Reflections on my first solo travel experience

First written in October 2015.

I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to write any pieces on my trip to Canada. At the time, it was a very personal experience. I wanted to inhabit each moment fully, without worrying too much about writing for an audience or posting on social media. But here I am, having had a good think on a bloody fantastic trip.

I didn’t expect my first big solo trip to have any great, transformative effect on me. A friend told me, “You may find out how good you are at being alone, but don’t expect to change or learn more about your ~deep inner being~.” So I didn’t want to overthink things. I simply wanted to have fun, just be somewhere different for a while. While I may not have had any profound revelatory experiences, I reckon I still figured out a thing or two.

Solo travel is rewarding – but not in the way everyone told me it would be.

For most of my trip, I was travelling independently. Quite a few people told me before leaving, “Don’t worry! You’ll meet SO many cool people.” This seems to be the predominant travel narrative for those in their early-mid 20s. You know, the classic “big OE” stereotype of parties, contiki tours and drinking in hostel bars. If that’s your jam, then that’s totally cool – but I’m a pretty introverted kinda gal, I suck at small talk and excessive alcohol doesn’t agree with my IBS (lol). I also had pretty set ideas about the kind of experiences I wanted in Canada – heaps of walking and outdoorsy stuff basically. I wasn’t about to pay to go half way around the world and end up following the crowd to the bar because that’s what you’re “supposed to do.” Not every has the same expectations and I often felt (and sometimes still feel) a bit like the odd one out.

Even though I’m pretty quiet, I was still kinda nervous about being by myself – I’d become used to the company of a few certain people and almost felt dependent on them to be happy. Couple this with the fact that I’m not really outgoing, and the whole solo travel thing seemed like it could be a really shit idea.

But in the end I loved having the time and space to think and read and write and walk and just be. It had been a long time since I’d felt so comfortable in my own skin. It was totally freeing to do things 100% on my own schedule. I didn’t need anyone else’s company to be content and that’s pretty fucking empowering.

I did also meet some super cool people who expanded my little cosmos – people of all ages from diverse places and backgrounds. I met a badass Quebecois nature guide who has four dogs, white-water rafts, has lived in an offgrid cabin in the Yukon and spends part of her year in Churchill, Manitoba (a.k.a polar bear central). I had awesome conversations with a maths teacher from Alaska who was into foraging and growing his own produce. I went hiking in the Yukon with a wonderful former museum archaeologist who pointed out beaver lodges and fungi. Totally rad people I could connect to on my own terms; no pressure to act like someone I’m not. But for the most part these were fleeting connections. I didn’t make any immediate BFFs, and that’s ok.

Fleeting friendships – there’s no “right” way to travel solo. Jasper National Park, Canada.

Fleeting friendships – there’s no “right” way to travel solo. Jasper National Park, Canada.

Balance is important.

I was most excited to get OUTSIDE. To walk amongst tall pines, beachcomb, explore mossy temperate rainforest and feel glacier-fed lakes and rivers. There’s certainly plenty of these vibes in Canada: from the classic Rocky Mountains, to the vast expanses of the Yukon and the rugged coastline of Haida Gwaii.

But I also found great things in big cities – cute green spaces, fantastic museums and art galleries, characterful coffee shops, delicious ice cream and sushi and smoothies.

Having balance between the urban and the wild turned out to be pretty key to having a fab time. Alternating between the two kept my trip fresh and varied and exciting. I never felt like, “Oh greeaatt, another effing city.” It’s exhilarating to escape civilisation for a while, but other times it just feels right to enjoy a cup of coffee and laugh at wanky modern art.

It was also important to strike a balance between getting out there and doing shit, and just slothing around for a day. Travel can be tiring, so sometimes it’s nice to just soak up the vibes of a place, or chat to friends and family back home.

Wilderness in Banff National Park.

Wilderness in Banff National Park.

Urban in Toronto.

Urban in Toronto.

Attitude is everything.

Expect things to fuck up sometimes – but try not to let it stress you out. Adopting a chilled out, roll-with-it attitude is easier said than done (especially if you have a scumbag anxiety-driven brain like me). But it’ll make all those shitty but necessary things, like airport security lines and long bus rides, so much easier.

Getting into the travel groove also means having an open mind. For example, I believe there is no such thing as a 100% boring place. Sure, you won’t like some places that much (I wasn’t a fan of Calgary). But there’s always something cool to see or something tasty to eat, or even someone cool to hang with. Your experience of a place is largely what you make of it.

So ya know what? That means getting out there and making the most of it. It struck me that I did so much simple stuff that made me happy while travelling, that I didn’t do in my ordinary life at home. Of course you get to treat yourself to some wicked adventures while you’re on holiday – but I’m talking super simple. Like walking in the sunshine and learning about cool stuff that matters, just for fun. So many times I make excuses to sit on my arse at home, squandering the sunshine on Facebook. But no more! I’m all about utilising that enthusiastic traveller’s attitude everyday, seeing more, doing more and FEELING more in my own backyard.

Finally, there’s that social media crap. On Instagram and Facebook, we’re bombarded with glamorous images of travel bloggers and photographers doing their thang (or pretending to do their thang through staged shots). It’s easy to get sucked in and spend ridic amounts of time tryina get that perf #liveauthentic ‘gram, at the expense of simply enjoying the experience. I know I’ve been guilty of this at times, but increasingly that sorta attitude gets on my nerves. I’m not against sharing wicked snaps on insta. It’s all about moderation. What’s more, as Young Adventuress explains fucking perfectly, we’ve sacrificed good yarns for aesthetic but ultimately shallow pictures. Travel should be about exploration, experiences and stories – and sometimes it can be rewarding to keep them just for yourself. Just ’cause it’s not on social media, doesn’t mean it’s not a meaningful moment or awesome experience. In fact, I found that intentionally NOT sharing some adventures on social media helped me appreciate them more for their substance and feeling, not reducing them to mere photo ops.

I guess the whole attitude shbang can be summed up with a kinda “mindfulness” principle. You observe things and absorb experiences with a non-judging mindset, accepting each moment as it happens with your full attention and an open heart.

It’s all about the attitude – don’t let nothin kill yo vibe (not even a broken wrist).

It’s all about the attitude – don’t let nothin kill yo vibe (not even a broken wrist).