Learning to Embrace Solo Travel and Self-Discovery
In this week’s episode of Our Voices we hear a story of travel and self-discovery. Kate is a travel journalist and writer who lives in London. She talks about the origins of her love of travelling and about the difficult relationship she had with her mother while growing up.
She also discusses how she found the confidence to take her own path in life in order to have new experiences.
Growing up in “Suburbiton”
Kate grew up in a suburb of London called Surbiton, or, as Kate calls it, “Suburbiton”. She describes her hometown as “pretty boring” and says that she “just couldn’t wait to escape”. Set against the dullness of Surbiton, Kate’s imagination was invigorated by stories read to her by her father. She says
“I’m really thankful that I had a really loving relationship with my dad.”
A difficult relationship
Unfortunately, this was not often the case with her mum. Her parents separated when Kate was just 11 years old and she finds it very difficult to remember any positive or loving memories of her mother growing up.
“It’s difficult to say that because that relationship is what teaches you what love really is. It’s the first relationship, it’s the most important one, it’s so primal.”
Instead of recalling positive memories, Kate remembers an occasion when her mother’s lack of attention led to physical suffering.
“I was about nine years old and I actually got into a bath that my mum had run whilst on the phone to someone, and the bath was just hot water. And I had really bad burns that blistered up on my feet.”
A need for independence
Experiences such as this generated an inbuilt need for independence. Since her mother refused to take control of situations, Kate felt that she had no choice but to take responsibility for her own decisions at an early age.
But Kate’s burgeoning independence only served to create greater distance between herself and her mother. This was compounded by Kate’s mother finding a new partner. “That’s when it really just felt like she dropped out of my life altogether.”
First trips abroad
Kate discovered her love of travel at the age of 20 when she studied abroad in California for a year. She describes the experience as “transformative… it really shaped the person that I became.”
She met her future husband while in California and it was there that she decided she wanted to turn her love of writing into a career. Her time in California would soon be followed by trips around the world to places such as Malawi, Mozambique, Vancouver and Ecuador. But the motivation for Kate’s travelling was initially about the impression she could make on others. “I think in my early 20s… I kind of felt like travel made me a little bit more interesting.”
The need to escape: travel and self-discovery
As Kate grew older, she began to feel a connection between travel and self-discovery.
“Even though I had all the outward trappings of success, a quite high profile job and a boyfriend and I owned a flat and all these things that you’re told are supposed to make you happy, I just still felt like things weren’t right. And so travel became a way of just escaping from my day to day life for a little bit.”
Following a different path
Attempting to embrace those outward trappings, Kate and her boyfriend decided to get married after having been together for over ten years. They divorced one year later. Making the break from her long-term partner made her realise that her life was going to take a very different course to those of her friends.
Rather than resisting her desire to live a different kind of life, Kate decided to fully embrace the possibilities of travel and self-discovery after reading about a fourth century nun. The nun had travelled around the Holy Lands and Kate felt that it was her destiny to follow in the nun’s footsteps. As a result, she booked a self-discovery trip to Israel, Tel Aviv.
A self-discovery trip
Tel Aviv would only be the starting destination for Kate’s new journey, however. She also had plans to visit Palestine. Many warned Kate to not make that journey to Palestine, especially as a family.
“Even though it’s only a 30-minute bus ride, you have to go through all these checkpoints to get to Palestine. It feels like you’re kind of entering another world.”
Yet Kate wanted to challenge herself. Reflecting on the pioneering female travellers of the past, she took inspiration. Kate felt that it was important to realise the connection between travel and self-discovery.
Travelling alone as a woman
By the time she had made her way to the bus travelling from Jerusalem to Palestine, it was already dark. All of the information at the bus stop was in Hebrew and Arabic, none of which Kate understood. She also quickly noticed that she was both the only female and the only tourist on the bus.
She was starting to question the wisdom of travelling alone as a woman. But in this part of the world until a man on the bus came to her assistance. He made the crossing from Palestine to Jerusalem daily in order to sell his wooden sculptures. As a result, he was able to help her navigate the checkpoints. Describing her experience, Kate says
“[it was] pretty intimidating. It’s like Israeli soldiers with massive guns and it’s almost like you’re cattle.” Kate says that she was much more accustomed to reviewing luxury spa hotels than taking bus trips through hostile checkpoints. At one stage she asked herself “why didn’t I just accept that trip to the Maldives instead?”
Travel experiences that change your life
But Kate knew that she was having travel experiences that change your life. During her solo travel experiences, she learned about how it was possible to travel and learn. She felt a sense of communion with ancient wanderers who were so moved by their faith
In fact, Kate’s travels were so inspirational that they motivated her to write a book called “A Trip of One’s Own”. It has since operated as an inspiration to others to take their own solo trips and to experience travel and self-discovery.
“I absolutely love it when I hear that people have been inspired to take a solo trip by themselves after having read the book… because I know firsthand how powerful it can be to have that first experience on your own.”
Aside from travelling adventures, another powerful experience Kate has had is that of recently becoming a mother. Just as in so many aspects of Kate’s life, she has had to pioneer her own approach to motherhood. Reflecting on how she has come to terms with the past in order to make the most of the future, she says:
“You can’t rewrite your childhood, but you can start the next chapter on your own terms.”