Can you believe we have just entered a new decade? Time really flies when you’re having fun! It doesn’t feel like 10 years have already past, I can still remember 2010 and even 2000 like it was yesterday. Man, do I feel old 😉
And what a decade it’s been! In the last decade I turned 18, graduated from high school, went to University, graduated from University, started working, started my own company and became a digital nomad. Not bad in terms of accomplishments for just a ten-year period, right?
Of course, I also traveled a ton in the last decade. In fact, although I’ve been traveling all my life, it wasn’t until the last decade that I started traveling solo. That I discovered how incredibly freeing and empowering solo female travel can be. How strong, capable and adventurous I am. In the last ten years I visited 35 new countries! 35! And almost all of them solo. Pfew, it’s been a ride. And if you’d be so kind to come along, let me take you through my whole decade of solo travel:
2009: How I started traveling solo
In October 2009 I embarked on my first “solo” trip. I’m putting solo in quotation marks here, because I wasn’t all that alone. I was 18, fresh out of school and had decided to postpone University for a year and take a gap year instead. I wanted to work, travel and experience a bit of the world before committing to another 3-4 years in education.
Doing an internship in Hamburg
Unfortunately, the gap year started off less than exciting. Due to the financial crisis, jobs were sparse and I wasn’t finding much work as a temp. Most of my days were spent in front of the television in my sweatpants. Luckily, my aunt managed to get me an internship at ZDF, a German broadcaster. I was to work for two months as a costume assistant for a kids show about a police dogs. During that time, I lived with my aunt and uncle in Hamburg. Even though I was staying with family, in a country where I had been many times and spoke the language, it was the most independent thing I had ever done. It wasn’t the most exciting job, it ruined television for me for a while, but it was a huge adventure for me.
Learning Italian in Florence
My time in Hamburg spurred me on to travel more. I had always loved Italy (who doesn’t) and wanted to learn the language. So, I booked a two-month language course in a city I had never been before: Florence. Even way back in 2010, Florence was a major tourist destination. But because I was there in the spring, I got to fall in love with the real city and the people that live there, not just the tourists.
When I returned to Florence a year ago, I revisited all my favorite places. And wrote them down for you to see as well.
The language school organized a shared apartment for me, but otherwise, this was the first time living on my own. And I loved it! I loved the city, the language, the people I met and the life I had there. I still have fond memories of drinking wine along the Arno and eating nothing but carbs (coincidentally I also gained a fair bit of weight during that time). After the course, two friends joined me, and we traveled around Italy for another 3 weeks. Three 19 year olds on a gap year, you can probably imagine the kind of mayhem we left in our wake. I wouldn’t say I made the smartest decisions during that trip, but definitely the most fun ones.
2010-2017: Taking a break from solo travel
When I came back, still on a high from my time in Italy, I had to get back to reality. I started my University in September 2010 and spend the next 4,5 years as a student in Utrecht. Despite having a fair bit of time off in between courses, I rarely traveled. I wanted to spend time with my new friends and explore my new city. We went on a few vacations, really fun vacations as that, but I never took any solo trips. I don’t know why, but the thought of traveling on my own just never entered my mind again.
Interning abroad in Vienna
When I did go abroad for longer, it was for an Erasmus+ internship in Vienna as part of my master’s degree. Over the years, I had started to miss traveling and living abroad. The annual vacations weren’t doing it for me anymore, so when I had the opportunity to make up for never studying abroad during my bachelors degree, I took it. For three months, I worked at the University of Vienna and lived in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Safe to say, I lost my heart completely. And who could blame me, Vienna is incredible.
When I returned from my internship, I got to work finishing my thesis, graduated and started working.
2017: Dipping my toe back into solo female travel
The upside of working was that I was earning plenty of money to fund my travels. The downside, was that both I and all my friends were way too busy with work to go on any trips!
However, it seemed like such a waste to not use my money to see all the places I wanted to go. One of my coworkers filled me in on a little trick: instead of taking full weeks off from work, you can also take a Monday or Friday and go on a weekend trip. Especially around Europe, with cheap airfare and short flights, this is easy enough to do. And Dutch labor law provided me with plenty of free days. Still, this meant going solo, which intimidated me. Although I had gone abroad alone to live there, I had never been on a trip by myself. Somehow, that seemed a lot scarier. But I was determined to try it and even made it my New Year resolution: to follow my dreams and not let other people dictate my life.
Suprising myself with solo trips
It was perfect timing when I came across a new Dutch travel company: srprs.me. They offer trips with surprise destinations. You don’t find out where you are going, until you arrive at the airport. And back in 2017, they had a specific type of trip where you were paired with a group of fellow solo travelers. This seemed like a great way to ease into solo travel, so I booked a trip.
