The Trip That Set Me Free

In January 2018, I made the decision to book a solo trip halfway around the world for 2 months. It sounds big and it seems scary. But it was the best decision I have ever made.

I can’t stress enough that this was definitely not something I would typically do. Growing up I was (and still am) a worrier, always nervous about things that may – or will – never happen. I hated sleepovers because I always wanted to be at home, and I went to bed every day for a year fully dressed in case I was kidnapped in the middle of the night. I wish I was kidding! So, whilst I’m not saying that this was normal (at all!!!) my point is that I didn’t make a habit of trying new things and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I didn’t like the unknown, and I liked being places I felt safe.  

When I finished education, I went on a trip with my school to Tanzania, primarily to attempt to summit Kilimanjaro. Having achieved this – and having made the decision that whilst the experience was unreal, mountain climbing was definitely not for me – we descended the peak ready for a week of work in a village and school before finishing the trip on safari and the beach. It was an amazing adventure; I would never claim otherwise. I loved every minute (even though the night we reached the top was -15ºC and I had never known cold like it) and, overall, the trip had an extraordinary impact on me. The time I spent out there challenged me in so many ways, both physically and mentally and allowed me to develop accordingly. 

Perhaps the greatest thing I got out of this trip, though, was a bite from the travel bug. I couldn’t wait until I could go away again and explore new places – on my own terms. You see, Tanzania was incredible. But the trip was planned to within an inch of its life, the itinerary carefully laid out and even the scheduled R&R at the end of the trip had minimal freedom. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we were hard done by, but at the end of the day we were a group of school kids (only two of us were 18) so the teachers had limits and we couldn’t swim at all or venture beyond the perimeters of our accommodation to find out more about the vibrancy and excitement of Dar Es Salaam.  There was so much more to the country than I saw, and it’s definitely on my list of places to go back to. Nevertheless, I was hooked on traveling and ready for my next adventure. But what it was, I didn’t know then. 

Having finished my first term teaching in a school, I couldn’t sit still for dreaming of places I wanted to go. I imagine, originally, I didn’t think it was a possibility. My friends were either at university or unavailable and travelling solo hadn’t dawned on me. As mentioned, I was happy in my comfort zone. Going to a new country without my mum and dad seemed challenging enough – let alone going by myself. But as my dreams grew bigger, I realised it didn’t matter that I had no one to go with – I was going to go anyway. I decided on Australia and New Zealand. Yes, they were half a world away, but they seemed like safe countries that we had friends and family in so I suppose I didn’t think I would feel vulnerable out there.

When doing some research I came across Contiki – a company for 18-35 year olds with planned trips around the world who offer the experience of stress-free travel with a Trip Manager with the added benefits of free time to do what you would like at different stops, optional add-ons throughout the tours and the chance to join a larger group of travellers who also decided Contiki was right for them. Typically, those who travel with them are solo travellers, though some people go with a friend or two, meaning that most people in your group also decided they wanted a similar experience to you. I love Contiki because it’s a sort of solo travel where you are never alone; surrounded by people who have made that same decision as you, from across the world and who will fast become friends for life. When I first came across the company, I was so excited. I found a trip that was perfect for my requirements and immediately booked flights, accommodation and marked my calendar. I counted down the days, buzzing to go and explore Australia and meet new people.  

If I tried to write about the many wonders of the trip itself, I would never stop. I still smile, two years on, thinking of the amazing memories I made. From belting out the day song every morning no matter how early we had to get up, to jumping out of a plane on the Gold Coast, to living day to day in bikini’s as we soaked up the sun on just about every beach we passed (sometimes feeling sorry for ourselves after the previous night’s happenings – adventures in themselves) and even just the bus journey’s getting to know our new buddies, constantly finding out new things about them even up until the last day.

With Contiki you make friends for life and memories that will last you forever. It’s these very same memories that prompted me to reminisce about this trip which gave me the freedom to discover who I was and to be exactly who I wanted to be. Trust me, I know how cliché and cringeworthy that sounds. Finding myself in Australia… could I get any more basic? But there’s no better way to say it.

All the way through school I struggled to really know who I was and who I wanted to be. I didn’t think I was capable of going to university because of my grades, but I wanted to go. To do what? Who knows. Where? Who knows (except probably close to home!!!). Truthfully, I wasn’t that happy and I was 100% lost in terms of my future. I decided a gap year was the solution and this single decision has had the greatest impact on my life. I worked and then I went off alone to the other side of the world and it was a chance to start fresh and be the person I wanted to be. 

Like I said, at school I didn’t know who I was and I suppose this was my greatest concern about travelling: was travelling going to be the same as school? Was I going to struggle with being myself and knowing who that was and making friends? Then I realised, anyone would worry about these things. Solo travelling is a big deal, and no one does it with the certainty that they will make loads of friends and be content with themselves. I think just making the decision and then getting on the plane made me realise that I actually knew who I was the whole time, and I was happy with that! It took me all of 5 minutes to start chatting to the two girls I was sat with on the plane and soon after we were laughing and watching movies together and the memories started being made! I had nothing to be worried about. I was me, and I was ready for my adventure!

This trip provided me with ample opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone. From skydiving without telling my parents (mum always said to only tell her after it had happened so she wouldn’t worry), to nearly dying when white water rafting (I wish I was joking), to a quick trip to hospital after falling down some stairs (I was completely sober) and even just getting to and from places alone! All of these things were challenges, but I faced them and they didn’t phase me! 

This trip truly set me free. I was allowed to be myself, and I was exactly who I wanted to be! I challenged myself and I was brave and strong in situations I may have previously thought were insurmountable when facing them alone. I did things I literally never thought I could, and I had the time of my life in the process. I have made friends that I still see and speak to regularly and when I reflect on my trip a smile never fails to cross my face. The trip changed me and my perspective and I am so grateful I had the opportunity to have this experience. Contiki has provided me with travel companions for life! I will carry this trip and my experiences with me for a very long time, and will always remember, especially in times when the light may be struggling to get through, that I did this, that I felt no fear and that I truly grabbed life by the horns whilst I was doing it! I squeezed every last drop out of it, said yes to almost everything, and decided that there was no point being on this adventure if I wasn’t going to push myself and have the best possible time. I cannot stress enough what this trip did for me. I felt empowered and stronger than I had ever felt, and I can categorically say I have no regrets!

Image courtesy of Samuel Scrimshaw

Categories: Article, Opinion

Ottilie Young

21 | University of Southampton | book+travel obsessed

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