Travelling solo is something we’ve all yearned for, especially those of us who have read Eat, Pray, Love at least three times. However, the fear of the unknown can prevent us from exploring all this planet has to offer. That’s why the team at Shemazing have teamed up with some of the most inspiring and empowering ladies, who have travelled alone. Their stories will educate you, inspire you and leave you itching to catch the next flight out of your hometown.
In the second instalment of our series Travelling Light, we speak to Lauren Pears about her solo cycle from London to Istanbul.
Travelling solo has been a dream of Lauren’s since she graduated from university, but she was apprehensive about going on her own, until she realised that she’ll never get to see the world if she waits around for someone else.
“I've learned that if I wait for someone else to drum up the time, money and interest to accompany me on a trip I want to take, I'll never end up going! Particularly for this bicycle journey, I didn't know of anyone who wanted to join me. So I went by myself. In many ways, I actually prefer solo travel as I can do my own thing and I don't have to make compromises with anybody else.
“Solo travel seems to be romanticised all over travel blogs and Instagram these days, which I think makes it easier to find inspiration and confidence to do the same.”
Lauren took on one of her biggest adventures to date as she cycled from London to Istanbul this summer, which was the journey of a lifetime for the writer.
“I've cycled through some beautiful scenery, met some amazing people, and visited some of Europe's greatest cities. Bratislava and Istanbul were my favourite cities, whereas the Wachau Valley in Austria and the Djerdap Gorge in Serbia were the most spectacular sights.
“It sounds cliche, but I really do feel like I learned a lot about myself. Cycling solo nearly every day gives you a lot of time to just think, and so I've managed to come to terms with a lot of problems from my past, and feel that my confidence and independence have grown. I felt a huge mixture of emotions over the past three months; loneliness, joy, liberation, pride, anxiety… It's been quite the whirlwind.”
The challenge seemed daunting at first but Lauren was met with nothing but support and kindness throughout her travels. She was greeted with open arms and friendly faces as she cycled across Europe by herself.
“Nothing bad happened. Nothing bad even almost happened. It just reminded me that I'm a perfectly capable person who can take care of herself. I'm aware that cycling solo comes with some risks, but I always listened to my instincts and took precautions.
“I remember cycling past the Serbian border feeling very defensive – a lot of people had told me that Serbia was an unsafe country and that I should be extra careful there. It turns out that Serbia is home to the most fiercely warm and hospitable people I've ever encountered on my travels, and I shouldn't have listened to other people's misconceptions. People would shout "welcome to Serbia!" as I cycled past; a truck driver handed me some oranges at a petrol station; I was greeted with coffee or juice at every campsite I stopped at. The world isn't out to get you, as some people seem to believe.”
The main aim of Lauren’s solo cycle was to raise awareness about sustainability and eco-friendly travel. She hopes to show people that you can see the world without relying on trains, planes and automobiles.
“I wanted to find alternative ways of travelling; ways that didn't harm the environment so much. My dad is a keen bicycle tourist, having cycled through Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. I'll also never forget the day he said "I'm going to go to the Pyrenees," packed a tent and some clothes on his bike and went!
“He made me realise that cycling is a feasible – albeit slow – way of exploring a region, and has little to no impact on the environment. And, given that continental Europe is just across a narrow stretch of sea from England, I realised I could take my bike across and cycle the entire continent. So that's exactly what I did. Plus, it's a lot cheaper than interrailing!”
Lauren hopes her adventures will encourage people to be more eco-friendly when they travel.
We should be positively impacting the environment, local culture and wildlife when we travel, not causing more harm to them.
She advised eager travellers, “This can be as basic as ensuring you don't litter, respecting the local culture and wildlife, and to shop and eat locally. It can also be bigger things such as thinking about how we travel. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as an eco-friendly flight. And, if you travel, it’s likely you use aeroplanes. Wherever possible, try to use land-based modes of transport to get from A to B – not only will this reduce your carbon footprint, but you’ll also get to see more of the country! If it’s not possible to avoid flights, try to take direct flights wherever possible. Layovers are worse for the environment as take-off and landing use more fuel than when the plane is cruising.”