Travelling Solo: My Experience + Lessons
Advice on travelling solo undoubtedly been one of the most requested topics, so I’ve divided it up in two articles, you can click HERE for my “top tips for solo travel,” that are just pretty broad; and you can read on for a more in depth account of my personal travel experiences and lessons learnt.
Travelling Solo: My Experience + Lessons
I’m definitely a tumbleweed. I’ve had wanderlust for a long, long time. It’s funny because as a kid, I was so attached to my parents that I couldn’t even have sleepovers at a friends without getting home sick (this lasted until age like 10), but something shifted in after moving to Montréal (Canada) for University. The fear very quickly shifted to excitement as I learnt to take care of myself outside the confines of my childhood home.
This article will highlight some of my most transformative trips more in depth (how they came about, some highlights) and main takeaways/ lessons learnt during the time.
Staffing travel-based trips in the CARIBBEAN
I began staffing trips in Cuba, Punta Cana, and other tropical destinations in University. This is a great way to dip your toes in the world of travel: either working or volunteering abroad. I was staffing grad trips with a company called S-Trip (I think they’ve rebranded to “I Love Travel”), and essentially you don’t make much money, but you travel for free! These trips definitely made me a pro at air travel, and generally feeling comfortable in foreign countries. That being said, they were very structured trips (especially so, being guided trips for high school students), and it made me realise how this rigid (all you can eat buffet type) places are totally not my vibe.
working with the un in Nicaragua
I spent my first summer break from University in Nicaragua, a trip that began with a work opportunity at the United Nations World Food Programme. The organization literally picked me up from the airport, gave me the security debrief, and took care of my housing. This is probably one of my biggest tips for anyone new to travel or exploring a more dangerous place: start supported. Get the lay of the land, and get comfortable abroad by starting off with either volunteer group, a work opportunity, with friends/ family, or even by staying with an airbnb host that is particularly friendly. No matter how many years I’ve been travelling alone, I always get butterflies at the plane takes off to a new location- but I generally try to start off with some sort of a plan. After my summer stint with the UN was up, I spent a few weeks exploring the country; and by then I felt much more comfortable with the language, the customs, and the general ways of navigating.
My takeaway lessons from working and travelling in Nicaragua:
Find your passion:
This job opportunity was a dream job, and a position completely unheard of for a 19 year old in her first year of a political science and international development degree. I got it by calling up the director of the program, who was my dads friend in highschool. Don’t get me wrong- this connection is invaluable (we all know someone through the grapevine), but getting the position wasn’t as easy as just asking. I had to really believe in myself, I was my own advocate and despite having very little to bring to the table, I was passionate as hell- which is the key to achieving what you want in this life. Any job can be taught, but the fiery passion that burns inside of you cannot. Find what lights you up, what makes hustling worth it. People see passion and they’re magnetic to it.
If you’re new to travel or going somewhere very culturally foreign or more dangerous, try working for an organization or group (it could be volunteer too, or even a paid experience), so that you can get accustomed to your new environment before going off to travel on your own.
from working at a restaurant to working for richard branson in the British Virgin Islands
After university I moved to the British Virgin Islands where I stayed for 6 months the first stint. This experience in the islands started off living at my aunt and uncle’s house, which was supposed to be a 10 day vacation and just kept extending itself. During this time I worked (cash-in-hand) at my aunt and uncle’s restaurant. It took me a while, but I eventually got to know the community and from there had a couple of house sitting gigs (such a great way to explore new places without dropping mad cash on housing!) and I actually got to return to the Islands to work on Richard Branson’s private island later that year.
My takeaway lessons from living/ travelling in the bvi’s:
House sitting is a great way to travel on the cheap:
Once you get to know the community you can easily let people know you’re available- be mindful of peak times (most people leave the islands during the summer time, for example), and you can also join websites like TrustedHousesitters.
Reach out to humans:
Living in the islands (its remote, and pretty small population) made it super hard to make friends/ get to know people. When I saw young people, I said hello. Social media is so amazing these days for this: reach out to people on instagram! You can find the local crew, and make new friends for life if you make a little effort!
