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8 countries, 4 continents, 25 days: What I learned from my solo trip around the world

Lessons learned from my amazing journey around the world.

Honey, I’m home!

I’m back from my Round The World trip with Star Alliance and Marriott International and it truly was the journey of a lifetime. In case you missed it, I first told you guys about it in this blog post, written just one day before I embarked on my solo adventure.

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In the French Alps

And now, here I am, trip completed. I set out to discover some of the world’s most salient natural and man-made wonders and documented the whole journey on Instagram and Facebook so you could follow along. I travelled around the world for a total of 25 days, in 8 different countries…

  • Toronto and Mississauga, Canada
  • Geneva, Switzerland
  • Chamonix, France
  • Doha, Qatar
  • Addis Ababa and Lalibela, Ethiopia
  • Muscat and Nizwa, Oman
  • Beijing, China
  • Honolulu, Hawaii

…and learned so many things about the world, myself, and travel in general.

Lessons from Around the World

Over the coming weeks and months I will of course be sharing more words, pictures, and videos about the experience, but for this first post-trip write-up I wanted to focus on what I learned during my 25 days of globetrotting.

Fast travel was just what I needed

“Slow travel” has become en vogue in recent years, with supporters espousing the benefits of taking in a destination slowly and exploring at a super relaxed pace. However, time was not a luxury I had on this trip around the world.  On average I only spent around 72 hours in each country, after which I would typically hop an overnight transcontinental flight to my next destination. While I initially worried about this breakneck pace (the fatigue! the jet lag! the non-stop stimulation!) I surprised myself with how energized and attentive I felt despite the long travel days and nights.  How? I think I was too excited and engaged by the ever-changing scenery to really feel fatigued or bored.  Moving quickly and changing countries so frequently helped keep my outlook fresh.  Seriously, it was like Christmas morning every time I stepped off the plane.

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In Lalibela, Ethiopia

It *is* possible to travel with just a carry on

As a rule, I always pack light, but even I was surprised by how little I managed to bring on this RTW journey. I travelled for nearly a month with just a carry on suitcase, purse, and small backpack (which I didn’t even need and regretted bringing, to be honest). How did I do it? Post coming soon!

I love solo travel

If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time you’ll know that I am a huge proponent of solo travel and try to do it often.  This RTW experience reaffirmed how much I enjoy travelling “to the beat of my own drum” and being in complete control of my trip’s itinerary and execution. Save a few suggestions from the crew at Star Alliance, I selected all of my destinations/activities. As always, being able to make these choices on my own was empowering.

The common fear most have about solo travel is that they’ll be lonely, but I’ll tell you right now that that’s hogwash in my eyes. For, while I may travel around the world solo, I’m never really alone.  I meet so many people on the road and had so many great encounters on this trip– my head is filled with stories and my phone filled with the contact info of all the amazing people I came across during my 25 days away. Still not convinced? Peep my video below for tips on how to meet people when you travel on your own!

It’s about the people you meet and not necessarily the destination

If you haven’t already guessed, beyond the sights themselves, another highlight of my RTW trip was the sheer number and diversity of cool people I met.  I crossed paths with folks from all walks of life, many of whom made a huge impression on me; I was so inspired by their stories. In Lalibela, I bonded with Ruth, the American filmmaker studying French in Senegal, as we sat in a dimly lit hotel lobby struggling to get a wifi signal; my time in Doha was magical thanks to my guide Ibrahim, who provided invaluable insights into Qatari and Arab culture as he took me dune bashing in the desert, then shopping in the souk. These interactions, along with the many others I had over the month, positively enriched my journey.

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With Ibrahim at Qatar’s Inland Sea

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With new friends in Oman

Self-care is important on these sorts of trips

A trip of this nature can take a lot out of you mentally, physically, and emotionally, so I found it prudent to exercise self-care when necessary.  For me, self-care took a number of different forms, ranging from participating in a  yoga class in Oman, to splurging on room service, to skipping a scheduled activity on my itinerary so I could chill in the park or lie down in a dark room for a bit.

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Taking it easy after a bout of food poisoning in Doha

I really don’t need to see everything

I’ve alluded to this in a previous blog post.  I no longer find it necessary to see every little thing a city or country has to offer– doing so for me these days equals burnout.  In Hawaii, I was too tired to hoof it to the Pearl Harbour memorial (especially after a hike up Diamond Head!), so chilled on Waikiki Beach and sipped a cool drink instead.

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View of Diamond Head

I’m not a fan of Snapchat

I tried with Snap Chat, y’all, I really tried. But it’s just not for me (I find it disruptive), and after about a good five or so days of trying to document my adventures on there I had to give up (my data plan and phone battery thanked me for this).  If you would like up-to-the-minute updates from my travels around the world, make sure to follow me on Instagram or Facebook.

