When I was at the thinking stage of ‘Do I go travelling or not?’, I decided to take a short trip over Christmas and New Year to try it out; a bit like a trial run. At that stage, I wasn’t sure if I would like backpacking solo so it seemed a sensible thing to do. I searched the Internet for an organisation that arranged voluntary placements and found one in Mexico. I booked it and then my return flight. I bought myself a 70l backpack and filled it with everything I thought I would need. To be honest, I think I included the kitchen sink! I really had no idea how to pack light. I didn’t know what to bring so I packed pretty much everything I could fit in the backpack. It was much too heavy but I needed all the stuff, so I thought.
I met my parents in Cancun and spent a few days over Christmas with them before getting a bus to Merida in the Yucatan Peninsula. This was the beginning of my solo travel. The volunteering didn’t go as planned, which was really disappointing. There were a couple of other volunteers in the same position so we used the time to explore the area. This was great because I am not sure I would have been so adventurous on my own. We climbed down long, narrow ladders to swim in beautiful cenotes with locals, swam in lakes, and I was scared out of my wits on a speed boat ride. I got to see a lot of amazing places and mixed with the locals. One by one, the volunteers left to continue their travels elsewhere. This, I think, was the turning point for me because I had never met people who travelled in that way. My time in Mexico was almost up but, before flying back from Cancun, I decided to get on a bus and visit Playa del Carmen. OK, so it wasn’t very adventurous but it did give me the experience of travelling solo and independently. You know, just choosing a destination, booking a bus ticket, and searching for accommodation when I arrived.
I learned a lot from that limited experience and it really helped when, only 5 months later, I left the UK to go backpacking around the world for a year. If I didn’t have this experience, I’m not sure I would have taken the plunge.
Here’s a list of 10 things I got from that experience:
1. I realised I could actually do it – backpack solo.
2. I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to continue travelling. That was a very good sign and helped motivate me to go for it and travel around the world.
3. I realised I would have to travel much lighter and not take everything with me otherwise I would be heading for a serious back, arm and shoulder injury. In addition, I wasn’t very mobile with such a big, heavy bag. That was probably my biggest and best lesson.
4. You meet people when you travel solo.
5. As you travel around you find some amazing things to see and do that you don’t expect.
6. It’s such a liberating feeling to know that you can just decide to go somewhere or do something and actually do it.
7. The bed linen wasn’t clean so I used my sarong to sleep on but that wasn’t really adequate. Because of that experience, I carried a silk sleeping bag liner with me when I travelled around the world. I am so glad I did because I didn’t have any bed linen in some places and it provided extra warmth in colder climates. It turned out to be one of the best items I brought with me.
8. Using local transport makes a trip so much more interesting and it’s cheap. On one bus journey, the driver stopped, got out and bought a lottery ticket while we (all the passengers) just watched and waited. I had never experienced that before.
9. Go with the flow.
10. Bigger is not better when it comes to choosing a backpack. It’s just too tempting to fill it to capacity. Opting for a smaller one is a better option. After that experience, I downgraded from a 70l to 45l backpack when I travelled around the world for a year. That’s quite a difference! It did cause me a few headaches and tantrums during the packing stage because I could only pack the essentials but it was worth it. It gave me so much more flexibility, I was more portable, and it saved my back.
Experiencing what it was actually like to backpack solo was great for me because that is what I wanted to do. I learned so much and it helped when I prepared for my extended trip around the world. This shows that any experience, even a short one like mine, can really help when deciding if and how you want to travel before you commit to an extended trip. That is something you can’t get from a book or the Internet. In addition, you meet other travellers who can give you advice, hints, and tips when you are on the road. Taking a short trip like that is a great opportunity to experience travelling in a different way, it builds confidence, and is motivating.