Work somewhere with lots of traffic:
My priorities have shifted dramatically since my time in the islands, but then I worked at a bar/ restaurant and met so many people that way; in Australia (years later) I met almost all my friends by working at a health store. Work somewhere you would actually frequent as a customer, and you’ll be sure to cross paths with like minded people!
Never underestimate the power of friendships/ connections when it comes to job opportunities:
Stay open, and ask for what you want. Most people are afraid to put themselves out there, but by literally asking I was flown out to work on a private island. Would this opportunity have knocked on my door? Hells no. You need to go after the things you want! The guy in charge of hiring for the project I worked on (Richard Branson’s island) was someone I met one time, in passing. There is something insane like 4 or 5 degrees of separation between you and every person on the planet, if you want something: go after it.
British Virgin Islands
going with the flow and finding myself in Australia
This was a big move for me. I left for Australia alone in February of 2015, with the intention of staying 3 months max, and ended up living there for two and a half years! My trips started by meeting up with a close friend who was also off travelling, we spend a week or so first in Sydney at an airbnb, and then another airbnb in Bondi Beach. Aforementioned, starting off a big trip (or move) with one foot in your comfort zone is such a good way to ease into a new experience.
I knew after two days that I wanted to stay in Sydney long term, and immediately started looking for a job. I was on a Working Holiday Visa, so I could work legally anywhere in the country for 1 year (renewable a second year, under certain conditions). Straight away I got a job working at a local gym in sales. Find a job in a field you love, an environment you would be in even if you aren’t working. If you like so socialize and party, opt for a bar or club. There’s always cafés too. Expose yourself to people and you’ll undoubtedly start to make friends. After the gym (working holidays limit your work period with one employer to 6 months), I got hired as the manager of a health food store. This is where I really shined as a being. Having the opportunity to talk health with people day in and day out, I made incredible friends in the industry and learnt so much.
Long story short, I was in the running for a long term sponsorship at my job at the health store (we applied and everything), and the visa got denied. Instead of fighting it, it went with the path of least resistance and moved to Byron Bay for 3 months before my visa officially expired.
My takeaway lessons from living/ travelling in Australia:
Go with the flow:
My intention to stay a few months turned into the biggest whirlwind incredibly amazing years of my life. Apart from my first two weeks planned in Airbnb’s I has absolutely no fixed plans; although my intention was to just backpack around the country, I quickly fell in love with Sydney, and got a job within a couple of weeks. Some trips can be very rigid and itinerary-driven, but if you’re drawn to it, I highly recommend trying out travel without plans. There are infinite doors of opportunity just waiting for you!
If you plan on staying more than two months, I suggest only booking a one-way ticket. Honestly, flight prices don’t change drastically anymore, and you will be able to find a ticket back home without any problems; but you’re also leaving the door open for a longer trip if life takes you in that direction.
After falling in love with Australia, I also had to go with the flow when it came to leaving too. Despite my deep attachment to the country and people, it’s so important to remember that resistance breeds unhappiness. When my visa troubles became exasperated, I took a deep breath and decided it was time to start flowing again. Leaving Australia ended up being the best decision I could make, as all things led me to launch this website and dive into the world of freelance writing. Since I no longer need a working visa, I look forward to returning to Australia as a newfound freelancer, no longer concerned about visa issues at all!
Take the opportunity to start fresh:
I changed a lot throughout university, and during my time in the islands following graduation. As I learnt more about who I was and what my priorities were in this life, I realised that many of my friends were on a vastly different path. Moving somewhere totally new (or travelling solo, even short term) is an opportunity to be unapologetically yourself, and stop mirroring the patterns of your childhood/ those around you. This experience in Australia opened my eyes to my higher Self, and by surrounding myself with new friends on the same path as I was, it propelled me forward. I grew so much, so quickly. Take time alone to find out what matters to you as an individual.
With the intention of only travelling around a few months, I actually left for Australia with only a carry-on backpack, and I had more than enough belongings to make the move. Of course you can always get more things as you need them, but we truly need so much less than we think. This big move turned me into a total minimalist, take the solo-travelling opportunity to whittle down to the bare minimum.