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Frolicking in the Omani desert. Great, Snapchat-able moment, but by this time I was over it

Planning can be a pain

The level of coordination required for this sort of trip is not for the weary or lazy.  Figuring out dates, times, flight schedules, appropriate layovers, visa requirements, in-country transfers, and currencies added a layer that your typical 1 week trip in 1 or 2 places doesn’t have. Because I spent so little time in each country, there was really no room for error.  This one of the reasons I made sure to travel with carry-on baggage only– I couldn’t risk not having my luggage make a flight due to a delay!

I take my political and social freedoms for granted

I was in Ethiopia during a time of political unrest.  In a bid to silence protestors, security forces clashed with demonstrators in various cities and Ethiopian authorities even went as far as to block the internet across the country for 48 hours.  As someone who was born in raised in a stable democracy, it’s appalling to see this sort of thing take place first hand.  It’s a great reminder of how fortunate many of us are to be able to exercise freedom of speech and thought without repercussions.

 

Travel isn’t just about taking pretty pictures in front of pretty sights; a lot of it is about politics and other unpleasant things that make for solemn social media updates. Case in point, I’m in Ethiopia right now, which, if you’ve kept a close eye on the news for the last few days, is going through some pretty tough times at the moment. Anti-government protests have been going on in the regions of Oromia and Amhara (where I’m at): the source of unrest is ongoing political and economic strife and marginalization. Security forces have clashed with demonstrators across the country, leaving over 100 dead and many more angr(y)(ier). If I’ve been quiet on social media lately or haven’t responded to your messages, it’s due to the fact that Ethiopian authorities have blocked most social media sites (though internet here’s generally spotty), meaning that logging in to Facebook or Twitter has been impossible since shortly after I arrived yesterday. If you’re able to see this update it’s thanks to a 3rd party posting app which automatically posts to FB and Twitter once I’ve initiated a post on Instagram (which seems to be unblocked… at the moment). At least I still have access to most of the internet– over the weekend it was completely blocked. I can’t imagine what that must be like, I take the ability to freely surf the web for granted. At any rate, this message is to say that I’m in Ethiopia and I am fine, I am safe. Yesterday in Addis Ababa I had a delightful time making my way about the city and eating tasty Ethiopian cuisine; today I flew to Lalibela, visited the iconic rock-hewn churches, and had my breath taken away. In the last 36 hours I’ve made new Ethiopian friends. I have gained a bit more insight into what’s happening in their country right now and how they feel about it. This is the beauty of being on the ground and not separated by a border or computer screen. The silver lining in the cloud. So like I said, travel isn’t just about pretty pictures in front of pretty sights; it’s about politics, relationships, and understanding why they sometimes break down. I’m in Ethiopia: I’m fine, safe, and learning a lot. For this I am grateful.

A photo posted by Oneika Raymond (@oneikatraveller) on

My personal safety is a top priority

It came to my attention that my guide in Oman was falling asleep at the wheel during our exploratory drives.  While he was fabulous in every other regard, this was totally not okay.  I talked about it with him and he kept on brushing off my concerns, so I made the hard decision to report him to the tour company. I felt terrible for “ratting him out” but my personal safety is more important than his potential anger or embarrassment. Never compromise your well-being, especially when you’re travelling by yourself.

I love my creature comforts

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My lovely bathroom view at the Delta Toronto

The top-notch accommodation provided to me by Marriott was yet another reminder that my days of roughing it are pretty much over.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I like my beds king-size and my wifi lightning fast!  This is not to say that I’m a stuck-up princess– roughing it is sometimes an essential, enriching, and unavoidable part of travel. But I’m not gonna lie: I adore my creature comforts!

And there you have it: my lessons learned from 25 days around the world! Did any of them surprise you?

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11 Comments

  • Reply
    Moanica
    September 7, 2016 at 8:28 pm

    Love this! There’s always something new to learn when we travel — usually about ourselves. My biggest surprise is your not latching onto Snapchat. I’m in the same boat! I love most social media platforms, but that one just doesn’t do it for me. Just doesn’t work for my brain. Awesome post and photos!

  • Reply
    Caroline Achieng Otieno
    September 7, 2016 at 9:00 pm

    I hear you loud and clear Oneika..I was following your journey on instagram and keeping up with your gambols across the globe even as I was hopscotching around four East European countries..and really roughing it up as I did so..these countries with the exception of Moldovia are quite huge, and sometimes crossing from city to city, or from country to country me and my child did by bus..that was hard!!!…we’re talking about sitting upright for eight hours in buses.! I’m not ready to do that again..
    Like you I learnt that I love my creature comforts..at a certain point, I craved home-cooked meals and when we finally were in a nice hostel in Bucharest where I could cook, I was too grossed out by the state of the kitchen..!! So, much as we’re not completely out of roughing it altogether like you are..we just have to find ways to be more comfortable while on the road..
    We also didn’t need to see everything..by the time we arrived in Bucharest, we were pretty much exhausted and delaying our travel schedules to other cities..we skipped Serbia because we were too exhausted anyway, and at the tail end of our journey so we needed to take it easy..and not to bother too much about seeing stuff and other locations.
    The locals were amazing in every country we went..though of course there were quite some stares especially in Ukraine! We learnt alot on our journey through Poland, Ukraine, Moldova and Romania..we’re glad to be back and re-charging some without any plans at the moment to go anywhere.

