I spent 3 weeks traveling all by myself around New Zealand on the very first trip I ever went on alone. These are the 32 lessons I learned from that trip.
Back in 2001, I went on my first solo trip ever to “the other side of the world” or “the end of the world” as so many people call it.
I’ve documented the process of deciding, planning, and then executing my plan to visit New Zealand, and written about a couple of events that took place in New Zealand and how I got myself out of those predicaments in my book New Zealand Solo Traveler: Adventures of a Woman Traveling Alone for the First Time.
Almost every chapter contains a section called Lessons Learned. Below I’ve extracted the lessons to share them with you in the hope that they will inspire you to take action on your dreams, wishes, and hopes.
What I learned about fear
When I was a little girl, I was a very shy girl. And my mother did not help much by telling me that I needed a man to be able to visit New Zealand. Going alone was out of the question.
I held onto this advice for many years throughout my adult life, and it was one of my biggest stumbling blocks when trying to overcome my fear of traveling alone to New Zealand. Here is what breaking through that fear taught me…
- Do not let fear that was instilled in you as a child hold you back from realizing your dreams or full potential.
- We create fear in our minds by focusing on the future and what may or may not happen in that future that has not happened yet. If you focus on what’s going on at the present moment, it’s unlikely you’ll create fear, because there is generally nothing to fear in the present moment unless someone is, for example, holding a gun to your head. Fear can be controlled by keeping your mind focused on things that do not create fear.
- A big source of fear is the unknown. By educating yourself as thoroughly as you can before you visit a country, you will not only know more about that country than the average person living there, but you will also get rid of a lot of thoughts that may be holding you back and feeding your fears.
- Fear stops almost everybody in their tracks. It is a normal feeling. If you are in that position, ask yourself the following: “What is the worst thing that could ever happen to me?” When traveling to countries you know little about, there is a chance that something horrendous could happen to you. But even if that were the case and you still had your life, you would come out victorious. You see, your life is the most precious thing you own, so if you lost that, that would be the worst thing that could ever happen to you. So just take steps for that not to happen and the rest will take care of itself.
What I learned about procrastinating
My fear of traveling alone made me put off my dream of traveling to New Zealand for many years. I saved and saved without going anywhere for years!
Then one day I asked myself the following question: “Are you willing to stay here for the rest of your life and never see any of the places you want to see?” That was the moment I stopped procrastinating and took action. Here’s why…
- Never leave what you can do today, for tomorrow. If you really want to do something, do it today! Now! Do not wait, because tomorrow might never come.
- Life is a short journey. Don’t waste time and enjoy it. Do not wait until you are 65 – or whatever retirement age has been set in your country – to start to enjoy life. You do not know whether you will ever reach the retirement age. So why wait? So many people wait until retirement to start to live and many of them have traveling the world on their to-do lists. And all of the years leading up to retirement age are spent on working, worrying, and going through the daily motions of life without having much fun. In addition, at retirement age you most likely won’t be able to do the same things you were capable of doing when you were 30. Our bodies deteriorate and weaken with age. So if you want to travel and see the world, save up some money, and then do it! Soon!
What I learned about booking a trip
Booking a trip yourself can be time consuming, but it can also be a lot of fun. And the biggest advantage is that you have complete freedom. Here is what I learned when I became my own travel agent for my solo trip to New Zealand…
- All you need to become your own travel agent is an Internet connection and a credit card – and perhaps a phone and a fax.
- Booking flights, rental cars, hotels, tours, or anything else is very easy. And anything that is not clear can generally be clarified by sending an email to the company in question.
- Always double check your reservation by sending an email to the hotel, car rental company, etc. to verify that your booking has indeed been received and confirmed, especially if you make a change to it where no humans were involved, because booking engines have the power to mess up your vacation. Businesses generally do not mind receiving such an email and are generally happy to confirm your reservation for a second time.
What I learned about planning and preparing for a trip
Planning and preparing for a trip is all about removing the question marks in your head and knowing what to do when something happens. Information is all you need at this stage. I call it educating myself. Here is how you can do the same…
- Many countries have websites you can visit to find general customs and immigration information. Make use of this facility so that you know what to expect when you enter the country and what you are allowed to take into the country.
- Many international airports have websites you can visit to find maps and information about getting around. Make use of this facility to know your way around an airport when you arrive.
