Backpacking New Zealand Solo When I Was Just Nineteen – Here's How I Did It

Backpacking New Zealand Solo When I Was Just Nineteen – Here’s How I Did It

Mirabelle shares her story about overcoming all odds to travel solo to New Zealand when she was just nineteen.

Contributed by Bitter Bubblegums

For my first solo backpacking trip, New Zealand was pretty darn amazing.

Being in New Zealand’s South Island was a totally different kind of exposure – an unfamiliar culture, new people from all over the globe and a country that’s vastly different from Singapore.

Hopefully, this post will find you well and clarify some of the doubts you have about travelling alone or visiting this scenic country.

To start, while you’re travelling solo, you’re undoubtedly going to face a couple of situations that would have been different than if you were travelling in a group. And most of the times, it’s not going to be easy.

The most common fear would probably be the safety concerns. I think this hits far closer to home for females as compared to our male counterparts. I’m not trying to be sexist here, but even with all the gender equality movements going around, some parts of the world are still somewhat discriminatory towards females. Like I said, not all, just some. But it’s enough to raise multiple safety considerations about females travelling alone.

backpacking new zealand

How I made this trip happen

Prior to my trip, my parents (especially my mum) were against my crazy idea, thinking that I might have gone insane due to my post-breakup trauma or stress from school. I was nineteen when I proposed the idea (and travelled), so I’m pretty sure my typically conservative Asian parents wasn’t sure what was going on in my head. But it was pretty straightforward actually – I just wanted to travel alone for once, and I thought, why not now? I could use a little breather during my semester break.

Many friends also had their worries that “you’re a girl, it’s dangerous”. I guess I should have been more fearful, but I was more adamant to prove that it really isn’t as senseless as what people make it out to be. And more than anything, I refused to have my gender as the limiting factor as to why I can’t pursue the things I want to.

But to do that also meant that I had to go out of my way to source for more evidence that the whole solo female travelling thing is actually feasible, that it’s not just a ludicrous, romanticised idea. For many weeks, I checked out a lot of blogs and articles while I planned my itinerary. After convincing my parents day after day with facts and statistics and articles, my dad finally relented. And so the trip happened!

And so the trip happened!

Advice to other newbie solo travellers

My advice to other newbie solo travellers: Do lots of research. Read up on personal blog accounts – I personally find them more relatable and trustworthy. And don’t be afraid to send emails or message any of the bloggers/writers to ask for their itinerary or to clarify your doubts. Many will be more than willing to share and help!

It was not easy. I think the majority would think that to be a girl who travels solo, you got to be cut from some cloth made of courage, that you’re bold and fearless, that you’re one who needs nobody and never feels vulnerable. But no.

I wasn’t fearless without a care for the uncertainties and I sure as hell felt vulnerable. While I am very comfortable with my independence, it doesn’t mean I wasn’t scared about being a newbie solo traveller that was about to take the plunge. But the benefits of solo travel and the experiences that comes with it is something you will thank yourself for later.

Read up plenty on your travel destination. It’s always better to be well-read on the things you don’t know, whether it’s cultural practices or the countries’ various laws. You can also pick all these up along the way while you travel.

When you’re on the road alone, remember that the only one who is able to keep an eye out for you is yourself. Don’t do stupid things like get drunk or wander late out at night alone on unfamiliar streets. If you want to drink, do so in moderation and well, I’m pretty sure the rest is just common sense. I’ve read about how some male solo travellers sleep on the streets/stairs at night to save costs and while it’s totally plausible, I wouldn’t do so unless I’ve been around the area long enough to know it’s safe. It’s up to your own discretion but if you’re a female, remember you have more things to be wary of (I’m sure you’ve been preached enough by your loved ones and the media to know this).

I decided on New Zealand because it was a relatively safe country for females, and it’s super backpacker friendly with the backpacker buses and inns they have. Perfect for a newbie backpacker like me!

In my two weeks in New Zealand, I met so many other female backpackers who have been travelling around solo for months, it’s amazing. I met this German girl in one of my dorms who has been travelling around Europe, Africa and some parts of America for six months already, and will be moving to explore Asia in the next couple of weeks. And then there are also Japanese, Scotland and Australian girls that I’ve met who came to New Zealand by themselves for the working holiday visa.

The working holiday visa is a six-month permit you get that allows you to have a holiday while working at the same time. It’s open for Singaporeans aged 18–30 to apply, if they’re studying at a university/polytechnic or have just graduated within the last three years. You can read more about it here.

Anyway to conclude, contrary to popular belief, travelling alone as a female isn’t as dangerous and absurd as what they make it to be.

