Scared to take the plunge and travel solo? Don’t be!
There are so many ways to overcome your fears of travelling
alone. My sister has recently booked a few days in Budapest on her own as no
one was able to go with her, and I’m so proud that she’s doing it anyway!
When I decided to take a gap year before going to university, I wanted to do something fairly independently (i.e. without friends, family, or anyone I knew) but also something that wouldn’t be throwing myself into the deep end. I also really wanted to volunteer abroad with some sort of wildlife conservation, and after discussing this with a friend in Sixth Form she recommended a company she had already booked a trip with called Plan My Gap Year. I’ve already written an article on the whole experience of volunteering in Sri Lanka, so if you want to check that out first, then click here!
This was the perfect first-time experience of sort of travelling alone and sort of not… I flew out there on my own and had no idea what would be waiting for me at the other end, and the first few days were pretty daunting getting to know other volunteers, arranging tuk tuks around town, navigating the bus systems with little help, and settling into life in a country thousands of miles away!
But after those first few days, I didn’t feel so alone. We
all quickly banded together and ended up travelling around the country on our
weekends off. I’m so glad I decided to do a volunteer project before committing
to a big solo adventure as it gave me a taste of what it might be like and I
learned to be really aware at all times, careful with my money and belongings,
and the basic rules of traveller etiquette.
So don’t be afraid of solo travel, just take it in small steps and build up to it if you’re unsure or apprehensive. Here’s my top five tips that will help prepare for a solo trip, whether it’s 3 days or 3 months!
1. Research thoroughly – this includes a whole bunch of information stuff…
Know exactly where you’re going
Take some local currency with you
Ask your GP what vaccinations you might need
Find the best travel insurance deal
Check if you need a pre-arranged visa (and check your passport is in date!)
Learn about the religion/culture and take appropriate clothing with you (this is so important and I will expand on this at a later date in a specific blog post!)
Know where is safe to go after dark
Put the local emergency services number in your phone
Book your first night so you have somewhere to go when you arrive
Look at typical ‘backpacker’ spots, or places where you might meet other solo travellers
2. Look at reviews – check out websites like booking.com and TripAdvisor to make sure the reviews for accommodation, food, and activities are all up to your standard
3. Learn the language – I don’t mean become fluent, just learn a few basics like ‘hello’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and it will not only help you but also be appreciated by the locals
4. If you’re going for a long time, maybe ask around if friends or family might come meet you for a few days somewhere
5. Budget sensibly – I will be doing another blog post soon about how to fundraise for travelling so watch this space!
The best part of solo travel is making amazing friends and stepping out of your comfort zone. My experiences at such a young age were really significant to my personal growth and my confidence grew so much. And because of my volunteering, I ended up going for 3 months to Southeast Asia with a friend I’d met there. So give it a go! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch – leave a comment or contact me via email or Instagram!
My dad has a bit of a map obsession and I think it must have
passed onto me because I spend so much of my time sitting staring at my scratch
map, his huge Europe map, or spinning my little copper globe. While I want to
visit as much of this beautiful earth as I can in my lifetime, there’s a few
that have been top of my list for a long time. In no particular order…
Mexico is without doubt among those at the top of my list for so many reasons. It’s home to my favourite cuisine (give me all the tacos), gorgeous beaches and the awe-inspiring Mayan temples of Chichen Itza.
2. SOUTH AFRICA
The tumultuous and mysterious history of South Africa draws me in, as well as the variety of experiences on offer there such as wine tasting in the Stellenbosch vineyards, climbing Table Mountain, and meeting the penguins of Boulders Beach.
A dream destination of mine ever since watching Lost (it was filmed there and the scenery looks amazing), the nature lover in me would love to hike the trails of the Na Pali Coast, eat shrimp on the beach and learn to surf.
4. COSTA RICA
Known for its incredible array of wildlife, active volcanoes, magnificent waterfalls and lush rainforests, Costa Rica easily makes my top 10.
My parents honeymooned in Goa, India and since I was a child I’ve been fascinated by the souvenirs they brought home. A visit to the Taj Mahal and an exploration of the Kerala backwaters, as well as the tantalising food in India, would make the trip of a lifetime.
6. NEW ZEALAND
The natural beauty of New Zealand has always fascinated me. The opportunity to visit Milford Sound, Hobbiton and perhaps even ski on the South Island may be coming up in a year or two…
After travelling a good chunk of Southeast Asia, I feel like I missed out on Malaysia. I can’t wait to explore the tea plantations in the Cameron Highlands, sunbathe on the beaches of Langkawi, and experience the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur.
