So you’re thinking about booking a solo trip but are feeling rather daunted. Actually, you’re feeling downright terrified. What does embarking on a solo trip feel like? All these scary scenarios are running through your head and you’re worried that you’ll lose your nerve.
I could tell you to relax, but I know you won’t. I could tell you that you’ll be ok, but you won’t believe me.
So instead, I will share my story with you about how I felt embarking on my first solo trip.
At The Airport
It was early September in 2011 and I was in the international terminal at Heathrow airport.
I sipped a lukewarm cup of tea with my ashen faced parents as we killed time before I had to go through security. We weren’t talking much, just numbly sharing the odd comment before the inevitable goodbye that we all knew was coming.
I had already encountered anxiety at the check-in desk when the attendant asked me for my flight details exiting Thailand. Even though I had meticulously printed out all of my paperwork, I couldn’t produce this document because I had no outbound flight. I wanted to exit the country via land border into Cambodia and carry on my travels in South East Asia.
Surely I wasn’t the first young, nervous backpacker he had met at check-in who didn’t know their exit date from Thailand?
After taking my passport behind the scenes to be scrutinised for who-knows-what, the attendant finally came back and said “well, good luck at Thai immigration without proof that you intend to leave the country”.
I gaped at him. What did that mean?
This ominous statement would haunt me for the entire 13 hour flight to Bangkok as I squirmed in my seat with fear that I would be turned around at the border and sent packing on the next available flight home.
It was time to say goodbye to my parents, go through security and into the departure lounge. We’d left it late enough so that all I had to do was to walk directly to my gate and wait to board the plane. I was so nervous that I wasn’t interested in duty free perfumes or giant bars of chocolate. I just wanted to get on that flight.
With barely concealed tears I hugged and kissed my parents, hoisted my carry-on bag onto my shoulder and walked away from my previous life. Little did I know how momentous that nerve-wracking moment would turn out to be. As I made my way to the boarding gate and sank into a hard, plastic chair, I couldn’t have imagined that this terrified girl with a steely determination could possibly end up travelling for five more years (and counting).
On The Plane
I cried on the plane. As soon as the plane started to taxi on the runway the tears fell and they continued to do so for quite some time.
What on earth was I doing?
What the hell was I thinking?
What had possessed me to quit my job, end my four-year relationship and buy a one way ticket to Thailand?
Why was I putting myself through all of this?
If it didn’t work out, I told myself, I could just book a return flight and be home in a week. No one would judge me for trying. I could say I had given it a go and that travel just wasn’t for me.
Round and round went these thoughts as I dabbed at my eyes with a damp tissue. God only knows what the guy next to me was thinking as he resolutely ignored me and watched his movies.
And just exactly what had inspired me to be in this situation?
This moment was the culmination of years’ worth of yearning to explore that had been simmering under the surface. Although I moved contentedly through my daily life in England there was always a part of me that felt unfulfilled. It was like I was only staring at life through a screen and I wanted to get out there and be in the midst of it. I felt the presence of ‘the rest of the world’ out there, beyond the realms of my imagination, beckoning to me with an outstretched hand.
Landing In A Foreign Country Alone
During the stopover in Oman I’d noticed that there was another single, female traveller. As I sat in the transfer lounge I willed myself to go over and speak to her, but I couldn’t find the courage.
The first sentence in my travel diary read: “I just want to get to Bangkok and text my Mum to tell her I’m ok”. I was still fretting about the immigration debacle and whether or not I would run into trouble because I didn’t have a return flight booked.
I was terrified at the thought of landing in a foreign country alone.
As people queued to disembark the airport I noticed that the other female traveller was nearby. I held back so we walked off the plane together and I made myself speak to her. I told her it was my first time in Thailand and I was scared. I asked her whether we could go through immigration together so I didn’t have to be alone. Her replies were warm and friendly, immediately agreeing to stick with me.
To this day, that girl has no idea that she saved me from the brink of a nervous breakdown.
In that moment my spirits soared.
In that moment I realised that although I was travelling alone, I never had to be lonely.
The Journey From The Airport
All of my hand-wringing and crying on the plane about immigration turned out to be a total waste of my time and energy.
I breezed through with no issues.
The next absolute stroke of luck came when my new pal and I discovered that we were booked into the same hostel in Bangkok. Out of the thousand accommodation choices in the city, we were at the same one.
We stared at each other dumbfounded. What an incredible coincidence!
The horror stories I had read about taxi drivers ripping off people at the airport quickly subsided as I chatted to my instant travel buddy. Together we negotiated the taxi and finding our hostel.
A problem shared felt like a problem halved and I could cope with anything.
I was jumping for joy inside at my good fortune and in that moment I had already learned Lesson #1 of Travel: talk to people, especially if you’re alone. Only good things can come of it.
My First Solo Trip
Even after my good fortune at the airport, I will still admit that my first few days were still nerve wracking. I was still super shy, not really sure how to approach people in my hostel and break the ice.
I was learning the hard way about travelling in a non-English speaking country. Blank stares when I tried to communicate, sign posts and directions I couldn’t understand. I learned quickly to ask for directions from my English-speaking hostel receptionists, and often got them to write down the address of the places I wanted to visit in Thai so I could show it to taxi drivers.
I was hot. I got soaked in the monsoon-like rain that poured down. My heart fluttered with anxiety every time I explored the streets by myself with my map, for fear I looked too much like ‘a tourist.’
But I was ok.
I got though each day and my confidence grew slowly with each new experience and mini victory.
Wait, There’s More!
If you liked this and want to read more about how it feels to be a single, female traveller then you may like to check out my articles on:
- What it is like to be the home bird that flew the nest
- How it feels to say goodbye when you set off travelling
- Are you brave for travelling alone
- Whether you should be concerned about eating alone
- Ideas on how to break the ice and meet people when you travel
- Thoughts on how you could connect with community on the road
- Choosing the right type of travel for you.
I hope you have found some comfort in reading about my experience. Know that you are not alone in your fears and that you will be able to overcome them. Each day will become easier as long as you put yourself out there and have the confidence to talk to other travellers.
How did you feel on your first solo trip? Were you as nervous as me? How did things work out for you? I would love for you to share your experiences!
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