How to overcome solo travel anxiety
Hannah Stuart-Leach has embarked on many one-woman wanders. Her favourites include a two-week beach holiday in Sri Lanka, which turned into an unforgettable five-month adventure, and a 400 mile solo hike through England, Scotland and Wales. She still gets nervous every time.
SEE ALSO: 11 essential tips for the first time backpacker
Hannah has also contributed to new travel anthology, 'Roam Alone; Inspiring tales by reluctant solo travellers' out now, published by Bradt Travel Guides.
1. Thanks for chatting to me Hannah. What I loved about your story in Roam Alone, was your honesty about how anxious you get before a trip. Me too! But what is it about solo travel that appeals to you?
The main thing for me is the freedom, I love being able to follow up on every whim and create my own adventures. It feels satisfying in a way that travelling with others doesn’t, as though I’ve been able to experience a place more fully.
2. The introduction to your solo travel story starts with a mention of your anxiety and tendency to worry. What is it that pushes you to 'feel the fear and do it anyway'?
I’ve learnt through experience that every time I push myself to do something difficult, I’ll come out of it better off, whether that’s getting a new job or a better understanding of myself. Great, pivotal changes haven’t happened in my life due to me lounging around in front of the TV in my slipper socks, feeling comfy - although that’s great sometimes too.
3. You quit your job in London to teach English in South Korea, and then on to The Philippines to volunteer. Why did you choose those countries?
I always choose the countries I visit quite randomly! I really had no idea about South Korea before I moved there, I’d just heard about it from someone I worked with in London. And I think, subconsciously at least, I chose the Philippines because I knew it would be the challenge I needed at the time. I guess they’re both places I knew would feel very unfamiliar to me.
4. You volunteered with a craft group. How did you adapt to living with your host family, and working with the ladies in the cooperative in The Philippines?
I loved living with my host family: Felix, Ma Tess and various kids, volunteers and animals. In fact that was one of my favourite things about the whole experience, they were so warm and accepting and made an effort to involve me in their daily routine. Some of the dinners were a bit of a challenge (the cow’s head soup in particular) but otherwise it was brilliant. Ma Tess was the village matriarch, so would always have people dropping by for advice or a chat - she’s hilarious, too, constantly had me in stitches! The ladies at the craft group were amazing too, and working with them gave me a really nice focus for my trip. I learnt far more from them than they did from me though - they were so talented and came up with all sorts of beautiful beaded creations.
5. You have also hiked 400 miles, solo, around England, Scotland and Wales. Can you tell us what made you choose a trip like that, and any highs and lows?
I really liked the simplicity of it, just walking north for an arbitrary distance to see what I’d find along the way. I also thought it would be a great way to rediscover my own country having spent so long abroad. It actually turned out to be a lot harder than I’d anticipated - not just the physical challenge of walking all day, every day but the mental challenge of being sole navigator, having to find accommodation every night and persevering through all weather conditions. One day stands out in particular, towards the end. I found myself with no option but to walk along a stretch of quite dangerous, exposed dual carriageway. I couldn’t open my eyes properly because of the driving wind and rain, and huge lorries were coming right at me - I really thought I might be run over. Then, at the end of it, there was absolute elation as I reached the ‘Welcome to Scotland’ sign. Knowing I’d walked all that way felt incredible.
6. What advice would you give to someone who is contemplating a solo trip, but is a little anxious about going it alone?
Firstly I would say don’t overthink it or go into some kind of researching craze, just go for it! Book the flight and work out the details later. I can easily talk myself out of things by coming up with possible dangers or reasons why it’s not sensible, so it’s worth acting on that bright idea quickly. While you’re away, embrace the positives of solo travel: the freedom to go your own way, the ease of meeting new people and the opportunity to really experience and reflect on a place. More fundamentally, I’m always comforted by the knowledge that most people are essentially good people - wherever you are in the world.
7. Do you have any home comforts or guilty pleasures whilst travelling solo?
I think it’s important to be able to sleep well, wherever you are, because it’s so difficult to enjoy travelling at all when you’re frazzled and exhausted. I discovered a really relaxing lavender pillow mist at a hotel I once stayed at and ever since I’ve taken a small bottle of it with me wherever I travel. I use it at home, too, which is great because as soon as I smell it I instantly associate it with sleep, even if I’m contorted uncomfortably in a tiny tent. (Ear plugs are also essential.) And I’m always keen to try new food and drink when I’m away, especially if it’s a dessert or wine, so I’m never too far from a guilty pleasure!
8. Where are you off to on your next trip?
I’m off to volunteer on the Isle of Eigg in the Hebrides. A friend of mine went years ago and I’ve been desperate to go ever since. It’s a totally self-sustained island, so I’m interested in learning how they manage that. The beaches look pretty beautiful too… fingers crossed for sunshine.
Thank you SO much Hannah!
You can catch up with Hannah via her blog, and also follow her on Instagram.