Updated on May 10th, 2021
Travel is my passion & has been an integral part of my life for the last 30 years. My life has shaped the way I travel & travel has shaped the way I live. Here I reflect on different kinds of travel & how it changed in my 20s, 30s, 40s & 50s. I hope you enjoy my little trip down memory lane.”
Worldwide…except Antarctica so far…
Travel has been a passion of mine since I first stepped off a plane in Mombasa in 1992. Since then, I have clocked up thousands of miles & endless twists & turns as my travels have been influenced by where I am in life. Here, I look back over 30 years of independent travel & more than 70 countries, reflecting on how travel & life have been inextricably linked through the decades. It’s been quite a journey…or as the song says:
Life is a rollercoaster, just gotta ride it.” – Ronan Keating
Setting foot on African soil was truly the first time I had ventured into another country all alone. My childhood travels were (of course) dictated by my family, then came the party years in Majorca & Greece. As a student I had an amazing summer in the USA working at a kids camp, buying an old car & driving the East Coast with friends. It was great fun but definitely decision making by committee.
My choice to go to Africa came from circumstances. I didn’t want to go on my own but was desperate to explore the world & none of my friends were available to join me. I had ambition, blind naivety & some balls to choose Africa in the ’90s. However, I was joining a group for a tour, camping our way through 9 countries in 3 months from Nairobi to Harare. On my return, I decided I needed a proper job to save money for a life full of similar adventures.
By 26 I had enough money to quit, buy an Interrail Pass & head around Europe. I followed this with a year exploring Australia, New Zealand & Indonesia. This was truly my introduction to solo travel & I loved it! Making decisions for myself by myself was a revelation. Back then I was carefree. I got into situations but also got myself out of them. With this came fearlessness. I felt powerful & had a certain sense of indestructibility. The experience set me up for life & a career in sales.
By the time I came home I was oozing self-confidence (some may say cocky!) that can only come from navigating your way around the world with nobody to rely on but yourself.”
Looking at types of travel then, the budget was the top consideration. The less I spent, the longer I could travel. This led to all sorts of choices of both the genius & totally wrong variety. But I was responsible for all of them & the only one to celebrate or chastise was myself.
Dorm rooms were the order of the day. The cheapest bed I ever had for the night was in Bukittinggi in Indonesia. I paid a whopping £1.20 a night for a 4-bed dorm which I was lucky to have to myself. It was a triumph! Then I went to a café & ordered a large beer which cost me £1.50. That messes with your head & quickly allows you to get a handle on your perspective…& your drinking habits!
To save money I also travelled overnight, choosing to replace a bed with a train, boat, bus or floor of an airport. I developed the ability to sleep anywhere, especially as many hostels closed their doors all day. I remember once waking up slumped over my bag sitting on a pavement on the Champs Elysée in Paris, surrounded by tourists.
Then there was the time I arrived alone at 3am on a night bus to Yogyakarta in Indonesia. All the other travellers were couples & disappeared as soon as we stopped, leaving me alone. The only person around was a guy who didn’t speak English but was holding a sign for a hostel. I nodded at him & proceeded to follow him down the narrow streets in the dark.
It was a lesson for solo travel. Sometimes your only choice is to put your trust in a complete stranger. On this occasion, it was the right instinct.”
For all my tips on how to make your travel budget go further, check out my blog post.
I had always been surrounded by people & was worried that loneliness would be an issue. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It turned out I chatted so much that I was on the road for a week before I opened my book. In addition, hostels were the perfect place to meet like-minded individuals. I would assess the candidates, decide who would be most suitable to approach, take a deep breath & start a conversation. In my 20s it was easy as everyone was around my age, often with a similar itinerary.
I returned to the UK, oozing self-confidence & got a job intending to leave after 3 months to take myself around India. I was there for 18 years! It was then that I met my future husband (Terry). I loved my role in sales, earned good money & was still able to travel the world…just differently. My type of travel changed from traveller to tourist.
The biggest transformation was in the time I had, just 25 days holiday per year. However, Terry & I became masters at making the most of every single day. We took city breaks & by using 1 extra day & leaving on Friday night. A weekend felt like so much more!
We would arrive home from an Australian adventure at 6am, shower & then head to work for the day. As a manager, I even did appraisals, that really kept me awake & focussed!”
The timing meant we couldn’t afford to get a decision on where to go wrong. Research & planning were key. I replaced my hostel dorms with hotel rooms, but the location was everything. The nightlife was important & we always wanted to be close to the centre of it. Terry also had a short attention span. Every 2 – 3 days we would be packing up & moving on. This enabled a week to feel like two & two weeks were more like a month.
Terry only really liked nature if it was a beach to relax on & other than that he loved cities. There always had to be something going on. I was totally happy with this as we always had fun.
Our budgets had also increased. I, however, remained steadfastly attached to saving money, while he was used to luxury. It took us a while, but we eventually shifted to meet in the middle. I got used to a little more luxury, & he lowered his standards as long as I found some quirky places for us to enjoy. After all, we could afford it!
