Once you book your flight, you’re pretty much committed and then only need to worry about where to stay and what to do. In fact I wrote a post about this on my blog if it helps.
What tips would you give them?
To get the best out of solo travel, research is key. Especially when it comes to planning on where you will be staying. Pick a spot with great reviews and make sure to check that the neighbourhood is a safe one too. You may have tough days when you’re travelling solo (especially if you’re going on a longer trip), but these are honestly few and far between. And I would far rather have a couple of challenging moments on my own, than a whole trip with someone who didn’t turn out to be the perfect travel partner.
Tell us a bit about your incredible book, A Girls’ Guide to Travelling Alone?
I have always loved reading travel memoirs about countries that I myself have visited, or intend to visit. For example, I loved reading Bill Bryson’s ‘Down Under’ when I was travelling through Australia. However I noticed that there was a distinct lack of female travel writing. When I published the book, only 6% of the top 100 travel memoirs were written by women. I’m pretty sure it’s better now but I wanted to create an anthology of true stories from solo travelling women. I wanted it to act as an on-the-road companion for any female traveller.
Some of the stories in the book are light and funny, some are challenging and some are stories of how travel can help you heal from tough times. It’s a real mix which is just what I wanted. I received around 200 submissions so it was a tough job selecting the final ones, but I loved every minute.
What will you be doing next?
I’m currently planning to launch a podcast! It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, so I’m teaching myself the technical side of things, and intend to get the first episode out in Summer 2018. This will feature city guides, advice on how to stay safe and healthy on the road, and also interviews with some incredible travellers.