shadow

One year ago I was sitting in a cubicle surrounded by puce-colored walls and waxy plastic trees, idly pinning pictures onto my “Travel Bucket List” board.

I would browse through “all inclusive resort packages” in Thailand and try to calculate whether or not I’d still be able to pay my rent if I booked one.

The dying cactus on my desk was an accurate representation of my wasted soul.

I’d accepted this corporate marketing job because I was vaguely promised that travel would be involved. I soon found out that ‘business travel’ means drinking $14 vodka-tonics in an airport while reviewing PowerPoint presentations, not wandering around, exploring new cities.

Don’t get me wrong, I have some great memories from my business travel excursions. Like that time one of the sales guys rented out a VIP area at the top of the Rio in Las Vegas and our private DJ kept reaching over to sink his fingers into the base of my hair and moan for no apparent reason.

Or that time I stumbled approximately 87 blocks through the streets of New Orleans barefoot & phone-less (don’t ask), chasing my even-more-intoxicated co-worker who was looking for a voodoo woman to read his palm before going back to the hotel.

Or that time my (married) boss drank 8 hurricanes and tried to make out with me. But I digress.

The point was, I had only taken the job in the first place because I wanted to travel. I was 32 years old and I’d never been anywhere that required a passport.

I wasn’t one of those kids who grew up traveling. With 5 kids and a very limited budget, most of our family vacations involved camping at Lake Kabetogama near our home in Minnesota. Sometimes we even crossed the border into Canada.

Voyageurs-National-Park-Lake-Kabetogama-Sunset

Not that I’m complaining about a childhood full of this…

I never went on a wild spring break trip (which I’m sure my parents are eternally grateful for). I never applied for a foreign-exchange program because I had such massive self-esteem issues I was sure I’d never be accepted. I never considered backpacking through Europe because I thought only rich kids did stuff like that.

I did join the high school choir after the senior class before me got to go on on a 3-week European tour. When my senior year rolled around, we went to…Canada.

(No offense, Canada, you really are lovely.)

Over the years, my slow burning wanderlust had inflamed into full-blown panic. What if I never went anywhere that required me to cross an actual ocean?

The whole rich-husband-with-a-private-jet thing didn’t seem to be panning out. I didn’t have that much money saved, but backpacking & hostels were for 20-somethings, right? Besides, I hadn’t taken a vacation in so long I’d forgotten how. I mean, nobody actually uses their PTO, do they?

Then, a miracle happened. My company “merged” with one of our competitors and some “tough decisions” were made. One severance check later, with the ‘this-is-it’ certainty of someone with nothing to lose, I bought a ticket to Ireland.

Okay, you might be saying, that’s great for you, but I can’t just walk away from my job and get on a plane.

(Actually, you CAN. Check out 8 Steps to Freedom: How I Quit My Job and Traveled Around the World on Just One Way Ticket.)

But let’s say you’re not ready to take that step yet. Maybe you want to test the travel waters first.

You want to see the world but the thought of researching, making reservations and planning an entire itinerary on your own leaves you feeling pretty daunted. Sure, you could teach English overseas or join the Peace Corps, but you’re not ready to make that kind of a commitment.

It’s cool. Don’t panic. There are plenty of ways to ease your wanderlust besides budget backpacking or overpriced luxury resorts.

So how in the world do you travel independently for the first time in your 30’s?

1. Volunteer

What’s better than traveling the world while making a difference? Note: I’m not an advocate of any volunteer program that requires you to pay to participate. I recommend you check out a program like Workaway, which lets you directly connect with hosts from all over the world.

You volunteer 4-5 hours of a your time a day in exchange for meals and accommodation. It’s a fantastic way to immerse yourself in local culture and make awesome new friends. Still not convinced? Check out 10 Reasons to Travel with Workaway.

Bonus Tip: Start with Kayak’s Explore Tool and find a destination that’s relatively cheap to fly to. Search for hosts near that area.

