“Being uncomfortable is good. If you remain comfortable, you remain more or less yourself. The quickest way to make yourself uncomfortable is to travel alone. It takes courage to change your life. Sometimes, doing so, you feel all alone in the world. You can get used to this scary feeling by traveling alone, being by yourself for long periods of time, having to talk to strangers, having to get yourself from one city to another. You become accustomed to it. The fear of being alone will no longer stop you.” – Po Bronson
Solo travel is considered one of 2017’s top trends with 51% of respondents of a Lonely Planet survey saying they’ll take their next trip solo. For many, solo travel isn’t the “next big thing” but a road they’ve been familiar with for years. In an insightful Q&A with solo traveler, Kim Forsyth, we explore the benefits, sacrifices, and personal stories from a traveler who understands the trend.
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Hard Rock Hotels: What scared you most about traveling alone?
Kim Forsyth: Safety. Of course, this crosses your mind. So many friends and family warned me of the dangers of the world. Of the bad people, and dark corners, and spiked drinks… oh, and the hostels. My response was “I’m more likely to die in a car accident from someone texting and driving.” I don’t know the actual stats*, but that just sounded right.
Ironically enough, after 1.5 years of traveling internationally, I came to the states for a few months and bought an old beater for road trips. Within a few days of buying it, a semi-truck side swiped me on the highway, sending me across a long grassy median, where I barely avoided a head-on collision with another semi-truck by spinning to a halt. Lesson is – don’t wait to live. I was safer when I went hang gliding in Rio!
* According to Time, there were 10,545 deaths abroad from October 2012 to June 2015; 29% or 3,104 of which were due to vehicle-related accidents. This is compared to the number of reported motor vehicle fatalities in the U.S. in 2014 alone by the Institute for Highway Safety, which was 32,765.
HRH: What sacrifices did you have to make to be able to make the leap of traveling long-term?
KF: I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to move to the U.S. from Costa Rica, earn a degree in Operations Management at the University of Cincinnati, and then fall into an internship that launched my ten-year career at Toyota, which pushed me to work hard but also rewarded me accordingly. Hence, I was able to buy a house at 25 and one could say I was living the “American Dream”: young, healthy, growing career, 3-bedroom house, Lexus, plenty of time for vacations and other joys, etc.
But was it what I wanted for myself? What had a long line of circumstances and status quo living shaped me to be? A couple months after I turned 29, I had a moment of clarity. One where I realized that I had always looked for what was the norm and what was next and what made sense, what was responsible.
I took a step back and thought about what I wanted my life story to be. I could blink my eyes and another ten years would go by, mostly with the same routine, job, and maybe more furniture in my house … more mulch around my flowers? I found that scary. Scarier than leaving my current life to LIVE. At that moment, I made a one-year plan to leave on my trip around the world. I was lucky because I could escape all responsibilities. As most of us do, I worked to pay my bills. If I got rid of my bills (house, car, debt), then I didn’t have to work. Eureka! I sold my house and 90% of things in it; I saved like a mad woman (even moving back home – thanks, mom!) The final straw was quitting my job – no turning back!
To sum it up, I gave up a lot of things, which I haven’t missed. Overall my biggest sacrifice was leaving stability, the comfort of home and a paycheck, being surrounded by loving friends and family within a five-minute drive, Sunday dinners with my family, and all of those special moments you share with the people in your life. It’s been over two years, and I’ve yet to miss my job or things. Good friends and family haven’t left me, on the contrary, they have remained my biggest cheerleaders.
HRH: What benefits are there to traveling alone vs. with a travel companion?
KF: When you travel alone, you truly follow your individual path. You are not impacted by someone else’s opinions or fears. You can unapologetically follow your gut. For me, I find that I tend to fall into unique situations when I’m alone. Situations that may not have happened had I been chatting with my travel buddy, absorbing my focus. You are more approachable as a party of one.
Traveling can be a lot of work: researching locations and figuring out logistics. For example, a 17-hour train ride in India is better with friends – believe me! There are also a lot of experiences that are best shared. I think it comes down to what you are hoping to gain from the travel. You are able to balance both if your travel partner also understands the importance of alone time and silence.
