1. What inspired you to start a travel blog?
Back in 2014, I tragically lost my husband. As my way of coping, I turned to something I was passionate about, travel. In the first year, I had lots of invites from friends and family, offering me travelling experiences alongside them. It was a great way of keeping me distracted and refuelling my passion for seeing new places. I will never be more grateful for every one of those opportunities. But I felt that I needed to start experiencing the things that I wanted rather than rely on other people’s agendas.
I started my
Life List of all the things I wanted to achieve. It was basically a bucket list but “things to do before you die” was a little too close to the bone for me. I began to prioritize the list and work my way through it. It was important to me to reconnect with who I was now I was alone again after 18 years. I figured I wasn’t the only woman who had a change of circumstances later in life. I have a number of friends who are, unfortunately, going through divorces, have lost their partners, or have children who are growing up and moving away from home. I decided to start a travel blog to share ideas on how travelling alone after 40 can be an inspiring and enriching experience. I am lucky to have the confidence I gained in my 20s, but I want to inspire others to take the plunge and try solo travelling too. No matter what your age, we do not need to be defined by our circumstances. 2. How did travelling push you forward in life?
I believe travelling has made me the person I am today. When I was in my 20s, I started solo travelling. By being alone, I got myself into many scrapes and got myself back out of them again. I faced challenges that I was able to overcome, relying on nothing than my ability to handle obstacles. I put myself into situations where I had no choice but to interact with strangers and show my vulnerability. When travelling alone, you face challenges every single day and with every single decision you make. By definition, you are totally reliant on yourself. That gave me the confidence that I could do anything!
3. What are the best and worst things about solo travelling?
The best thing about solo travelling is making the decisions about what you want to do, when, and how you want to do it. I’m the kind of person that will always accommodate other people and I enjoy their input. This has given me some experiences that I would never have considered before. However, it has also meant that sometimes I have to sacrifice what I want in favour of what other people prefer.
I love the challenge of always being completely reliant on my own resourcefulness. Every challenge is, therefore, rewarded by the joy of overcoming it, alone. Even if you’re asking someone for help, you have to take the initiative to do it. If you’re making friends and having a conversation with a passer-by, you make the decision to do it. As a solo traveller, everything lies in your hands, including your own enjoyment and how good your experience is going to be. You can’t blame anyone if things don’t go right and you can take full credit when everything works out.
By contrast, I guess that’s also the worst thing too. When you travel solo, you have no one to help shoulder the hard times. You have no one but yourself to rely on to make you feel better when things don’t go right. I find eating or having a drink alone empowering; it makes me feel strong. However, on the more vulnerable days, there are times when it can be incredibly lonely.
4. Tell us more about the challenges of solo travelling and how age makes a difference for a first-timer.
I do think age does makes a difference. As we get older, we naturally become more cautious. When I was younger, I used to throw myself with enthusiasm into all opportunities. I had no fear. I met a lot of people my age, with the same attitude as me. I made a lot of instant connections. I loved to stay in hostels where it was natural to make friends, no matter how transient. Many fun memories were made!
When you embark on the adventure later in life, you bring with you the battle scars and these have their impact on your confidence. There are far fewer people who can relate to how and why you are on your journey. I think it makes us more interesting, but I’m biased! I certainly experienced sudden social awkwardness when I first restarted my solo journey. I found it difficult to embark on conversations with anyone as I was worried about my fragile emotional state. I was terrified that I may be asked those dreaded questions: “Are you travelling alone?” and “Why?”. As a result, it was easier to avoid those situations. Then, I learned that it was depriving me of making deeper connections with people. Nowadays, I am five years from ground zero and able to have a conversation without concern that I will be over-emotional in public. And if I am, people are always even more lovely.
