Solo Traveler Snapshot
- Name: Deborah D.
- Age: 63
- Location: Oakland, California
- Marital Status: Single
- Favorite Solo Trip: Airstreaming Across America
Deborah’s passion for traveling solo started in her younger years and has taken her to some of the most incredible places on earth. She now travels with her two best friends across America in her Airstream trailer.
Solo Traveler Inspiration
TravelAwaits: What inspired you to travel solo?
Deborah: I’ve been solo traveling most of my life, starting with hiking and camping in the wilds of Upstate New York where I grew up. After college, my more extensive trips were usually centered around my travel photography which took me on solo adventures to remote wilderness areas in Yosemite, Peru, New Zealand, Alaska, Costa Rica, and Africa.
First Solo Trip
TravelAwaits: What was your first solo trip?
Deborah: My first big international solo trip was to southern Africa in 1995. I had a 6-week paid sabbatical from Apple Computer and wanted to do something grand. I couldn’t find a friend to go with me, so I planned 3 weeks solo backpacking and 2 weeks on a group Earthwatch expedition tracking black rhinos.
I had never been to Africa.
Back then, I was brave, packed my bags, and got on the plane. It was pre-Internet days, of course. I remember getting off the plane after 24 hours of traveling, and I was tired and desperately needed a shower. I was standing in the airport terminal in Harare, Zimbabwe, and looking around. I thought, what am I going to do now? I knew no one. I had no hotel reservations and needed to figure out how to get downtown. I had just thrown myself full-force way outside my comfort zone, which is when I became a savvy solo world traveler.
My experience tracking black rhinos in Zimbabwe had a profound effect on me. That trip changed my life in so many ways:
- When I returned from Africa, I started my own travel photography business called Black Rhino Photography.
- A few months later, I started my own freelance web design business called Black Rhino Design.
- I had my first travel photography exhibit and sold 10 prints.
- I had two travel stories with my photographs published in my local newspaper and went on to sell many more.
- Several years later, I led a small group of women back to Africa. We rented a 4-by-4 and drove through Namibia and Botswana.
Favorite Aspect Of Solo Travel
TravelAwaits: What is your favorite part of traveling solo?
Deborah: My favorite part of solo traveling is meeting local people and hearing their stories.
For instance, when I was in Zimbabwe, I rode the train, and one day I was in a sitting compartment with local native Zimbabwe women and a man who happened to be from the African National Congress.
He was fascinating to listen to. I had no idea of the politics there at the time or how the U.S. sent aid, such as tractors which eventually broke and could not be used because they had no parts to fix them. He gave me a different perspective than anything you’d ever read in the news. I loved hearing the stories.
Favorite Solo Trip
TravelAwaits: What is your favorite solo trip so far and why?
Deborah: My favorite solo trip was my 2021 6-month, cross-country tour of the U.S. in my Airstream with my two small dogs. I started in May in an Airstream I had just bought in February. I had never towed anything before, and I had never been RVing.
I started my trip in northern California and zig-zagged my way through Yellowstone to the Grand Tetons, Wyoming, Iowa, and Illinois, where I stopped to see friends. Then I drove and camped through Wisconsin, Michigan, and over to the East Coast ending in Maine. Then I turned around and took a different route back home. I started my blog at travelswithwally.com to record my adventures and photography.
Biggest Solo Travel Concern
TravelAwaits: What was your biggest concern before your first solo trip and how did you overcome it?
Deborah: When I was in Africa, one of my biggest concerns was logistics with my stuff. Where do I leave my backpack and expensive camera gear when I go to the loo or buy a train ticket or river raft down the Zambezi?
It turned out, though, that I was feeling loneliness, which I hadn’t expected to feel. When I saw my first herd of wild giraffes bounding across the savannah, I was just in awe. And then, at the same time, I wished I had someone there to share that experience with!
Overcoming the loneliness was figuring out how to tell my own stories about my trips, and when I got home, sharing my photography became a big part of that mission.
Group Or Independent Travel
TravelAwaits: Do you travel with a group or independently and why?
Deborah: I love to travel mostly independently because I am just wired to be the wayfinder and a trip leader myself. When I joined groups, it was things like the Earthwatch expedition where I got access to hiking through the wilds of Africa with armed national park guards that no one else could do then. I’ve also joined group photography tours to get expert instruction and camaraderie with fellow photographers. I love to learn so that I could join a cooking class in Italy or Spain, or a group tour in remote places like Patagonia or the Galapagos.
Favorite Travel Product
TravelAwaits: What is one product you cannot live without on your trips?
Deborah: My camera, even if it’s just my iPhone, which takes excellent photos.
I Wish I Would Have Joined A Group For This Trip…
TravelAwaits: Is there a solo location/destination that would have been better in a group and why?
Deborah: If I were returning to Africa again, I would undoubtedly take a group trip to see the Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda. And in the Okavango Delta, I might also make a group trip back there. Some remote places or access to endangered animals are best done with a group.
Best Advice For Solo Travelers
TravelAwaits: What advice would you give someone who is considering solo travel?
Deborah: It’s not as scary as it seems when you finally do it. And for sure, stop listening to everyone else’s fears because they probably have never even gone anywhere! I tell everyone the same thing who asks me about my travels, especially my Airstream trip. I tell them, “Go now. There’s never going to be a better time. Just go.”
You can follow more of Deborah’s adventures on Instagram, Facebook, and her website.
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