Traveling by yourself can be wildly rewarding, but it's important to stay safe. Here are some tips for how you can do so.
Wildly Improbable Dreams Can Come True
by Del Lloyd
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu
We all have those days where we are sitting at our desk imaging what our lives would look like if we just won the lottery. Like many people, I always imagined myself traveling around the world for a significant period of time. For years I just kept imagining it not sure if I ever would get around to doing it. It was what my former life coach Martha Beck would say was a ‘wildly improbable goal’.
I caught the travel bug early. When I was 8 I asked my dad to buy me a book on China. He came home with a book on Japan, but I was hooked because it just seemed so exotic. By 17, I had taken my first international solo trip to Hong Kong where I spent the entire month of January with a Chinese family.
Travel became my number one passion. I would check off a location and then five more would take its spot. I could never get enough. Something (time, money, fears, obligations etc.) kept me from chasing that one elusive dream – traveling around the world full-time.
Fast forward to age 43 where I was in a career that while paid very well, left me stressed out, burnt out, tired, overweight and unsatisfied with my life. I knew I would have to quit my job and find something else, but I just couldn’t find the energy to think about what.
In the October of 2012, I went back to Connecticut for my 25-year high school reunion at an all girl’s high school. Talking to some friends about what was next in life, I was struck by how many were taking career breaks. One friend declared she was quitting her job to travel the world. Although it is cliché, a light bulb not only went off over my head, but shattered. What was holding me back? Really nothing but myself. My husband and I had no children and money saved but what we were lacking was time and courage to take that step. At this point in my life and career, I had much of my self-esteem and identity tied in with what I did, not who I was.
After that weekend, I sat my husband Lee down to talk. I told him that I was ready to quit my job and that I thought he should quit his as well so we could take some time off to travel. We were both in technology careers and had worked non-stop since we were 16 and deserved a break. He wasn’t happy in his job so I knew that I had a limited time to convince him since he would be ready to look for a new job as well. When I first met my husband, I directly told him that being able to travel was a deal-breaker in my life and that if he was someone who wasn’t open to living overseas or traveling that I was probably not the person for him. Luckily, he was open-minded enough to see it through.
In January 2013, I booked two one way tickets for September 1, 2013 to Lisbon, Portugal for our biggest adventure. I used frequent flyer miles so if we changed our mind we could cancel. Now I just had to keep it a secret at work until we were both ready to leave. I quit my job end of July 2013 and Lee left his August 2013.
The hardest part was downsizing all our stuff into one bag each. We rented out our house, sold our cars, put stuff in storage and with one 40lb pack each (and a carry on) boarded the plane for our new life. I had two rules for my husband: 1) please tell me if there is anywhere you want to go or definitely don’t want to go 2) you are not allowed to read the State Department warnings of any country we will travel to. Since Lee was not an experienced traveler like me I knew he would be much more nervous about going to certain areas of the world.
Europe (London, Portugal, Spain and Colmar, France):
We started in Portugal and stayed in Western Europe for the first two months. It was difficult at first to be with my husband 24/7 in a small space and establish who does what. In time, Lee took the role as the laundry man and the bag Sherpa. My job was logistics and planning. It's what I'm good at, and after giving up some resentment, we both learned to let things go. In meeting up later with other long term traveling couples we learned that the first month was hard on everyone! My intentions of starting a blog were good, but in the end after 2 postings, I had to let it go. It ended up being too much work with everything else I was tasked to do!
I could write a novel about the 32 countries we visited but in interest of brevity I will just include highlights from each region.
Highlights of our Europe portion:
- Food! If you have met me you know I love food, maybe too much. I think we ate baifana (little pork sandwiches and pasteis (egg custard tarts) in Portugal every day. In Spain, it was tapas, jamon (ham) and cava (Spain's version of champagne). Also taking advantage of the Menu del Dia (3 course lunch with a drink for about 8 Euro). London was English Breakfast and tea and Colmar was the unique Alsatian food the region is known for.
