“I am standing at the crossroads of Broadway and Lafayette. The light is red, and it is raining. Not pouring but enough to mock my summer clothes, it is only May after all. I don’t have any money left to take the subway because I am keeping my remaining dollars for the taxi to the airport. I even had to pay for my breakfast with the ‘emergency’ credit card from my dad and asked them to wrap up the leftovers of my fruit salad as a doggy bag. Not a very exciting lunch, but I am grateful for it.
I am starting to drip and as I wait for the light to turn I look at the little brown paper bag in my hand. The doggy bag is dripping too. “My baggy is all soggy,” I think and feel a bit sorry for it. I don’t even know where this thought and the pity I feel for the ‘baggy’ comes from. After all, unlike me, the doggy bag cannot feel the rain.
I do however know why I still remember this thought and the exact words I that went through my head almost twenty years later. I remember how everything about this moment felt grey and wet, but it is still one of my favorite travel memories. Even back then, dripping in the rain, I realized that it felt like the ultimate freedom.”

Solo Trip - A travel book Annika Ziehen

Writing a book is a bit like giving birth. I don’t have a child, but that is what people who have children and written a book tell me. I like to believe them because after writing my first book I developed mother lion instincts. My baby was perfect to me, the fruit of hours labored on the computer. I had pondered weeks over concepts and paragraphs and sentences; had written, dismissed, and rewritten. Had cried and laughed and almost given up on it so many times, and finally, all I could do was send it off to my editor and hope for the best.

Woman hugging a camel in Morocco

Then it got published, received some good press, was sold in bookstores all over Germany, and then the comments started. While I have been working in this online bubble for a while and should know better than to read the comments, I couldn’t resist it. And I was shocked. Some people were basically telling me my baby was ugly. Not many, just a select few but those hurt me incredibly. It felt different to someone disagreeing with a blog post I had written because not only could I not defend myself (what mother doesn’t think their own child is beautiful?!) but it was done. My baby was printed, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Woman looking out of a train window in India

It was a taxing experience, one that humbled and upset me at the same time. So much so that I put off translating my book into English for the longest time. It was a clear case of procrastination, and I couldn’t pinpoint for a while why I didn’t get it together even though so many readers had asked me when I would finally publish the English version. It took me almost a year until it clicked and I got it together. Because while I had gotten a mere handful of mean comments, I had also received a myriad of amazing messages: on my blog, via email, and on Instagram. Women were telling me how they could relate or how I had helped and encouraged them to take their first solo trip. Thinking about these messages was when I realized if I waited to please everybody I would never please anybody. Or as a friend put it: not everybody is going to like you, you are not a pizza. And of course, I realized that mean things people wrote said little about me but a lot about them.

So I started to write. I used some of the more constructive criticism to improve the book but ignored the haters. If anything it was harder than the first time around, but I powered through.

Why solo travel?

Woman trying to climb a palm tree

Over the years I have come to realize that I am an innate solo traveler. That doesn’t mean I exclusively travel by myself or that I don’t like the company of others, it simply means that I would never say no to a trip just because I have to go on my own. I like my own company, in fact, as an introvert I recharge my batteries by being on my own. But I know that isn’t the case for everyone, and many equate being alone with being lonely.
I also had my fair share of questions and comments about my solo travels – from my parents, partners, and some people who can’t mind their own business and I have learned to navigate those.

I do remember those first solo steps before I knew how easy it would eventually become for me. Remember standing in this New York rain and relishing in the freedom and how empowered I felt by managing on my own even though I was soaking wet and far away from anything I knew. And I think this is one of the reasons I do what I do and why I like to inspire others to do the same – empowerment and to take charge of your own life, realizing your potential, and yes, finding out who you actually are.

Why travel at all?

Kids in Sri Lanka during sunset

In today’s world so many ‘influencers’ would like us to believe that travel is the ultimate goal, accessible for anyone if you just want it enough. I don’t think travel is the answer to everything, but I think the independence and skills you learn with a solo trip will serve you well for the other parts of your life too. I also know that it isn’t possible for everybody. Whether it is for monetary reasons, due to a crappy passport or traditions that hold you back. Travel is a privilege and those who don’t see that are probably in that privileged group. That’s why I think it is even more important to travel for those of us who can.

Especially in today’s world and political climate, I think it is imperative that we look at the world around us, try to walk in someone else’s shoes. Why? Because if we do that we realize that we are all humans and in it together in this thing called life.

Indian woman and livestock

The writer Charles Baudelaire describes his poem “Astonishing Voyageurs” as such:

„Astonishing“ voyageurs“ is an attempt to illustrate the visions, the postures, of those who came here in this wonderful country, trying to find the ultimate meaning of life. Our eyes see and meet others’ eyes, of those who, behind the huge diversity of time and beings, like us, walked their faces in the wind, ate olives, slept under the shade of fig trees, put honey on their fingers, felt love, and died.”

Whether you put honey on your fingers or Nutella is just a tiny detail in the end, but the sentiment holds true. It is something many of us will only see once they start experiencing a world outside their own four walls.

Solo Trip

Sunrise at Jal Mahal, India

These are just a few of the reasons why I travel and why I finally finished Solo Trip. In the book, you will find lots of more reasons why solo travel makes so damn happy, practical tips on how to go about your first trip alone as well as some of my favorite travel routes suitable for solo travel newbies. I also give you some good reasons why you shouldn’t listen to all the ifs and buts that get thrown in our way when planning a solo trip and how to manage the dreaded dinner for one.

Solo Trip - A travel book Annika Ziehen

Curious? Solo Trip – Me, Myself & the World is now available as an e-book at my shop here. But to celebrate all of you wonderful Travelettes, I am giving away 10 copies for free and a 20% discount for everybody else. Just send me an email to annika@travelettes.net or comment below and let me know where your first or next solo trip will take you.

This post was written by Annika Ziehen who was a Travelette until 2019. Originally from Germany, Annika has lived in New York and Cape Town and now travels the world full time. She considers herself a very hungry mermaid and writes about her adventures, scuba diving and food on her blog The Midnight Blue Elephant. You can also find her on Instagram here!