Ever since I can remember, I have had the travel bug. It probably started the first time I watched Madeline; I always had a deep desire to stretch my wings and walk on the roads less travelled.
As I grew towards my adult life, my parents encouraged me to ‘wait until I had friends who wanted to travel.’ As I started to meet new friends, I realised that our styles would be completely incompatible. My friends wanted to drink and party with Contiki, I wanted to travel at my own pace and to do so quietly.
When I was 20, I booked my first trip alone to Tokyo, Japan. My parents begged me not to go, but I did anyway.
My only big mistake was that I nearly missed the flight back because I assumed a flight from Tokyo – Osaka – Brisbane started as a domestic flight, therefore, I only had to be there a half hour early.
Oh, well. I made it in the end.
The next year, I took a teaching trip to Hangzhou, China and visited Beijing and Shanghai when I was done. After that, I thought I could conquer the world….
…. then I visited India. At the ripe old age of 22. Probably one of my poorer life decisions, but I have no regrets.
I did the golden triangle – Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra – where I saw rats the size of cats, experienced real Indian accommodation ($7 a night and no running water), and had gastro out of both ends.
I also had a taxi driver who tried to scam me out of money after I’d run out, so I had to distract him and run into a hotel.
In 2012, I came out of a three year relationship so I spent the slush fund I’d had tucked away for a European jaunt with my ex and spent 3 months travelling in Greyhound buses on the west side of the USA, Canada, and Mexico.
Some highlights included couchsurfing at Richmond Arquette’s guest house, meeting survivors of Jonestown, and hanging out with lots of internet friends.
I had the time of my life.
Greyhound Buses – where hope goes to die
Before I left, so many people got busy telling me why I shouldn’t travel alone, but I did it anyway. The only downside was when I got bronchitis in Las Vegas on New Years’ Eve and ended up spending it in Sunrise Hospital, Nevada. So many drunks.
Christmas Day was good, though. Spent the day skiing and nearly crashed when I stupidly took on the steep mountain.
Right before Soren was conceived, I travelled to Sri Lanka, Qatar, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia on my own.
Sri Lanka was an adventure from start to finish, with dirt-cheap Air BnBs, crowded trains, hot weather, and about 21km of walking most days.
The high point was when Natalie joined me for Christmas and we spent the day surfing.
From there, I left my love and went for my first trip to the Middle East – Qatar.
Obligatory camel photo
It was there in that dusty corner of the world that I learned the value of drinking tea, enjoying extravagance, and being left alone.
On New Years’ Eve, I boarded a flight to Azerbaijan. Most people I spoke to would raise their eyebrow and say, ‘Where the f#*k is Azerbaijan!?’
In case you wanted to know, it is part of the far-Eastern-European part of the world and a former Soviet nation. It is untouched by tourism, full of stray cats, and cold as anything in January – so much so that it started snowing flurries when I went for a run. The highlight was definitely catching two buses to a place out of town and finding an eternal fire – very valuable in the cold weather. You can also buy 75c Russian vodka in the supermarket – also good for keeping warm.
From Azerbaijan, I took the no-frills overnight train to Georgia. It was somewhat confronting to cross a border in the middle of the night, especially when the uniformed customs officers spoke very little English.
In Georgia, I got a $50 tattoo and also ended up in a bath house after catching a random bus. I had no idea what was going on when the lady running it took me into a locker room and told me to ‘strip!’ I obliged, and she took me into an underground shower room filled with 20 other naked ladies, all different ages. The water came from the Earth and was boiling hot. In the corner, an elderly lady was being washed by her daughters with a rag on a stick. It was oddly beautiful.
I took another overnight bone-rattler from Georgia to Armenia, where I finished my Eastern European jaunt. It was beautiful from start to finish.
Some people fear travelling alone, but I cannot recommend it highly enough. You learn to love being alone, and to solve problems independently. My goal was to get to 30 countries by 30 and 10 of them, I have done as a solo traveller.