The best part about travel is connecting with other like-minded people who challenge me to think outside the box and live a life a little less ordinary. I’m excited to continue my Stories from the Road series, featuring interviews about some of the beautiful souls I’ve met while traveling.
Meet Lilly. We crossed paths in Edinburgh last year and then again in Budapest when she jumped on a plane to meet me just hours after I told her I was going there. Talk about a true traveler friend! Lilly quit her job last year and left the Pacific Northwest to travel solo throughout Europe before heading home for a stint. Now she’s gearing up for her next big trip, which I’m quite certain is going to blow my mind.
What caused you to book your one way ticket?
I was a lost 29-year-old soul. I was living under a shadow of being the outcast in my family who never emotionally or age appropriately recovered from the death of both of my parents (at the ages of 17 and 25) and a little brother who had JUST beaten an 18 month battle with stage three cancer. My life was a stressful bore of dating the wrong guys, binge watching Netflix and giving a pathetic attempt at school. My older brother, best friend and confidant approached me right before my 29th birthday and made all of this blunt and apparent but reminded me that my parents wouldn’t give a second thought to me taking on the world by traveling. I’m a free spirit, a rebel, but I’m also a self proclaimed f-up. It took me awhile to actually take it into consideration, to take the idea of solo travel seriously and start to plan it; simply out of fear of the thoughts of others: those being my siblings. They’re my everything, yet I never told them about it until two weeks before I left because I was scared about their reactions. I really failed myself in thinking that my family wouldn’t accept my hopes, plans and wishes. So, the night after I checked off telling the last sibling on the list, I went and bought my one way ticket to Amsterdam. Booking that ticket was the best choice that I have ever made in my life, it started me on a new path, it started to build a new Lilly and it changed my life.
Has any place really felt like “home” for you?
You find elements of home everywhere you travel. However, Edinburgh was my “home” away from home. I remember flying back from Iceland and literally right when we were touching down in Edinburgh,”Welcome Home” by Radical Face started playing, it made me laugh and it made me tear up. It was my home away from home. Anyone who followed my travels knows that. I think I “left” about five times. I like to say that I got stuck, but in reality I could have left at anytime. I would leave bags of stuff in Edinburgh at High Street Hostel every time I would travel to somewhere else just so I “had” to come back. I made some of the greatest friends there. I can’t even say that I explored half of what there is to see in that city, but I was comfortable, and it was full of life. There were crazy nights of partying, there is the amazing hospitality of the Scottish people, I never felt unsafe, I came to find that I had a routine, and I always felt welcome. My family asked why I didn’t just find a job and settle, but I knew that there was more travel to be had once my visa in the EU renewed. Scotland is a gorgeous country with beautiful people and it is absolutely not to be missed. Edinburgh is one that will forever be near and dear to my heart, and it will always, without a doubt be considered home.
What is your inspiration to keep traveling?
My little brother’s clean bill of health, my parents early passings, my siblings’ cheerleading, and the want to strive to build upon this person that I have started to find within myself. Everyone in my family are my guiding lights and inspirations to keep on keepin’ on. My parents were amazing people who thought that travel and education were the two most important things in life. I found out a lot about myself, who I am, who I could be, can be while traveling and that allowed me to come back to Seattle for my brothers’ weddings and finally be able to speak up with this new voice and let my family understand that I plan to leave again. I am also inspired by the other traveler’s stories that I have met along the way. More than anything though, I never thought that I would be, but I am now my own inspiration.
Have you ever felt unsafe as a female solo traveler?
Absolutely. I am a very strong-willed woman, with a firm personality and a tough walk but I have had a couple of moments. My first was time in a train station at 6am in Vienna (of all places) after a 10 hour overnight train ride from Warsaw. I was switching out currency in my backpack while bent over and a man came up and groped me. I was shocked, disgusted, and scared. That was my first taste of it and it scared me big time and unfortunately it really made me put my guard up. The worst of it however was when I was in Egypt. That was the only non-European country that I visited on my trip. The most frustrating thing about it was that I was there with a male friend so I thought, “Oh I should be in the clear. He’s got me.” But, he might as well have not even been there for the most part. Men flocked to me, regardless of trying to follow their customs of being completely covered up. Doing what I could to not stand out, I dressed according to their customs, attempting not to attract attention to myself. By the end of the three day trip to Cairo, I had the price of 1,025,000 camels on my head. I felt degraded, scared, and oppressed. I almost felt that I should have let my friend do the talking in the taxis and that I should have had him go first in line. I wasn’t out to be different, I was just being me. Being a solo female traveler is a stressful job, but it’s one that you can definitely hack. Keep your street smarts about you and you’ll be fine.
What are three things you have in your backpack that you just can’t live without during your travels?
First and foremost, I was NEVER without a jar of Nutella and a spoon. Not just because I am a fan of Nutella, but, I always had it there because sometimes I would roll into a city so late and I would be hungry but I would have no energy to go get food, but I ALWAYS had a jar of Nutella with me. I honestly wish I would have counted how many jars that I went through in my nine months in Europe! Second: FLIP FLOPS. I think that all travelers will agree with this. The essential flip flops for the hostel showers. I was naive and didn’t realize it for awhile, “what harm can the showers do to me without flip-flops on?”, and then I got to a certain hostel in Budapest and I freaked out. I was never without them after that. All that matters is that you have something under your feet holding your feet apart from others’ nasty germs! Oh, to think that I went for awhile without them. Sentimentally though, I had one. Before I left, a family friend gave me a small glass frog that I was never without. The frog symbolizes opportunity, luck, renewal, transition and rebirth. All of which I needed and was in search of. I would become worried if I couldn’t find it, and it had to be in a specific place in my bag (a little OCD, I know). I ended up losing it in Munich one night. I searched high and wide, I sent out a bat signal, but I couldn’t find it and from there on out I feared that I was doomed. Thankfully, when I went back home and surprised my family for Christmas, that family friend got me another frog, and I still have it! For me, it’s the little things.