- Study the city you will be visiting, and if you will be walking to establishments, study a map of the city and know where you will be walking. Avoid walking in alleys for safety reasons and stick to the main streets. By studying a map, you will not have to look at it while you are walking, which in turn will give others the impression that you might be a local, not a tourist. Looking like a tourist makes you an easy target.
- Before embarking on a trip to anywhere, do your homework. Study the country – the lay of the land – so that you know what the largest cities are, because their names are likely to appear on road signs.
- Always allow enough time for you to get to your destination so that you do not have to rush. When we rush, we generally tend to make mistakes, which could be costly.
- Never choose a rainy day to drive to a place that has only one road in or out of it and where the road is surrounded by a tall cliff, especially not if that cliff consists of tree roots, rocks, and loose sand. When such material becomes soggy as is the case when a lot of rain has fallen, the chance of part of the cliff face falling down on the road is very high. Dirt and debris from cliff faces falling down on roads after days of heavy rain is not uncommon here in New Zealand. And when this happens, roads and sometimes State Highways can be closed for days and sometimes weeks to clear the debris.
- Always have sleeping gear or at least a warm blanket and some food in your car so that you can spend an extra night on the road if you have to.
- Know where you will be driving, approximately how long the drive will take, whether there are any gas stations along the way should you need to tank, and what facilities are available in the city or town in which you will be staying.
- Know any emergency numbers – from the car rental company, police, or Automobile Association road assistance – you could call should you need any help. While mobile phones do not work everywhere in New Zealand due to the lack of coverage, if you did not go to New Zealand with a phone, you could purchase a prepaid mobile phone to carry along with you and use it, should you need it.
What I learned about hiking alone
Going into the bushes alone can be scary. I’ve even seen fear in the eyes of people I’ve encountered on trails who were walking in tandem.
I’m the one who is walking alone and they are the ones who are afraid. Go figure! You can make the experience a little bit less scary by preparing yourself well and taking the necessary precautions. Here is how…
- If you are going to do a walk, know how long it will take, carry a map and a compass, and know how to use them.
- Carry enough food and water.
- Let someone know what your plans are. For example, tell a motel owner, leave a note in your motel room somewhere, or sign the log book at the visitor’s center before you set out on a trail – and sign out when you get back.
- Know what type of weather has been forecast, especially if you are heading into the mountains.
- If people who are familiar with particular surroundings and/or an environment ask you whether you are sure about what you are going to do, it’s because what you are thinking or planning to do seems unrealistic to them. While it may seem like they are trying to plant a seed of doubt or fear in you, most of the time, they are just talking sense. So ask yourself whether you have made the right decision and pay attention to what they have to say.
- Always thoroughly prepare yourself mentally and physically for any challenges you may want to impose on yourself, and know your limits, both physically and mentally.
- Always trust your gut instincts. Humans are born with primal instincts, which when listened to and followed, keep us alive.
What I learned about getting lost
On my first solo trip to New Zealand I got lost twice: once in Auckland while driving and another time while hiking in the bushes around Mount Taranaki. Here is what I learned from both experiences…
- Always purchase a good road map that has enough detail on it that you can locate the smallest of streets, especially in large cities. If you don’t know how to use a map, rent a car with a GPS.
- Never panic when you get lost. Compose yourself and try to get your brain back into thinking mode to find your way. If you are not hungry, do not have to go to the bathroom, and there are enough hours of daylight left in the day, there is generally nothing to panic about.
- If you get lost in the bush, don’t panic, look if you can find a trail, and never wander off too far from the point where you got lost.
What I learned about personal growth
Life is all about growing as a person. Here is what a solo trip to New Zealand could do for you as it has done for me…
- Solo travel allows you to get to know yourself well.
- “Travel broadens the mind.” Have you ever heard that saying? Well, it is true. If the only thing you do is hang out with people you have seen your entire life and remain in the culture you have lived in your entire life, you will never be able to develop points of reference to be able to compare your environment to something else so also never be able to see things and life in a different light. Solo travel helps you get out of your cocoon.
- Achieve your goals by taking one step at a time: “Eat that elephant one small bite at a time.” Never allow yourself to get ahead of yourself. Always stay focused on the immediate task at hand.
- Have confidence in yourself and trust that whatever you set out or put your mind to do, you will be able to do.
Note: This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm all details
directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.