- My cousin, her husband and her twin 9 year-old girls scheduled a trip to London so we popped over to see them. (Love Ryan Air and all the cheap airlines in Europe). We had a boisterous time enjoying afternoon tea in London, seeing Westminster Abbey and riding around London on a double Decker hop on hop off bus.
- My childhood friend Amanda has lived in this tiny village in the Pyrenees of Spain (population 150) with her partner and their two boys for over 20 years. Talk about an adventure! Her Spanish is impeccable. Alberto, her partner, is a farmer and they have a herd of cattle. Her Mother-in-Law lives next door. We spent three days (too short) with Amanda and family. Dinner one night was freshly killed and skinned rabbits her MIL dropped off (still bleeding).
- Lastly we went to Colmar France to meet up with a friend from high school and her family who are all living in Germany.
- Spain: On whole we spent 6 weeks of our entire trip (starting out and returning) in Spain and have seen a lot of the country but there is a lot more to go back to see. Barcelona is one of my favorite cities I keep returning to. An added benefit is that Lee's Spanish is a lot better than when it started.
Northern Africa/Middle East (Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Israel, Jordan and UAE):
Our next region was Northern Africa (Morocco) and then the Middle East. These were new countries to both my husband and I but areas I had been fascinated about for a long time. My fascination has grown and I can't wait to get back to the Middle East. In the end we visited Morocco, Turkey, Israel, Jordan and Dubai in the UAE. We also visiting Egypt on our way back through to the U.S.
Highlights of our Middle East/N. Africa portion:
- Morocco: Hands down the highlight for me was camel trekking and sleeping overnight under the stars in the Saharan desert in a Bedouin camp. Everywhere we went in Morocco people were very hospitable and we drank lots of Mint tea!
- Turkey: Istanbul is a fantastic city. We were fortunate to meet up with my friend's Uncle who was a retired Tourism Board Director who showed us around. After Istanbul we traveled to Ephesus to see the unbelievable Roman ruins and then travelled to Cappadocia where we stayed in a cave hotel in Cappadocia and explored the underground cities and churches.
- Israel: Seeing historic sites in Jerusalem was incredible.
- Jordan: We were caught in Southern Jordan and stuck for a few days due to the first blizzard that Jordan had seen in 20 years. Luckily in the south it was warm. We eventually saw Petra and Wadi Rum.
- Dubai, UAE: Our first housesit was in Dubai so we had two weeks to explore this tiny Emirate. Dubai is home to some amazing Architecture and also is known for having the most Guinness World Records on anywhere.
- Egypt: Tourism in Egypt has been so decimated since the revolution that we decided to go but on the way back after traveling over a year. Being able to be the only people in Valley of the Queens and Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple was unbelievable. Also there were minimal people at the Great Pyramids and the Valley of the Kings. I know some people are hesitant to travel to Egypt but at no time did we feel unsafe and actually people were extremely welcoming and happy to see Americans visiting their country.
Asia (Sri Lanka, Maldives, Hong Kong/Macao, Philippines, Taiwan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Indonesia):
From Dubai we went to Sri Lanka and back to my old stomping grounds of Asia. I first lived in Taiwan studying Chinese in college then went back and lived in Hong Kong post-MBA to work. We spent almost 8 months in Asia mostly because it was affordable and mostly because it feels like home to me. Remember rule # 1? Lee wasn't interested in India and China on a backpackers’ budget which was ok to me since I have traveled there anyway. There are parts of India I haven't yet seen so it is on the list to go back. It is so hard for me to pick the highlights because Asia is probably one of my favorite places in the world (and yes, I mean the whole continent!)
Highlights of Asia:
- Maldives: Amazing warm water diving with hundreds of fish of all shapes and sizes.
- Sri Lanka: Although Sri Lanka has only opened its doors to tourism in the past few years, we found the people to be fantastic and friendly. The different types of curries and the architecture of the UNESCO World Heritage sites have only left us wanting to return.
- Hong Kong/Macao: My old stomping grounds having lived there for two years. It was so much fun to show my husband where I used to live and also to catch up with friends still living there and eat our way through the city.