5. How did you manage to self-fund your travels and your blog? What’s your secret to saving?
I’m an unlucky kind of fortunate person. I have suffered a lot of loss, particularly over the last few years. This has left me in a horrible and tragic position but with that has come some degree of financial security. Therefore, I fund my travels using investments and money from renting out my property. I am unusual as most aspiring digital nomads have dreams of giving up their job to pursue full-time solo travelling. I wish my life was “back to normal” and if it was the same as before, I would go back in a second. I can’t choose my circumstances, but I have chosen my response to them. I realized early on that I could change to a less conventional lifestyle. It has helped me heal and grieve while having some amazing adventures that most people only dream about. I have a choice, I am eternally grateful for that.
6. Tell us more about your Mount Kilimanjaro birthday adventure.
Mount Kilimanjaro was one hell of an adventure! I decided to climb the mountain as my way of celebrating turning 50. The day after my birthday, I headed off to Tanzania to do just that. Climbing the mountain was on my Life List and a friend I’d met in Cuba got in touch to ask if I wanted to do accompany her; I jumped at the chance. We had met 18 months earlier on a yoga retreat. Our second meeting was in the foothills of Kilimanjaro for our 8-day mission into the unknown.
The altitude at times was hard to handle. Along the way, I felt sick, exhausted, and even had an out of body experience. Then finally, summit night came. We got up at 11 o’clock at night and started walking in the snow. It was freezing cold and I was wearing so many layers of clothing in an effort to stay warm; I couldn’t even bend my legs! We walked slowly (or “Pole, Pole” as they say in Swahili) upwards for six hours, barely taking time to rest in case we got too cold. I was lucky; that night I didn’t suffer from the altitude.
Mount Kilimanjaro – Via Sue Where? Why? What?
As we headed over the summit, we looked back and saw the sun rising over the horizon. I cried as I hugged my amazing companion, Brigit. It was a highly emotional moment and one I will never ever forget. We then had to walk for another hour uphill, exhausted to get to our goal of Uhuru Peak. The landscapes were like nothing I had ever witnessed before. It was like walking on Mars!
And then we had to come down. I can honestly say that was the hardest part! I finally lost my enthusiasm. My grit and determination had deserted me as it just seemed to be relentless on an already exhausted body. I genuinely believe it’s the most physically, emotionally, and mentally challenging activity I have ever done. But I did do it!
7. So you got attacked by lions.. Where? Why? And what did you do?
This is one of my favourite travel stories! I was on an overland adventure through Africa; it was my first ever trip. We were camping every night around the truck where we lived for 9 weeks. That night, we were in the Serengeti. Over dinner, we heard howling sounds but were told they were coming from a long way away. So, we went to bed.
A few hours later, I was woken by more roaring and growling. It felt like it was very close but repeated the mantra that everything was far away. I turned over and went back to sleep. It transpired that we had three lions in our camp for well over an hour. There were two lionesses and one cub. They played around a campsite while we all stayed terrified in a tent with only a penknife here and there to defend ourselves.
For one couple, it was an even closer encounter. They could hear and feel heavy breathing before the unwelcome visitor slumped almost on top of them on the side of the tent. By the time morning arrived, the items they had left outside had bite marks and punctures in. Still missing was the left shoe of a pair of trainers. Some of the girls had a washing line strung up in the camp; this was long gone, as were all their clothes. One of them found a tatty square which was originally her favourite pair of red denim shorts. Another found her shorts, but they had a huge hole bitten in one of the legs. She carried on wearing them with pride. It was certainly a lucky escape!
8. Out of the 70 countries you’ve been to, which ones spoke to you the most and why?
As mentioned before, my first ever trip was to Africa when I was 22. I took 9 weeks on an overland truck exploring this beautiful and fascinating continent. As well as my close lion encounter, I saw gorillas in Rwanda, played with chimpanzees in Burundi, and got soaked by Victoria Falls. It was a huge adventure and I loved every minute of it. Africa stole my heart.
Namibia – Via Sue Where? Why? What?
A few years later, I spent a year in Australia, and on the way home, took two months alone in Indonesia. It was probably the most fulfilling, enlightening, and scariest time of all of my travels. I will always have a soft spot for Indonesia.
