Earlier this year, Katy Colins hit the headlines when she landed a publishing deal for her novel series, The Lonely Hearts Travel Club. The books tell the story of a young woman who gets jilted and promptly sets off on a solo backpacking trip around the world.
‘Woman gets book deal’ doesn’t normally merit a great deal of interest outside of the publishing industry. But Colins, a former journalist and PR executive, had an ace up her sleeve: the adventures of her heartbroken heroine, Georgia Green, were largely based on her own experiences.
Now aged 30, Colins was dumped by the man she thought was her soulmate in 2012. Bereft and newly baffled about what she wanted adult life to deliver her, she packed in her comfortable day job in Manchester, sold her house and car, and bought a one-way plane ticket to Thailand.
And once bitten by the travelling bug, she didn’t look back. Trips all around the world followed, and Not Wed or Dead – the blog Colins started to keep her family and friends up to date on her travels – began to rake in followers and fans from further afield. Eventually, her blog inspired her fictionalised accounts of her travels.
Embarking on a round-the-world adventure is a daydream that most of us have drifted into from time to time, but the prospect of travelling completely alone can be daunting. And so we caught up with Colins to get her expert tips on solo travel.
Want to go travelling solo – but not quite alone?
Tour operator Intrepid Travel has launched three dedicated solo-only trips, to cater for a massive growth in demand they’ve seen from travellers deciding to go it alone on group tours in the past five years. Its routes Classic Rajasthan, South Morocco Discovery and Café Colombia, departing from March 2017, will all cater exclusively for those travelling alone and have been endorsed by Katy Colins.
“Travelling alone on a group tour is a great way to see the world - you have an expert guide to help you avoid the tourist traps, plus ready made friends for a karaoke session, a street food tour or just a chat over the breakfast table,” says Michael Edwards, UK managing director of Intrepid Travel.
“With more than half of our travellers now going solo, we wanted to celebrate their independent spirit.”
Find out more on intrepidtravel.com/uk
What advice would you give to women who want to travel on their own, but don’t know where to start?
Start small. Places like Chile, Thailand and Australia are so easy to get around, and the people I met were lovely, but you don’t have to suddenly book a one-year round-the-world solo adventure. You can go to a new city for a weekend by yourself, or go off on a day trip. Get out there and build up your confidence about being by yourself.
And take your time. One of the things I’ve really learned since going travelling is not to cram too much in. Remember you don’t have to do everything just because you’re in a certain place. It can be overwhelming, and your mental attitude and mental health are so important when you don’t have anyone else to rely on to pick you up. Look after yourself; allow yourself time to be tired and deal with the emotions that kick in when you’re in a new place.
Finally, remember that if you hate it, you can always come home. That’s the thing with travelling: you’re not changing your life completely. There’s always a way to get back home.
You went backpacking on your own after going through a bit of a crisis in your personal life. Having done it, would you actively recommend that other women try travelling alone?
Definitely. You might miss the company of other people, but being by yourself is actually a really good skill to learn. When my relationship broke down, I didn’t know who I was – what I liked, what I wanted to eat, my favourite things – because I was just so used to being in a relationship and sharing what the other person liked.
It’s actually nice to be selfish. It’s not something that people talk about often, but being selfish doesn’t just happen. You share your life with so many people: you’ve got work and other commitments, especially once you get married or have children. So if there’s a time where you can just be yourself and do whatever you want, I think everybody should take that opportunity.
And being alone doesn’t mean that you’re lonely. You meet so many other people, and it’s actually much easier to be accepted into a group when you’re travelling solo than if you’re in a couple or in a group.
Are you glad that you quit your job and went ‘properly travelling’ for a long time, as opposed to going away somewhere for a few weeks?
What I did is extreme, but I just had this real desire to make a lot of changes to my life and I felt I couldn’t do that piecemeal. I had to do something quite dramatic to flip everything on its head and challenge myself.
Of course, not everyone is able to just quit their job, but I think if you want something bad enough you can make it work. I didn’t have much money for a while, so I taught English in France and Thailand. If you want to travel you can always make it happen.
What are the pros and cons of going solo?
Pros: you develop new skills, you learn how to make new friends, and it gives you a confidence boost because everything is up to you.
Cons: everything is up to you! That can be inspiring and exciting and really freeing, but also a bit overwhelming and daunting, because you’ve got no one else to rely on.
Travelling makes you a bit harder. That’s a weird positive, but I can stand my ground now. I think back to the old Katy, and she would never have had the courage to barter prices with a tuk-tuk driver or put her foot down about bad service. Especially as a woman, you are going to get taken for a ride sometimes, and you develop that confidence to say: “No”. That’s really helped in my normal life.
Why do you think some women are reluctant to travel on their own? Is it borne out of sensible fears, the stigma of being a lone woman, or a bit of both?
As a society, we’ve always said that women are delicate and men are adventurers. That’s such a dated view, but then you also hear these horror stories of things happening to women when they’re travelling on their own. The thing is, though, bad things also happen to men when they’re travelling alone – and they happen in your own home country.
I think the fear of the unknown hits a lot of women. They think: it’s too scary, I don’t know how to travel, I don’t know how to be by myself. That holds a lot of people back, but then you also have people who then have regrets when they’re older and think, “God, why didn’t I just give it a go and see?”
What basic travel safety tips should women be aware of if they’re travelling on their own?
Remember that bad things can happen anywhere. Whether you’re a man or a woman, if you’re in a country where you don’t know the cultural differences, or where the rough parts and safe parts of town are, you need to have your wits about you. Don’t get wasted, don’t carry huge amounts of cash, stick to well-lit routes and tell people where you are.
There’s a real fine line that you can only learn once you’ve started dealing with total strangers: trust people, but don’t trust everybody. Not everyone is out to get you and there are some amazing people on this planet – that’s the beauty of travel – but remember that you can’t trust everybody when you first meet them.
What’s the biggest thing you gained from backpacking alone?
Confidence in my own skin. Feeling comfortable, and looking back at the couple of years that I’ve had and thinking, “Oh my god!” The previous Katy, the one who was going to get married, she would never have believed that she’d be going on flights to Everest and doing sky dives in France and all these crazy amazing things just because she had the confidence and the courage to say yes.
Travel changed my life. It’s mega-cheesy, but it’s true.