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Hello and welcome to my second solo female travel interview, a series I hope to continue to spotlight solo travellers, their adventures, trials, tribulations, learnings and blogs!
Today we’re chatting to Lucy of Absolutely Lucy, a gal who’s guaranteed to incite your wanderlust and inspire you to travel solo. From the ups and the downs to her invaluable solo travel tips, here’s what she had to say!
Hey Lucy! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your lifestyle?
Before 2020 hit, I was a super sassy solo female traveller with a real taste for adventure. I left the UK in 2015 on a one-year backpacking trip, but six years on I was still going. I’d backpacked across Asia, lived in Australia for two years, travelled Europe, moved to Germany and even lived van life for a while.
I had just started an epic adventure in Central America when the world went crazy. Although I was supposed to travel from Mexico through South America and on to New Zealand, I made it from Mexico to Colombia then had to fly back to the UK, making it back two days before lockdown started.
What has 2020-21 looked like for you and how have you been staying positive?
This year has been a wild ride. I started it on the beaches of Mexico, before travelling solo through Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. I was having the time of my life: it was one of my best trips yet and I had some exciting travel blogging partnerships lined up.
Then, March 2020 happened and I was forced to fly home and cancel my work. The first few months were a blur of stress over the lack of work, and frustration at being trapped at home and not even being able to see anyone.
But there were also a lot of great times: I spent 2020 back with my family after several months away. I’m from the Norfolk coast in the UK and I wouldn’t have wanted to get stuck anywhere else!
I definitely haven’t managed to stay positive all the time – it’s been a struggle and there have been some really hard times. But I’ve also been extremely privileged to be in a situation where it didn’t matter if I didn’t work for a few months. It’s been an opportunity to work on some projects I’ve never had the time to commit to before – I even started writing a book!
I also bought a camper van when I realised international travel wouldn’t be the same for a while. I’m looking forward to taking her on the road as lockdown restrictions ease and I’ve loved taking this time to get her all decked out ready for a trip. It’s given me something to feel positive about, rather than wallowing in where we are now.
Did you travel much growing up? If not, what gave you the spark to travel as an adult?
I’ve been travelling since I was in the womb – my parents have always loved to travel. Most of my childhood was spent holidaying around the UK, Europe and Mauritius, where my dad is from. But those travels were always holidays – we were just your average two-week summer holiday family.
It was only when I was a bit older that I started to crave more. I wanted adventure and to travel long-term, to experience places on a deeper level. I loved the idea of living abroad and spending longer in places; I wanted to spend time with locals and immerse myself in other cultures rather than just passing through.
I was inspired by travel bloggers and writers who showed me long-term travel was more attainable than many of us believe.
When my nine-year relationship broke down and I realised I was no longer happy in my job, it seemed the perfect opportunity to make a fresh start and go travelling.
Tell us how you began travelling solo. What events led up to it?
Heartbreak has always been the biggest catalyst for change in my life and it’s what inspired me to start travelling solo. Post-university, I secured a great job as a journalist and happily settled in my hometown with my boyfriend of nine years.
It was a life that could easily have satisfied many people – and it does – but after a few years, I had itchy feet.
It felt like I woke up one day and couldn’t understand how I had reached this point. I was burnt out from overworking, exhausted and would cry in the toilets at work because I was worried the rest of my life would look like this.
My relationship was breaking down after my partner cheated on me and it felt like everything was falling apart. The truth was it was all starting to come together. It was during this dark period in my life when I made the decision to travel, and when I realised I wasn’t scared to do it alone. I was more terrified of staying than I was of travelling solo.
When you first travelled solo, was it what you expected?
Travelling solo was the most liberating, empowering and raw experience of my life. It was nothing like anyone had told me, and far better than anything I had imagined. It exceeded my wildest dreams and showed me a side of myself, and the world, that I never knew existed.
Most importantly, I remember before I first travelled solo there were warnings, solo travel myths and fear-mongering. Everyone warned me, be careful, stay safe and look after yourself. I was told it was dangerous, the world wasn’t safe, and that everyone would be out to get me.
The truth was, when I actually ventured outside of that paranoid little bubble that surrounds the UK, all I discovered was how pure, kind and generous the people of this world are. This is why travelling solo exceeded all of my expectations – because it allowed me to shed those preconceptions and replace them with something far more real.
Don’t get me wrong, travelling solo wasn’t all beaches and cocktails. There were a lot of hard times that I didn’t expect. There were challenges of travelling solo that changed me and even times that scared me. It stretched me to my limits, and then it pushed me even further, but each time I survived and realised how capable I truly am.
Travelling solo is definitely far more of a challenge than any other style of travel – but it has given me a resilience that no other life experience has.
