The Lone Traveller 

Volunteering Solo 


“Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back” – Robert Frost, the road not taken


Personal insight number 1

I realised I was re affirming the point of my own existence through social media, purposeless small talk, endless work load, routines, and an un realistic aim to look like Jessica Alba. How were other people satisfied? I needed to try something different.

No amount of books, blogs, advice, lists, contacts, knowledge, skills or insight can prepare you for travelling solo.  That’s not to scare you off. Had I known that everything my sister had told me about travelling, everything I had seen and learnt and read about the places I was going to, would prove highly insignificant as soon as I was off the plane, I may have re considered trying to live in 3 different continents with no previous travel experience. 


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Personal insight number 2

Keeping safe is not just about hiding your passport. It’s about respect

Cultural differences are just that – different. I was used to wearing shorts, and skimpy dresses in (almost) warm weather, but now I was in a country where showing any skin above my knee attracted attention. I was fully aware that not considering the modesty here was nothing short of rude, and showing my pasty white thighs was nothing short of indecent exposure. Note – I need to be respectful, and be aware.

There is a great deal of security that comes with having a travel buddy. Having a companion is priceless, but not having one is even better. I realised wherever I was, I was never alone. As someone somewhere once said, there are friends everywhere, you just haven’t met them yet. But you do, and you will. I will grow, experience and learn from everyone I meet, because everyone here is existing the same as I am, and they got to be here on a path that was different to mine. The bell wearing hippies I thought I had nothing in common with, or the two beach bums who smoked constantly but never had any money. Or the locals who founded the school I worked at, who always made sure my cup was brimming with hot tea, and I always finished the day with a plate full of steamy vegetables and sticky rice. The couple that saw me at the bus shelter and introduced me to their daughter who helped me haggle for new shoes. Or the guy at the hostel with the pealing red paint, who shared his coconut chocolate with me and played go fish in the mornings because that’s the only card game I can ever remember.

Had I been travelling with my oldest friend, we would have probably just watched Orange is the New Black.


Personal insight number 3

I feel I miss out on a tremendous amount of living, through fear of the unknown. But if something is unknown, how do I know I should be afraid of it? 

When am I allowed to eat lunch? What time is my shift on Tuesday? When is the bus I can’t miss? Who did I say I would meet for a coffee? So much of life is dictated by other people. I became incredibly aware that I was now making all the decisions. Thrown in at the deep end – and then right there at the bottom, I found it. Independence. All shiny and new and ready to play with.

Back in India, after days of introspection and reflection, (and assuming I could be a monk and wondering where I will have a retreat named after me) I realised I needed to bite the bullet and make friends. I am not particularly confident. I won’t sit at a bar and order a classy drink over ice and make small talk with the bartender, so my best option was to work – I am given a task that I can get on with, and dip in and out of forced conversation until somebody realises that I am great and asks me to sit with them.

Once I started volunteering I didn’t stop. Working in an environment where there are people in charge gave me a welcome break of making decisions. I was now immersed in a job where I was valued, I was contributing to something that was bigger than myself. And not big in terms of profit. This was the big picture. And I was in this picture, doing something, one microscopic brush stroke at a time. I was making a difference, although I think it is quite the opposite – contributing, helping, being a part of one big push in the right direction. This new team I was part of didn’t require me to say “Would you like a drink with that?”


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Personal insight number 4

Nothing is a problem, until it is a problem

Having so much time alone with my thoughts I soon realised I was wasting a lot of energy worrying about problems that hadn’t occurred yet, and in fact never would. I also realised that a task that seemed long, and hard, and strenuous, (Like getting from my cosy hostel in Southern Thailand, to drinking a Mojito in my aspiring beach haven in Cambodia), was mere stepping stones. That’s it. A little hop from one step to the next. Each one, nothing to worry about when put into perspective.


Personal insight number 5

The possibilities are endless

After my solo travelling experience, I will always feel comfortable in my own skin. Because I know, that whilst I was never in a real sink or swim situation, I know that I certainly felt the fear of drowning even though I was always safe and dry. Much of what we fear is perceived. It was invaluable to me realising that nothing that at first scared me, should scare me off – because of the rewards I got when I achieved something I didn’t think I could have. I realised that much of what I needed to live happily, I already had, within myself.  When I was stripped of all the things I relied on, I realised that I can not only survive, but flourish on much less. I only need to be able to rely on myself. I learnt to have less wants and less ‘needs’. I already had all the answers to my questions about my unsatisfactory life and how to live it. Once I was off the plane, one by one, I found them.

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