This time last year, I started to contemplate solo travel.
I always knew I had it in me. But having recently experienced panic attacks and certain emotions of fear, which I’d never known growing up, I became a little more reserved. Or should I say, certain things made me think twice, when the real me wouldn’t have thought at all!
It was deep Autumn last year when the seed of change was first sewn. Those beautiful rustic colours rustling in the trees in the Autumnal chill, everyone wrapped in cosy coats, gloves and scarves; that moment when you look around all the girls appear to be on a film set, hair blowing perfectly in the wind, skirts dancing and skin porcelain from the cold. It’s my favourite season, Autumn.
I took off to Vienna in Austria, on my own for the first time ever.
Nervous, excited and anxious, I knew from the moment I got to the airport that this would be the start of something. As soon as I arrived at the Sumptuous grand luxury of the Imperial Hotel, Vienna, I asked myself if I could just relax in my room a while. But no, I marched myself out of the doors, map in hand and took off exploring. I got back in that night at midnight; shattered, frozen yet absolutely exhilarated! I’ll never forget that feeling. In one day, I felt I’d accomplished so much.
I’d sat in busy coffee shops alone, which at first was very daunting, forcing myself to feel comfortable solo, whilst I sipped Viennese coffees, steaming hot chocolates and gorged on yummy patisseries! I got happily lost. I wandered aimlessly down pretty cobbled back streets, explored cutesy boho shops and walked along the river. I then even found an Italian restaurant in which to dine, alone. And I didn’t mind it! I’m not saying it was easy but I managed to ease into it, despite knowing that I could easily have hidden away at one of Vienna’s best restaurants within my own hotel. I discovered the Museums Quarter, vintage map shops and ate more patisseries in more coffee shops! In fact, I’d found 4 of the renowned coffee shops I’d been aiming to visit all in a day.
Autumnal Vienna is one of those memories that will remain cherished in my heart forever! It makes me smile, reminds me of how confident I can be when I push myself and reminds me that I can have a fantastic time alone. Thing is, I had the best time on my own.
Little did I realise how much of a trend this would spark in me. After this, I jetted off to Zurich alone for a few days. I did the same there and figured my way around the city within 2 days. And then the same in Oslo for a few days over the New Year.
But then 2013 called for an escalated challenge.
I had always wanted to be a War Reporter. But I’ve never felt confident enough in myself to take the plunge.
This year, I jumped feet first into a whole new travel experience, to determine for myself how I could handle a challenge. This was not ‘normal travel.’ This was an experience fuelled purely by passion.
‘Ethiopia,’ I exclaim to my loved ones. Most have little idea. Some associate it with only negative connotations. Not their fault, it’s the way the media has portrayed this magical country for decades.
So this February, I embarked on a solo trip to Ethiopia.
Not knowing what to expect my legs were actually shaking while I checked in at the airport. I couldn’t be sure it was not a big mistake and I wasn’t even sure I’d even make it back safe. Being a Journalist worried me hugely. 3 and a half weeks later, I returned a completely different person. I cried when I left. I cried endlessly when I got back home.
I’d fallen severely ill out there.
IT WAS THE MOST CHALLENGING JOURNEY OF MY LIFE IN EVERY WAY
I’d cancelled 3 flights home, I’d broken off my set route, gone completely solo off-itinerary into the deeply tribal isolated South, had some near-miss experiences that could have cost me my life and nearly did had it not been for the Grace of God, and I’d made some very special friends who I miss.
Most importantly, I survived on instinct and intuition alone when there was nothing else. Things went horribly wrong a couple of occasions during this trip. That’s when I realised I was at the mercy of myself and The Man above. When you need it most, your body kicks into action.
I relied on tact, charm, strength, humbleness, compassion and so much more to get through a couple of testing events:
1. Severe illness unlike anything I’ve ever experienced
2. A serious car accident in the remote Ethiopian jungle surrounded by tribes with machetes & Kalashnikovs! All the while, acting strong and striking that balance between a woman who is not fearful yet is respectful and compassionate. That is what got me through.
Friends I made in the country later told me I was extremely lucky to have walked away.
But what I gained from the experience, the country and the trip makes all this pale in significance. Namely, some of my most awe-inspiring work to date in my set of portrait photography… ‘Tribal Ethiopia’.
I now want to move to Addis Ababa (as you do?!)
Ethiopia is a unique country. Surrounded by mayhem and political war, it is a relative sanctuary of beauty, history and tradition.
Since then, my feet have barely touched UK soil.
I have travelled right through Myanmar (Burma), Lebanon, Jordan, Switzerland, Portugal, Guatemala, Belize, Kenya, Zanzibar, New York, Mexico and Oman. I’ve been out of the country for most of the past 8 months. And my confidence has grown so much, I can’t explain. If someone had told me at this time last year, whilst I was contemplating my first solo trip to Vienna, that I’d have achieved so much in the coming year, Id’ NEVER have believed it could be me. Not me. Never. No way! Not that insecure, uncertain, fearful, nervous girl.
But today, I’m a different person. I’ve met some wonderful people, made amazing friends all over the globe, fallen in love in ways I didn’t think possible, seen and now appreciate the beauty in everything, both good and bad, and I’m excited about all that is yet to come. I feel awakened and confident. That confidence is so liberating, it’s the best feeling in the world for a girl like me. I feel closer than ever to being the type of woman I’ve always longed to be and looked up to. It’s a work in progress but watch this space!
And I can only thank TRAVEL and the stunning world in which we live for bringing so much into my life.
- A New Brand of Luxury (joannaparktonks.wordpress.com)
- Vienna Tourist Information For Single Women Traveller (dianaabend.wordpress.com)
- Thursday travels: That time when I slaughtered a lamb on top of a mountain in Ethiopia* (youngqueerandbroke.wordpress.com)
- 10 things that make Ethiopia extraordinary CNN -Travel (huluneger.wordpress.com)
- Amazing Africa: Welcome to Ethiopia (one.org)