A year on the road: everything I’ve learned from travelling the world solo

A little over a year ago I began travelling around the world alone. I quit my comfortable job, said goodbye to family and friends and boarded a one-way flight to Mexico with nothing but a 18kg backpack as my companion and only myself to depend on. I was nothing if not terrified. I had planned a basic route, booked a few nights in a hostel and the rest I would figure out on the way. I didn’t feel ready and I thought i’d be back at home within a month. A year on, i’m still travelling solo! In 12 months i’ve travelled through 18 countries and borders and now find myself settled in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, feeling effervescently accomplished, happy and at peace with my past, myself and my unpredictable life.

Travelling the world as a young woman alone has altered my life forever.  It has been the most character-building and life-enriching thing I’ve ever done. This past year has taken me from a place of sadness and has taught me the value of life, courage, adventure, friendship, love in all of its forms and weaving through all of that like an imperishable thread, happiness.  I’ve lived fully and voraciously, falling back in love with life and in the process myself. I could talk endlessly about every country i’ve visited, instead I want to share with you what i’ve learned this year in the hope that it will inspire you (no matter your age or circumstance) to take your own solo trip.

Before

I started this solo adventure because at 24 I’d reached a difficult crossroad in life. I felt unfulfilled in my career, lacking creative drive and saw myself as a failure next to my friends who were excelling in their careers, buying houses and getting engaged etc. I was battling an eating disorder, anxiety and depression had crept back into my life and I was continuing to rely on unhealthy mechanisms to process traumas I hadn’t yet made peace with.  Nearly all of this transpired as a result of heartbreak. I was still punishing myself and struggling with the worst break-up of my life and I felt like I was drowning in my own despair. It was never my dream to travel the world alone, and I haven’t been shy about how my own adventure materialised as a result of my relationship ending. In truth I’ve probably exhausted the story to anyone who would listen, but without that heartbreak – I wouldn’t have achieved any of this nor be the woman I am today. One of the hardest most painful lessons of my life would turn out to be the biggest blessing, paving the way for an extraordinary journey. 

The honest truth of it all is that I had become a ghost of myself when I was with my ex. We weren’t good for each other and no matter how much time, love and energy I poured into him and our relationship, it was never enough. I was slowly drained of goodness and yet I continued to give everything. I had put all of my hope into this dream of travelling the world with him that I was blinded by the hard reality; that he simply did not feel as strongly about me as I did about him. I found myself in the end fighting for a one-sided relationship, he wanted to travel the world “alone” and I lacked the confidence and self-worth to walk away knowing that I deserved a better partner. After months of emotional manipulation, pushing and pulling, of giving and giving just to receive nothing but empty words and callous behaviour – he ended us with a text message. It brought my already fragile world crashing down. I had become this person I didn’t recognize when we were together; paranoid, withdrawn, erratic, sad and without confidence. The break-up only made things worse, my walls went back up, I stopped eating, I struggled to reach out and I lost trust in people. Everybody knows how awful relationship break-ups can be but I didn’t just break, I shattered.

As you may have guessed, I was still hurting when I left for my travels. I hadn’t moved on, I was still mourning the loss of love and the dream of what could have been. I wasn’t leading with positivity or compassion, I was inexplicably lost and broken and a shadow of the bold and colourful person I used to be. Travelling has always been a concrete source of happiness in my young adult life, it grounds me in a way nothing else does and so in all of that confusion and chaos, I held onto the only small sense of direction and thing that brought me comfort; what an achievement it would be to travel around the world solo. In the months preceding, it was this courageous idea that pulled me out of a state of sadness and stagnation and into purpose. But even when I boarded that plane to Mexico, I had no idea then what I would achieve, see, do, or become. But now I know something;  time is a healer, travelling is a medicine, and a woman travelling the world alone is a force to be reckoned with. 

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Solo travel has taught me just how much courage and strength I hold within myself, and to never doubt it.

It has been the adventure of my life, but solo travelling hasn’t been without its dark and difficult moments. Travelling isn’t a holiday, no matter how simple and sophisticated travel influencers make it look. At times it has been stressful and full of ‘you couldn’t make this shit up’ moments and there have been a few occasions where i’ve wanted to give up. In the months leading up to my trip, people would tell me how brave and courageous they thought I was for travelling alone. I would smile and thank them, but inside I was screaming with self-doubt.

“Am I strong enough to do this? Can I actually do this?”