HRH: How do you think solo traveling has impacted your life?
KF: It has impacted my way of thinking; and therefore, my way of living and long-term life. I find situations don’t stress me out as much as they did before. If something goes against the plan, just find another way. Comfort is something I appreciate, but don’t need (I can sleep almost anywhere). I’ve learned (mostly!) not to get exasperated with time. If there is a wait, I just wait. Complaining doesn’t yield results and only amps your emotions and stress. In Spain, a common saying is “no pasa nada” or “nothing happens.” Meaning, what is really the aftermath of the “catastrophe” you’re dealing with/blowing out of proportion? Often times, the change of plans has little impact, and can even open up new doors.
HRH: What’s been your favorite destination and why?
KF: Antarctica will always have a special place in my heart. It is gentle and fierce all at once; raw nature without a sign of human impact. Killer whales swam around our ship, penguins tugged on my backpack straps, icebergs are a work of art and I jumped in the freezing water! Words simply can’t describe.
A close runner-up is Patagonia. Before my independent adventure, I led a fairly sedentary life. I worked out casually. Starting my travels in Tierra del Fuego then Patagonia awakened the inner trekker in me that I never knew existed. I did a five-day trek alone in Torres del Paine, Chile by myself. I didn’t even know how to set up a tent before, let alone prepare and carry my living supplies for five days in a backpack. This was the first time that I really challenged myself –alone – in the wilderness – and I was successful. The W Trek has such a diverse trajectory, and you can literally find yourself in all 4 seasons within one day. This was the start of several world-class treks, including Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya (1st and 2nd tallest in Africa).
HRH: What is one destination still on your “must travel to” list?
KF: Uluru Rock in Alice Springs, Australia. I learned about it in 2010 and became enamored by the idea of a sunset there. I am currently job hunting and hope to be successful soon. Once I have that aligned, I aspire to finish my 7 continents in Australia at Uluru to celebrate my full journey around the world … then, get to work!
Update: Kim accepted a job in Seattle. But before she packed her bags and headed west, she ventured to Uluru, officially completing her 7-continent, 2.5-year journey around the world.
HRH: What is the greatest lesson you have learned in your travels?
KF: Determination! I’ve surprisingly proven to myself how many barriers I can break if I set my mind to something. It only takes the first step – setting a goal. Opening your mind to the idea, trying your best and accepting reality. I walked over 500 miles from France across Spain, until I reached the sea. All because I took that first step and did not think about how much was left, but what I had accomplished.
Also, that some things don’t need a reason. You don’t have to justify or rationalize to yourself or anyone else. That’s called passion, and its romantic and you should follow it! I went to Iguazu Falls (Argentina and Brazil) the first time simply because I loved the movie Up, the movie about the old man who ties balloons to his house and travels to South America to fulfill a life dream that he made with his (recently deceased) wife. This may not be a rational reason to travel to another continent, but so what? It called to me.
HRH: Tell us about your perfect travel moment.
KF: This is going to sound silly, but it was the first time that I jumped on a log. It was February 2015, in Tierra del Fuego, where my solo journey began, during my second hike in the area. I made a friend and we hitchhiked near the trailhead. As we walked through the flowered fields to get to the foot of the forest we were to enter, I found myself running towards a log and without a thought – jumping on it.
That simple little jump took me back to childhood. It reminded me that I was so far removed from the sedentary routine desk life I had. That it was now a random day of the week, which one it didn’t matter, and I was starting a hike in one of the most magical places in this world. That I left the busyness at home and could now cherish those joyful little jumps in life.
The motto of Tierra del Fuego is: “the end of the world, the beginning of all.” That little jump on a log was a new beginning for me. That was my perfect travel moment.
With destinations all over the world, Hard Rock Hotels wants to help make your travel dreams come true. Where to next?
Follow Kim’s journey on Instagram @kimfos_global_flow.
Photo credit: Kimberly Forsyth, Shauna Breslawski, Thomas Dalton, Amanda Stanken, and Jon Hui. All licensing rights reserved.