• Sylvie Novotny

A Solo Excursion in Oceania

Before my first solo trip, I had done a fair amount of travel in my life. Mostly, with family and friends. Although I had studied abroad in Scotland, during that time I had never really wandered off to continental Europe or Morocco. Even though I had moved to a new place, quite honestly I was a bit shy to go off in large cities or doing long excursions by myself. I kept primarily to the city I had selected and went off on only a few weekend excursions and even then just with my boyfriend at the time. I imagined traveling on my own would be lonely, overwhelming, and- as a girl- primarily dangerous. I imagined myself a moving target, obvious and vulnerable to devious pick pockets and miscreants where ever I went. By the time I had reached 28, however, I realized this fear had been Hollywood manufactured. I was in no more danger walking around Sydney than I was walking outside of my own house. More so than that, social media was making it obvious that women were doing this all over the world and not only surviving but thriving.

The first time I decided to do my first major solo trip, spending weeks in Australia and New Zealand, I had just come off an amazing trip to Nicaragua with my boyfriend- where we had just broken up. I’m hoping Shailene Woodley plays me in the inventible remake of this age old repetitive story.

No longer strapped to my man and I had chosen my first solo trip to be a few weeks in New Zealand. It was somewhere I had been before on a girls’ trip just a few years prior, but I was nervous nonetheless. I would be driving across both the North and the South islands in a car by myself for weeks. I wasn’t familiar with the road trip life, let alone in a country that drove on the left side of the road. In my research of the country I had also heard of stories where tourists were so dangerous as drivers, locals would pry keys from their hands. This is perhaps why Air New Zealand has so many helpful videos about driving and what signs mean in the country on their flights (which I watched at length and suggest you do to). More than that, I felt I would feel afraid or lonely and that I would maybe quit my trip early and go home. I had resigned myself not to give into fear, but what did that really ultimately mean if I was curled up under my sheets every night afraid to venture out in evenings? I had run through all the possible worst case scenarios and booked rooms only with free wifi so that if I needed to call my family for love and support and send texts it would be quick and easy.

After landing in Christchurch, I grabbed my rental and set off on a three hour drive up the coast to Kaikoura. To this day, when I think of New Zealand, I remember that first day so vividly. My excitement to be going on this journey, the golden hue of the South Island landscape, the way the sky was turquoise are still ingrained my memory. I had seen two girls stopped off the road looking at the ocean, and pulled my car over for the 4th photo op of the drive. I asked what they were looking at and they told me there were dolphins off the coast. Just moments later, a single dolphin jumped and flipped in the air. It seemed almost like a corny movie, but I definitely felt it was a sign that I had made the right decision to take this trip.

Kaikoura is a very special place. Small sea lions line the coast, whales inhabit it’s waters, and its home to the Dusky Dolphin. The Dusky Dolphin is perhaps one of the most social of the dolphin species and if you snorkel with them and sing into your snorkel they will come and inspect you. Having multiple dolphins swim right up to your face is something magical indeed.

Over the first few days in Kaikoura, I found that making friends was relatively easy. Even though I took this trip in my late twenties, there were other fellow travelers of all age ranges at all of my hostels and hotels. Fellow travelers are also sometimes lonely, they are full of stories and they love to talk to people. I found myself, whom I had previously though of as kind of awkward and shy, having no issues making friends where I went. I also found that I really enjoyed being alone. For many people, being alone may sound daunting. Solo drives that lasted hours showed my that being alone is not a scary thing. It can be a great thing. You can do anything you want.

“Hang Gliding Today,” a sign proclaimed. I swerved in the direction of the sign and after signing my life away, I was in the air with a pilot in a glider. To fly in a glider is to experience life as a bird and to give up control of your life. Your life is literally in some one else’s hands. You have to let go. That’s the beautiful part about travel; it’s the surrender to things that you can’t control and the wonderful surprises that meet you. I learned you have to be open to it, adaptable. I learned to let the good in and not fret about plans. After learning to be on my own for weeks, I now try to apply that to my life. I look at my life and think about what is working and what isn’t. I’m trying to leave that doesn’t behind and letting events just work in my favor. Ever sat in the front of a propeller plane with the pilot? I did on my way back from Milford Sound when I made the decision to splurge and experience Southern New Zealand from the air, forgoing the four hour bus drive back to Queenstown. I acknowledge that may not be affordable (it was about $200 extra dollars) but it’s an example of how plans can change and opportunities can represent themselves. You should grab them. By grabbing them, I gained confidence and the world I had been so afraid of when I was younger showed itself to be warm and welcoming. The scary unknown is now opportunity and adventure. Traveling changes your perspective and if you can do it you should try to do it alone. I promise that the person you discover in yourself will be as beautiful as any place you visit.

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