A lifetime of discrediting my abilities was weighing down on me so I didn’t understand the gravitas of what I was attempting or how others might have perceived it as a brave act. I didn’t want to believe that it required much courage or strength when in reality as this adventure has shown, it demanded everything and more from me. These 12 months have seen me grow from a person full of self-doubt to one who wears her strength boldly and fiercely like an armour.

I have been challenged and pushed to what I thought were my limits and then pushed beyond that. I’ve had to be brave in moments where i’ve had no other option. I’ve been mugged in Peru where all of my valuables were taken and I was left penniless, in a place where I didn’t have friends nor know the language. I’ve dealt with the worst sickness and diarrhoea on a tour of the highest Bolivian Salt Flats where I genuinely felt like I was dying, I’ve boarded local buses in Latin America where I doubted whether i’d even make it to my destination and I had my drink spiked one night, which left me feeling vulnerable and invaded, and I had no shoulder to cry on. I’ve opened myself up in social situations; there is almost nothing scarier than going up to a group of strangers in a hostel and asking with poker face confidence if you could join them for a drink. There have been times where I didn’t want to be strong. Sometimes I wanted to cry, I wanted someone else to make the decisions for me, I wanted to take the easy route and go home. But I never did, courage kept me moving. And in-between those exhausting moments I found those silver linings; I discovered how liberating it was to live everyday on my own terms, that I could make decisions without consulting another person and that it was my path and mine alone. It was empowering and freeing. In my loneliest moments I came to find comfort in leaning on myself and knowing that I was going to be okay because if I could get through those difficult moments alone, I could get through anything. And in this present, I am a stronger, capable and more self-reliant person. That is the power of solo travel, it brings out your most innate strengths without you even realising, giving you skills to help navigate through every obstacle in life.

“To live, will be an awfully big adventure.”

It hasn’t just been about difficult life lessons and hard times. It has been about life-defining moments, adventure and fun. 

Solo travelling around the world has cemented in me the kind of life I want to live with the finite amount of time I have on this earth; one full of adventure and taking chances and one where I enrich my life with experiences, not material things. Achieving what I’ve done as a young single woman, I hope it makes a difference to other young women out there who have been scare-mongered into believing that it’s “too dangerous” for them to travel the world solo. I’ve been fortunate enough to explore Central America (Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica), South America (Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil) Asia (Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia) and now New Zealand. 

I’ve trekked through the Andes to reach the mighty Inca ruins, Machu Picchu. I’ve sandboarded down an active volcano in Nicaragua, hitch-hiked to Belize, fell in love with the once most dangerous city on earth Medellin, Colombia.  I’ve learned to surf in the stunning but intimidating waters of El Salvador and rediscovered a love for food in Argentina and Brazil. Despite my lack of confidence on the road, I learned to ride a bike in Thailand and completed the most incredible motorbike loop through the mountains of Northern Vietnam, illegally hopping to China along the way. I’ve met Geishas in the ancient Japanese city of Kyoto and mastered the Tokyo subway system. I’ve spent many early mornings hiking up through mountains to witness the other-worldly sunrises of the earth, such as the one from the summit of Mount Batur in Bali on Christmas morning. I’ve chased sunsets from the Mayan ruins of Mexico to the Pacific shores of New Zealand, and every single one has reminded me of the beauty of days ending and beginning. I’ve lived a year of adventure and I achieved it all on my own. I’ve met some wonderful souls and many who have become friends for life through an unbreakable bond that only travelers will understand. I’ve connected with other beautiful women travelling solo, each bearing their own pain, their own story and their own reasons for going it alone. We’ve shared adventures, laughter, tears, and sometimes anger. A lot of the time, it isn’t just about the destination but the people you meet along the way who define your travel story. Travelling, whether you’re solo or not, opens up your mind, heart and soul, if you’ll allow it. A normal life will never be enough, and you’ll spend the rest of your life chasing sunsets. It has taken me out of a comfort zone where I never really felt like I belonged anyway and has introduced me to the endless possibilities of life, turning me into the storyteller of my own great adventure.

