The 5 Things I Learned From Being An 18-Year-Old Solo Traveller
My school years were exhausting: a drama-fest of detentions and fraught relationships. There wasn’t much time for school work.
On my last day of high school in England, while my friends talked A grades and uni placements, all I wanted to talk about were travel plans. I needed to escape, breathe, live. And I wanted to do it alone. Pumped with bravado, I marched out of that school flippin’ the bird to authority and ready to take that plane.
I decided to start small and tackle Australia.
Thing is, as much as I thought I was a streetwise anarchist who could take on the world one Doc Marten at a time, the reality was I was a clinically depressed introvert from a farm in the English countryside. Not so much street smart as country lane smart.
I was terrified.
Here’s what I got out of it.
I began to learn who I was
As clichéd as it sounds, travelling solo led me to find myself; my real self. Being alone meant I had no one to play a part for, no one to impress. I could do exactly what I wanted without having to answer to anyone – except myself. It was scary and confronting introducing myself to me.
Part of this new friendship with myself meant understanding intuition.
I’ve never been great at decision making but I had to learn pretty quickly. Friends played such a huge part in my choices back home, but now I had no one there to check I’d got home or tell me my latest crazy idea would get me deported. I had to trust my gut and pair it with good sense and the limited knowledge I had of the world.
And shit did I get tested when I met Grant, a faux photographer, (complete with gold cross chain and loafers) who propositioned me in a city station. He insisted I come to his dingy warehouse so he could photograph me. He had business card so he must be legit, I thought.
For a second I questioned whether this was my big break; Sydney people were so friendly! I was just about to skip off into my lucrative career (and impending death) when I took a minute. Hang on, I was chubby, innocent and alone; not model material. I politely declined his invitation and escaped with all limbs attached.
I learned to face childhood fears
I have an intense fear of walking into places alone. I think it stems from school days when we were ridiculed for entering the dining hall alone at lunchtime. God forbid you failed to locate your missing peers in the hall and were forced to eat your bangers and mash alone.
I wasn’t going to let those old fears paralyse me overseas.
So I pushed myself to tackle the awkwardness. I remember being in Cairns and consciously making the decision to go to a huge backpacker pub alone, order dinner and sit there.
It was terrifying; I’m surprised I didn’t throw up. But within minutes a group of dreadlocked hippies invited me into the fold. By the end of the night I was dancing on tables and belting out the Grease Mega-mix on karaoke. I left that place with a bunch of new travel companions – although I was minus a shoe.
I learned to be open to new experiences and people
It’s easy to be complacent in your friendship group at home. You do the same things, you say the same shit, it’s hard for others to penetrate that inner circle as you don’t need anyone else and you think you know it all. As I travelled, I opened up to people and new experiences.
I was on a bus in Sydney when I met a random guy. He was travelling to the red centre to work and earn some cash. He told me to contact him if I ever found myself out that way. (Because you often just find yourself kms away from civilisation in the Outback.)
I decided to make the trip. For the next week I stayed in the staff quarters and experienced the real outback with some awesome people. It’s still as clear as those outback stars in my mind.
I learned to be kind, aware and less selfish
During my travels, I remember being blown away by the kindness shown by others. Strangers gave me advice, families opened their homes and I noticed hotels and hostels seemed to favour the solo person too. I got better rooms, discounts and even an upgrade at one point. OK, so I might have been dealt the pity card, but hey, it was perk.
With the generosity I experienced, I in turn became more generous. I tried to pay it forward and help others like me, not just on the trip but throughout life in general. It gave me a passion for people and taught me empathy.
I learned to budget
Back home my budgeting skills consisted of dividing my allowance between Bacardi Breezers and my cosmetic needs. When living and travelling on your own, finances became a bit trickier. I had to quickly learn to prioritise and set myself realistic monetary boundaries.
I had to plan ahead – which is not necessarily the norm for an 18-year-old. Basic questions like where to sleep, what places had fewer bed bug sightings in their reviews and what noodle packets were on special that week were all careful considerations of the utmost importance.
I learnt the value of money and also learnt how to survive on very little in the process. An essential lesson to have under the belt for the years to follow.
I was only gone 4 months but I gained a lifetime of valuable experience and knowledge about the world. If I’d gone with friends, sure I’d have people to reminisce about the best pubs to get wasted in but would I have pushed myself? Would I have done what I wanted to do?
I guess I’ll never know. But I like it that way.
A published freelance writer from print to online, Katy’s passion is honest authentic writing. From the mundane experience to a sensational observation, Katy always finds a way to voice what she sees. Relatable and quirky, she writes with warmth and familiarity. She also loves lists, matching socks and edamame beans. You can find her on Twitter @whatktdidnextfw and Facebook.