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These days there is loads written about solo travel – lots of blogs, books etc but when I started travelling solo it was the 1980’s. It was a very different world then – technology was in its infancy and there was no social media! In some ways I think it was more free than travel today – you really had to solve your own problems and calls home were infrequent.

It changed my life in so many ways – all positive and has had a tremendous influence on me and how I live even now nearly 30 years later!

One thing I wish I could change? I wish there were blogs then so I could remember everything about those years! (And maybe a better camera would have been handy too!)

The background : How I started travelling solo

Aged 21, after finishing University in South Africa, I boarded a plane from Johannesburg to Paris with my Dutch friend Laura (who herself has travelled extensively and now lives in Cairo!) This was the beginning of 7 years of working and living all over the world! Not that I knew it at the time but those years were to have a profound effect on me as a person.

We spent a few days in Paris and then went onto the Netherlands. And that is where we went our separate ways – we are still friends nearly 30 years later.

My adventure was about to start – a few weeks later on the 1st January 1989 I flew from Newcastle (where I had been staying with my Grandparents) to Geneva, Switzerland and then on by train to Evian-les-Bains in France. There I was met by my new employers – a French family who had employed me as an au pair to look after their two girls. My life of solo travel had begun!

And there started THE most amazing years of my life.

Notre Dame Paris
Notre Dame aged 21 (look at those glasses!!)
skiing in Thollon solo travel
Learning to ski!

My 20’s were spent travelling solo – I worked in France, in Canada, in Switzerland, in Botswana, I travelled Europe visiting beautiful cities such as Venice and Strasbourg. I travelled to Hong Kong for my 27th birthday on my own and I learnt so much in those years. They changed me and my outlook and without doubt made me who I am today.

Hong Kong
Hong Kong (this is an awful photo but one of the only ones i have – travelling solo then meant asking someone to take a pic!)

[bctt tweet=”#Travel in the younger sort is a part of education, in the elder a part of experience – Francis Bacon ” username=”tracystravels10″]

So how did solo travel change me?

It made me more confident

I remember when I took the job in France thinking its ok I will only have to meet 10 new people (no idea how I came up with that number). Of course I met far more than that and some of those people are still in contact with me today and feature in the section of my blog where they share great tips and guides to their home town.

When you travel you become more confident – it just happens!


Things to do in Cape Town South Africa - an insider guide


It made me more adaptable

I travelled from small villages in the French Alps to big cities such as Toronto. you learn to adapt to different environments, to different cultures to completely different ways of life. It was amazing and I loved it and I still do – the privilege of being able to experience how others live their life is to me the biggest advantage of travelling. I worked in lots of countries as well as travelling – that I think gives a unique insight.


Toronto 1990 travelling solo
Toronto 1990

It made me learn another language

I really did not like language lessons at school – I remember a French teacher telling me when I was about 10 that I would never be any good at it. It sort of de-motivated me! However living in France with a French family -whose children spoke only French -and whose parents wanted me to learn their language was the most amazing motivator ever. And I listened and I used my dictionary and I spoke a little more each day. Every mistake I made was corrected by the girl’s father who told me he didn’t want his daughters speaking poor French so I soon learnt it was chez la coiffeurs! Not ‘Nous allons a la coiffeurs!’ (If you speak French you will understand that one!)I was literally fluent – actually thinking in French not English after 6 months!

Speaking a second language if English is your first is just amazing in so many ways. It helps when you are travelling – I remember taking a short term nannying position in Switzerland with a Swiss/Italian family and we visited one of their friends (a rather famous Swiss person!). There I was introduced to their nanny who was German. She spoke no English, I spoke no German BUT we both spoke French so no problem! A few years ago on a boat trip in Malta a French couple who spoke no English were trying to understand the verbal instructions given by the skipper who spoke no French – so I helped!! I think because we speak English we just expect others to understand us but learning another language was for me be one of the best things I ever did.

It made me more resilient

Nothing like being stuck in Toronto with only $50 and no return air ticket after leaving the job you went over there to do (I only ever worked for 2 families I didn’t like in the many years I worked as an au pair then nanny and typically one was on another Continent!) You learn to think on your feet, to have a plan B (even when 5 minutes before you only had a plan A!)

It made me appreciate just how lucky I was

Not everyone has the passport, the money, the support, the luck to be able to do what you are doing. I don’t ever take that for granted.

working in Switzerland
A Christmas temp job as a nanny in Switzerland

It made me appreciate food!

French cuisine was a revelation – it was like my taste buds woke up and exploded in my head. The food – oh the food. I loved the salad dressing, the bread, the crudités, the time and love actually spent making a meal. I was taught so much. Cuisine has moved on since the late 80’s and tastes have become more international and more sophisticated but at that time it was new and exciting and I loved it. I will happily try anything these days – my food tasted are pretty wide. On my bucket list is to attend a cookery school in Thailand which I will hopefully achieve next year.

