If you haven’t noticed by now, traveling is one of my favorite things to do in life. Literally! I started traveling at a young age which I think is one of the many reasons why I get bored if I stay in the same place for months and months. And of course, my curiosity and my love for meeting new people don’t help.
Today, we are talking travels with the one and only Tessia Nikuze. She is a beautiful young Burundian residing in Montreal. Tess and I spoke a couple days before her solo trip (key word here: solo) and I remember telling her: “please be safe, have fun and send in a lot of pictures”. She sounded excited when talking about her upcoming trip whereas I had tons of questions running through my mind about traveling solo. How can she do it?
I had to convince her to share her experience with us, you know why? Because one: sharing is so dope and two: I believe one should embark on a solo trip at least once in a lifetime. And I am not talking traveling for work or for studies abroad, going to visit family or friends in another city. No, I am talking, booking a flight/train/ferry/bus, whatever you want with the sole purpose of discovering a new place. By yourself! I know, it sounds crazy!
First of all, what was the reaction of your closest people when you told them you were going to travel solo?
‘Tessie, have you gone crazy? You are joking, right?’ That’s what almost everyone told me. They could not understand why I wanted to travel by myself to Mexico! A country portrayed in the media as one of the most dangerous countries in the world and a country where the language and the culture were foreign to me.You and Me Chairs in Merida: they’re a symbol of love
My friends wanted me to at least stay in a resort with an all included package. They deemed it safer. Although they trusted me, they were afraid that ‘the too innocent me’ was going to be easily duped. My best friend even volunteered to come with me but I refused. I really wanted to do it alone.
As for my parents, I only announced them the news before my departure. I knew that if I had done it before buying my ticket, they were going to make me change my mind. The first time I told them, they simply didn’t believe me ha! It is only when they saw me preparing my backpack that they realized I was serious. Telling them that Merida was the safest city in the country and that I was going to be very careful was not enough to reassure them. They started sending me scary articles of unfortunate stories that happened to tourists but that was not scary enough for me to cancel my trip. My mind was set. After showing them my detailed itinerary and telling them all the precautions I was going to take (like memorizing the emergency number, not walking alone by night, etc.), I left Montreal with my relatives more or less reassured.The Chichen Itza (behind me) is one of the 7 wonders of the World
On a scale of 0 to 10 how anxious did you feel before your trip and how excited were you?
I was 100% excited (10/10) haha! I really couldn’t wait to get at my destination. I must admit however that I was a little bit scared. The last person I talked to before taking my flight was my uncle and he was nervous. His last piece of advice made me anxious. So, I would say I was 5/10 anxious.
What is one thing you learned about yourself during or after that trip?
Hmmm, I learned a lot about myself, but one thing that surprised me the most was my ability to engage with people very easily. I know I am not an introvert but I didn’t know I was that outgoing. Let it be at the beach, in the bus, or in the streets, from local people to tourists, young people to elderlies, I truly enjoyed talking to people from different walks of life for hours.
What was the biggest challenge you had to face during your trip?
Not speaking Spanish. I knew basic words and I had an awesome pocketbook with common sentences used in different traveling settings (airport, restaurant, for an emergency, etc.) and it was helpful but not so convenient. Who wants to be looking for words and expressions in a book when someone is talking to you? I chose to stay in a Hostel and not a resort or a Hotel so that I can be closer to local people but not speaking their language was surely an obstacle. There are things I could have not done if it wasn’t for other travelers who spoke Spanish. I was able to visit three breathtaking cenotes thanks to people I met in my Hostels. The Cenotes were 50 km away in a small forest in Cuzamá and the local people only speak Spanish.
Why do you think we all should take a solo trip at least once in life?
It helps build Confidence and character. Being able to navigate a foreign place, managing travel plans and communicating in an unknown language can give you a new sense of faith in yourself. It teaches you how to be more resourceful and offers you opportunities to build your character. That sense of accomplishment is all yours to enjoy.
To make new friendships. Traveling solo doesn’t mean you are alone. It was easier for me to engage with local people and other travelers than I ever did home or when I am with a group of close people. I know for a fact that it was going to be different if I was with someone I know. When I travel with my friends, we stay together and although we engage with other people, it remains a “group thing”. The way you interact with strangers in an unfamiliar environment allows you to discover yourself in a way. My solo trip allowed me to somehow regain faith in humanity. The simple acts of kindness from strangers really left a lasting impact on me (I’m not exaggerating).
What did you like and dislike about solo traveling?
What I found great about traveling solo is that I was in charge of my own schedule. Being alone allowed me to take my time and truly enjoy the ‘present’ moment (especially when admiring marvelous nature and historical sites). I was able to eat when I want and where I want, wake up early or wonder at the beach, make some last minute changes to my plan, etc. For example, I decided two days before my last day in Mexico, to cancel my plan to visit Progresso which was just 45 mins from my Hostel in Merida and go in Tulum instead, which was four hours away. Mind you, I had no idea where I was going to stay for the night. I decided not to book a hostel prior online (Go ask me why!). As a result, I went for a bedroom hunt in at least four hostels and they were fully booked. I ended up finding one that had a dorm room with one bunk bed available. Surprisingly enough, I did not panic (ha!). It was pretty cool visiting all those different hostels while discovering the neighborhood. I am glad I made the last-minute decision because Tulum was with no doubt the highlight of my solo trip.
When traveling with a friend, you need to compromise and try to agree on itineraries or activities and it can be stressful to try to please everyone.
However, what is « plate» like we say here in Quebec, is you don’t have a person from your own circle of people to share those memories with and that can be frustrating, discomforting and scary. I remember having crazy thoughts about being injured and not having a family member at the hospital with me.
What’s your biggest advice for someone who is currently thinking about solo traveling?
My best advice is similar to what most solo travelers would tell you: Be well prepared and flexible at the same time. The more research you do on a destination (safety, cultural norms, language, etc.) the better you will handle different situations. However, allow yourself to take things as they come. Don’t be scared to change your initial plans. You might meet people that will embark you on exciting adventures or you might discover unknown things that will cancel half of what you’ve planned but that is okay! That’s part of what makes solo trips sensations unique and unforgettable.
Honestly speaking, would you do it again?
yes, yes and YES I would with no hesitation.
After reading Tess’s story, I couldn’t stop thinking about booking a trip to I don’t-know -where just to get the feeling and for the experience of course. Let me know if you felt the same 😉
Mille Merci à toi Tess. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story!