Growing up, I was a very timid and quiet child. I kept to myself, had trouble making friends and generally didn’t speak out. In school, I always dreaded being called upon as the fear of making a mistake was so anxiety-inducing I’d sabotage myself before I even began. Though as I grew up, it was slowly through experiences that I gained confidence. I joined new clubs, I made new friends who supported me and I slowly stepped outside my comfort zone. Out of all of these, travelling alone for the first time was the biggest catalyst that helped me become the girl you see and hear today.
My First Big Solo Trip
Way back in 2014 (I’m talking pre-blogging days), I was chatting with a friend about how I wanted to road trip out to Newfoundland once I graduated from university. Y’know, to celebrate that I survived without pulling out my hair. Turns out she had family in Eastern Canada and I had the car so it was a win-win. I got help with accommodation and she got help with transportation. We planned this epic road trip for September – 4 solid weeks of adventure on the open road. Right?
Wrong. I was terribly, terribly wrong. While it turned into the equivalent of a raging garbage fire at times, I was grateful for it. But why Lindsay? That sounds TERRIBLE. Well, it meant I’d be travelling alone for the first time in my life. …but you just said you were travelling with a friend? Yep, keep reading.
How I Came to Travel Solo For the First Time
About a week into our road trip, things were going smoothly for the most part. However, there were a few signs that I now realize could have signalled danger ahead. As they say though, hindsight’s 20/20, right? Anyways, we boarded our ferry from Sydney, Nova Scotia bound for Newfoundland and Labrador. While it was a bit of a rough sleep as we didn’t pay for a cabin, the trip was smooth for the most part.
At 6:00am (barf) we arrived at Port aux Basques. As we made our way to the car, my travel buddy asked if she could drive off the ferry as I had driven on. Despite doing this trip a few times with her family, she was never able to drive on or off, so I figured why not?
As we disembarked we were met with Port aux Basque’s classic weather – rain, drizzle and fog. I’ve driven in worse conditions, but it still wasn’t pretty. It’s eerie to have clouds so low you feel like you’re constantly ducking to not hit your head. Visibility wasn’t the greatest and it didn’t help that the rain wasn’t letting up, but we were making good time… or so I thought.
About 20 minutes outside of Corner Brook, Newfoundland I saw something on the road ahead. I couldn’t quite make out what it was until we were almost on top of it… a rock about the size of my fist. I tried to say something but just couldn’t get the words out fast enough – and my friend nailed it head-on. Those garbage fires I was mentioned earlier? HERE WE GO.
I quickly turned off all the music and rolled down the windows to which I was greeted with a rumbling noise. Her response to this sound was the question, “should I pull over?” Why YES, of COURSE you should pull over. As soon as the car stopped I jumped out and to my dismay I was correct. There was my front driver side tire in all its deflated glory. I actually don’t think I’ve ever seen a tire so flat.
Into the trunk we go to get my spare tire which was beneath the panel of my trunk’s floor… under all of our stuff. With shaking hands I began unloading all of our gear at the side of the Trans Canada Highway. Needless to say my first taste of Newfoundland wasn’t quite what I had imagined. Then it hit me.
How the HELL do I change a tire?!
Luckily, we were greeted by an older gentleman who had been jogging up the highway (because that’s apparently what you do at 7:00am on a Friday morning in Newfoundland) asked if we needed help. With pleading eyes brimming with tears I let out a murmur of ‘yes please’. Within minutes we had the flat changed and I breathed a sigh of relief.
I turned around to start putting things back in the car and without a trace, the man was gone. Before I could get his contact information or anything he disappeared as if he was a figment of my imagination. If by some strange chance he ever reads this – THANK YOU. You saved my sanity that day and I’m forever grateful.
As we hopped into the car, I turned to the next step. I needed to find a Mazda dealership to take my car to and I began to pray to anything listening that there was one on the island. As I typed the words into Google, I realized I had no cell service. So I asked my friend to search for it to which she responded does it have to be Mazda? As you can imagine, this was not what I wanted to hear. After a sharp glare, she told me there was one in the next city.