Growth

Through all of those moments of courage and risk-taking, of chasing sunsets and traversing continents, ticking off bucket list items, saying goodbye to old friends and meeting new ones, through every hard and joyous moment these 12 months have brought me, I have started to become the person that I really want to be in life. That person who was once heavy-hearted with zero self-worth has disappeared. Solo travelling has been a medicine and whether consciously or not, has encouraged me to face and conquer the self-destructive parts of myself that have halted me from living a full and happy life. For example I now try to lead with positivity not pessimism, not giving weight to small issues and obstacles because when you’re travelling alone, you adapt a “get on with it” attitude or you struggle to make it through the day. Life really is too short to worry over the small stuff and travelling does a beautiful job of revealing that to you. 

These 12 months have also begun to unravel years of people-pleasing tendencies that have led to me sacrificng my own needs and happiness for other people. I’ve let people take advantage of my vulnerabilities, silenced my own voice in fear of being branded too loud, and said yes simply because it was easier than justifying the reason behind ‘no’. Travelling alone has given me the confidence to say no without guilt. Anyone will tell you that one of the best things about solo travel is that you’re answerable to nobody but yourself. If you want to spend time with people you can, if you want to be alone for a while you can – you are entitled to your needs because this is YOUR time. It really has shown me how to assert my own boundaries with people and with myself. I’ve opted for my own company instead of (to put it bluntly) tolerating people who drain me and i’ve pulled myself out of situations and environments that do not benefit my mental health or happiness.
I’ve become comfortable and happy with my aloneness as both a traveler and as a single woman in her mid 20s, and i’ve gained some valuable life lessons about the kind of energies I allow into my life and the power they do or do not hold over me.This experience, needless to say, has reshaped me through every moment into someone who thrives in the chaos of life, who sees goodness in small things, and into someone who carries herself a little lighter.

Time is a healer, travelling is the medicine.

I didn’t expect this year of travel to heal me in the way it did, mature me or have it teach me everything I needed to know about love and letting go in my twenties. It has altered all of my rose-tinted expectations of love and has taught me how to find love in the places where the romantic kind is absent. I’ve finally (praise the lord) learned that the love of a man does not define my worth and that nobody is EVER worth sacrificing your happiness, self-respect or needs for. People come and go in your life like chapters – but you are the whole book and the relationship you have with yourself is the one consistent, constant thing.

I’ll never again wait around for or rely on the love of another person to feel whole.  I left for my travels feeling as though I needed romantic love to feel worthy or deserving and I slowly learned that there are many versions of love out there in the world; the love you find in new travel friendships, the people who come to inspire you and make you feel alive, who value your company and friendship. The love you find in the beauty of the world; through every sunset witnessed, mountain climbed and border crossed. And then of course the love you inevitably find in yourself; and that love will ALWAYS be enough. I’ve grown in confidence and happiness and strength and I have changed for the better. I’ve found it impossible to wallow in self-pity and anguish, or hold onto ghosts of the past, or feel anything less than a remarkable woman for doing this adventure alone. 

Let go and live

Solo travel encourages you to embrace the unpredictability of life, it is freeing and defining. It is a driving force that turns the art of letting go from a painful experience into a cathartic one. 

If this year has taught me one solid thing it’s that it’s okay to let go and move on; of any pain you are harbouring, of the mistakes you’ve made and the time lost, of all of the relationships that have turned ugly, of all of the people who were only meant to be mere chapters in your story,  of every bad or unfair thing that has happened to you and all of the things in life you cannot control or change. You must live instead of just survive – you have to let in light and goodness even when darkness is the most comfortable place to rest. Be daring and take chances, be passionate and surround yourself with people and places that make you happy and bold and adventurous. Be compassionate and warm even when you’re given every reason not to be. Let down your walls and open yourself up to the beautiful things in this world. Quit that job you feel lost in, there will always be more jobs. Take a deep breath and book that one-way flight, do something impulsive, try not to dwell on the consequences but of what could happen if you just did something courageous and new. Everything that is going to happen to you will happen, that’s just life. So let it happen and trust that following your own unique path is the right one for you, here and now, helping you to evolve into the person life intends you to be. 

Because here is what I do know.

All of the things that have happened to me in my past and everything that I’ve done, both bad and good – have led me to this colourful, unpredictable, challenging, extraordinary life. For that I am grateful, I am fulfilled and content, I am enough.

Jessica Green, wanderer.

One thought on “A year on the road: everything I’ve learned from travelling the world solo”

  1. I’m glad to hear you had the courage to travel around the world all by yourself; that’s so amazing and inspiring! ‘Let go and live’ is one of the best advices I’ve heard in a long time. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 😀 Aiva

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