Solo travel made me develop my interpersonal skills

I worked for different families in different places and they each had their own quirks and I needed to be able to handle that. You need to be able to get on with people, even some you really don’t like/agree with – I learnt how to do that. I learnt how to effectively communicate and interact with people – whoever they are, wherever they come from, whatever age they are. These are probably the skills that have helped me the most in my professional life and came from the years of having to be assertive, listen, negotiate, problem-solve, make decisions and communicate effectively with people all over the world.


travelling solo to Venice (I was working in Basel in Switzerland at the time)

Solo travel made me more independent

You only have yourself to depend on and you make the decisions and take the consequences. Go where you want…work where you want…the decision is yours!

Gourdes in Provence
Gourdes in Provence – on holiday with the family I worked for in Switzerland

It made me appreciate just how beautiful the world is

There are so many places that have taken my breath away. And I know there are so many more to see – how exciting is that? I love the beauty of the Norwegian Fjords, the sight of a lioness with her cubs, the sound of millions of litres of water crashing down Niagara Falls, the crystal waters of the Blue lagoon in Comino off Malta, seeing a pod of orca swimming off the coast of Vancouver Island. The list is endless. Travelling in my 20’s opened up the world to me – and I was able in my 30’s to share those experiences with my daughter. She has at the age of 21 just completed her first solo trip to South Korea and Hong Kong.

Niagara Falls in Canada
Niagara Falls
  From France to Canada to England to
Switzerland to Hong Kong to Botswana
and more!
Switzerland and a lot of snow
Winter in Switzerland
Visiting New York State solo travel
USA – a visit from Canada!
Botswana picture of a nursery school
Botswana – managing a nursery school!

Although I went on to travel with my daughter and my husband those experiences of solo travel in my 20’s changed me and my outlook on life and I have nothing but happy memories of those times!

I think though there have been many changes in the world in the past 20/30 years and travel is a lot easier the fundamental effects on your life will be overwhelmingly positive! So keep travelling!

 How has travelling – solo travel or otherwise – changed your life?

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Author: Tracy

Over the last 50 years I have lived and worked in 7 countries on 4 continents and travelled to many more. I enjoy exploring and learning about new places and meeting people on my travels. History, reading, photography, nature and wildlife are my interests and I am ALWAYS researching and planning my next trip (preferably by train)

With a lifetime of travel experience, and a network of friends all over the world, I share genuine insider guides, recommended best book lists and train journey inspiration to help YOU travel authentically to some of the most beautiful places on earth.

Come and join me as I travel the world one country (and train journey) at a time!

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14 thoughts on “Solo travel – How travelling solo in my 20’s changed my life

  1. Elizabeth (Wander Mum) says:

    Really interesting to read this Tracy and hear about your background and travels. Travel is a great education. It gets you out of your comfort zone and forces you to do things you may not have otherwise done & gives you confidence. I agree with all your points. I wish I’d worked abroad and got to master a new language when I was a bit younger. Still time though! #mondayescapes

    • Tracy Collins says:

      Thank you Elizabeth. I thought it might be a good introduction for my first #mondayescapes. I had a great time in my 20’s and learnt so much – now my daughter is grown we are moving to Australia next year for another bit of exploration of the world! Bit nerve wracking at 50 compared to 20 odd but never too old to do or learn anything! Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

  2. Mini Travellers says:

    What a fabulous piece it really is lovely to read how travel changed your life for the better and how much it gave you. I wish I’d done more travelling before I started the serious work thing. I hope I can persuade my children to travel far and wide before they settle down too. #MondayEscapes

    • Tracy Collins says:

      Thank you so much for dropping by and reading my post. I am so glad you enjoyed reading it. I have travelled the world with my daughter and can only hope that she continues – I think she realises what a small world we live in and to learn from and embrace new cultures. I think it is a great gift to give our children. Thanks again for your lovely comment 🙂

  3. Lolo says:

    Totally agree with every one of those! I started traveling abroad at 14 with family, but didn’t do my first solo trip until I was 20 when I lived abroad in Heidelberg for a year. I came back more independent, more confident and more resilient and able to start over at the drop of a dime! #feetdotravel

  4. Kreete says:

    Loving the old photographs Tracy! Your daughter looks just like you. I didn’t know you speak fluent French! Even though I speak three languages, French has always seemed hard for me. You sure have had an interesting journey so far! I was an au pair in London myself, although the girl I looked after was a dream, her mother not so much ha! I can totally understand what you mean by needing a plan B! I was kicked out overnight with no place to stay haha. Still, wouldn’t change the experiences either as they have made me who I am today.

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