Explore Working Holiday Visas:
Learn more HERE, they are such a great way to spend a long time in a country and actually be able to work! You can apply for a new one for each individual country (ranging from Australia and NZ, to Costa Rica, Spain, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, Ireland, France, and so many other places (so long as you’re under the cut off age- it’s around 30 at the moment).
Find your passion:
Similarly to the gig I got in Nicaragua, I was hired as the manager for an organic store in Bondi with zero previous managerial experience. I applied for a job I was unqualified for, but got the position purely out of passion. Find what lights you up, the subject that makes working crazy hours seem like a dream- and you will attract opportunities you never thought possible. I always used to be nervous going into interviews, but when interviewing for a job I’m passionate about- things flow seamlessly. What is your mission in life? How can this position help you give back to the world? Working in a health store for me (and the job before that in a gym) was about helping people thrive, so the interview wasn’t even about me, it was about the people I was going to help.
Sydney + Byron Bay, NSW, Australia
living off the grid in Maui (Hawaii)
After deciding to leave Australia, I took the opportunity to do a last bit of travel before coming back to Canada. Most people don’t know but you can extend the layover of a flight at no extra cost. So flying from Sydney, Australia back to Toronto, Canada offers multiple routes for potential mini-vacations! I decided to take the route via Honolulu, because Hawaii is a magical land but not too high on my travel bucket list, so it would be a great opportunity to see it kind of as a bonus trip! From there I realised Hawaii is so expensive and so this mini layover could quickly turn into a bottomless money pit. Instead of re-routing elsewhere, I found an opportunity to work on an organic farm (work/trade) for 3 months: the perfect way to travel on the cheap!
My takeaway lessons from living/ travelling in maui:
Extend your layovers:
You can add a couple of days, or a couple of months to any layover trip, without adding any cost to your flight. It’s a great way to explore a destination that you might not see otherwise in this lifetime.
http://wwoof.net/ is a website that connects people with organic farms around the world. You don’t get paid, but they’ll house and feed you. It’s such an amazing way not only to learn about organic farming practices, give back to the land, and also travel places without spending too much. Of course you’ll have to spend on all extracurricular activities, but all in all it’s definitely budget-friendly. Note that WWOOFing is not just a free trip, and it really a full-time gig. But you’ll have weekends to explore (and sometimes more if your host is cool), and you will learn and grow so so much). I’ll go more in depth about my experience in Maui at some point soon, because it was a crazy whirlwind.
trusting the flow of life in San diego/ Los Angeles
I met some amazingly kind people people during my time in Maui, and as my trip was coming to a close I already had my flights booked back to Toronto. About a week before leaving, two of the people (who were originally from California) had suggested I attend a spiritual conference (SRF) in LA that was coinciding with the dates I was meant to be leaving Maui. Having had my flight booked and all, I was hesitant, but our conversations had been so deep and powerful, and our connection so strong that I really felt I ought to experience the conference. I didn’t know how I was going to make it work (monetarily) since I had essentially only been spending (no income) for the past 7 months (prior to Maui I was just vacationing in Byron Bay, Australia for 4 months, living off my savings). So my money pool was getting low, but I just knew I was meant to be in California. So I thought fuck it, I’m in.
I told the group I would be there, without any inclination that I wasn’t sure how I would make it all happen. As I was about to book a flight to LA, a couple that I had met 24 hours prior heard I was joining them for the conference and offered to house me in San Diego and show me the city (Encinitas) before driving up to the conference in LA. I happily agreed and booked a slight to SD. From there this couple not only welcomed me into their home, but also had a friend whose AirBnB was coincidentally free for 10 days in LA (right in the centre of Hollywood), so I had my own apartment right at the base of Griffiths Park.. totally free (mind = blown!). The lesson here? You are supported when you trust in a greater power, when you live from your heart space. It doesn’t always work out so seamlessly, don’t get me wrong. This trip just blew my mind time and time again, with synchronicities off the chain. I really think the key in life is to see every opportunity as a lesson, so that no matter what happens (great, good, mediocre, or terrible), you trust that you are experiencing exactly what you need in that moment.