Wandering the colourful streets of Guatapé, snorkelling off the coast of Cartagena, and swinging from a hammock in the hills of Minca are high on my bucket list.
When I was about 7, I desperately wanted to go to Lilongwe monkey sanctuary. I had read about it in a magazine and I think it’s what inspired me to look into wildlife conservation. One day I hope to fulfil this childhood fantasy.
The archaeologist in me is desperate to see the iconic Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx! I’ve heard that scuba diving in Egypt is also fantastic, as is a cruise down the Nile.
This blog post is an extra special one for me because, although I had my first taste of adventure on my Outlook Expeditions trip (read my post about it here!), my six week trip to Sri Lanka in 2015 kickstarted my #gapyah! So without further ado…
It was a rainy day studying for my A Levels, and as I stared
out the library window, feeling like I was drowning in revision, a thought occurred
to me…. Just kidding, that sounds like a really dramatic epiphany moment. The
reality is I knew as soon as I finished Sixth Form I didn’t want to go straight
to university. I just didn’t feel ready for that kind of leap at all, and at
the time I thought I wanted to be a teacher (lol no thank u) so the thought of
leaving school, going to uni, then heading straight back to a job in a school was
far too daunting for me. So I planned to take a gap year and balance my time
between gaining work experience and travelling.
One day I got chatting with a friend in the library about my ideas and she showed me a website she had booked a trip through: the company was called Plan My Gap Year. She had booked to go with another friend for 3 weeks to Sri Lanka on an elephant conservation experience, and after scrolling through their website at home that evening, I knew I wanted to do something similar. Not wanting to do exactly the same as her, but having fallen in love with the idea of travelling to Sri Lanka, I decided very quickly that I would book onto the turtle conservation programme!
Skip forward a few months and my A Levels hadn’t exactly
turned out as planned, I hadn’t got onto the university course I wanted for the
following year, and instead I had spontaneously accepted another deferred entry
course for Archaeology at the University of Sheffield, beginning in September
2016. Plenty of people thought I was mad to enrol on a course I knew nothing
about, but I had a whole year to change my mind if I wanted and my priority was
to travel and, yes super cheesy, ‘find myself’.
So September 4th 2015 arrived and I sat on a
plane bound for Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. I had met another girl in
the airport who was also headed out to volunteer with PMGY so this put my
nerves at rest a little bit, although she was on a different connecting flight
so I was still due to arrive on my own. However, a few other guys had caught
flights around the same time as me so after meeting my driver Manoj, I jumped
on a minibus with them and had some company for the couple of hours it took to
drive to where we were staying in our volunteer house in Ambalangoda.
The house was beautiful, our local coordinator Ashika was so
welcoming and, as the last lot of volunteers to arrive, I got stuck into
getting to know my fellow volunteers. There were 24 of us in total (if I
remember correctly) and almost all of us were new, with just a few finishing up
their last week or two from the summer, so it was nice to know we were all out
of our comfort zones but still have some recommendations from those who had
been there a while.
Our first week was mainly orientation, making new friends
and being introduced to our projects; everyone lived in the same house but
there were medics, turtle and elephant volunteers, orphanage and school
volunteers, and construction workers. I quickly became part of a tight knit
group who went and explored the nearby beaches and town together, and later
went further afield and took long bus trips on our free weekends into the hills
and along the coast.
It was exactly what I had hoped for and more.
Ashika and his team, through PMGY, also ran the occasional guided
weekend trip, two of which I went on and saw a side to Sri Lanka which I wouldn’t
have seen if I’d been travelling alone! The first was a weekend visiting tea
plantations (sampling the many varieties of tea, of course), hiking past
waterfalls up to World’s End, and taking a Jeep ride through Yala National Park
where we encountered elephants, macaques, and other incredible wildlife. The
park is famous for having the highest concentration of leopards in the world,
but sadly we didn’t see any so one day I want to go back!