Tell us some of your travel highs!
I don’t even know where to start! There are so many and they’ve kept my heart full the last 12 months when we haven’t been able to travel.
My first solo travels in Thailand will always hold a special place in my heart thanks to moments like volunteering with elephants, being adopted into beautiful Thai families and meeting local artists. One particular highlight was visiting Khao Sok, an 80 million-year-old rainforest where I kayaked on the lake to watch sunrise over the mountains. That was the moment when I realised I had made my own dreams a reality.
I had never intended to stay more than a few months in Australia, but I ended up living there for two years and completely fell in love with the people, the landscape and the lifestyle. I’ll never forget the months I spent living in a tiny, dusty, outback town, or the month I spent living out of a car and road-tripping up Western Australia.
I ache for my home in Melbourne every day and will never stop missing my friends, or our weekend festivals or camping trips to national parks.
Read next: Lucy’s ultimate Australia travel guide
More recently, my Central America trip was one of the best of my life. Particularly travelling Nicaragua, Guatemala and Costa Rica solo – all three absolutely blew my mind. Again, this was a part of the world where everyone questioned if it was safe for me to travel alone, but I proved them all wrong.
From exploring the hottest city in Central America, surfing the wild Nicaraguan coastline, hiking Guatemala’s volcanoes, visiting ancient Mayan temples in the jungle for sunrise, dancing on the beaches of Costa Rica at a music festival, and exploring hot springs, national parks and waterfalls, Central America was one wild ride!
Travelling solo has been one hell of a rollercoaster and there have been a lot of downs along the way. I’ve had such bad food poisoning on two occasions that I had to seek medical advice to stop my ‘motion in the ocean’ and communicating this to a doctor who speaks little to no English is always entertaining, as was coping with squat toilets.
I had a month of very bad luck in 2015 and ended up in two serious bus crashes, one of which could have killed me. I was thrown against the windscreen which cracked against my back, but luckily the driver grabbed my hand and saved me from serious injury.
But I want to stress that during nearly seven years of full-time travel, this was the worst thing to happen and it could easily have happened anywhere. What was hardest about this experience was going through it alone and no one speaking English. It was a lonely and scary time.
But in true testament to the solidarity of travellers, when a friend heard about what had happened, he flew across the country on his last night on the continent to check if I was okay. So even in the darkest times as a solo traveller, there is always support even when you’re a thousand miles from home.
When you travel long-term, you see behind the rose-tinted Insta-perfect view of travelling and realise how different the reality can be. There are times when you’re lonely, stressed, frustrated, exhausted and times when you really, really just wish things could be easier.
But these are also the times that shape you and change you as a person. It’s those long bus journeys and layovers that taught me patience; it’s the delays that have taught me I can’t control everything. Travelling is hard, but I would go through every hard moment just to experience one day of travelling life again.
Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of travelling solo and unsure about taking the plunge?
Just do it! You won’t regret it! There are so many reasons to travel solo. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself and it has completely changed me. Know that before I took the plunge, I too was unsure whether I was making the right decision.
I didn’t know if I could do it, I was scared – everyone is their first time and that’s natural. But you can spend a lifetime thinking of reasons why it won’t work out, or you can just throw yourself in the deep end and see what happens.
One thing that inspired me was my work as a journalist – I remember interviewing a 100-year-old on her birthday and asking what her biggest regret was. She told me she wished she’d been braver, she wished she’d seen more of the world and she wished she’d told people she loved them more often.
Ever since then, I’ve tried to live my life by those principles and it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made.
My best tip – don’t EVER take travelling advice from someone who hasn’t visited the country. Tune out the opinions of others and allow yourself the space to form your own.
Also, if the thought of travelling solo is overwhelming and you don’t know where to begin, start by breaking it down into manageable steps within certain timeframes. Consider practical stuff like booking tickets, planning routes, booking accommodation and activities, sorting visas and what you need to pack.
Once you start making lists and break it all down, it becomes much more achievable – just take it step by step until you’re getting on that plane!
You work online as a blogger and journalist. How did this come about? Any tips for others wanting to work remotely?
I started working as a journalist for a local newspaper after university, I’ve always been a writer at heart. In the years before travelling, I worked as the editor of an online magazine about music festivals and started my own blog. I loved learning about digital marketing and developing social media and marketing experience.
Learning these skills was a great investment because it gave me a ready-made portfolio and the confidence to actively work with brands and pitch my skills. So when I started travelling, I began reaching out to brands and had many contact me.
The business developed more over time and within six months of travel blogging, I won highly commended at the UK Blog Awards which helped raise the profile of my blog. It’s continued to grow and has led to me developing my freelance business.