My takeaway lessons from travelling in la:
Show people your true Self:
I’m a lunatic to many people: the way I see the world, the way I express myself…my deep connection to my higher-self, and to the planet… and I don’t hide it from anyone. Being myself, unapologetically, attracts similar people into my life. Many people are afraid to show their true colours because it might confuse people or push them away, but you have to know that as you grow and transform- there will always be people there to match your vibration. Be yourself, and doors of opportunity will open!
Trust in a Higher Power:
Once you begin to tap into your true Self, you develop a much different relationship with the world. Trusting that things are always unfolding in your favour, to help you learn and grow brings a new joy to life. You begin to say yes to seemingly crazy situations, and discover things you would never had done if you were playing it “safe” (by the standards of modern society). This should never excuse stupidity; always follow your intuition when it comes to people and situations. If your gut says no, don’t let the ego take over and say yes. No matter what happens: trust the flow of life.
Make list of places/ things to do:
I wasn’t in LA very long, and yet it was a city I was so eager to explore for a long time. I buckled down and made a crazy to-do list, and really mapped out my time in the city. This was kind of the birth of my travel-guides, because I was able to fit in so many experiences, by really planning my time properly. You can see all my favourite LA + surrounding area spots, in the guide below:
saying yes to adventure in Vancouver, canada
This trip came totally last minute, I spent 2 weeks in Vancouver a month shy of moving permanently to Europe. The whole thing came about when I reconnected with a friend I hadn’t seen in years. We knew each other from the Toronto party scene back in the day, but reconnected over our new found spiritual + health paths. We hung out once when she was back in Toronto visiting, and got on like a house on fire, and she said in passing “you should come to Vancouver ,” and without really thinking twice I agreed. So I booked flights a few days later. There are a million and one reasons I could have talked myself out of experiencing Vancouver, like the simple fact I was moving to Europe two weeks later. But when in doubt: I say yes to adventure.
A few weeks later I found myself at my friends house in Vancouver, and spent two weeks biking, hiking, and cold plunging my way across this magical city. I also reached out to my mentor who lives on Vancouver Island, and had the opportunity to go visit her in the flesh. There were so many highlights, but a few included hiking in the pouring rain; hitchhiking to Squamish to hike Stawamus Chief, and hopping on the ferry to Vancouver Island to visit my mentor Geraldine
My takeaway lessons from travelling in vancouver:
This one is a recurring lesson, because truly had I not been my authentic self on social media (through facebook, IG, and eventually through this website), my friend and I would never have reconnected the way we did. In fact, so many people from my past have reached out to say they deeply resonate with the person I have become. It’s been really cool to reconnect with people from all walks of my childhood and teenage years, as an adult.
Say YES to adventure:
My friend just said in passing, “come visit me in Vancouver” and just like that, I said yes. Within a week, flights were booked. My mentor also happens to live on the West coast of Canada, and when I booked a flight to Van, I reached out to her to see if she wanted to grab a tea. She actually turned tea into the offer to stay with her for a few nights on the island and of course, I said yes! Always say yes to adventure!
So many people don’t take invitations to hang out or visit seriously, but watch the magic unfold when you say yes.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way:
Hiking the Chief in Squamish was the #1 thing on my Vancouver bucket list, so when my friends were not down to join, I got it done anyways. I hitchhiked to Squamish, and did the hike alone. Trust that your heart is guiding you to experiences you are meant to have- be it with others, or alone. Bask in the profound growth that happens when you get comfortable being alone (more on alone vs. loneliness HERE).
You are a sovereign being, capable of doing things independent of others. Don’t dull your light or your urges because it doesn’t fit into other people’s plans! Honour and respect the will of others, live and let live- but this also means you need to live.