The second organised weekend away was to Kandy, the ‘Culture
Capital’ of Sri Lanka. The city was crazy and beautiful and I learned so much
about Sri Lankan history and culture, from the terrible wars with the Tamil
Tigers to the religious significance of the Temple of the Sacred Tooth. No trip
to Sri Lanka would be complete without a visit to Kandy. What made this my
favourite weekend away, however, was our climb up Sigiriya, also known as Lion’s
Rock. Nicknamed the 8th Wonder of the World, and for good reason,
this almighty rock fortress sticks out like a sore thumb and offers breath-taking
views of the surrounding the forest landscape. To top it all off we completed
the trip with a visit to Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, which is home to the largest
herd of captive elephants in the world. While this was so much fun and an
amazing opportunity to get up close to the elephants, these gentle giants
shouldn’t be held captive (though Pinnawala aims to nurture and carefully breed
their animals) and research after my trip to Sri Lanka made me decide not to
endorse these kinds of experiences without careful consideration.
The other weekends I had off volunteering during my stay
were spent discovering paradise beaches, drinking far too much Arrack, eating
my bodyweight in street side roti and gorgeous curries, and trekking up the beautiful
Mini Adam’s Peak. The actual volunteering itself was also so much fun as we
rescued a turtle caught in a net, nursed sick turtles back to health, buried
eggs and watched them hatch! The best part of my project though was releasing
the tiny baby turtles into the sea and re-releasing the adult turtles who had
previously been rescued. While the survival rate is supposedly very low, I like
to think we did a good job of helping such beautiful creatures while most importantly
raising awareness amongst the locals in an attempt to end turtle poaching.
I also spent two weeks volunteering at a local girls orphanage in the afternoons after my mornings with the turtles. This was really heart-warming to interact with girls aged 3 to around 15. The younger ones we played with and taught basic things like numbers and colours, while the older girls we helped with their homework and taught English to. It was so incredible to see children, girls especially, from struggling backgrounds enjoying their opportunity to learn in and outside of the classroom.
If you’re still reading this, thank you for sticking with me
for so long! I can’t apologise for the length of this post as my experience
with PMGY in Sri Lanka was a huge turning point in my life. I genuinely grew so
much in such a short time frame; my confidence peaked, I made wonderful
friends, helped local people and wildlife, learned about a completely different
culture and ultimately became less selfish and more aware.
If this sounds like something you’d like to do, whether it’s for 2 weeks or 6 months, Plan My Gap Year have a brilliant range of volunteer programmes in countries all over the world, suited to anyone and everyone! My only regret was not extending my stay or booking another project with them straight away. It looks like another trip may be on the cards sooner rather than later…
Many thanks to Ashika and his team, Philip (the founder of PMGY), Emma (for her online help), and all of the incredible people I met and ended up travelling with again after Sri Lanka!
If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I
love a European city break.
Endless coffee stops, exploring museums, walking around
beautiful parks and seeing the most iconic sights make for a full and exciting weekend
My most recent city break was with my boyfriend to a place I’ve wanted to visit for years… Barcelona! Here’s a little guide on how to make the most of a weekend in the Catalonian capital.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
Sagrada Familia – this is an obvious one but it
exceeded all our expectations! It’s still under construction so I can’t wait to
go back in a few years’ time and see the finished product
Arc de Triomf – our hostel room overlooked this
magnificent monument (the second largest of its kind in the world), which
looked just as spectacular (if not more so) when lit up at night
Camp Nou – I’m not a football fan but this was
Joe’s choice and was a very pleasant surprise! It was super easy to get to
using the metro and although a little pricey, it was well worth the experience
Parc Güell – to be honest, this was a little
disappointing for me. We thought it would be easy to have a wander up there but
it turned out we needed pre-paid tickets, so we bought them and came back the
next day. The hike up the hill behind was much better (and free) and offered
stunning panoramic views
Ciutadella Park – a gorgeous green space in the
middle of the city, perfect for a quiet picnic
Basilica Santa Maria del Mar – a more peaceful
church for those who like religious history and old architecture
Casa Mila – we didn’t actually go inside but
Gaudi’s architecture is iconic in Barcelona
Barcelona beach – although we didn’t have time
to spend a whole day at the beach, we did go watch the World Cup at a beach bar
and it was the perfect end to a busy day
HOW TO GET AROUND
We used the metro every day while we were in Barcelona as it was super easy and cheap! We bought the T10 pass for around €10 which enables you to use the ticket 10 times within zone one. So one T10 card worked for us both on 5 journeys, which we used up in two days. Other than that we enjoyed walking around when it wasn’t sweltering hot!
WHAT TO EAT & DRINK
Paella – we found a lovely little restaurant in the Gothic Quarter where we sat by a fountain and shared a seafood paella. It was heavenly!