Being alone during your travels

If you’re an introvert, it’s going to be hard for you to approach strangers or socialise with fellow travellers while you’re on the road. That was something I struggled a little with, especially during my first two days in New Zealand when I had this whole culture shock thing going on. It happens, especially when you’re a lone Asian in a Western country with a culture so vastly different from what you’re used to. I guess it was harder for me because prior to this backpacking trip, I’ve only been to other parts of Asia, so yeah. Cultural differences.

But you’ll get around it. Travelling solo also means that you would be more open to meeting others. Generally, while we’re on the road with a group of friends we’re comfortable with, the likelihood of you mingling and interacting with other travellers is not as high. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen – of course it does when you’re staying in someone else’s home or on a tour, but it’s comparatively different when you’re alone.

During my time in New Zealand, I learnt far more about my bunk mates/travel buddies’ life and travel inspirations simply because I had more time and less distractions since I only had myself to attend to. Conversations are more genuine and candid, rather than the obligatory “where are you from” and “what do you do” questions. During this time, the conversations exchanged with other well-travelled backpackers have also helped me gain new eyes about other countries and the travel community.

I think that the second common fear for most who are on the fence about travelling solo is the fear of being alone. I’d admit, while I was planning my two-week itinerary, I was all jittery about being lonely with the possibility of having no one to talk or turn to. But like what many other solo travellers have mentioned, I’ve also come to realise that even during your lone travels, you will hardly ever be alone. There will always be people around you to talk to, it’s just a matter of how willing or open you are about it!

I personally find the majority of travellers to be pretty open-minded, so while you’re moving around, you’re bound to find someone you can click with. Who knows, they might even become your companion(s) for part of your trip! That was what happened to me on my fourth day of being in New Zealand when I met two Malaysian ladies from my dorm in Mount Cook. We did some hikes together at Mount Cook before parting ways the day after, and then meeting again when we happened to be in the same town (at Wanaka)! I also got close to a number of my dorm mates from the backpacker inns I was staying at, and some from a bar downtown. You’ll be surprised at the number of people you’ll meet and exchange contacts with!

Solo travel as empowering

While I’m travelling by myself, I get the freedom to do what I want, whenever I want. There’s no need to stick to an itinerary and I found the unexpectedness of it all makes it pretty exhilarating.

Because New Zealand has a lot of backpacker’s inns available, there isn’t really a need to book beforehand. If you’re not travelling within the peak season, I would advise you to go ahead with your itinerary and only find a place to stay when dusk starts to fall. That way, your plans will be less restrictive since you do not have one fixed place you have to return to. For my travel, I only booked my first two nights of accommodation and left the rest to come as it is.

All this freedom and self-responsibility is going to give you a lot of time to think, reflect and do a little bit of self exploration. Immersing yourself in a different culture and talking to people from other parts of the world is going to inspiring.

While you’re travelling, you’re also bound to face some unexpected situations or get yourself into some sort of predicament. And because you’re travelling alone, you don’t always get to fall into your vulnerability, no matter how overwhelming. You just have to pick yourself up and save your own ass because you’re the only one who can do so.

While I was in New Zealand, I got lost many times, and had my debit card stolen one night, only to realise it the next morning when I had only $50 on hand. I remember freaking out because how was I supposed to survive on $50 for the next four days when I haven’t paid for any of my accommodation?? It was nerve-racking, but knowing that I got through it made me pretty proud of myself.

Solo travel could be inspiring and empowering if you make it to be. You’ll be amazed at what you can do on your own if you had and wanted to.

Ultimately, embarking on a journey away from the usual Singapore is going to be a refreshing experience. Imagine waking up stoked and exhilarated for the day’s activities to come because everyday was a breath of fresh air. I think we all need it every now and then.

If you have yet to travel alone and you’re considering the option, please do give it a go because I really don’t think you’ll regret it! Read up more articles, blog posts or watch some videos by other travellers. Prior to my trip, I talked to a friend (of the same age) who backpacked to Tasmania by himself last year, for some tips, advice and what not. Honestly, if it weren’t for the fact that I heard about his encounters and experiences, I might not have had the balls to do whatever I did.

I’m not trying to romanticise solo travelling because it’s not just rainbow and butterflies, but that’s the beauty of travel, isn’t it?

Also read: 10 Reasons To Go Backpacking in New Zealand

About Author

Mirabelle Koh
Mirabelle Koh

Mirabelle is an avid tea lover with an extreme fervency to travel and work on anything visual. Apart from doing photography, designing and writing, she spends most of her idle time hunting for delectable cuisine and planning her next venture. Always armed with a camera in hand, she writes for the ink that lives in the back of her throat. She also (unashamedly) plays dota 2.


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