Before I set off on my epic summer adventure, people used to equally warn me and congratulate me on my choice of travelling alone. If I had to be honest, and I guess I have to because no one’s forcing me to write this, I was never afraid while travelling (bar a couple of hiccups, but that’s another story). Until it came to my trip in New Zealand. Then, I really was scared. Why? Because the whole plan was to drive across the whole country. Alone.
I had 3 and a half weeks of loneliness and endless roads, twisting and turning around the Kiwi alpine landscape. And the thought of being friendless truly terrified me. However, as you already know by now, my travelling situation was far from friendless (I wrote about it here). Fears aside, embarking on a solo road trip taught me a few valuable lessons that I continue to practice today.
Lesson 1 – trust yourself
This is an important one. Whoever you are reading this, know you’ve got it. Book yourself that car. Hell, go further and book yourself that van. You CAN drive that far and that long. You won’t rely THAT much on GPS (OK, you’ll cling to it for dear life and have a minor panic attack when it doesn’t work, but then realise you’re fine and road signs don’t lie). You know when you’re tired and hungry. You won’t feel lonely. You will stop at beautiful hiding places. You’ll become part of the scenery and get to know the country better than you would’ve otherwise.
Lesson 2 – trust others
Trust yourself, but trust others, too. Most people are nice and kind. Most people hate to see people struggle. Most people will help you when you need help. Listen to your gut and your instinct and let yourself trust fellow travellers or locals you meet on the road. Have that coffee, share those fries and play that board game. Ask those questions and get the insider scoop on the best route or landmarks.
Lesson 3 – identify the essential
When travelling on your own, you need to be able to carry your belongings independently. Otherwise, you’ll end up sacrificing the freedom of solo travelling. My Kiwi solo road trip taught me to carry just what I needed – my backpack, my camera, my water bottle, some snacks and dinner for the next hostel. This way, I never unpacked. I left everything in the trunk and only carried what I absolutely needed – camera, wallet, phone and a change of clothes.
Identifying the essential also means knowing what you want to prioritise visiting. Don’t try to do everything – choose your top locations and dedicate enough time to soak it in. Towards the end I was spending 1 night in each place, often arriving shortly after dinner and leaving after breakfast, so I couldn’t rest or take my time.
Lesson 4 – let your feet take the lead
Identify the essentials, but trust yourself and your gut to surprise you. Dare to explore. Make a wrong turn in purpose. Don’t go into the first restaurant you see. Find that unique shop and get that item.
Take all the pictures you want. Be late. Spend an hour on a detour. Stop to see that waterfall – you’ll remember the moment forever.
Lesson 5 – breathe
Things will go wrong. Whether you travel solo or with somebody else, if you’re on the road for an extended period things will go wrong at some point. To me, it happened when I was 50km away from Takaka and I went into reserve. I hadn’t seen a gas station in 200km and I was exhausted. I fought the urge to cry and have a fit, I took a deep breath and assessed what I could do. I made it to my destination and a gas station just in time.
I used to get overly stressed when things didn’t go perfectly, but now I know I got this. I can solve any issue I face. I just need to remember to stay cool.
Lesson 6 – look up
Driving solo is tiring and sometimes dreary. After hours of driving I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings any more and only focused on arriving. To change this, I began to take short breaks more often. Instead of just looking at the road before me I’d stop to stretch my legs and see the mountains, hills, trees and clouds. In cities, I learnt to look up and see the architecture from a different angle or a famous spot with a different perspective. Taking a step away from my tiredness and using my last energy to explore gave me my most treasured moments even after coming back home.
Lesson 7 – talk to locals
My last lesson was to talk to locals. Now I do this even in my own city, when I visit a new neighbourhood or a new cafe or shop. Ask questions and listen to advice. Ask for help, offer help and exchange knowledge about your local areas for the one you’re visiting. Trips are mostly made by the people you meet, don’t forget that.
Learning all of this was at times scary, infuriating and lonely. Towards the end, though, it was worth it. I left New Zealand with countless memories and a revamped image of myself. And, guess what?
I like this version of me, more. No surprises there.