Growing up, I was lucky to go on family holidays overseas to France, Greece, Australia, New Zealand and the USA. We’d go camping in Scotland and on other times we’d get the ferry over to Holland. It was after a trip in March 2011 to visit friends in New South Wales, Australia that I caught the travel bug, aged 18. I decided to give solo travel a try, and booked a flight to Canada for August of that year. Toronto was the first big city I explored myself, and the pace of it was a shock to the system. From there I headed west to the Rockies for a few days of alpine hikes and stunning scenery. Then I bussed my way through BC and took part in some help exchanges along the way. It was during my journey on the Greyhound from Salmon Arm to Penticton that I managed to lose my backpack. Weirdly, it’s one of my fondest travel memories. I finished my time in Canada on Vancouver Island, and knew very quickly that I wanted to go back there one day.
After arriving back in England, it was off to London to start my three years of university. Through smart budgeting/a frugal lifestyle, I was able to use some of my remaining student loan towards a 3-week solo trip to Germany in July 2012. I started in Hamburg, then car-pooled down to Baden-Württemberg with some strangers. I had a dreamy few days in the Black Forest, was charmed by Heidelberg, spotted some nudist bathers in Konstanz, and saw a familiar face in Freiburg. Then I did a lovely cruise back up the Rhine before catching up with a friend I made in Canada a year earlier.
In October 2012, I made my first trip to Poland for a family wedding. Poland also happened to be the country where I had my first experience in a hair salon, and I had a memorable experience that taught me about communication through different languages.
Another year of essays and cheap student bars later and Iceland was my choice of destination for a solo trip in August 2013. It rained during my entire tour of the Golden Circle and admittedly took some time for me to be wowed by the country, and then I went to Skaftafell and my view swiftly changed. I developed a mute friendship with a Chinese family from my hostel dorm and made chat with (/was flirted with by) some Spanish soccer players on the way to Vestmannaeyjar. I then did a help exchange with a lovely host family in Reykjavík, with whom I remain friends to this day. I wimped out of stripping off for a geothermal bath, experienced an exciting cultural festival that taught me size really doesn’t matter, and quickly learned that the Blue Lagoon was not my (or most Icelanders’) cup of tea.
After a quick New Year’s trip to Amsterdam, 2014 started with The Dissertation. After completing my final exams, I got a part-time summer job and then I went back to Canada in late July to reunite with Vancouver Island. In returning, I realized how much I had grown in the 3 years that had passed since my first visit. (And no, I don’t mean physically.) From there I did a 3-week road trip to the States with a then-boyfriend. What was a not particularly thoroughly planned trip turned into an incredible exploration of various national parks, including Yellowstone, Zion, and Canyonlands. One of the slightly less positive observations from the trip was the rising presence of technology among travellers, and the way nature was being harmed by human behaviour.
A downhearted plane journey later and I was back on British soil, trying to motivate myself to look for jobs. It didn’t help that I wasn’t super sure what I wanted to do. I decided to put off the process by looking for work as an au pair in a new country. I chose Switzerland, and a family very quickly chose me. (Side note – if you’re considering working as an au pair, I encourage you to read this guide!) During the few weekends I was fully free, I caught the train to places like Bern and Basel to meet up with friends, browse Christmas markets, practise my German, and eat lots of chocolate.
It was during my time living in a small village outside of Geneva that I was approached about a job opportunity by the employer I’d worked for over the summer. (Attitude and effort counts!) In the space of a day, I flew back to London for an interview before flying straight back to Geneva. Reflecting on this following the arrival of COVID-19 has really made me wonder why we couldn’t have done a virtual interview…
I started the new job in January 2015, and I loved it. One of the many things I loved about it was the work-life balance it offered. That summer, I used some of my vacation allowance to head to Portugal for a few days of solo time. I explored Porto first and from there took a scenic train journey to Pinhão for a day. Then I left for Lisbon and made friends with a Hungarian girl on the bus. We got a train to the most western point of continental Europe and explored Sintra together. The experience reminded me that travelling with another person can be really nice!
When my 9-month contract finished at the end of September, it was back to Canada for a few months to enjoy BC in the autumn. My sister came out to visit for a week, and we witnessed the sunsets of Tofino, made our thighs wince hiking in Squamish, and checked out Whistler before its ski season began. I was lucky to spend Christmas 2015 in Kauai, where I got sent tumbling by huge waves just a few times and amazed myself at the number of people hiking slippery coastal paths in flip flops.
In March 2016, it was Hungary that I decided to use some vacation allowance on. From the airport I got a train to Szeged to meet the friend I’d made in Portugal. Upon boarding the train, I quickly realized that a “first class” ticket means something different in Hungary compared to England. After Szeged, I explored Budapest and learned that this city isn’t just for British men wanting to bring shame to their nation during their stag do, but a great option for quiet solo travellers too.
After completing my second fixed-term contract in September, October 2016 saw me return to Australia with my mum to visit family friends. Then I spent part of November in Poland, where I lamented the US election result while watching snow fall outside, explored Krakow, and witnessed the fascinating event that is a dog breed show without having any idea what people were saying.
In the closing days of 2016, I was set to return to Canada, this time with a 2-year working holiday visa. I took the option to stop in Iceland on the way over, mainly so I could see my old host family and see the Northern Lights. I didn’t see the latter, but this time I did shower naked in public so I could go in a geothermal pool. Take that, prudishness.
Adjusting to expat life in Canada had its challenges, but as the year of 2017 went on, I came to realize how happy I was there and how much I wanted to stay. Nevertheless, a series of events over the year compelled me to get away from Vancouver Island for a few days over Christmas. I had a very snowy few days in Kelowna, so snowy that I was then treated to an unexpected luxury of spending one night sleeping in the airport.
In summer 2018, I paid a visit back to England. Some blissful sunny days at home in North Yorkshire were followed by a few days in London catching up with friends. London isn’t so bad when you’re just a visitor and not a resident! I then flew on to Poland and spent a few days cherry picking and trying to avoid invitations to do vodka shots.
In July 2018, I returned to Ontario and escaped the humidity by swimming in a lake that I later learned contained huge dock spiders. In December 2018, I was given permanent resident status in Canada. I then spent a white Christmas (and true Canadian winter!) in Kingston, ON.
My most recent solo trip was to Denmark in October 2019, following a family reunion holiday in Greece. I not only got to see one of my best friends again, but I enjoyed some me-time exploring the cobbled streets of Copenhagen. We dipped our toes in the North Sea and even nipped over to Sweden for a couple of hours!
The pandemic has put a pause on travel for the time being, but living in Victoria, I’m blessed with so many great options for getting outside and hiking. Vancouver Island is also surrounded by an array of Gulf Islands, of which Saturna Island is an absolute jewel in the ocean and a wonderful option for anyone seeking some solo time.