It all started when I packed up all my belongings and moved away from home in 2014 in order to study my ‘dream’ degree of Photography in Brisbane. Initially, I made the move with my partner of the time and we were lucky enough to be able to snag up some free rent with his Dad for the first few months while we got settled in to our new lives. On social media our relationship looked picture perfect. Every month I’d be uploading a photograph of the beautiful flowers and teddies that were delivered to my work, or some cute selfies snuggling in bed pulling faces at each other, but by January 2015 I realised that I had spent so much time doing what somebody else wanted and needed to do something for myself. We had a trip to Thailand planned for a departure in well 10 days before I broke it off *cue the ‘omg how could you even do that to someone?’ comments* and I took it as my very daunting opportunity to do just that. There was a lot of drama that had happened within that 10-day gap, including cancelling flights after being admitted to hospital the night before my expected departure, moving all of my belongings out of the place we had together and shifting it into a spare room at my best-friends’ family home and going through a lifetime of emotions all in under two weeks. Throughout all of this, I had decided to book a second ticket to Thailand (and yes, a second ticket because I didn’t have my travel insurance sorted by the time I was admitted into hospital so nothing was covered – claps for Soph). Was I excited? Nervous? Rethinking my decision? Happy? Fearing for my life? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes, and definitely YES. What I didn’t know is how much this one decision would have impacted my perspective, my morals and my experiences to this very day. It has ultimately shaped the way that I live my life and I am forever grateful for following my heart and pushing past my fears.
To give you a quick insight into my first ever solo backpacking trip, here are some of the overwhelmingly crazy things that happened in a matter of a few days being by myself in a totally foreign country.
- Thinking I had enough time to grab some snack food for the bus trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (12-hour journey long mind you) and ending up sprinting over a kilometre down Khao San Road with my two ridiculously large backpacks. Khoa San road is quite possibly the busiest strip in all of Bangkok on a Friday night, but thankfully the embarrassment was worth it in the end when I made my bus within seconds of it departing.
- Relying on being able to book a train ticket straight out of Bangkok the night I had landed and then finding out at 11pm that there were no seats left on the train. I was stuck in the middle of the slums, with barely any one around that could speak a word of English.
- Doing what the youth of Thailand do and riding on top of a Songthaew in Chiang Mai – I was literally sitting on the baggage rails on the top of a car. And yes, it was moving. Sorry Mum and Dad.
- Arriving at what I thought was the hostel I had booked at 5 in the morning to find a friendly fella passed out at the entrance, aloooot of drug being consumed and no staff member to be seen. Thankfully we were at the wrong hostel and found the correct one within a few hours. Note: a lot of hostels in South East Asia have very similar names. In this instance the one I had booked was called Living Place 2 and we rocked up to Living Place 1. Common error I’d say.
- Riding down the highest mountain in Thailand on a motorbike in the pitch black with a headlight that wouldn’t even illuminate the 10 metres ahead of you. Safe to say that I made it down alive, but I did spend the two-hour journey with my eyes closed as I ‘didn’t want to see my death’
Okay, so I had some daunting moments where I thought I wasn’t going to make it to my next destination or hell be it, even make it through to see the sun shine the next day (damn you faulty motorbike headlight) BUT these moments made me feel so alive, so free and so uniquely me. But of those crazy daunting times, I also…
- Made friends from all over the world and I actually still keep in contact with some of them. That bus that I almost missed, well I met Lena on there – a German solo backpacker that ended up booking the same accommodation as me so we could stay and explore Chiang Mai together. I also met another Aussie backpacker by the name of Hamish. We ended up having a little fling and made the journey down South together, making some unbelievable memories. Solo backpacking doesn’t have to be so lonely if you don’t want it to be.Meet Hamish!
- Managed to get in a taxi from the train station to Khao San Road where I went into every hostel I walked passed asking if they had any beds available. At 1am, I had found myself a spot within budget and very proudly buckled down for the night. Sophie: 1. Bangkok: 0.
- Built the confidence to dine out in cafés and restaurants on my lonesome and learnt to totally embrace it.
- Got to watch the sun-set from the highest point in Thailand and then star-gaze in the middle of a nature reserve with not a soul in sight (Except for Hamish, my knight in shining armour that got me to safe grounds after the ridiculous ride down the mountain range).
To the people who have asked me, is it scary to travel by yourself? Hell to yeah it is. But you know what, that’s quite possibly the best part about it. I believe that you learn so much more about yourself the moment you are put out of your comfort zone and you can sincerely see just how capable you are to do things without somebody else helping you along the way. Traveling by yourself gives you both freedom of mind and freedom of your own. There is literally nothing that can tie you down. Don’t like a city as much as you thought you would? Book the next ticket out of there and move on to the next. Feel like sleeping in for half the day? Then ditch the alarm clock and say hello to a lazy morning snug in bed. Want to spend an hour searching for a café that does all-day breakfast so you can eat pancakes at 3 in the afternoon and not feel guilty about it? Sign me up. The point is, you don’t have to worry about anyone else but yourself and quite often this means that you can make the very most out of your travels.
Traveling by yourself also forces you to get socially awkward and meet new people from all different walks of life, unless you want to be in your own personal travel bubble – which is also fine. I have had so many moments sitting lonesome at a bar, striking up conversation with whomever was in reasonable distance of me. At first, it’s ridiculously daunting, I mean will this person even say hello back to me? Will they think(/know) I am absolutely crazy? But eventually you gain some pretty brilliant social skills that set you up not only for the rest of your travels, but for life. It’s some confidence boosting stuff, that’s for sure.
Most importantly, it teaches you to be your own best-friend and serves as a reminder that you can do absolutely anything you set your mind to. Things get tricky when you are in a foreign place by yourself, especially when English isn’t spoken by most, but the moment you overcome a sticky situation, there is an overwhelming sense of excitement and accomplishment. It’s the type of feeling that just leaves you wanting more of it.
If there is any advice that I can give to anybody thinking about traveling solo, it is to just do it. If there is one thing you will regret in life, it’ll be putting off the opportunity to travel because you are a) too scared to, b) can’t convince any of your friends to go with you or c) don’t think you are capable of doing so. Follow through with your intuition, have faith in yourself and buckle up for the time of your life. Trust me, you’ll get hooked.
Stay bright, light and colourful.