More recently the country that has struck me the most is Cuba. I spent a month there back in 2016 and it was one of my first forays back into solo travel. I started my trip with two weeks in Havana, living with a family while learning Spanish. It was an intense but incredibly fun part of my life. In the morning I spent three hours in a windowless room, developing my language skills. In the afternoons, I took salsa lessons. I made some great friends and I loved every minute of it. Solo travelling afterwards across Cuba opened my eyes to this beautiful but chaotic country. Every time I have returned back since I feel like I’ve come home. Even when I ended up in a police station on my first night, but that’s a whole other story!
9. What’s your most unforgettable solo travelling adventure? Tell us all about it.
Back in 2018, I received an offer I couldn’t refuse. My next-door neighbours were having a huge house renovation and they wanted to rent a place nearby to project manage the work from close quarters. They knew I travelled and came to me with a proposition. Would I like to move out for six months while they rented my house? What more can I say than I bit their hand off! I headed to the Caribbean and spent the next six months drifting wherever the wind took me. I had some unique and amazing experiences along the way and made lots of new friends.
During that time, I lived on a yacht, took part in my first sailing regatta in the US Virgin Islands, spent Easter sailing around the British Virgin Islands, and then headed by boat from Antigua to St Martin. I explored the beauty of Costa Rica and tried my hand at cat sitting in the Cayman Islands. In addition, I attended a couple of retreats in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, where I also took more Spanish lessons. I learned that although plans are important, sometimes just saying yes and making the most of opportunities will enrich your experiences in an even greater way.
Yoga retreat in Cuba – Via Sue Where? Why? What?
10. Many travellers fear not being able to pursue their globetrotting dreams if they ever start a family or commit to a relationship. What’s your take on that based on experience?
When I first met my husband, I was a traveller. I had just settled down into a full-time career with every intention of leaving it at some point in the future to hit the road once again. But instead, I met the love of my life and introduced him to travelling too. The challenge for me was that I had been used to taking months at a time to really get to know a destination. We were then restricted to 25 days a year.
For the 18 years we were together, my husband and I made the most of every single hour of every single one of those 25 days! A couple of times we actually arrived in the country from Australia in the early hours of the morning, had a quick shower and went straight back to work. We didn’t have kids, so I can’t vouch for what it’s like when you start a family. What I do know is that if you have the right mindset, the right attitude, and enough determination you can make any amount of holiday work for you. Your travel experiences will change, but you will have gained an ever-faithful companion to do it with!
11. What’s your advice to anyone who wants to start solo travelling, especially women?
If you’re nervous about your first time travelling alone, then there are many ways you can ease yourself in. Why not try organizing a trip where you will be naturally meeting new people? Think about volunteering or taking a tour. How about adding some time on your own at the start and end of the trip to see how you get on? Having a few days after a tour is a great way of seeing how you like the idea of solo travel. That way, you will already have an understanding of the culture and maybe know where you would feel more comfortable spending your time. Also, why not consider taking a course? I have learned Spanish in Havana, sailing in the Caribbean, scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, and cookery in Thailand. It’s a fantastic way to meet like-minded people who have a similar interest. Learning together is a natural way to connect with others. Or if you are into your fitness, why not try a retreat? Yoga is a great option, or you could join a hiking or cycling group.
But I also encourage you to JUST DO IT! You’ll learn the strength and power of your capabilities, the importance of feeling vulnerable, and how you need to trust strangers. You will grow in ways that you never thought were possible. The world can be a scary place but it’s full of very generous strangers. There’s an awful lot of things that you can do to minimize the risks and maximize your enjoyment of the experience. Trust your guts, embrace every opportunity they say you should, and most importantly, just go out there and do it. When you decide to take the plunge, you will wonder why on earth you didn’t do it any earlier!
Seeing people like Sue, kicking a** and being such an inspiration is a great motive to pursue dreams; be it solo travelling or anything else. If they can do it, you probably can do it as well!
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