It really got me excited about travel again and gave me the confidence I needed to travel alone. So, I immediately booked another trip, this time completely alone.
My second sprs.me trip to Malaga really solidified my love for solo travel
But it wasn’t all solo travel that year, I also jumped on every chance I got to take trips with friends and family:
Yes, my travel bug was back and hanging on this time! As I took all of these trips, I noticed how unsatisfied I was in life back home. I felt stuck in a rut and only came alive when I was traveling. My work, my city, it all felt so predictable and stale. As my contract come to an end, I started to become anxious and restless, not knowing what I wanted to do next.
Traveling alone through Ireland and Scotland
Until I decided to stop listening to my head and follow my heart. I took the leap and planned my very first long-term solo trip. With a lot of things in life, I’ve found that it works best to start with small steps and work your way up. My first solo backpacking trip (in part to easy my moms mind) didn’t take me very far, but to two countries I’d been dreaming of seeing:
I packed a giant backpack full off warm clothes and set off to travel around these two beautiful countries for two months. I spent November and December in Ireland and Scotland and immediately fell in love with solo travel, backpacking and the countries themselves.
Winging it as a solo backpacker on the Banana Pancake Trail
It was also the perfect trial run, because I felt more ready than ever for the next leg of my backpacking trip: two months in Southeast Asia. And I decided to do it as unplanned as possible.
I literally opened my Lonely Planet for the first time on the plane to Thailand! As it turns out, Southeast Asia is the perfect region for anyone who just wants to wing it. I had nothing booked except my return flight from Singapore and two nights in a hostel in Bangkok.
It turned into an epic adventure and a (probably) never ending love for the region. I started in Bangkok and traveled through the north of Thailand. From there I crossed into Laos and fell in love with Luang Prabang. I flew to Kuala Lumpur and traveled around Malaysia to Melakka and George Town. From there, I flew to the Philippines and hopped around the islands, before ending my trip in Singapore.
2018-2020: Becoming a digital nomad
Originally, the plan was to backpack for four months, reflect on what I wanted to do and move back home and get a job. But during my stint around Southeast Asia, I met several people who were working remotely as freelancers. Blogger, writers, translators and programmers, all living as digital nomads. It’s a career I had never even considered. And I realized that I didn’t want to go back to the Netherlands and a nine-to-five. Of all these people were making a living while working from a beach in Thailand, surely I could to? I already had skills and experience as a writer and translator, so I decided to give it a shot.
Taking the leap to become a digital nomad
In April 2018, I officially founded my own business as a freelancer. I started out slow, working from home for a couple of months before taking the show on the road. I figured it would be a way to work out the kinks and build a client base from the comfort of my moms couch.
People ask me all the time if I was sure about the risk. And honestly, I was. After all, I always had a “regular” life to fall back on. To me, becoming a digital nomad was an experiment. To see if I could make a living doing what I loved best: traveling. And I couldn’t, I could always quit.
I was off to a pretty good start and after coming back from Southeast Asia, I decided to first stay in Europe. As a nod to my first adventures as a solo traveled years ago, I decided to visit a few long time favorite countries. I picked my 26th birthday as a nice symbolic moment to start my nomadic life. I boarded a night bus to one of my favorite cities in Europe: Vienna.
Revisiting some old favorites in Europe as a digital nomad
Although I had lived there before, I never really explored Austria, and I was excited to do so now. As I found out, Austria in summer is absolute heaven! I felt like I was living in the Sound of Music as I hiked through green hills and picturesque little towns.
From Austria, I traveled down to Italy, my favorite country of all time. A country I have visited countless times, but will never get enough of off.
And since Italy borders Slovenia, that was a logical next step. I visited Piran and Ljubljana and took a bus over to Budapest, the last stop of the trip.
During this trip, I realized that being a digital nomad was not the same as being a regular backpacker. I couldn’t just hop around every couple of days but needed to actually take time to work as well. Working remotely requires a much slower pace and it wasn’t enough to just squeeze it in while on buses and trains. A hard lesson learned through lots of late nights and almost missed deadlines!
Returning to backpack solo in Southeast Asia
I moved back in with my mother for a few months and took some short trips to Belgium, Morocco and Spain. After spending one winter in Southeast Asia, I knew I had to go back and explore more of the region. So my second big digital nomad trip took me back to Southeast Asia. This time to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. It was just as beautiful and wonderful as I remembered. I started to come into my own as a digital nomad and finding a good life-work balance. I slowed it way down, spending a full month in each country which gave me plenty of time to earn the money I needed while still being able to see everything I wanted to see.