- Taiwan: Taiwan is not usually a place that most people think to travel but they should! We spent a few weeks in Taipei for me to brush up on my Mandarin by taking classes. I also saw my old roommate from when we studied in Taiwan.
- Laos: Laos was one of those countries I had been hearing about for over 20 years and finally decided to visit. I am so glad I did. Laos reminds me of what Asia was like 20 years ago. Completely laid back, warm people and just a very chill vibe.
- Myanmar (Burma): Myanmar is another Asian country that just started to allow tourism in the past 5 years (some areas are still closed to tourists). It doesn’t have the tourist infrastructure you might expect but if you are willing to explore there are some gems. Bagan is an amazing area to explore. Imagine a tiny town filled with temples (over 1000). We spent 3 days touring the temples and the area. We hired a guide for a day and then rented e-bikes to continue our exploration. I still dream of the tea salad we had and this is another place I can’t wait to go back.
Australia and New Zealand:
I love everything about this part of the world having spent some time there before. Besides Hong Kong, Sydney is one of my favorite cities. We were fortunate to have two housesits and many friends to visit while in Australia and New Zealand.
Here were my highlights:
- The accents and the people! Aussies are some of my favorite people. They are incredibly friendly, easy going and so fun to hang out with. Making new friends through housesitting and seeing old ones is what I think travel is mainly about.
- Bungee jumping in Queenstown, New Zealand. This was our second trip to New Zealand so besides staying with a friend from high school, we had the opportunity to go and do things we missed the first time we went. Bungee jumping was the most frightening and exhilarating 30 seconds of my life. I screamed the whole time. Would I do it again. Yes! It is incredibly empowering for me to look at my video and pictures and think, I did that.
Southern/Eastern Africa (Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya):
This was our second trip to Southern Africa. This time I decided instead of going the luxury route like we did in South Africa before, we would do something a little more unique. I booked a 21 day overland tour through Nomad Africa which would take us from Zimbabwe all the way to Kenya in an overland truck.
Some highlights included:
- Animals, animals, animals. Lions, herds of elephants, cheetah babies and all the hooved varieties. Still have not seen a lion kill but have seen the recent remains.
- Camping in the Serengeti and Ngoro Ngoro Crater. Two experiences come to mind. The first was having to pee at a late hour and disregarding the advice of our guide to stay in the tent at night. I of course had my husband walk me to the bathroom block at around midnight. The first night we didn’t have any close encounters of the animal kind. The second night in the Serengeti as we left the comfort of our tent, my husband started whispering very loudly for me to get back in the tent. He apparently had seen a hyena about 20 feet away. What he missed though was the lion I was fixed on that was about 50 feet further than that. Note to self: bring something to pee in next time! The second experience was as we just finished unpacking our tent on the rim of the Ngoro Ngoro crater. Luckily there were no lions at this location but two of the biggest bull elephants I have ever seen sauntered into the camp to drink from the water storage. I have lots of pictures since they were about 20 feet away.
Around the end of our visit to Africa, my husband started to interview for jobs since a new year was quickly approaching and he was ready to go back to work. From Kenya we went to Egypt (see up above) then onto our housesit in Spain during Xmas 2014. We worked our way from Spain through Andorra and eventually flew out of Paris on January 12, 2014. It was 32 countries and 498 days since we landed in the U.S. I have now traveled to over 60 countries and 6 continents in my lifetime and of course I am already thinking about my next adventure!
I am writing another post on how to travel around the world when you aren’t a millionaire. Stay tuned!
If there is enough interest, I am happy to set up a WOA happy hour where we can chat more about it.
If you are curious and have questions: find me at a WOA event, the WOA Facebook group, email me or give me a call. I am always happy to talk about travel.
Interested in life coaching to transition out of your corporate job on to a more fulfilling life of freedom? reach out to me at: Del.Lloyd@gmail.com
I'm sitting in my private little corner of Athens International Airport and I'm having a full-blown anxiety attack. Even though I'm upset, I find it entertaining that my trip is basically ending under the same circumstances in which it started...Me, panicking in an airport. I'm not freaking out because I'm nervous about flying; I've just realized that the return plane ticket to the United States, which I booked somewhat spur-the-moment a few hours ago, has only left me with NINE days in Europe.
