Our Solo Adventures
Our Latin America expert Richard, Marketing Executive Hayley and Founder Jonny reflect on the challenges and highlights of their most significant solo adventures to date.
Richard - Venezuela
My most memorable solo travel experience was also my first foray into the work of professional tourism. Having just accepted a job to manage a jungle boat deep in the Amazonas state of Venezuela, I first had to get there. That meant navigating 36 hours against the current on the upper Orinoco in a 14-foot skiff.
The fact that I knew nothing about tourism, spoke almost zero Spanish (at that time) and had never navigated anywhere did not phase me. However, when I found out my guide (a native of the river) had no intention of helping me, things got worse.
Not only did he insist on navigating his skiff behind me on the river - just in case we hit anything - but he also confiscated my only flashlight for his use while navigating behind me at night. Naturally, he spoke no English and we had no purified water or way of purifying the river water on our trip.
The trip was gorgeous and gruelling, the magnificent virgin landscapes were dressed in scorching days and torrential nights. Camping was in hammocks and food scarce, but dehydration nearly killed me. I grew frustrated with drinking river water and its disastrous effects on my stomach, so I just stopped drinking.
The jungle boat was also poorly organized, its radio confiscated by the military, the owners kind but bumbling, and I escaped Venezuela with US$35 to spare, flying out of a small grass field owned by some evangelist preachers. I was happy, but Jorge the tour operator owner decided to learn how to fly that day. The bush pilot gave him the wheel so he could fly us right into thunderheads, but at that point, I didn't even care!
The whole experience only heightened my resolve to find work abroad. It took solo trips through the Ecuadorian Andes, cloud forests of Costa Rica and the great lakes of Nicaragua to make it stick.
Hayley - Japan
I had wanted to go to Japan for the longest time and once I finished my degree, that’s where I set my sights on. I did have a couple of friends that expressed interest in joining me, but Japan was so special to me, that I didn’t want someone to come just for the sake of coming. So I was quite resolved in my decision to go alone.
I don’t really remember feeling nervous. It was a different kind of excitement. It felt more significant - a matter-of-fact, subdued kind of anticipation. I didn't want to get my hopes up that it would be this transformative experience. I didn’t want three weeks of being in a country I’d held in such high regard to tick along, only to realise that I would have preferred to have shared it.
Thankfully, that’s not quite how it went.
I know it sounds awful, but there were moments when, inside, I felt just slightly put out when people joined me along the way. They weren’t bad travel companions by any stretch and I had fun. I think I just romanticised the idea of being alone a bit too much.
In hindsight, I had company when I most needed it. Through Tokyo and Kyoto, the friends I made did open up the opportunity to do things I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen to do alone. I can imagine The Robot Restaurant wouldn’t have been quite so fun alone, I never would have visited the sand dunes in Totori (I didn’t even know Japan had sand dunes) and a baseball game and solo-sake tasting probably wouldn’t have been on the agenda either.
I did meet some really interesting people who all had their own fascinating and sometimes tragic stories that everyone was very open about sharing, which I think is quite a lovely thing. We all had our reasons for choosing to travel alone and in those fleeting moments where our paths crossed, perhaps we exchanged something that made our journeys a little lighter.
I did finally get some time to myself in the most perfect solo setting as if it had all fallen fortuitously into place. Koya San is a small, magical mountaintop Buddhist community where you can spend the night in one of its numerous temples and visit the beautiful forested cemetery. If I couldn’t find some peace here, where would I?
Kitted out in my comfortable yukata, I ate a sublime Buddhist meal in my room in silence, had a steamy soak in the onsen alone and fell asleep on my cosy tatami to the garish sounds of Japanese TV for company. I woke up early for morning prayers and then meandered through the tranquil cemetery as sunlight pierced through the tops of the monstrously majestic Japanese cedars, enlightening the mossy gravestones that blanket Okunoin.
Maybe it wouldn’t have all felt so magical had I spent the whole trip alone. Without a doubt, it was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen, and it felt like, just for that day, it was all mine. Just as I'd pictured.
Jonny - Africa
In the autumn of 1991, I set off on a true adventure of a lifetime - to travel by motorbike from London through Africa. I didn’t know the exact route I’d be taking, or where I’d end up, I just pointed myself south at Clapham Junction and hoped for the best.
At the time of departure, I was not travelling solo. About six weeks before I was due to set off a great friend, experiencing the tumult of a failing marriage, asked if he could join me. At first, I was a little reticent. I had been planning this journey for a long time, had psyched myself up to go alone, but after a little contemplation the challenge and enormity of what I intended to do suddenly seemed far less daunting with a companion, and so on a bright October morning, Neil and I set off for Africa.
After driving down through France, we took a ship across the Mediterranean from Marseilles to Tunis and started the journey proper. Sadly for Neil, it didn’t last long. On the first morning, driving south from the coast into the arid interior, Neil hit a sand dune that had crept across the road, lost control of his bike and whipped out, breaking both the bike and his leg in the process. There was no alternative but for Neil to hobble home. And that left me, about 40 miles into what would prove to be a 20,000-mile journey, travelling solo.
Was I sad? I was for Neil, whose Africa dream was over before it began. But I wasn’t sad for myself. I had planned so much of the trip on my own, assuming it would be a solo adventure, that Neil’s accident and departure somehow felt prophetic, preordained and I drove on into the Sahara with a clear conscience and tsunamic feeling of freedom.
Driving my bike across the desert was pure joy. I teamed up with different groups of travellers heading the same way, met and spent time with the local Tuareg nomads, and just travelled at my own pace, staying where I wanted to stay, with no other thought than what the next day, the next hour, the next five minutes would bring. I travelled this way all the way to Cape Town where, having spent a month ‘R&R’, I turned the bike north and drove all the way back again.
As much as I love Neil and he is still very much one of my best friends – Oh, and don’t worry, while convalescing from his accident back in the UK, he met his second wife, who he now has three lovely kids with – I don’t regret that I did that journey alone. Travelling that way gave me a freedom and an adventure I have never felt before or since. It’s my belief that travelling alone you are rarely alone, but instead are showered with friendship and hospitality wherever you go.
If you’d like to know more about this trip, please read Running With The Moon – A Boy’s Own Adventure.