  • Reply
    ninaframbuesa
    September 7, 2016 at 9:17 pm

    Looking forward to reading more about this amazing trip. 🙂

  • Reply
    Caroline Achieng Otieno
    September 7, 2016 at 9:28 pm

    I hear you Oneika! Amazing rtw tour you took..I was sure to follow closely where you were via instagram. Snap-chat I realize isn’t for me too..I just haven’t gotten the hang of it, and I’m cool like that, but quite diligent on instagram.
    Yes, to travel being about the people, many times as travel bloggers, we tend to be so caught up in destinations that we miss out really getting one-on-ones with the locals..which is so vital to have a real feel of the destination.
    About roughing it, I wish I could say those days are in the past like you do, but unfortunately, I find myself trying to squeeze and stretch my coins further which means that I still have to rough it. Point in question; I backpacked Eastern Europe with my daughter this summer, and except for the few times we were on sleeper trains, most of our travel involved sitting upright for eight hours on buses! We are quite exhausted and re-charging for a while after that!! I also realized that eating and drinking on a daily basis out is not my lifestyle…I so craved home-cooked meals..though there was that time I really wanted to fix a meal but the hostel kitchen grossed us out..We are pretty glad to be on the home turf presently..
    We had a water-tight itinerary and extensive planning before setting off..but on the way realized that sometimes we had to change plans, or stay longer in destinations because of exhaustion or illness..at our last stop, we were so weary that we just decided to chill and take it easy before our final bus-ride to the city from which we had our departure flight.

  • Reply
    Victoria@ The British Berliner
    September 8, 2016 at 6:09 am

    ‘Love the post Oneika!

    You really killed it making it to 8 countries in 25 days! Phew! I’m exhausted just thinking about it lol! ‘Like yourself, I’m very much a fan of solo travel even though I’m married n’ stuff. Having an understanding husband means that you really can have it all lol!

    ‘Looking after yourself when you travel is absolutely paramount. I’ll be going to Asia pretty soon, for almost 3 weeks, and I’ll be travelling solo therefore, top-notch hotels, and no sharing a room with a million other people, that is, and has been ,sooooo over for years. Booking a private room / suite in a hostel absolutely yes indeed, but bunking with strangers or sharing a room with strangers? Not on your nelly lol!

    I was surprised that you’re not on SnapChat. Neither am I. I’m not on Instagram either lol!
    And why? I just can’t be bothered!

  • Reply
    Anne Morgan
    September 8, 2016 at 4:52 pm

    What a relief to find I’m not the only one not into Snapchat! I feel so much better now. That bathroom looks amazing – I’d have been tempted to spend all my time lying in the bath, gazing at the view with a glass of wine. Actually your whole trip looks amazing and I can’t wait to hear more about it.

  • Reply
    Marii Guedes
    September 12, 2016 at 6:21 pm

    Such an amazing adventure! I agree with you: travel solo is the best thing ever. I recently tried it and didn’t feel lonely not even once.

  • Reply
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  • Reply
    Roger Bruton
    September 24, 2016 at 12:07 pm

    Too fast 🙂 I took two months.

  • Reply
    Deborah Carter
    January 3, 2017 at 10:58 pm

    I enjoy reading your posts; you are like a breath of fresh air!
    I travel quite a bit (less than you, of course) and it’s more for music than for tourism. I also am lucky enough to be able to go to my home in Amsterdam, between most trips, to do my laundry, go on fun dates with my husband (if I traveled alone), recharge my inner battery, etc.

    Anyway, there are two important things that I learned from going to so many countries:

    1) There are more kind people on this planet than unkind; more good than bad. We have so much more in common than we are aware of.
    2) I’ve learned to not underestimate the power of…CHOCOLATE! I always travel with few small, compact boxes of beautifully packaged Benelux chocolate–mostly from Belgium. I give them out to the person who coordinates my daily schedule, any guide or assistant designated for me, the driver, the new friend I may make along the way and whoever else is there to make my visit a pleasant one.

    People LOVE to be surprised by good chocolate. And they are so grateful for it.

    Forget about music, I think I’m helping to make it a better world one-person-one-chocolate-box at a time!

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