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How to start travelling solo

How to start travelling solo | After the Heartbreak
How to start travelling solo

The first thing I did when I decided to write this post, was to throw ‘How to start travelling solo‘ into Google. Back came 42 million hits and right at the top was one that had a list. Everyone loves lists so I took a look:

  • Taking your first solo trip can be scary and overwhelming. …
  • Always keep a business card from your hotel with you. …
  • Don’t drink too much alcohol, and know your limits. …
  • Always be aware of your surroundings. …
  • Check in with someone at home every once in a while so they know you’re safe and having a good time.

Wow…if I had read this list before my first trip alone I would never have gone!!! It would have scared the living daylights out of me! 😅 Of course one has to be safe but…sheesh….what a guaranteed way to turn somebody off travelling alone.

Anyway, I have travelled by myself so that must mean I’m a fearless kinda person who thinks nothing of booking a ticket to the other side of the world and then winging it? Right? [almost falls over while laughing hysterically].

Right, so I’m not that person. I’m an absolute scaredy-cat who suffers anxiety, has no sense of direction, is terrified of public transport and really shouldn’t go far without a responsible adult to accompany me. So how did I get to be travelling alone? Read on…

Of course I used to have a ‘responsible adult’ as my husband Norbert was one of those self-confident people who also possessed a handy, built-in compass. This meant that he could walk out of any underground train station straight onto a busy city intersection, and simply set off in the direction where we needed to go….all intuitively. I learned never to challenge his sense of direction because he was always right and I was always wrong! Life was easy back then.

Norbert on the streets of China

But then he died and I lost my travel partner. For a while I truly believed that I would never travel again, but now I’m not only still travelling, but going alone! Me!! Wow….I would never have believed it if you had told me back in my past life that I would be doing this. Did I just decide to buy a ticket one day, and get on a plane? Ummm….not quite.

Perhaps it’s useful for others to know how I got to this point, so here’s the sequence of events that led up to me finally getting up the confidence to try solo travel ‘for real’……

The first practice run

I had been a widow for a full 5 months when I took a shaky, but deep breath and drove out my driveway, down the road and out of town. I was heading for a small city called Mackay which is 2 hours drive from my house. Norbert and I would go to Mackay every 3 months or so to buy stuff that we couldn’t get in our small town….but he would always do the driving.

Me driving my car
(Check out the GPS on the dash…..I wasn’t even confident on how to get there!)

That was a difficult day as it brought back so many poignant memories, nevertheless I was on a mission so did all the shopping for what I needed, and then found my way to the hotel I had booked for the night. Yep….this was a practice trip so I needed to stay overnight. (Not to mention, it’s not safe driving the country roads here in late afternoon because of the danger of hitting a kangaroo).

Anyway, I got through that night and the next morning I hightailed it back home where I felt safe. The next time I went to Mackay though, it was a little easier so I persisted with regular trips until doing that short trip was no longer a source of extreme stress.

Learning some important skills

This is not an essential step but it helped me. When it came to travelling alone, turns out I needed a personal trainer! 😃 No….not the kind that makes you do exercises in the hotel room, but the kind that shows you what to do, talks about how to manage alone, gives you confidence and encourages you. My daughter took on that role and together we went to Japan.

Me trying to understand a train map

Now you might be thinking that this was just going with a different travel companion, but as Norbert was always the one to work stuff out like complicated bus schedules or signs in a different language, all I needed to do was hang onto his arm and keep up.

My daughter, on the other hand, encouraged me to figure things out for myself. Eeek!! Like how to buy a train ticket when the ticket machine is all in Japanese. Or how to get from point A to point B without getting hopelessly lost and ending up in a complete panic. And importantly, how to feel that I was somebody capable who could look after herself. It was a tall order!

After a long flight we arrived in Tokyo. Perhaps you are thinking that we had a transfer waiting for us? Nope! My daughter had said “We can just catch the public train like everyone else. Come on…it’ll be eeeasy!”

Read: Learning to Travel Alone

Well it wasn’t that easy, but I learned a lot and came home with a renewed commitment to continue practicing how to travel solo (I’d learnt by now that this was the term used). I also learned to pack light and take a small suitcase as I would be lugging it myself from now on. 😅

First ‘real’ but safer experience

I wasn’t ready for any solo overseas stints, but maybe…just maybe….I could build on my ‘Mackay experiences’ by travelling to a different state? I gave myself a pep talk by telling myself that if it was my own country (same language, same culture etc) then surely that would be within my comfort zone.