This compromise was never more evident than in India. I had been told by friends that you couldn’t travel to India & stay in any less than 5-star accommodation. I chose to prove them wrong. We were 3 stars all the way, which I know Terry found challenging at times.
For “fun”, I had arranged for us to take the night train from Goa to Mumbai. It was hard for Terry who hadn’t done anything like that before. Luckily, our old hotel in Mumbai had a room available for us on arrival. After a welcome sleep, on a walk, we discovered the Intercontinental Hotel. Terry immediately decided we had earned our right to stay there. By that evening he had fabricated a birthday & an illness for me. My “birthday” enabled him to negotiate a room at the Intercontinental. My “illness” allowed us to leave our current hotel without charges. It was perfect except I was having to thank the staff constantly as they wished me a happy birthday (while cursing Terry under my breath).
In my 40s life took me into a complete spin. It began in a similar way to my 30s. Fantastic holidays & making the most of limited time. Then my world stopped when I tragically lost Terry. As life punched me in the guts, travel came in on a white horse to save me. The kinds of travel I embarked on changed again.
Travel with Friends & Family
My friends & family rallied around & I got lots of offers to join them for trips. I accepted them all. That next year I found myself skiing in Canada, sighting orangutans in Borneo, island hopping in Greece, & on a road trip around Oregon. It also marked the year I was offered redundancy from my job of 18 years. Without hesitation, I bit their hand off!
I had no idea what my future looked like, but I did know that going back to what was familiar wasn’t an option for me. I was able to choose, I will never stop being grateful for that.”
It was in Hawaii that I dipped my toe back into solo travel. A week alone exploring Kauai was sandwiched between Oahu with family & the Big Island with a friend. Kauai was a place of numerous revelations as I started to rediscover life by myself. I realised that if I carried on relying on friends & family, I would always be living on someone else’s agenda. Additionally, I felt a desire not to be anybody’s responsibility. I needed to reclaim control of my life. The only way I knew to understand who I was now was to go back to what I did before Terry…& that was travel.
To give me a direction, I wrote a Life List & it became my roadmap for life. I actively sought out experiences I would never have done with Terry. For me, that was the only way to guarantee that life wasn’t overshadowed by grief & loneliness. Mountains replaced cities, hiking replaced nightlife, strangers became friends. Where I stayed was now dictated by what I was doing. If the experience called for roughing it (& many did), I loved it. If I wanted a bit of luxury, I enjoyed it because I could afford to.
By the end of the decade, I had learned Spanish in Cuba, explored South America, got up close & personal with cheetahs in Namibia & all manner of aquatic life in the Gálapagos Islands. I had also taken part in a sailing regatta in the US Virgin Islands, learned to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef & spent 6 months living in Antigua.
My travels also slowed down to take advantage of the benefit of time. I aimed to stay somewhere long enough to get under its skin & really discover a place. I took time to just enjoy a place, to reinvigorate myself before heading off to the next adventure.
Worried about being lonely? Check out my Top Tips for Combatting Loneliness as a Solo Female Traveller.
The Power of “Yes”
If I learned anything from the time I spent with Terry, it was to make the most of every minute. As a result, whenever an opportunity has come my way, I embrace it. If it excites me or if it scares me or is something I have not experienced before. The answer is always a resounding “Yes!”
Travel in my 40s was about the experiences I had & the people I met. It was about the journey & not the destination. It allowed me to become myself again. To breathe & to heal.”
So, as I turned 50 what does travel look like now? I celebrated my new decade by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, without a doubt the most physically & mentally challenging thing I have ever done. It was an amazing experience, an exhilarating achievement & began my 50s as I intended it to carry on…with a bit of a bang!
But the bang turned into a fizzle as we hit a global pandemic. I have now been home for longer than ever before after I set foot on African soil back at the ripe age of 22. As soon as I can, as soon as it’s safe, as soon as I’m allowed out of the UK & welcome elsewhere, I plan to resume the life I chose for myself.
If you are looking to get your fix of travel when you can’t leave home, check out my post about a Virtual Fortune Teller Experience – How to travel to Bolivia without leaving home!
My plans are to continue to embrace the joys of solo travel on my terms. I want to take my time & maybe even find a new place to call home. But most importantly, to continue to say an emphatic “Yes” to all opportunities…after all, they won’t be there forever!
Solo travel in my 20s shaped the way I have lived my life. It gave me the confidence to take on & excel in a job I loved for as long as it allowed me to flourish. But life changes. It twists & turns & surprises you, just when you think you have it figured out. I am privileged to have embraced the opportunities to travel & in return it has empowered & nurtured me. Over 30 years, life has shaped my types of travel & travel has shaped the way I live. You never know, the next decade may be the best yet…
It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” – Ernest Hemingway
Interested to read more?
You can also Subscribe Here to get regular updates and special offers from Sue Where? Why? What? along with that all-important FREE Guide!
This post may contain affiliate links. By using these, Sue Where Why What may receive a small commission. You will not pay any extra charges for this. My opinions, reviews and recommendations remain my own. For more information see my disclosure.