Roadtripping solo in the USA and Canada
My mom was teaching at Cornell University in Ithaca for a few months in 2019, the perfect excuse to take a trip to the US. I went to visit her and subsequently spent three months touring all around the USA and three months in Canada. An absolutely epic adventure full of highs and lows. From partying for a month in New Orleans to camping and hiking in Canada.
Both of those made my list of my favorite destinations of 2019
Being so different a destination from my usual travels, traveling around the US and Canada was nothing like I had expected. It was a lot harder, a lot more expensive and it was the first trip in years when I felt homesick. It truly gave me a renewed appreciation for Europe. As beautiful as (some parts of) the US and Canada are, for me, it just doesn’t measure up.
It got me thinking about the diversity of Europe and all the places I hadn’t explored yet. Getting a gig as a volunteer at the Women in Travel Summit in Riga, turned into the perfect excuse to do just that. I planned a quick-fire, super intense trip around the Baltic Sea. And squeezed in a long overdue first time visit to London just before Christmas.
2020: Time for a new adventure
After two years as a digital nomad, I’m making a change. It was a surprisingly easy decision to make! As much as I have loved the freedom and adventure of traveling the world and working freelance, it just wasn’t working for me anymore. I wasn’t making enough money to support myself and my savings had run out after my trip to US and Canada.
Being realistic about what I wanted from solo travel
But most importantly, it just wasn’t giving me the same thrill it once did. Don’t get me wrong, I love travel and I always will. But full-time travel was starting to take its toll. I was tired of moving around all the time, exhausted from all the constant exposure to new and exciting things. It was starting to numb me and dampen the joy of travel. I missed home, my friend and family. I missed the little things, like sleeping in my own bed, having a regular bar and supermarket to go to. Exactly the routine things that drove me to be a digital nomad in the first place. Isn’t it funny how life comes full circle?
I guess that’s just it, we change, life changes and what we want and need changes along with us. And a life on the road just wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I knew I wanted to move back to Europe, but not to the Netherlands. For some reason, I didn’t feel quite ready for that yet.
From digital nomad to expat
So I started looking for job in cities around Europe. The big advantage of being an EU citizen is that I can live and work anywhere within the EU without needing a work visa. Freelance writing and translating was always supposed to be a temporary thing, something that worked as a remote job. I felt that with my career I was at a standstill as well, I needed more challenge, more collaboration. To be part of a company and team again instead of a lone wolf. But again, I did not want to give up travel, so I looked specifically at jobs in the travel industry.
And after a couple of months of applying, I found a great one! I’m moving to Berlin to work as a content manager at an online travel agency. It really feels like a logical next step, the right way to transition into a new life. I’m beyond excited to settle down in Berlin (at least for a bit) and get a move on with my career.
So, as my life is about to change, this blog will change a little as well. I’ll still travel as much as possible, but obviously not as much as before. But not to worry, I have plenty (and I mean PLENTY) of backed up content from previous trips. So, this blog will remain and I will keep on doing what I love to do: explore the world and share my findings with all of you!
I hope you enjoyed this little trip down memory lane with me. If you did, please show it some love on social media 🙂
18 thoughts on “Looking Back on a Decade of Solo Travel”
Hi, I wish I’d travelled as much as you have in the last decade. Where was the rail photo taken?
That picture is from the Bamboo train in Battambang, Cambodia. A really fun experience
Great. Thanks. I’ll have a look into it.
Wow! I am so proud of all your travels on your own! I tried it one time and while I enjoyed exploring on my own during the day – was sad to eat dinner and go to bed alone. It’s a totally different experience traveling solo, props to you and your life full of rich experiences!
I really love traveling alone. It felt a bit awkward at first but you meet so may people. And I love the freedom of doing exactly what I want when I want to
Wow, amazing how many places you visited. I also lived in Vienna, but for a year. I agree with you that this city is beautiful and it’s easy to fall in love with it. I miss Vienna very much!
Haha, yeah it turned into a much longer list than I thought. I miss it too! It’s such a liveable city.
You’ve had an amazing adventure I must say. I started off traveling solo in 2015 and gradually moved out of my regular desk job.It was such a wonderful feeling. Scary at first but absolutely life changing. Could really connect to your experiences on the road. Hopefully I’ll be able to become a full-time digital nomad soon. Cheers
It’s definitely been a wild ride! I hope you get to become a fulltime digital nomad soon, it’s a great life 🙂