Yikes!” my argumentative self countered, “But I wouldn’t know anyone and would have to talk to strangers.

As an introvert that is one of the most challenging aspects for me and it scared me, however I knew I needed to practice this skill and just…well…get over it.

It was a year after D-day (D for death) that I boarded a plane bound for the Victorian Goldfields area. This area is about 2,300km from my home so quite a bit further than Mackay! I had booked myself into a 3 day, small-group walking/hiking tour.

Me at the Goldfields

Let me stop for a moment to make an important point…..this was a trip that Norbert would definitely NOT have been interested in. He couldn’t understand the point of walking ‘for fun’ and also had an old motorbike injury which caused his ankle to ache after a couple of hours of walking. So this trip was definitely just for me, and part of finding my new identity.

I enjoyed it and learned a lot, particularly about my own travel style. Very enlightening! 🤔

Read: Hiking the Australian Goldfields

Finally overseas…and ‘almost’ solo

By this time my widowhood had stretched out to 18 months. I was confidently driving around and also catching planes interstate so was feeling a little more confident about travelling solo. When I saw the advertisement for a small-group tour to Italy that included learning some watercolours for a travel journal…well, woohoo! …I signed up on the spot.

It turned out to be ‘not quite solo’ as a friend decided to come along for part of it, and brought her friend as well. That’s OK. I had booked my own room plus a tour extension, so I would have plenty of opportunity to practice being a poised, self-assured woman of the world. 😄

I started off the trip completely alone when I lobbed into Dubai for a look around….then had a familiar face in the middle of the trip….and finished off by being alone again. I was wishing those ‘familiar faces’ were around when I was faced with having to brave the Italian train system and figure out how to get myself back to Milan. Wow…that was one of those moments when I doubted myself….but I did it anyway and patted myself on the back for being so brave!

Read: Italy, the creation of new memories

Me getting off the Swiss Bernina train

I even booked myself for a daytrip on the Swiss Bernina train out of Milan, and chatted to a complete stranger during the trip. I was making progress!

Two years on and I felt ready…maybe…

My trip to England was another walking trip and I had planned it down to the ground. Nothing would go wrong. I was going completely solo but everything would be fine and I would be so happy with myself.

Oh, the best laid plans of mice and men…….[sigh]……

Sad me
Me at the airport..oh dear

I arrived at the local airport and immediately realised that I had left my walking boots behind – and the whole point of the trip was about walking!! Well I had a complete meltdown, almost deciding that I shouldn’t be going and wailing inwardly “I can’t do this!

Luckily I reached out right at that moment and posted to a Facebook group I follow which is all about supporting women who travel solo. Back came such an avalanche of support and understanding that I got on the plane.

Which was a good thing because…wow…that was an amazing trip and one I’ll never forget. There were incredible highs and also a few lows, but I learned so much about myself and wrote this in a post at the end of the trip:

After 5 weeks away I came home a different person. Somebody more self-confident and “sitting easily in my world”. It wasn’t the 5 weeks of time that changed me though – it was the 5 weeks of experience. This is my message to anyone who is considering travelling solo, but is waiting ‘until they are ready’. You never will be if you just keep waiting.

Read: The Ups (& Downs) of My Solo Trip to England

Me with my arms out on a green field

The world is my oyster!

I laugh at myself now. If I needed to go to Mackay tomorrow I’d simply get in the car and go! I’d probably book into a hotel without a second thought and spend a pleasant evening in my room before heading back home. It’s hard for me to imagine a time when this was stressful. But it was. It was hugely stressful.

If I had not pushed myself to do that first short (and local) trip though, where would I be now? Certainly not looking forward to my next overseas jaunt to CANADA in August. Or the one immediately after that….to SOUTH AMERICA and ANTARCTICA next January! Woohoo!!! [does a twirl in a circle]

Lessons from my soapbox

Me on a soapbox

[sound of creaking joints as she climbs carefully up onto her soapbox] 😂

If you would have told me back at the beginning of all this that I would be heading to these far flung places ALONE, I would have laughed at you. Or maybe I would have been a bit peeved as obviously you were making fun of me. I mean…that’s ridiculous….of course I couldn’t do that…a stupid notion.