Slowly with my spare tire securely fastened, we made our way into Corner Brook for what was probably the quietest drive ever. By this point, it was about 9:00am as we pulled into the dealership. A saving grace was that we arrived as they were opening, meaning they were able to fit me in before they closed for the weekend. I left my car in their capable hands and we cabbed to my friend’s cousin’s place which was our home base while we stayed in Corner Brook.
As we got in the cab, I breathed a small sigh of relief. My car was taken care of, she would be fixed before they closed and all was well. Though that relief began to morph into a wicked, raging monster in my gut as I came to a realization: my friend hasn’t apologized.
I don’t know about you, but if the roles were reversed I would have been apologizing up and down if I had just blown a tire on a car that wasn’t mine. Isn’t that common decency?! Maybe it’s the fact that the car felt like an extension of me, or maybe it was the combination of all the small quirks that bothered me before this melding with this fact. Whatever the combination of reasons, I came to the realization that something needed to change. After a good long talk with Mommabear (Moms are the best) and thinking about what I want from this trip, I confronted my friend. It was time for me to do some solo adventuring.
SUMMARY: Friend drove my car into a rock. She barely realized, didn’t apologize until way later than socially acceptable. Even then it was barely an apology. Decided I didn’t need her disrespect and hit the road solo while she hung out with her family. Best decision EVER.
Why I Decided to Go Travel By Myself
I want to start by saying that there wasn’t just one singular factor that made me decide to take the solo travel plunge at this specific moment. There was a myriad of reasons and it wasn’t that I wanted to travel solo at this particular moment, it was that I felt I needed to. This was something I needed to do for me, and that helped give me the courage to do so.
There was no “how to travel alone” guide to influence my choice. I had no insider tips or blog posts to reference. Do I wish I did? There’s no doubt in my mind they would have helped but at the same time, making the decision completely by myself made it all that more fulfilling.
What Led to My First Trip Alone
I want to start this by saying I didn’t just leave my friend at the side of the road. It actually worked out that her cousin who we were staying with in Corner Brook was heading to Gander (our eventual destination) so she was able to catch a ride with her. The stars aligned which just solidified my feeling that this was the best thing to do.
While I wasn’t sure about travelling alone at first, a few factors helped me make the choice. The first was the discussion with my friend. In talking with her, it became very clear to me that she had little respect for me and my property. Yes, a car is just an object, but it was my object. Like an object belonging to someone else, you apologize if you break it. I literally had to drag the apology out of her and when she did apologize, I could tell it was to appease me and it wasn’t sincere.
Another factor was upon perusing my Lonely Planet Canada guide, I discovered that Newfoundland was home to the only Viking settlement in North America. As it’s at the top of the northern peninsula, it’s harder to access without a car and who knows when I’ll be back with a car at my disposal. It was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up and if travelling alone meant I could see it, I was 100% in.
My last and biggest reason? So many people don’t travel because they put it off. Whether the reason is financial, prior commitments, lack of travel partner, because they’re scared or otherwise, the end result is they don’t make the trip and they regret it later on. If you want it, you make it happen. If it means you have to save for years, you have to sacrifice something or take the leap even if you’re scared, I say do it so you don’t regret it. How many times have you heard oh I wish I did that, I wish I travelled more when I was younger, or something similar? I didn’t want to be sitting here years later saying the same thing. Instead, I’m sitting here saying I’m so glad I did.
SOMETHING TO NOTE: This was my situation and had it been different, I might not have decided to travel solo here. I am a white Canadian woman, travelling within my own country in a space that is predominantly white. While I didn’t know it at the time, I have realized with reflection that this is a privilege that shaped my decision to travel solo. My experiences as a white woman in small-town, predominately white Canada will be different than someone who is Black, Indigenous or a Person of Colour. While I’d like to hope that you would have the same welcoming experience I did during my trip, the unfortunate reality is that this may not be the case.
