When I made the decision to take a gap year, it wasn’t exactly very well thought out. I was enrolled on a Primary Education degree at a university up north and had just sat my A-levels when I realized that I really didn’t want to jump straight from one block of education to the next. I was suddenly aware that there was a whole world out there, and I was about to commit three years of my life to a little uni town in England, studying for a profession I was already starting to doubt if I wanted to do.
By this point, all of my friends had decided what they wanted to do over the coming year. Some were staying on at college, some were off to university, and some were going travelling, with all their itineraries planned out and flights all booked. I wanted to travel too but didn’t particularly want to just piggyback on someone else’s plans. I wanted to do my own thing.
So, I took the plunge, dropped out of my university course before I’d even started, and decided to go it alone, visiting Australia, Fiji, New Zealand and Los Angeles. It turned out to be one of the best, if not scariest, decisions of my life.
I had full control over my itinerary.
A real plus of travelling solo for me was being able to decide what countries I wanted to see, how long I wanted to be there for, without anyone else’s input, and without the logistical nightmare of trying to coordinate the contrasting wishes of a group of people. I had cousins in Australia who I’d never met, so staying with them for a while and getting to know them was pretty high on my to-do list, something which any travel companions may have found a bit boring. When I was in New Zealand I travelled around the whole country on a hop-on-hop-off coach, where I could decide on a day to day basis how long I wanted to stay in each place. If a particular town took my fancy I spent more nights there to really have a chance to explore it properly and see all it had to offer. This was so much less hassle on my own because I didn’t have to worry about pleasing anyone else or sticking with friends.
I made tons of new mates.
I’m the first to admit that I’m not always the most sociable person; I don’t really enjoy talking to new people and I generally avoid it where I can help it. However, when you commit to five months solo travelling, you’re throwing yourself into a situation where you’re going to have to make some new friends or spend a lot of time being very lonely. This was the thing I was probably most nervous about, but it turned out to be one of the best bits of my trip. I can genuinely say I never once felt lonely in my entire time away. In Fiji, I took part in a volunteering program, living in a homestay with other volunteers my age. This meant that not only did I get to know the lovely family whose house I stayed in and who treated me like one of their own, but I also got to spend lots of time with the other travellers. We all volunteered at various places during the week, but at evenings and weekends we would hang out at the local bars or the pool of a nearby hotel. We even took an island-hopping trip together in the Yasawas, a chain of beautiful paradise islands spanning Fiji’s west coast. My coach trip around New Zealand was where I made some of my firmest friends whom I’m still in contact with today. Although the people on the coach were constantly changing, there was a core group of us who became mates as we happened to want to stay in the same places in the same time frame. The coach had a real family atmosphere, with our driver joining in on the fun and taking us on nights out. I now have a circle of friends living across Europe who are always happy to have me to stay and who often visit me too.
My confidence went through the roof.
Realising that I’d been brave enough to fly halfway around the world on my own was a massive boost to my self-esteem, and made me far readier to take the plunge on other things I was nervous about. When exploring a city solo, I became far more comfortable taking myself out for a meal or having a coffee alone. I felt like I had already come so far, so to say no to things just because I was a bit scared would be stupid. When I got to New Zealand, famed for its high adrenaline activities, I was convinced that I would never pluck up the courage to skydive – 5 weeks later I found myself strapped to a Kiwi who was hurling me out of a plane at 12,000 feet. I became more confident even in little things like taking a day trip organised by the hostel on my own, or sleeping in a room full of people I’d never met or navigating public transport in a foreign city. I haven’t always been the most confident person, so that was a life skill I was really happy to gain. It’s helped me in so many areas since travelling, from starting uni to being interviewed for jobs.
In short, travelling alone throws up so many great opportunities that, while it may seem scary, it’s definitely worth giving a go. You don’t have to throw yourself in at the deep end by planning an entire solo gap year, you could just dip your toe in by trying a short city break. Why not give it a try next time you’re planning a trip abroad?