Well it turns out I could. And if this anxiety-ridden panic merchant with a lousy sense of direction who has meltdowns at airports can travel solo, you can too….if you want to. I began ever so slowly and took teeny, tiny baby steps, only moving forward when I felt ready for the next one.


Do you believe you can do it…or not? Perhaps you’re even further along than me and travel all the time. Please leave a comment in the box below as I’d love to hear your thoughts and also your experiences at travelling solo.

Me in Frankfurt

Marlene is an Australian widow who has written about all the good, bad and ugly stuff that happened after her husband Norbert died tragically. Marlene responds to all comments.

  • Lys Fraser says:

    Hi Marlene,

    I have just subscribed to your page and just love it! I am a widow (I hate that word) but how else to describe oneself!.. My husband died January 2019 after a brief struggle with cancer. We had travelled a lot as a family and then as a couple when the family was grown up. Then came the realization that I was on my own and it really scared me witless. I can so relate to your stories, they are so personal and I laughed and cried at them, this is me I said!
    Seven months later, I took my first trip, 1 hour by plane to Vancouver, BC where my sister and family live. Not an easy trip as we had been estranged for a long time. However it turned out well and glad I went. Then I had a chance in October, to join my daughter in Las Vegas where she was attending a convention for a few days and would I join her? Well, yes, first trip to another country, albeit, three hours flying time!..Got to the airport, cleared security and thought, yes, you can do this! found the right hotel too! Must admit having my daughter to see at the hotel later that evening was a huge plus!! Spent the next day walking around and seeing the sights by myself and I survived! It was familiar in a way as my husband and I had been a few years before when my son had his 40th birthday there!!
    Fast forward to February 2020, another trip, to Palm Springs for family reunion with my son (who lives in Thailand), his girlfriend and my daughter. I landed the job of booking our accomodations for a week!
    Kept pinching myself that it was really me in the mirror doing this!
    I guess you find out what you are capable of doing by doing it!

    So happy to have someone to share this with

    My husband and I lived in Australia, many years ago now, November 1967 to May 1969 in Melbourne!!
    Very much enjoyed living Down Under!!

    Lys Fraser

    • Marlene says:

      Hi Lys,
      Thanks so much for your comment, and connecting with me from the other side of the world. So wonderful to hear from somebody who shares this grief journey. I’m thrilled to bits that you find my blog useful as that is the whole reason I write it….that and the fact that writing is good therapy for me. Thank you for sharing your experiences of solo travel. You’ve done something very similar to me, and just started somewhere, then building on that to gain more confidence and experience. You say “you find out what you are capable of doing by doing it”…..and that is exactly what I feel. You can’t wait for the right time to be ready to travel alone, because it’s the DOING that makes you ready.

      Great to have you as a follower Lys,
      Cheers, Marlene

  • Laurie Lanehart says:

    Marlene, I came across your site by accident. I read your tales of traveling as a widow. I find your information both interesting and good to know. I became a widow in mid February of this year. My husband had ALS(The Lou Gehrig’s disease.) and we were both 58. We had traveled to many countries including Europe, Mexico and Canada and allover the states in America where we lived. Recently I drove by myself on a six hour drive to Houston from Dallas. It was a small trip for two days to see our adult daughter compete in women’s basketball with the Special Olympics. I may consider doing some traveling on a larger scale by myself. I appreciated your knowledge and the experiences you had alone. How wonderful.

    Happy Traveling, Laurie L.

    • Marlene says:

      Hi Laurie,
      Thank you for your comment, and I’m pleased that you have started travelling again. I found that it gave me a sense of purpose, and overcoming the challenges gave me back my self-confidence. Well done you! Starting small is a good thing although your 6 hour drive was more ambitious than my 2 hour drive. 😀 It gets easier so I’d recommend booking that ‘larger scale’ trip sometime when you feel ready. One thing to remember though – there is no point in waiting until you get that self-confidence, because its the travelling that actually gives it to you. Best of luck with it all.
      Cheers, Marlene

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