The Results of My Solo Travel
Taking this big leap was no easy task. I was honestly so nervous, dare I say even scared sh!tless. Here I was, the girl that couldn’t manage to handle a sleepover until she was 14 without getting homesick, about to tackle a solo road trip up Newfoundland’s upper peninsula without a working cell phone. I channelled my inner Barney Stinson.
Oh, I haven’t mentioned – I only had cell reception in a small number of towns as I’m not with the island’s main carrier. Corner Brook, Gander, Clarenville and St John’s to be exact. This was also way before Google came out with their nifty offline maps feature. Another thing… I had never driven more than a maximum of 2 hours in one sitting before.
Despite all the nerves and the pit in my stomach as I drove away, I had an EPIC adventure. I got to hike more of Gros Morne National Park‘s trails than I originally thought, I did indeed make it to the only Viking settlement in North America AND I even made it as far as Labrador. I don’t know about you, but I’d say that’s pretty good for my first foray into solo female travel!
Why Travelling Alone Is So Important
Travelling solo is seriously weird at times, especially if you’re used to having someone around. At times it’s even downright scary – but don’t let it stop you. Embrace the fear and use it to motivate you. Think of yourself down the line and how amazing it feels to accomplish a big goal. Remember a time when you stepped outside your comfort zone and how it felt to overcome your inner struggles. Think back to those feeling of self-satisfaction and to anyone who said you couldn’t do it. Guess what? You can and you will.
If it wasn’t for taking this leap of faith, I wouldn’t have gained the self confidence I needed to drive from Nova Scotia back home solo. I wouldn’t have believed I could travel to the Northwest Territories solo for 10 days, let alone two weeks in Europe all by myself. Was I nervous? Hell yeah! Especially that last one as I had a language barrier to contend with, but guess what? I knocked both trips out of the park. Here’s me swooning over the gorgeous frozen waterfalls outside of Hay River and squinting into the sun at one of Germany’s national parks.
Some Travelling Solo Tips
While my decision to go travelling alone for the first time came to fruition in a matter of hours, that isn’t always the case. I’ve travelled solo a number of times but it’s not always easy.
Don’t think that you have to go and book a solo adventure to Africa right this second. Travelling alone can be stressful. Trust me, I would have gone bananas in The Philippines if I didn’t have Robin with me. One of my biggest solo travel tips is to start slow. It’s no fun to be overcome with crippling anxiety while travelling the world, so why put yourself in that situation? Start with a solo hike, then maybe graduate to a solo trip to the neighbouring town or province and go from there. Some of the best places to travel alone are those you’re familiar with when you’re first getting started. Get used to being on your own and your future adventures will be that much more enjoyable. But hey, if you want to go to Africa while travelling abroad alone for the first time? Do it up – and mega kudos because I still don’t know if I could do that!
Also, first time solo travel loneliness is a real thing. Actually scratch that, not just the first time but at any time. It can be tough to not have someone to share the experiences with, but remember you’re never truly alone. If you’re feeling lonely, pick up the phone and give a friend a call or hop online and send a message. Join some Facebook groups with other fellow travellers and start a conversation. One of the greatest things about technology is how easy it is to stay connected so use that to your advantage.
Like anything, the more you do it the better it gets. Solo adventures are now some of my favourite trips, ESPECIALLY road trips. The freedom is incredible. I don’t only mean being able to stop whenever you want, go wherever you like and change your plans last minute. I mean the freedom of being confident in yourself and everything you do. If it wasn’t for that road trip way back when I wouldn’t have spoken in front of hundreds of women at the Women in Travel Summit (albeit my time in the spotlight was brief, it was still one of the scariest things I’ve done to this day). I wouldn’t be the Wanderful Toronto chapter leader, and honestly? I wouldn’t be working from home, trying to build my travel blog as well as my freelancing business.
So to everyone who asks me Lindsay, how can you go and travel by yourself? Not just in Canada but all over the world?! It’s because if there’s a will, there’s a way.