2. House-sit

Dock-on-lake-with-mountains2

This could be your morning view…

House-sitting is a great way to ease into the world of travel. Enjoy your privacy and all the comforts of home while getting to experience life in an exotic destination. Sites like TrustedHousesitters.com are a good place to start, although it can be a little challenging to get jobs if you’re just starting out.

Ask people you know if they know of anyone looking for a house-sitter. Build up your credentials by taking a few jobs closer to home first. Put it out there in Facebook travel forums. I’m a huge believer in whatever you put out there into the universe, it will come to you. Need some inspiration? Check out this post by my friend Kelli of Life Made to Order, From Hating my Life to Housesitting in Fiji.

Bonus Tip: Most house-sitting jobs also come with pets to care for. Create a simple, free webpage that highlights your experience in animal care and you’ll look uber-professional to prospective homeowners.

3. Book a cruise

cruise-ship-sunset

Photo by Evan Leeson via Flickr

There are tons of cruise lines out there that cater to singles. But let’s be clear here: a ‘singles cruise’ is designed to help you mingle with other singles. Perfect for someone fresh off a breakup. So if you’re looking for wild nightlife and hot hook-ups you don’t have to pretend you’re ever going to see again, head on over to Google and find you one of these.

If, however, trying to squeeze into your party dress and remember how flirting works seems like way too much effort for you, check out the 10 Best Cruise Lines for Solo Travelers. These are for people who want to see some of the world without feeling pressured to upgrade their single status. Personally, I enjoy spending time alone, so this would be my choice.

Bonus Tip: If price & destination are more of a factor than whether or not it’s solo travel-friendly, sign up for a few newsletters and watch for good deals. Often these occur last-minute because as cruise ships get ready to depart, they want to have a few empty cabins as possible. If your schedule is flexible you can often find deals at rock bottom prices.

4. Groupon Getaways

Beautiful mountain & ocean sceneryWait, seriously? I should let Groupon plan a vacation for me? Hells yeah! Groupon has some amazingly good deals. Like an 8-day trip to Ireland including airfare & car rental for $999. Or a 5-night all-inclusive Punta Cana vacation with airfare for $549. Sometimes having someone else make all the travel arrangements is totally worth it.

Bonus Tip: If you’re looking for an international getaway, change your search terms to the nearest major city. You’re more likely to find a good deal on a package that includes airfare if it’s near a major international airport.

5. Go on a retreat

yoga-retreat-daku-resort-savusavu-fiji

Photo by Daku Resort Savusavu Fiji via Flickr

Fitness, yoga, cooking, surfing, meditation, skiing, etc… Whatever your interests are, there’s a retreat out there for you. Retreats are fantastic for first-time solo travelers, as the logistics are all planned out for you and you’re pretty much guaranteed to meet some awesome new people.

For those of us in our 30’s, this is probably one of the most appealing options. Forget about hostel dorm rooms or terrifying train rides. Do something that enriches your life and is all about YOU. For a little inspiration, check out Adventurous Kate’s article on Why Retreats are Great for First-Time Solo Female Travelers.

Bonus Tip: You don’t have to go on a retreat by yourself – you can go with a friend or two and turn it into a great bonding experience.


If you haven’t grown up traveling, it can be hard to know where to start. But the important thing is that you do. Get out there and get your feet wet. It’s a beautiful world!

What was your first trip? Did you grow up traveling or were you a late bloomer like me?

This post is part of the #WeekendWanderlust and #SundayTraveler series. Check them out for more ridiculously awesome travel posts.

SUNDAY-TRAVELER-BADGE-BLUE1     Weekend-Wanderlust-Logo

Author

Mandie

Mandie is a writer, rebel & web design junkie. In her spare time she enjoys drinking wine, traveling & working on her perpetually unfinished novel. She was a nerd before it was cool.

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Comments

  1. kelli    

    Hey Mandie
    Thanks so much for mentioning my post…that means a lot to me! You already know my stance on LOA so no need to go into that here 🙂 And while on the subject of housesitting is a particularly important force because it is easy to feel discouraged because of all the ‘competition’ especially if you have not landed your first assignment yet.