When I booked everything earlier, I had reasoned that I was probably ready to come home. I was okay with it. I definitely hadn't had a strong reaction in any form. I actually felt a bit relieved at the idea of having more than a few days in any one place after spending four months consistently on the move. I'd simply picked a date that looked far enough out on the calendar and also happened to land on one of the cheaper days to fly. It was when I actually counted how few days I'd given myself before flying home that everything hit me.
My stomach and my heart simultaneously drop as I yell in my head, "it's too soon! It's not enough time!" I text my mom to tell her how much I already regret booking the ticket and how upset I am. I'm angry at myself for making, what I now consider, such an uncalculated decision. I'm also angry that I'm venting all of this to her when I know she will probably feel completely powerless to do or say anything to help, but I need to vent to someone and she's the only person who knows I booked a ticket.
I start looking to see if I can refund the ticket or at least push back my departure without taking a tremendous financial loss. "If I can just have a couple more weeks," I tell myself. I decide to email my friend Matt and explain the situation. I’m hoping that he's maybe had a similar experience or knows some magic trick to basically make it all better. While this is my first long-term solo trip, Matt’s traveled like this before on several occasions and he’s been an invaluable friend and mentor before and during my tour of Europe.
I didn't really know what to expect mentally when I started this journey, but I REALLY didn't expect to feel like this. At this point, I'm so despondent that I don't really know what to do with myself. I abruptly realize what I'm feeling is grief. This isn't just a little Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh level of bummed out. A topic I studied in some college Psychology classes floats into my consciousness and I'm hit with another realization - I'm going through the classic model of the Kubler-Ross Five Stages of Grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.
This further complicates my already frenetic mind, because I start to get angry at myself for experiencing grief over something that even I think shouldn't be this upsetting. I don't get emotional often and I've experienced some significant losses in the past. "That's the stuff you get upset about," I scold myself. "You were allowed to be upset when your grandparents were diagnosed with cancer. When your Dad died in a car accident. You got to be upset when your cat ran away. You do NOT get to whine because your four months of traveling is ending and you have to return to the real world. Because you feel almost like you’ve been institutionalized and you don't know how to cope with going back."
It's right now, when I'm deep in the throes of self-pity, that I get Matt's response to my email. He warned me before I left that there'd be some readjusting once I got back. I hadn't really taken his comment seriously. I'd even scoffed at the thought a bit in my mind, "yeah, sure Matt." I hadn't mentioned the grieving part when I wrote. I thought it'd sound stupid. I actually laugh when I read his response, "Processing will take time and it won't follow any timetable. In a weird way, it's a lot like handling grief in that it'll come and go." "Holy shit..." I mutter.
Another simple thought from his email resonates with me. Somehow, I can actually feel myself significantly calming down as I read, "there's value in having made the decision to come home and sticking with it. The whole trip has been making decisions and making the best of the outcome." I know he's right about me being easier on myself.
A lot of this trip has been me acknowledging and experiencing first-hand that everything has a way of working out. Even most of the stuff that's gone wrong has been balanced out in an almost karmic-like way. While I'm not stoked about ending my adventure, I at least know that I'm not completely irrational in having such a strong reaction. I just spent the last sixteen weeks of my life traveling solo through at least as many countries. I’m mourning the conclusion of a period of my life in which some of my core values have changed and, as a result, a significant part of my personality has as well. It's hard to reconcile that and it's okay to feel this way. It's like being in on a secret but only the people who can read Latin will be able to understand it. The best I can do for now is to try to get more people to take lessons.
Shannon is currently biding her time in Iowa while she figures out her next adventure. She loves exchanging stories with other explorers and is especially fascinated by the psychology and sociology of group and solo travel. She's also a borderline adrenaline junkie, film/tv buff and goofball who was once pantsed by a treadmill. She can be reached through the WoA Facebook group or firstname.lastname@example.org.