When I saw this month’s Travel Linkup topic was My Greatest Adventure, my first solo trip automatically sprang to mind. It is the adventure I will always cherish the most as it was the gateway drug which lead to so many more.
At the grand old age of 18 I decided that I was not ready to go from one educational institution to another and instead wanted to travel the world. My initial idea was just to go to Australia but after a quick chat with a lovely rep at STA Travel I had expanded my itinerary to include Southeast Asia and New Zealand.
People thought the idea of a teenage girl heading off on a long trip alone was insane, but filled with youthful arrogance I thought it would be a breeze and was excited to explore the freedom of being an ‘adult’.
That was until the plane took off, and the reality of what I had done hit me so hard that I sobbed for most of the flight. Arriving into Bangkok was not the swanky experience it is now and I was greeted by a mass of sweaty people sandwiched between armed guards waiting for their passports to be seen. I waited for two hours in the chaos, but luckily a chap from Manchester who had made this trip several times before took me under his wing, kept me company and made sure I was not timidly trapped in the crowd for the duration of my trip.
Parting at baggage reclaim my next challenge was to get a cab – which was a surprisingly organised process! Sitting with my skin sticking to the leather, my driver chatted to me enthusiastically in broken english as I watched the sun begin to set over this land where everything expect the occasional McDonalds sign seemed completely alien. Despite being alone in this strange land the feeling of trepidation had been taken over with excitement. I couldn’t believe I had made it all the way from my little Scottish town to Thailand, it felt like I was in a surreal dream that I didn’t want to wake up from.
That was until the next day when reality hit once again, leaving with my hotel guidebook in hand, I got to the end of the street to the busy road I had driven down the night before, the flow of traffic did not stop and a pedestrian crossing did not seem to exist. From observing locals for a while it seemed the only way to get across the street was to just walk into the road and hope for the best! Not feeling ready to risk my life on day one, I was trapped by a vehicle moat which surrounded the block my hotel was on.
Don’t worry, I am not typing this from the hotel lobby, I did make my escape from my rectangle car lined cell eventually. Knowing that I was going somewhere that was likely to be a complete culture shock I booked myself onto an Imaginative Traveller trip from Bangkok to Singapore. Going down to the hotel lobby to meet the group of people I would be spending the next few weeks with was terrifying but the prospect of never leaving my block was worse, so somehow I mustered up the courage to go and meet my fellow travellers. By the end of the night I not only had I met some lovely people, I had made it across the road, got drunk and eaten a fried cockroach as a dare – this was the adventure I had been looking for.
The people I met that night in Bangkok became, my friends, my support and my encouragement. I hoped that I would meet nice travellers on the way but there was no way I had expected to be accepted into such a wonderful community.
It is fare to say that I had embarked on this trip clueless, the only experience I had of travel involved package holidays so with a few exceptions that is what I packed for. I didn’t even take a backpack! I took a giant wheeled case that weighed over 30kg and was filled to the brim with hot pants, heels, dresses.
Although I had made many rookie errors, I continued to learn, with each destination I left items behind, I gave away all my heels in exchange for one pair of high top trainers, and I walked bare foot when my Uggs did not hold up on a six hour trek through the Malaysian jungle. My fellow travellers never mocked me for my naivety but instead laughed along with me and shared their experiences to make my journey easier.
Southeast Asia was more of a shock to the system than I ever could have imagined and often I felt like I had been dropped off on another planet, but somehow I had thrived in this strange, dangerous and beautiful land. The real challenge came when the tour ended and I headed to Australia alone. I started in Brisbane with a plan to find a job but quickly felt out of my depth. I am actually really shy so found the mixture of knocking on doors trying to find employment and attempting to make new friends extremely difficult. The fast paced backpacker lifestyle had been left behind and I hit reality with a hard thud. I was bored and felt like I was going through the same motions as at home but without a support network.
Just as I was about to give up and leave this monotonous part of my trip behind, a few of my Imaginative Traveller buddies turned up at my hostel after hearing that I was struggling. This act of kindness was an absolute revelation to me and really changed my outlook on life. I had always felt like I was a support actor in my own life, but these girls had made the effort to spend time with me because they actually like ME!
This was not the last time my travel buddies had my back, my friend Craig stayed in Sydney longer than planned to keep me company, as well as various other character who when out of their way to swing by and catch up as part of their journey. I also continued to meet a cast of other interesting characters from all over the world. Though the travel community is filled with wonderful people, traveling is not a team sport, you have to be willing to be a strong independent individual as well as a team player as people choose to hang out with you but have no obligation to you. These people had the entire world to choose from and I felt honoured that people had chosen to spend part of their trip with me.
It wouldn’t be appropriate to call this trip an adventure without some adversity to overcome and it was not all partying and sightseeing with awesome people. I was young and lonely, so often felt out of my depth and did not know how to handle my quickly dwindling finances. I had been trying really hard to get a job, handing my CV across every shop, bar or restaurant I could find in Sydney but the only job I had been offered was to massage people for 3 minutes dressed as an angel for tips – which I wasn’t prepared to do. I didn’t want to be a failure and give up but I also didn’t want to end up broke and homeless due to my own stubbornness. Once again the Imaginative Traveller girls made a perfectly timed appearance along with a reality check and convinced me it was better to cut my trip short and enjoy myself rather than continue to struggle in Australia.
The next day I hopped on a plane and spent my last few pennies travelling around New Zealand. When I first set off on my trip I was nervous about boarding a plane alone but by the time I had reached the South Island I was jumping out of one.
This adventure was not an easy one not only did I have to learn how to pack appropriately but also to navigate different cultures, to integrate with people that I would never normally cross paths with, and to do it all alone. I think as soon as I accepted I was not in Oz anymore I realised that I was either going to have to embrace these differences or fall apart .I wouldn’t go as far to say as I found myself but I definitely found out a lot about myself, and have implemented those lessons into my everyday life.
If you want to read more travel adventures check out all the linkup posts on Emma’s blog as well as her own travel tales.
What has been your greatest adventure?