I now work across a variety of areas including content creation, SEO, social media, writing, journalism and developing digital marketing strategies for brands. When I was at university, this was barely even a career that existed – I studied English Language and Communication with Literature and planned to be a teacher! It just shows how fast this industry has developed.
Now is the best time to start working remotely. The last 12 months have shown businesses that people can work remotely and maintain – or even increase – productivity levels compared to office-based jobs. If you’ve always dreamt of working remotely, stop dreaming and start with the practicalities.
However, you should know it’s not all working in beach cafes – it can be long hours and if you’re freelance, it can be a lot of responsibility and pressure at times!
Start by identifying your skillset and researching what digital nomad jobs you could do, then get as much experience as possible. Upskill with online courses, develop your own branding and get great references. Create a media kit or portfolio and start to pitch and reach out to businesses/potential clients.
Whether you want to work for a company remotely or be self-employed, one of the greatest skills you can learn is how to market your skills and demonstrate your value to a client/employer.
What destination(s) would you recommend to first-time solo travellers?
Southeast Asia, Australia and Guatemala are my favourite first-time solo travel destinations. They’re beautiful parts of the world and so wild and adventurous in different ways.
Southeast Asia gives you a chance to immerse yourself in culture while being surrounded by like-minded travellers. It’s a great place to take your first steps as a traveller along the well-established Southeast Asia backpacking route.
Australia is amazing if you want to live abroad and potentially stay for longer using a working holiday visa – it also has the comfort of the familiarity to home.
Guatemala is a bit more off-the-beaten-track and has an adventurous side to it, but with the friendliest, warmest locals. It’s also a great place to study Spanish or teach abroad.
Read next: Lucy’s handy Guatemala itinerary
Anywhere you wouldn’t recommend for solo travellers?
Generally, the only reason I wouldn’t recommend certain places for solo travellers would revolve around the expense in places that may be designed for couples.
The one country I found challenging was Cambodia – this was for many reasons and it’s the one place I didn’t enjoy. Now I would never write off a country or tell anyone not to go, particularly as I know it’s changed a lot in the five years. However, my experiences as a solo female traveller left me feeling vulnerable and exposed. It was a place that put me instantly on edge and sadly, that feeling stayed throughout the trip.
But, I know people who hated Thailand and absolutely loved Cambodia – so each to their own.
I don’t believe any country is unsafe or unsuitable for solo female travellers, but I do believe that we have to take precautions, research more and travel smart in a way that men don’t. I wrote a guide to sexual harrassment while travelling solo that you may wish to check out.
Once travel is more free and easy, what’s your plan? Do you intend to continue travelling solo in the future?
As I mentioned, I bought a camper van during lockdown! My prediction is that travel will be very different for at least the next year, so I intend to adapt with it. I’ve put off continuing my South America/New Zealand trip until things are more relaxed.
Instead, I’m keeping expectations low and subject to change. I’ll be focusing on UK travel, with plans to road trip to the Lake District, Cornwall and Devon, Wales and maybe Scotland. I also hope to drive my van to Europe, perhaps Portugal and Spain to spend some time living and working from the beach.
Van life will give me an opportunity to stay closer to home for a while and catch up with everyone I’ve missed over the last year, while still being able to travel.
I definitely plan to continue my solo travel life and will absolutely be hopping on a plane in the future. But my main thought is that hostels, budget travel life and backpacking will have taken a hit so I would rather wait until it recovers than half-experience it.
What country (or more) is top of your bucket list?
New Zealand is top of my bucket list and has been since I started travelling in 2015. I had a working holiday visa and planned to be there now, but my visa ran out before the borders reopened. It’s the country that first inspired me to travel and I have no doubt I’ll make it there one day.
I’m sad that I won’t get to live there for a few years, but I live in hope the NZ government may extend visas when they reopen borders. If not, I’ll go there on a tourist visa instead.
Any final words of wisdom?
It’s very much ingrained into us from when we are children that we have to live this standard life – we go to school, go to uni, get a job, settle down and have kids. There’s nothing wrong with wanting those things, but if that life doesn’t appeal to you, or you don’t feel ready, just know that there are many ways to live your life.
They might go outside of what society expects from you, and people will always criticise what they don’t understand. But if the thought of travelling sets your soul on fire, you need to do it.
Take me as living proof – you can have the job and the relationship and the life, but it may not be enough to make you feel happy and fulfilled.
It’s entirely possible to live a life of travel, to do it alone and to work while you do it. You don’t have to wait for someone to hold your hand, you don’t need to wait for someone to protect you. It’s a narrative that we don’t hear enough – you deserve to do this for yourself.
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