My dream trip was always to visit Egypt. Seeing the pyramids, taking a cruise on the Nile and maybe even riding a camel would be the perfect escape from my congested city life and the burdens of medical training. So I decided traveling there would be my graduation gift to myself.
For someone with not much travel experience, planning the trip was easy enough. I had money saved up, vacation time already arranged and most importantly I found what I thought was the right trip: Egypt Experience with Intrepid.
Everything was set except the one thing I could not imagine leaving home without: a travel buddy. But my family and friends in California had no money, no vacation time, and in many cases neither of these two necessities.
Those who could not go also helpfully pointed out why I should not go alone.
“You haven’t traveled much.”
“You won’t know the language.”
“You’ve never traveled alone.”
But the horror of all horrors, was that I would be a single female traveler and that just was not doable. Everyone helpfully suggested I wait for another year, another milestone and then maybe they or someone else could possibly join me.
Taking the leap
The more I heard, the more nervous I became about striking out on my own. It was easy to come up with excuses for postponing until I had someone to go with: I’d be bored, feel left out and maybe even have an experience that would keep me from wanting to travel again.
Ten years and seven Intrepid trips later, I consider that first solo adventure one of the best decisions I ever made.
I’ve been everywhere from Cambodia to Cuba to Morocco with Intrepid Travel. Along the way, I’ve met fellow travelers from all over the world, kept in touch with many, and most importantly learned to stretch my personal comfort zone.
The first step may seem scary, but ultimately it is also pretty simple: just take the leap.
In my initial research for a trip to Egypt, Intrepid trips had all the basics: small group sizes, transport, meals and visits to popular tourist sites all included.
What made Intrepid stand out to me was the “extras” that were part of the standard Intrepid experience. The most valuable of these extras was the presence of a local leader.
An Intrepid guide is so much more than someone hired to navigate the logistics of a foreign country. From Dady in Cuba to Smithy in Peru, the local guide is also your gateway into understanding the customs and culture of your travel destination. A constant companion who can answer any and all questions, troubleshoot any traveling misadventures or concerns, explain the “whys” of a commonly held belief or viewpoint and yes, even translate for you on the spot.
The local guide draws the entire traveling group together. Along the way I have met the children, parents and significant others of our local guides and also come to appreciate them as the de facto head of our own little traveling family.
Immersion, the Intrepid way
Since this first trip to Egypt, I have also come to appreciate the uniqueness of the experiences Intrepid offers. As a solo traveler I can certainly arrange a trip to a capital city, visit a famous museum or monument, and try a local delicacy. These are all must dos and Intrepid offers all of these experiences.
But my adventures with Intrepid have been so much more.
I have done a homestay with a host family in the North Morocco Adventure, visited a tobacco farm and taken a salsa class during my Hola Cuba tour, and slept under the stars on a felucca as part of the Egypt Experience.
These are my favorite travel memories: the special immersions made into the heart of a country and its people. Traveling with Intrepid gives me access to local culture in ways I could never achieve as a solo traveler. And it’s these very experiences that help you bond with your fellow Intrepid travelers.
Your fellow travelers
Who are your fellow Intrepid travelers? They come from every country, background and traveling configuration (solo, couple, family, friends traveling together) you can imagine. And at first that diversity makes the task of melding into the group seem especially daunting. What, if anything, would I have to discuss with a retired couple from Scotland celebrating their anniversary or a pair of sisters from the U.S. enjoying a belated birthday trip?
I was certainly nervous on my first trip. Even now at the start of each new trip there is an initial moment of worry: will I like my roommate or fit in with this latest configuration of a traveling group?
The one thing I have learned is that initial worry and awkwardness always fades away. And it fades away fast because of the type of traveler Intrepid attracts.
No matter how different the travelers in our group seem, we all share one commonality: a willingness to engage. That, to me, is what defines an Intrepid traveler.
A little advice for the solo traveler
Traveling solo in a group adventure becomes infinitely less intimidating once you realize basically everyone is interested in learning not only about the country and people being visited, but also, and perhaps even more so, about their fellow travelers.
We all arrive with perceptions and misconceptions about the places we are visiting and the travellers we meet. But unencumbered from the hassles of planning logistics, immersed together in the same interactive experiences, and with the knowledge of your local guide, you come to appreciate and bond with your fellow travelers.
On my trips I often get asked about life in the United States or my medical training. In turn, I have the opportunity to ask about the practice of medicine in other countries. I also gain insight into the values, beliefs and customs into countries I have yet to visit.
Ultimately, every trip ends with me learning more than I expected about a lot more than I expected. And every time I leave even more ready to do it all over again.
That is the magic of traveling on an Intrepid trip.
Ready to take the plunge and travel solo? Over 50% of those on our trips travel solo. Find out more.
Read more about Aisha’s story and why she travels with Intrepid here.
(All images courtesy of Aisha Shaheen; all photos taken on Intrepid trips.)