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How I, a Solo Female, Managed to Travel the World for a Decade
Rebecca Mayoll / September 18, 2015
When people hear that I have been travelling for a very long time they generally have one question “how is that possible?” It is quite normal for me to shrug my shoulders and explain that “it just happens that way.” Half-way through this mechanical response sometime last week, it suddenly occurred to me that I have now managed to travel the world for a decade. I was so shocked by my own discovery that I endeavored to find the reasons that have allowed me to stay on the road for so long… it might even help others to do the same.
In order to answer the question truthfully I have had to dabble in statistics, something I hate doing when it comes to travel. The truth is that I have spent 7 out of the past 10 years away from my home, have worked in 4 continents and can still only speak fluently in 1 other language. If you consider that my meagre time in the UK has been spent attaining a University degree, working as a custody detention officer and a healthcare assistant, it sounds like I’ve been a very busy girl.
Anyone will tell you that I plod my way across the globe at a painstakingly slow pace, just ask my parents in Nuneaton who had to wait for FOUR christmas’ to spend one with me. I get side tracked rather easily and accounting for my footsteps over the past decade does not come naturally.
So now I shall try my best to give you an honest answer. How I, a solo female, has managed to travel the world for a very long time without robbing a bank or finding a pot of money at the end of a rainbow. It might be more simple than you could have ever imagined and perhaps, even, help you on your way to living the life of a constant traveler.
First there has to be a desire to go. A desire enough to make you research your ideal destination.
My travel addiction/infliction began when I decided to take a gap year. The first place that I ever wanted to visit was Africa. Like any fresh idiot traveller I defined the continent with a royal air of not having to depict which country within this enormous land mass I had in mind just “I am going to Africa.” Disregarding my parents unhappy disposition at my choice in holiday destinations, I went ahead with my research behind a closed door in my room. One day I emerged with flights and made my announcement, all I needed now was a backpack that would become my best friend for four months.
There is no doubting that travel costs. Creating a saving scheme for yourself in the real world is the key to arriving at that dream destination.
I was just coming out of high school with very little money to my name, so I did what every parent dreads of their child, I attained myself a non-qualified job in a warehouse and began saving my pennies. With just a few restrictions on my lifestyle, my bank account grew and grew. I might not have had the best social life and I most certainly didn’t wear the coolest clothes but those indulgences meant nothing to me as I brought my airline tickets, my insurance and visas.
Test how you like to travel. Try volunteering to get to the heart of a community, or take a tour if you are nervous about making friends.
Like anyone else embarking on their first ever expedition I was riddled with excitement and fear. Nervously overpacking and repacking I was certainly not under prepared when I dragged my 25kilogram backpack towards the airport check-in. Hands shaking, I collected my boarding pass in London and only half a day later was taking my first steps on Kenyan soil. I had been accepted into an incredible volunteer placement, the first of its kind and was whisked away to my new home on day one, to live with the Maasai tribe in Hells Gate National Park. In spite of the scheme being a scheme and the fact that I had not arranged anyone to teach in the school I had helped to build, this experience touched both the Maasai tribe and foreigners intensely. Living within such a unique culture I was hooked by two concepts, how much I could learn from other people and how much the World could amaze me. I also learnt that by volunteering I could penetrate into a culture while spending less. I finalised my trip with an overland tour travelling from Kenya to South Africa. That year, even before my plane had left the tarmac I knew I was in trouble. New sights and interactions with novel tribes, gorillas, landscapes and continual movement made me feel whole. Travel completed me and I couldn’t wait for my next adventure.
Nothing is certain and while you might be hooked on travel, it is wise to tie up loose ends and create yourself a backup – remember that things might not work out.
Despite yearning to be everywhere at once, I stuck to the promise I had made my parents and enrolled in University. By working as a health care assistant and signing myself up to weekend and night shifts, I still managed to save enough money to roam in-between studies. I hopped on planes every summer, spending months exploring New Zealand, Spain and Thailand with friends or by myself. By graduation day I might have been collecting sunshine in Tanzania instead of my degree but I had finished my studies and my promise and now, I was free.
Find something sustainable, an interest that you can take with you that can fund your travels on the road.
With my degree in my back pocket I found myself pausing at the very moment my freedom was handed to me. I was stunned, did I really want to let everything go just when I had achieved so much? Scared of running away from a relationship, I gave myself the chance to settle down by securing a job to be proud of. The challenging role of a Custody Detention Officer not only allowed me to use my degree, but broadened my person skills and taught me to adequately deal with stressful situations. But even this could not keep me content and during the long days and nights cooped up in the cells I began to dream, I realised that despite having always loved the ocean I had never lived beside it. But how to do it? First I had to uncover a skill that could help me travel. Teaching english, nursing, bar-tendering, nannying and chalet hosting, after a little research I couldn’t believe the list of possibilities. It wasn’t long before I found the perfect niche for me, something relevant to my dreams, I could become a professional scuba diver. It was sustainable, able to keep me on the road without depleting my savings, but it did have one problem, the path to professionalism was not going to be cheap. I began contacting dive shops for their course prices and came across a very nice word: internship.
Internships are a great way to travel, gain qualifications and spend very little.