Do you have any tips for other solo female travelers to help battle loneliness and fear?
Looking back, I think that I was pretty closed off until I got to Scotland which was 4 months into my trip. Loneliness is real, as is fear, regardless of time traveled across the world. Sometimes I felt loneliness to be comforting. It made me think and feel. I am much older than most other long-term travelers that I met and therefore I found myself differently. However, I found that the best way to get out of the loneliness was for me to write to myself and give myself props on how awesome it was on what it was that I was doing. I don’t fear much anymore and never really did, but when you travel as a solo female, you have to. I am big on gut instinct. You really have to be aware of where you are in general, have always boosted my “street smarts over book smarts” attitude. I met a girl named Jessi from Hong Kong on her first night of a 9 month solo travel who had never traveled before, so I thought I would write her out a list of “10 things I learned along the road”. She continually thanks me over Facebook for these pointers, for she dove into the travel world unknowingly as did I. Loneliness will get the best of you though, it will bring you down and make it so that you may not accomplish what you want to see and do. It is INCREDIBLY important to reach out. Be strong. You’re your own superhero. Think about it though, you’re on another side of the world in a completely foreign land and it’s totally okay to feel fear! You’ll be good as long as you have your wits about you and a general sense of what you’re getting yourself into!
What’s the most surprising thing that you’ve learned about yourself while traveling?
That I can do anything. I am my own superwoman. When you are on your own, truly on your own, all you have is you. I have always relied on the help of others throughout my life. But, when I got to Schipol Airport, I realized that all I had was myself and my backpack and I had to man up, and quickly I did. I had never ridden a train before besides the Amtrak from Seattle to Portland. I couldn’t figure out how to get from Schipol to Leiden so I ended up taking an €80 taxi, but hell, I had no idea what I was doing! That was the last time that I never opted to ask for help. I’ve always very much so been my own lively, loud, opinionated personality, but never my own true person so when I realized, “I’ve got this,” it surprised the hell out of me! To find this at the age of 30 can be perceived as pretty pathetic to some, but when one’s life starts over at 25 you might find this in yourself, too. Life starts, ends and repeats in stages. Never judge a book by its cover. I got a lot of crap for being 29/30 on my travels. I learned that age is just a number, I am 30, but I am me, and I can do anything, be anything, be anyone and do whatever I want. That is the beauty of solo travel. It is all about YOU. It is a glorious experience. You are your own superhero.
What is the biggest mistake you’ve ever made on the road?
Now that I look back on my first adventure to Europe, it was probably the idea of not giving any planning or thought to it. I literally had NO plans besides knowing where I was flying into and where I was staying that first week. It was fun for the first five or six months and then it became tedious. I referenced at one point how I wish that I would have had a wall map with strings and pins just to see how ridiculous it would have looked. I went back to a lot of places, in the case of Budapest, FOUR times. There is nothing wrong with loving somewhere, but when you have the opportunity to see so much, why not go see it all? I wish that I would have planned better, I wish that I would have gone out on a limb more. I am glad that I see this now, but I think that giving some thought to your travel is a good idea. Granted, I love doing things on a whim, but nine months on a whim is exhausting and can become really confusing and overwhelming! I don’t plan to get the next adventures down to a T or a day by day plan, but I just want to have an idea of where I am going instead of three months in Scotland and then a week and a half in Iceland and then to Portugal for a week. It just didn’t make much sense, but it was fun and I wouldn’t change my experiences for the world 🙂
What are your upcoming travel plans?
My plans are so up in the air, but I plan to leave in mid-November for Central America! I might actually plan it out a little bit this time, especially since it isn’t as developed as Europe, I don’t speak much Spanish and their modes of transportation are nowhere near as efficient as Europe’s strict trains, etc. However, I do love to do things on a whim, so who knows! SO, I look forward to heading down south. Even though it doesn’t feel like an adventure if I’m not off of the continent, it’s about to be an amazing adventure and I am super stoked!
Does your next trip have an end date? What do you’d want to do with your future?
Like I mentioned, my next trip has an “end date” of March due to a wedding, but I plan to pick up right after that and carry on. Let’s call it a “pause” date. I look at my life in the sense that I have the opportunity, the time and the want to travel and I am going to take it up. My future consists of searching for what I want until I find it. I would love to settle in a country that I have fallen in love with and if I do, then find a job and start a life. If and when this does come to fruition than I am in favor of it, but until then I am constantly in search of the life that I haven’t yet lived, the one that I want to live, and the one that I still have the chance to. It sounds outlandish, childish and downright immature to some I’m sure, but this is my life, my future and my dream. If I find myself in a ditch and homeless at some point, I am smart enough to know that I put myself there. However, I know that I will never ever, ever say that I regret my experiences of traveling. But, with the taste of travel that I have had, even if I didn’t have the means to continue, I found it to be so beautiful, engaging, fulfilling, rewarding and awakening that I would put as much as I could away just to do more. My future is travel. My family and soul are in Seattle and in the Pacific Northwest, but my life is in another part of the world and right now, I am simply just waiting to find where exactly.
You can follow Lilly as she explores the world on her Instagram. She will certainly inspire you to become your own superhero.