Guest interview: Kimia, embracing solo travel head-on

Incredible egypcian temple

On a day honouring women, and the unique challenges they face, we thought we’d sit down with an inspiring woman we know who’s traveled the world, sometimes with friends, sometimes on her own. We hope she inspires you too.

What motivated your first trip?

My first trip overseas (family holidays not included) was to visit a friend in Canada. I also went to the USA (Michigan and New York City) for the first time during that trip, also for the purpose of visiting friends.

How long have you been travelling?

I’ve been travelling for about 8 years. I moved to Spain by myself a few years ago to teach English, thanks to one of my best friends sending me the job application ad “just for fun” (thanks David!!). That was definitely the best thing I’ve ever done. Moving to a non-English speaking language by myself forced me to learn a new language, get an apartment/phone/bank account/groceries in a different language, make a whole new network of friends and learn what it’s like to completely rely on myself. Living in Europe was an incredible opportunity to travel on weekends/work holidays – I was able to get pretty much anywhere within 2-4 hours!

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How much research/planning do you do before you travel? What resources do you use?

I have the app ‘I know the pilot’ notify me of flight sales every day, which can get depressing when I want to book everything! I always use Sky Scanner when searching for flights; it’s a great search engine that shows you flights to ‘everywhere’ if you’re flexible with destination. That’s what inspired my solo trips to Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

I use the Hostel Bookers website for booking hostels/hotels, and sometimes Air BnB. If you’re travelling solo and want to meet like-minded people, I would recommend hostels or at least private rooms in hostels. Workaway is also a fantastic initiative if you’re looking to volunteer in various circumstances (handy work, animal care, babysitting, house sitting) in exchange for lodging, and sometimes food.

I really like the website Rough Guides – it’s really handy for ‘rough’ advice and recommendations for any destination. Wiki Travel is also useful, as is just googling the destination and reading people’s blogs about the destination. I also always register my trips with Smart Traveller (government website) and subscribe to their updates about the safety advice for the country I’m going to.

What red flags do you look out for?

If a destination is recorded as “do not travel” on Smart Traveller – I wouldn’t go there. But that’s about it. I think most places have varying levels of risk which (for the most part) can be managed with some basic common sense. Also, I do a bit of research and find out if there are any certain areas/suburbs etc in the country I’m going to that are potentially dangerous.

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Have you ever felt unsafe during a holiday? What did you do in that situation?

I felt somewhat unsafe while staying in a hostel by myself in Slovakia a few years ago. There was a man who gave me the creeps in my room, but I was checking out that morning anyway so it was fine. I was also followed down a dodgy street in San Francisco by a man who was offering to “buy me lunch”. I just went straight into a convenience store and pretended to look at stuff while keeping eye contact with the shop keeper. The bloke eventually left me alone and I got right out of that neighborhood!

How do you get around the question “are you travelling alone?”

Depends on who is asking the question. I’ve sometimes gotten weird vibes from people who ask me that, and I always tell them I am travelling with friends or a partner (who are back at the hostel, shopping, etc).

You’ve done a lot of solo travelling! How did you begin?

An unexpected change of personal circumstances inspired my first solo trip at age 22. I backpacked from LA to Mexico City via San Francisco, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon – it is still to this day one of my favourite trips! I met so many amazing people (who I still keep in touch with) and, as cliché as it sounds, learned a lot about myself and the direction I wanted my life to take.

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Why would you want to solo-travel instead of sharing it with a friend / family member?

Travelling solo also allows you to meet so many more people as you’re not restricted to just hanging out/eating/exploring with your mates. I’ve done an equal amount of solo/friends travelling and love them both equally. You’re never really alone anyway when solo travelling, I have good mates from every place I went (most of them were also travelling solo). You instantly have that in common and it’s so easy to go from there.

How is travelling solo different to travelling with friends for you personally?

Travelling solo is so different to travelling with friends. You are forced to rely 100% on yourself – as there’s not really anyone else you can count on! I became so much more independent and self-sufficient after a

few solo trips, and am now an expert at packing first aid kits. Travelling solo also allows you to meet so many more people as you’re not restricted to just hanging out/eating/exploring with your mates. I’ve done an equal amount of solo/friends travelling and love them both equally. You’re never really alone anyway when solo travelling, I have good mates from every place I went (most of them were also travelling solo). You instantly have that in common and it’s so easy to go from there.

Do you get lonely, fearful, bored, or any other negative emotion while solo-travelling, and if so, how do you move past that?

Of course, those emotions came and went on all my solo trips. I always managed to beat them by going for walks, sitting in cafes, hanging out in the communal areas of whatever accommodation I was staying at. You’re always bound to bump into someone!

How do you get treated differently when you solo-travel?

I got a lot of “wow – that’s brave” when I told people I was on my own. I think the biggest difference I’ve noticed is that you always end up gravitating towards other solo travelers.

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Is there a particular region that you felt worked particularly well for solo travel?

I found Southeast Asia was particularly good for solo travel as there were so many other people doing the same thing.

Are there particular places you would be hesitant to travel to by yourself?

I recently went to Egypt on my own, but with an Intrepid group (highly recommended!). Given everything that’s going on there at the moment, I didn’t want to go there completely on my own. I personally wouldn’t go anywhere in the Middle East/Africa by myself, unless it was organised through Intrepid or any other reputable group adventure travel company.

Do you have particular places you would like to travel around by yourself?

I’d love to do more of Southeast Asia, the USA and South America next.

What have you learned about people from travelling?

So much – too many things to list! The biggest thing that stands out is the generosity and kindness of strangers. Whenever I was lost, confused, needed help; I was always lucky enough to find someone who could help me.

What advice would you have for women who are considering solo-travel?

Just do it!! As long as you have travel insurance, an open mind, a good first aid kit, some key language phrases memorised and have registered yourself on Smart Traveller – you’ll be fine. The scariest part is getting off the plane at the destination but once that’s over, you’ll never regret it.