    My Fiji housesit was the first one we ever applied for and we got it. Beginner’s luck? We know what was really happening . We were aligned and that energy matched us up with the owners. They liked us best and we are the ones they chose. When we think of life from this perspective, many of the common worries about getting what we want fall away because we know that we can create whatever we want, independent of what other people are doing, outside circumstances and what have you. We realize there is no such thing as truly being in competition with anyone for anything.

    Very inspiring post…we can always do what we want. We just have to shift into the right mindset and make these things a priority. That is something a lot of people don’t do, and to me that says you value something more highly, like security, comfortable circumstances where you know what to expect,etc… That is all fine and good, but then people need to find a way to be happy with their current circumstances because they won’t dramatically change magically on their own.

    Great stuff as always!

    1. Mandie    

      Kelli,

      GREAT point about creating what you want as opposed to hoping to get it. Of course, that’s probably a whole other post. Well, one that you’ve probably written already. 🙂

      I personally haven’t tried house-sitting internationally yet, although I think having once held the position of Dog Nanny might uniquely qualify me. That’s amazing that it’s the first one you applied for! I definitely agree – it was the universe aligning.

      You’re absolutely right about shifting priorities to make something happen. It’s the whole “if you want something bad enough you’ll make it happen, if not, you’ll make an excuse” concept. For someone like me, an all-or-nothing kind of person, making a radical life change isn’t all that scary because I’ve developed enough confidence in myself and the universe to know I’ll make it through just fine.

      However, I understand that for some people, taking smaller steps to build up their confidence is necessary to get them moving in the right direction. And that’s just fine, as long as you’re taking action in some way. Hopefully options like these can encourage people to take that first step.

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Kelli, and for being a constant inspiration!! 🙂

  2. Esther    

    This is a great post! I’ve been advocating independant travel to everyone who wants to listen for years now. And seriously, it’s so easy. I think, however, that a lot of people are too scared to go by themselved unorganised or are convinced independant traveling is either more expensive or you’ll end up in a shappy youth hostel. Pff! Because I always try to do as the locals I have ended up in so many fantastic places, I can’t recommend it enough!
    Have a good Sunday,
    Esther.
    (Found you through WeekendWanderlust)

    1. Mandie    

      Hi Esther! I think once you’ve done it you realize that it’s not difficult or scary at all, but I still remember a time when I sat around thinking “how on earth do people travel?” There are so many options out there! On my trip I Couchsurfed whenever I could and it was awesome! Staying with locals is so much better than staying in hostels. Thanks for stopping by!!

  3. Laia    

    Good ideas! Another option to start traveling alone is to go somewhere nearby for a weekend. No need to go far or for a long time, just by doing that your comfort zone enlarges and you feel more comfortable traveling alone. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Mandie    

      Yes, I agree! Travel doesn’t have to mean across the world on your first trip. Gradually expanding your comfort zone is a great idea for someone who might be a little more unsure.

  4. Angelica @BkChickTravels    

    You prove that it’s never too late to start traveling! Groupon is a great option, I got my old boss to try it and she’s going to Iceland! Cruises too especially the single ones now, such a great idea whoever started that. Keep on traveling! Where’s your next destination?

    1. Mandie    

      I’m not sure what my next destination will end up being yet…still in the planning stage haha. I agree, I have yet to take a singles cruise (I’m not technically single) but I think they sound like a lot of fun. Definitely something I want to try!

  5. Marissa | It's the Little Things    

    Great post Mandie! I love the housesitting idea, and I’ve always wondered about those Groupon vacations… will have to look into those!

    1. Mandie    

      I never would have thought of Groupon until some friends of mine did one and said it was awesome! I’m planning to try one soon and write about my personal experience with it. 🙂

  6. Michele {Malaysian Meanders}    

    I think housesitting and volunteering are the two ways that would work best for me. I’ve thought about housesitting, but I haven’t made the leap, yet. So many of my friends recommend it and only a few have had a bad experience.