Tapas – expensive but a must-do while in Spain
Estrella beer – perfect after a hot day exploring the city
Sangria – again, a must for Spain! While it’s a little more costly than other drinks on the menu, it’s also very cheap to buy in a carton (not so classy)
Crêpes (I know these are French but I had the most delicious crêpe for dessert from a food van on the beach front)
This trip to Barcelona was a wonderful summer city break. It
was rather touristy and I do usually prefer more relaxing and quieter places,
but the food, architecture, and religious history made it a really fun trip; I
definitely didn’t expect to learn so much about Spanish and Catalonian culture.
Sustainable travel is a way of travelling the world without negatively affecting the natural and cultural environments, and ultimately being able to maintain tourism in the long run.
“development [which] meets the needs of present tourists and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunity for the future”
World Tourism Organisation
why is this important?
Having always been passionate about environmental causes, and with the current rise in awareness surrounding our climate crisis, I am striving to educate myself on the benefits of sustainable travel and ‘eco-tourism’.
The concept is not entirely new but in the past has lacked awareness, advertising, funding, and in general: popularity. Nowadays, especially with the increasing use of social media, certain locations become ‘trendy’ to visit, with photos plastered all over the internet and online influencers promoting tourism to particular countries and cities around the globe. At the end of the day, the level of any kind of tourism in a location is based on how successful their marketing is.
The recent uproar surrounding climate change has significantly triggered a rise in sustainable travel, as many people have come to the realisation that it does not have to be expensive or difficult!
Yes, there are still major issues with tourism. Air travel is a major contributor to the depletion of fossil fuels which causes dangerous levels of CO2 emissions, and some naturally beautiful sites such as the Great Barrier Reef are being harmed and in some cases destroyed by the sheer quantity of tourists.
But I believe it is absolutely vital to educate tourists on the impact they have socially (or culturally), economically, and environmentally.
how can i travel sustainably?
Next time you’re on holiday, try out these super easy ways of travelling more mindfully…
Walk as much as possible!
Use public transport instead of hiring a car (not only is this environmentally friendly, it’s also much cheaper and you are more likely to meet other travellers and engage with the locals!)
Support locals cafes, restaurants and shops – don’t bother with chains like Starbucks or McDonalds
Take the time to talk to locals and learn from them
Volunteer with a local charitable organisation
Pick up rubbish on the beach and try to recycle it
Don’t get too close to or touch wild animals
Try to eat locally sourced food, or try going veggie for a day
Research your tour operator before booking with them – try to find tours with local guides
Snorkel and scuba dive responsibly – don’t stand on coral or touch turtles
So I figured the best way to introduce you to my blog is to tell you how it all began…
My love of travel has been fairly constant throughout my childhood; my parents would take us on family holidays at every opportunity, whether that be a weekend in the Lake District, road tripping around the South of France, or visiting Father Christmas in Lapland.
My first ‘big’ trip, however, was with Outlook Expeditions,
where every few years a group of kids in my school were given the opportunity
to sign up for 3 and a half weeks of unparalleled adventure in a country we
hadn’t even heard of. My big break: Nicaragua and Honduras.
Situated in Central America, these two countries were places
I barely even knew existed, many people (including my geographically-challenged
boyfriend) mistakenly believing they are in Africa… Although it was an
expensive trip (over £3000 altogether including kit, vaccinations etc.) I
believe it was worth every penny as without it I may not have gained the
confidence and thirst for travel that I now have.
I will go on to explain in more detail about Nicaragua and
Honduras in separate blog posts, but here’s a rough run-down of what the trip
Two weeks in Nicaragua, one week in Honduras
4 days volunteering in Santa Rosa where there
had been a drought so we planted trees along the empty river
3 day volcano trek
Boat trip down Somoto canyon
One week PADI Open Water scuba diving course on
the Honduran island of Roatan
It was a whirlwind few weeks and was the best first
experience of being so far away from home, as we still had the comfort of being
with friends and being looked after by our teachers and team leader. That
glimpse into another culture was so important at such a young age (I was 17 at
the time) and out of our group I think half have gone on to travel more and I’m
sure they would also credit our expedition as being the experience that
kickstarted the rest of our individual adventures.
I urge anyone contemplating going on any school trip,
whether it’s a week skiing in the Alps, a weekend in Paris or three weeks on
the other side of the world, to go for it. Don’t be put off by the cost; if you
want it badly enough you can do it.