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Solo travel: how I got bored of waiting

· Travel

Facebook has reminded me that three years ago today I shared images of a trip to the Sahara desert. There are many times that I find Facebook Memories a brutal intrusion on my life – a dangerous nudge to remind me of what was, what was supposed to be, where I am supposed to be now. But today, I was transported to a trip that I took to the Sahara in February 2016, and relived how I got there and how it changed me.

I have always felt like I was spending far too much of my life waiting for others to want to come with me to do things. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to drag people along with me, to do the things that I want to do. It’s a painful process and one that comes with mixed results. Sometimes, it’s a win – a spontaneous, fire-in-the-belly, winding, unexpected experience that lights everyone up and brings us closer together. Other times, it’s a risk I’ve taken with a friendship – a day out pushed too far, a trip that isn’t for them, an experience viewed from the outside that they don’t understand why I’m enjoying. When it’s the latter, it takes off the shine a little. It makes me doubt the truth of what I see and feel. But without these experiences and new things, I feel hollow. I sit with a hole in my soul, craving to fill it with greedy trips to new places and new learnings about things I never knew I cared about until five minutes ago.

"I have always felt like I was spending far too much of my life waiting for others to want to come with me to do things"

In 2014, I decided to blow up my life as I knew it. I had been working as an equestrian journalist for almost four years and although it was a fantastic experience (dream job: beautiful horses, Olympians, Paralympians, long summers spent outside on photoshoots, conducting interviews, learning new things), I was done. Office politics, creeping boredom and lack of money were getting me down. At the same time, I realised that although I travelled a lot with my family, I was still struggling to get my friends to go with me anywhere. Family illness and grief had also brought to light the fragility of life, and I felt like I was treading water. I needed change.

I enrolled in the One Planet MBA (an MBA course with a focus on sustainability for businesses) at the University of Exeter and revelled in the freshness of it. New people, new place, new attitudes, new learnings. It fired me up. I joined some new clubs and groups in London. One of these groups, Rebel Book Club (RBC), is what lead me to the Sahara in a not-too-warm February. The trip was organised by one of the founders of RBC and had nothing to do with the book club at all. Sold as a four-day party in the desert after the dark pain of a British winter, the marketing dangled camels, tents, harem pants and, most temptingly, sunshine in front of my newly opened mind.

Morocco Sahara Desert ©Soraya Abdel-Hadi

I was keen and started wracking my brains of who might go with me. I drew a blank. At RBC, some strangers talked about how they also wanted to go. I made a snap decision, I was going to go on my own. I went home, booked it online, then tentatively put out feelers to see if anyone else had done the same. It turned out the sort of people who go to a book club with ‘rebel’ in the title, are also the sort of people who like to spontaneously throw caution to the wind. Within days, I was part of a small group, who’d not only decided to book the trip solo, but we’d also agreed to spend a few days in the mountains together following the desert party. I felt heady. Everyone I knew thought I’d lost my mind – this only served to make me feel even better about it. It felt right.

"It turned out the sort of people who go to a book club with ‘rebel’ in the title, are also the sort of people who like to spontaneously throw caution to the wind"

My details of my trip to the sahara are part of another story, but the experience of travelling with strangers was a game changer for me. I discovered that there were people out there, who also didn’t want to wait to travel, and who also didn’t have individuals close to them who were willing to take the leap into the unknown. This emboldened me. It hadn’t just been OK, it had been brilliant getting to know the inspiring people I was travelling with. The bits I hadn’t enjoyed (particularly the bitter cold nights) were all part of the journey and taught me things about myself. I knew within the first few hours, that I was going to do this more. I needed to do this more.

In the years since I’ve gone on a range of mini adventures where I have known noone. This has included everything from sailing on the south coast of the UK (having never sailed) to canoeing and wild camping along the Mississippi river (despite never having canoed, wild camped or been to the US before). Every single experience I have builds on the one before – I’m learning about the world, myself and this community of people who also need to fill the hole in their soul with new experiences and new learnings.

I can’t believe how much my life has changed in just 3 years. It still amazes me that one day I decided to go to a book club and it ended up completely changing my relationship with travel. Maybe Facebook memories aren’t that bad after all.

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