    1. Mandie    

      Hi Michele! I’ve been wanting to try housesitting for awhile now, as well. I think that will be my next adventure, especially because I know the people who do it just love it. Plus my special manfriend is allergic to cats, so maybe I could get my cute kitty fix in at the same time. 🙂

  7. Amy Lynne Hayes    

    I plan on looking into both Workaway and housesitting while in New Zealand – they look like great option for really emerging myself down there without breaking the bank. I would LOVE to do a retreat one of these days too – I have an ongoing list of fabulous health and wellness or yoga retreats that are on my “sigh, maybe one day” list lol. Study abroad is also a great way to start out traveling solo if you are still in your studies and have that itch. 🙂

    1. Mandie    

      Studying abroad is a great option! I didn’t include it in this post because it’s primarily directed for those who are just starting to travel in their 30’s. It’s not quite as easy to get a student visa once you’re over 30…believe me, I looked into it. Haha. Housesitting in NZ sounds amazing! I would do it in a heartbeat if I could afford the plane ticket there. Put it on my list… 🙂

  8. SJ @ Chasing the Donkey    

    Great recco’s. I think the cruise ship or retreat sounds like the safest options for me. Or like me, going to a conference, where I’ll have to travel independent for the first time in my 35 years… gulp.

    1. Mandie    

      You can do it, girl! I have faith. You’re basically superwoman already. 🙂

  9. Lauren    

    These are such fabulous suggestions! Thank you so much for sharing. I really like the idea of…all of them! Volunteering and retreats would definitely be my style. Thanks for linking up with #WeekendWanderlust!

    1. Mandie    

      Thanks Lauren! I loved volunteering for the first 2 months of my trip! It was so incredible to get to slow down and really get to know a community. I’ve actually never been on a retreat, but I’d love to go sometime. 🙂

  10. Carol Amato    

    Hi Mandie,

    Excellent post! I’ve never travelled out of the country alone, as I’ve been to Ireland and Italy with my husband. We just renewed our passports because we may decide to go back to Italy this spring to visit my mother-in-law who is 88, soon to be 89.

    I loved the tips on volunteering and house sitting. My daughter was interested in possibly doing some housesitting oversears, but she got married and is about to have our first grandbaby. 🙂

    Have you heard of airbnb? It’s a very interesting website that I was checking out for the future.

    I enjoyed your blog post and will be sharing with friends. 🙂
    – Carol

    1. Mandie    

      Hi Carol,

      Thanks for stopping by, again! 🙂

      Congrats on the impending grandbaby! I’ll admit, it’s a little easier to just pick up and head off when you only have fur-babies.

      I am a big fan of Airbnb! (Not so much their new logo, but that’s another story). I’ve used Airbnb in the past and I had a wonderful experience. The reason I didn’t include that in this post is that I see them more as an accommodation option rather than a particular way to travel.

      Thanks for sharing, and have a fabulous weekend!

      Mandie

  11. Jess    

    All great options! I think some experienced travelers tend to forget that there are options between all-inclusive, everything managed trips and dropping into a random foreign country with a paper map and $25, Amazing-Race style. Adventurous travel is anything that expands someone’s comfort zone.

    1. Mandie    

      Haha, so true, Jess!

      Personally, I’m all about the Amazing Race-style travel. Actually, being on the Amazing Race is a hugely not-so-secret fantasy of mine.

      But you really nailed it there – adventure is anything that shakes up the routine and stretches your comfort zone. It can mean a lot of different things to different people. The point is that you keep on moving, changing and growing!

  12. Sammi Wanderlustin'    

    We went on family vacations to the same spot every year but I’ve never really had any problems doing things alone. I like the idea of Workaway, I was thinking about this the other day as next year is all up in the air for me, and also WWOOFing… hmm we shall see. I shall definitely bookmark them either way 🙂

    1. Mandie    

      If you do end up WWOOFing, I’d love a guest post about that. 🙂

      I’ve never WWOOFed personally because…well, I hate gardening and I kill every plant I touch. As mentioned above, I even managed to kill a cactus, and that takes talent.