As 2009 came to a close I had exchanged a medley of emails and scored a placement in one of Africa’s most secret and exotic locations. Swapping the baggy trousers of custody officials for my bikini, I quit my responsible job and my life as my last pay check entered my account. I was flying back to Tanzania, with shiny new dive equipment in tow and the image of becoming a dive guide implanted in my mind. I landed in beautiful Pemba, a remote eastern island surrounded by deep blue oceans with ripping currents. Working hard at the resort in return for food, accommodation and training, I gathered skills, friends and invaluable knowledge in hospitality. I’ve always believed that if you work hard, you’ll find opportunities. I continued my internship until the monsoon season kicked in and kicked us out. I toured independently through Malawi while gathering my thoughts and planning my next move. I knew where I wanted to be, the Great Barrier Reef beckons most marine enthusiasts at some time or another. It was calling me now and with my new found confidence and diving qualifications, I envisaged turning up and finding work.
Work visas are available worldwide. You can work to travel and travel to find work.
New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom are just a few of the locations where you can obtain a year long work visa, never mind the numerous places offering seasonal positions. I landed in northern Australia with a long year ahead of me, I was wholly alone and as it turned out wholly out of my depth. My vision of immediate employment was instantly squashed; No dive shop bordering the Great Barrier Reef wanted a dive guide. In order to get myself noticed I would have to become an instructor, a costly course that I could not yet fund. I was just about to accept employment in a local backpacker bar when that word appeared again: internship. I rapidly applied for the scheme and soon resumed my underwater studies in return for hard work. The majority of my days and nights were spent on the ocean where I broadened my boat, customer and diving skills. Despite spending very little by the end of the 2 months, I was desperate for the job that was offered to me by the company. Now my dream had come true, I found myself earning a decent wage from living on, and working on, the Great Barrier Reef. So content with my life and work I came dangerously close to accepting a resident visa program and settling down.
Use your skills to broaden more skills.
Instead of settling I found that the skills I gained from my travels were enabling me to push my travels further. By the end of my work visa I realised that my time as a deckhand and medical officer onboard the dive boats qualified me to apply for work on any boat that I could dream of. Using a new website called ‘Find a Crew,’ a form of dating agency that connects boats with crew mates, I stumbled upon a unique opportunity, an independent yacht that had crossed to Australia from America and was soon setting sail for the Pacific Ocean. The vessel was receiving repairs which gave me ample time to venture into inland Australia, find a job in agriculture and secure myself a second year working visa. Spending a few months in the banana fields was a far cry from the reefs colorful and vibrant corals but the green tree frogs, snakes and spiders kept me entertained and on my toes. The moment my time was up I hastily returned to the yacht whose innards were slowly being replaced. I began helping the only way I thought I could, by picking up a paintbrush and tackling the brightwork (varnishing) on its newly replaced furnishings. Having never sailed before I knew I would have to become a quick learner on internationals waters. Setting sail for Papua New Guinea was one of the most memorable moments in my travel life. A single crossing rapidly turned into a five month expedition during which we encountered deadly storms, dolphins, half-naked tribes and uninhabited islands. From PNG to Micronesia, Palau and the Philippines, I worked as a helmsman, first aid officer, navigator, varnisher, fixer and lookout. I saw places of the world I didn’t know even existed and had spent less than 1000Dollars.
Allow new skills to form new travel goals.
By the time I had disembarked in the Philippines I was scared of nothing. Since I had already come so far from Australia without taking a flight, I felt inspired by my first ever trip a few years before, that overland through Africa. Musing over how far I had come on this recent journey I decided to set myself the ultimate challenge, to try and reach my hometown in England without taking a single flight.
And allow your travel goals to now sustain themselves
After 7 months of crossing Southeast Asia on my long way home, my island hopping came to an end when I finally reached mainland Asia. I was tired, low on money but still eager to continue my journey when I paused in the single road town of Khao Lak in Thailand. I had intended to catch my breath but Khao Lak was days away from entering its dive season so I revamped my resume and dished them out. My intended one week vacation rapidly turned into an 8 month season as a dive supervisor on the Similan Islands, I found a temporary home, great friends and an extra 3000 dollars in my bank. Using this to fund the remainder of my trip, I managed to spend 6 months in China and Central Asia before pacing through Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and finally Europe. 2 years and 1 month after leaving Australia I arrived at my front door in time for christmas. The thrill of putting the key to the lock of my home after such a wonderful but long journey was indescribable.
In the end you’ll see that you will adapt and opportunities will arise to keep you moving.
Somehow, even after completing this arduous overland, my yearning for travel held strong. Thankfully my style had adapted, my mind and body now craved the contentment found in slow touring. Hopping straight back to Australia on my second working visa I returned not only to diving but also took up positions as a healthcare worker and within coffee shops around the country. My savings took me on a round-the-world tour for 11 months; 5 months in Southeast Asia, 4 in Europe and 3 in Central America but this time flying came in very handy. Relaxing the pace of my travels meant having more spare time and room for a brand new hobby. I took to a project that challenged me while also complementing my nomadic lifestyle, I became a travel blogger. It is a skill which I have been slowly improving as more of my family and friends have asked for me to share my experiences. Through hard work, dedication and a keen and honest desire to expose new and incredible sights, I have been able to develop my writing to the standard of a freelance writer. Having just reached my 30’s I am left with one last chance to attain work visas for countries such as Canada and New Zealand. By now I’ve learnt that the right opportunity will choose me and whatever happens I’m sure there will be one hell of an adventure, but this milestone is a smack in the face. I have travelled for a decade and show no signs of slowing down. Never in my wildest dreams had I anticipated that one circumstance after another would keep me moving across the planet. I look back and see that I have been blessed to have had some unique opportunities come my way but feel more proud that I have had the courage to say yes to them. Who knows what adventures lie ahead, maybe a house, a steady job and my own car, maybe. But not just yet.
As for the future when I am asked once again “how is that possible?” I feel I can still use my former answer with some certainty “it just happens that way and it might just be able to happen that way for you too.”
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