Trust your intuition:
During my hike up Stawamus Chief, I had planned to do all 3 peaks. On my way up, I saw zero humans… which albeit a bit eerie, was blissful. I made my way to the second peak first, and as I was heading towards the third peak my gut started tighething. Getting from peak 2 to 3 is very simple, it’s more of a walk. But as I kept going my entire body was saying turn around. Squamish is bear country, and I was hiking alone with no bear spray (stores were still closed, so despite wanting to grab some that morning, I couldn’t). I walked about 10 minutes further and decided I had to double back to complete peak 1, but that for some unknown reason- I was not meant to do peak 3. Intuition. You have to trust that when the body says no, it’s for a reason.
Intuition is the act of knowing, without knowing why. And that day, my ego wanted to complete all 3 peaks, but I knew in my gut it was the wrong move. Already, being out in the mountains alone is a risk. Intuition isn’t about avoiding all risk, quite the contrary. My gut often tells me to do crazy things (like hitch hiking up to Squamish in the first place), but you have to learn to trust your instinct, even when the go wants to go go go.
leap of faith: Moving to Europe
While I was in Italy during the summer of 2018, I fell in love with Europe. I knew that passing through Italy for 10 days on my way from Greece to France wasn’t going to cut it, and that I needed to move back permanently. All this was happening while a lot of change was transpiring in my life. Work wise I began freelance writing, and this new urge to live in Europe was the push I needed to dive into 100% freelance work. Being in my hometown of Toronto, I was also nannying, and this safety blanket of income was also preventing me from spreading my wings and diving fully into my dream career.
As soon as I got back to Canada, I booked my flight back to France for later that year. I didn’t know what I would do exactly (where I would go, stay, how I would really make the freelance thing work income wise), but I booked the flight. That lit the fire in me to truly figure it all out. I began putting much more effort into my writing, and actually ended up leaving my post-grad program to dedicate myself to the website and my writing. Definitely channeled the whole Hemingway-writing-in-Europe vibe and just trusted it would work out.
When I got to France, I joined a bunch of websites (see below), and applied to a bunch of different opportunities that would allow me to live rent-free (for the most part), and yet still have enough time to explore and write. Within 2 weeks of being in France, I had set up two house sitting gigs (in Geneva, and Berlin), followed by 1 month in Amsterdam, another two week stint mother’s helping (in Helsinki) and then 3 months work exchange (in Crete). I had essentially mapped out nearly 6 months of life by getting creative with my living situation, going with the flow, and believing it would all work out. A combination of trust and hustle.
My takeaway lessons (thus far) from moving to Europe:
Believe in your Self:
This is different than trusting yourself/ your intuition. Believing in yourself means believing that you can do it, that you can succeed, that you are worth it, that you deserve happiness. This might seem obvious or trivial, but when you begin to dig deep into your subconscious, many people have fear of unworthiness. If you have a dream or a desire, know that you are worth receiving this outcome. Mantras like “I am enough” and “I am worthy” are powerful to reprogram the subconscious, and to welcome abundance and success into your life. Repeated patterns of self-sabotage are often rooted in this perceived unworthiness.
Just do it:
When I was travelling in Europe this summer and decided I was going to move back permanently later that year… nobody thought I actually would, because I didn’t have a plan. You don’t need a plan! Trusting the flow of life (another repeated theme throughout my travels) doesn’t require a big official plan. Just decide where you want to do, and trust that things will unfold as they need to, in divine timing. If it doesn’t, know that there’s a lesson there to help you grow.
Make it happen:
Being yourself and trusting life is dandy, but your whole life won’t manifest itself just by being a good human. We live in the age of technology: use it! There are so many incredible websites to connect with opportunities (at home, and abroad), so enrich your life, and live in an unconventional way (if that’s what you want). After getting to Europe, I made accounts with multiple websites, and applied to countless gigs. A combination of things I applied to, and people reaching out to me set up my first 6 months in Europe with travels through France, Switzerland, Netherlands, Germany, Finland, and Greece.
Europe (greece, Italy, France… so far!)
I hope this inspired you in some way, to make your own memories, and learn your own lessons. Remember: every path is unique, and we’re presented experiences at the exact time we need to learn and grow in this world. Things don’t always go according to our logical plan, but there is a bigger master plan at hand. Travel is without a doubt one of the greatest ways to learn these lessons… may yours be filled with stories worth sharing.