  13. Ryan Biddulph    

    Hi Mandie,

    Well you know how me and KC roll 😉 Super points here.

    Housesitting rocks. No better way to find a great spot for a month or 2, to save dough and to go somewhere you wouldn’t otherwise go.

    We’d likely would never have visited Fiji if not for our current house sit in Savusavu. With airfare and hotel stays, although we could afford it we prefer to save while we travel.

    So when it popped up we thought 2 things; is there enough going on there, to live there for 4 months, and what will we need to do?

    1: Yes. 2: Watch cats. We were in. If you put out good energies to the Universe, good energies will flow back to you. Sow. Reap. We put out good energies, detached on sits which weren’t matches and this is our first gig. Way cool.

    Thanks so much for mentioning Kelli’s post and for your keen insight. My first flight – and trip leaving the States – was 40 months ago, when we started the trip. I so hear your experience.

    Tweeting soon Mandie 🙂

    Ryan

    1. Mandie    

      Ryan,

      Housesitting is next on my list of adventures, I think. Granted, it won’t be 4 months in Fiji because I promised my special someone no more epic, long solo quests in the immediate future. Haha 🙂

      I love that your Fiji gig was the first one you ever did. That’s amazing, and further proof that it really was the universe aligning!

      Watching cats would be a huge added plus for me. Or really any animals – I am currently pet-less due to my tendency to never stay in one place, but I really miss being around animals every day!

      Thanks for sharing!

  14. Mary {The World Is A Book}    

    Great suggestions, Mandie! I was a late bloomer traveler too. I grew up on an island (Guam) so it was very expensive to leave and with 4 kids, we didn’t go anywhere. Like you, I didn’t do the exchange student thing or backpacking in Europe either. I have always wanted to try a retreat and with two kids entering their teen years soon, this may come in handy for some mommy alone time. Volunteering is a great option and one we hope to do soon as a family or with girlfriends too so it can work for all sorts of travelers. Love those Groupon getaways!

    1. Mandie    

      Mary,

      It’s pretty cool , though, that you got to grow up on an island! Your everyday life was a dream for someone. 🙂 Volunteering is so great because you can do it alone or with a group of people. So far it has been my favorite way to travel. I think we should put together a traveler’s retreat – not for networking with big brands & tourism agencies, but just so that we bloggers can meet each other and have a few drinks together. Hmmm, I might have to work on that. 🙂

      Have a great weekend!

  15. Carmen (CarmensTravelTips)    

    My first trip overseas was in my early thirties. Traveling was a luxury and I couldn’t afford it at the time. I’ve heard of people going on single cruises before and love it. I’ve done the spa trips but with my friends. Thanks for linking up to #WeekendWanderlust.

    1. Mandie    

      Hey Carmen, thanks for stopping by! I’ve been wanting to take a singles cruise for awhile now, so I could write about it. 🙂

  16. Lily Lau    

    You’ve to be so courageous to travel independently! At the beginning it’s scary cause you’re in your own, either if you enjoy or get lost… But then, that euphoric sensation of being independent… can’t describe it!!

    1. Mandie    

      Hey Lily, thanks for the comment! It does take some courage to plan that first trip by yourself, but you’re absolutely right – that feeling of freedom that you get is so, so worth it!

  17. Anna    

    Gah… how did I not see this until now?
    I didn’t grow up traveling either. The only trips I did was a few trips to see my family in China, which I really didn’t even consider it to be travel since it seemed more like an obligation (I was probably just too young to appreciate it). So now, I consider myself to be pretty travel challenged.
    Anyway, you know I don’t travel solo (yet, but maybe I will try my 1st solo trip sometime), but I think these are great tips! I really want to look into housesitting because nothing beats free accommodation, right?? I don’t know why we’re spending so much money on airbnb rental everywhere (though to be fair, those are still way cheaper than hotels). I’m interested in workaway too, because I love the idea of helping out with something and making an impact.

    1. Mandie    

      You guys should definitely look into housesitting! I think it would be a fun adventure to write about. And I think you will get around to making that first solo trip one of these days. For now, though…enjoy SEA! 🙂

  18. Andrew    

    Hey Mandie,

    I have a bone to pick with you. 🙂

    “When my senior year rolled around, we went to…Canada.” I’m in Canada lol no it’s cool. I know Canada is looked upon as the annoying little brother. {deep sigh} lol.

    Also before I get to my comment, “Or that time I stumbled approximately 87 blocks through the streets of New Orleans barefoot & phone-less (don’t ask), chasing my even-more-intoxicated co-worker who was looking for a voodoo woman to read his palm before going back to the hotel.” That must have been some night indeed.

    Wow, you shared some great stuff in this post that makes me think I should be a travel blogger. It’s totally not out of the question it’s just if it’s something I want to do. But your points about house sitting and the workaway makes it seem so easy and attainable.

    I like travelling. I just started travelling again recently. In fact, in May I went to, of all places …Cuba. It was fun but I’d like to eventually see more of the world. Maybe a trip to London or experiencing what Ryan and Kelli are doing in Fiji. Who knows.

    Also, a childhood growing up with that scenery is certainly nice.

    Have a great rest of the weekend, Mandie.

    – Andrew

    1. Mandie    

      Andrew,

      I knew someone was going to give me grief for that Canada thing!

      I’m actually a big fan of Canada! I grew up less than an hour from the border, and we used to pop over quite a bit (this was before you needed a passport to do so). So the only reason it wasn’t super exciting was that it was kind of in my back yard. Haha

      I’ve learned one important thing, Andrew: loving travel & loving blogging does not necessarily mean you should be a travel blogger. That’s actually why I’m moving into the personal development sector. Lol

      Traveling is awesome, though! And yes, it really is do-able for anyone. 🙂

      Thanks for the comment, Andrew!

  19. Mark and Kate @vagrantsoftheworld    

    Once you have taken the leap into solo/independent travel you never look back. Great article and enjoyable read.

  20. ben    

    well this is kinda funny; i’m 32 as well and on the cusp of quitting my job and travelling to okinawa for a scuba adventure and language learning.
    ok, so not really funny as the age thing is the only similarity… whatever 😛
    but yes, i have travelled to many places but have never specifically gone travelling as such.. only really done hotels and hostels. this will be my first solo travel to somewhere without the intention of a holiday. it already feels good just to know i’m leaving my hellish job. 🙂
    i’d looked at workaway and had contacted a few folk on there but in the end i decided on doing something that would set me up for when the travelling is over (hence the scuba).
    housesitting is a new one to me… what a great idea! will definitely look into that at some point.

    anyways, great article!

    1. Mandie    

      Ben, that’s awesome! Congrats on escaping cubicle hell. (Or, non-cubicle hell, whichever haha). Scuba diving is AWESOME and you’re right, it will allow you to get jobs all over. I ended up building websites for people through Workaway, so mine actually set me up for further freelancing as well. 🙂

  21. Björn    

    Hi Mandie,

    Thanks for the great article. I am planning to go on the world trip next year and would like work abroad.

    Best regards from Germany,
    Björn

  22. dee wise    

    Wow. I am 60 and about to head off alone for 3 months. Starting off with workaways. Can’t wait.

    1. Mandie    

      That’s awesome, Dee! I’m excited for you – stop back in and let me know how your experience is. 🙂

  23. Sophie    

    This is one of the most inspiring things I’ve read in a while. Good for you! They’re really sensible tips and I love how you’re trying to take the fear out of travelling alone, because let’s face it, it can be daunting. But you’ve shown that there are plenty of places to go alone where you won’t be alone, you’ll meet tons of new people and broaden your horizons. It all sounds wonderful.

    1. Mandie    

      Thanks Sophie! I know solo travel can seem a little daunting for those who have never done it before, and I definitely want to encourage people to give it a shot, because it’s not so scary once you do it. 🙂

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