Why Heading Off On Holidays On Your Own Might Just Be The Best Thing You Ever Do

From the beaches of Nantucket to working as a milkman in Oz, hiding in caves in Fiji and getting held up by teenagers in Buenos Aires, Mary McGuire's got a lot to say about solo travelling - and it's pretty much entirely positive, too.

Mary McGuire - so traveller

“I’d recommend solo travel in a heartbeat,” says Mary McGuire, 30, a journalist at Her.ie. Her first foray into the world of going it alone came after she’d finished her first year of college and decided to head off on a J1, for, um, one. “I wanted to get out and explore the world. My boyfriend at the time was big into his GAA and wasn’t interested in leaving during championship season, and my sister had travelled to Thailand the previous year on her own so I thought, if she can do it, so can I.”

The USIT programme sets you up with your first nights’ accommodation, so I met a few people through that.

Landing in the States proved a bit of a land. “It really sank in that I was on my own, as JFK was a bit of a nightmare. The USIT programme sets you up with your first nights’ accommodation, so I met a few people through that, and we went touring the city the next day. Randomly enough, I was at the top of the Empire State Building and heard girls calling my name – you can guess the rest.”

Mary McGuire - so traveller

Proving that you’re never really alone, even when you do head off on your owney-o, and that it can in fact lead to opportunities you wouldn’t be open to if you were with your mates or a partner, Mary hooked up with the group. “I threw caution to the wind, headed up from New Jersey to catch the boat to Nantucket, and ended up working there in a pharmacy and as a waitress in a chowder house while living with the girls – pretty much landed on my feet, you might say.”

I threw caution to the wind, headed up from New Jersey to catch the boat to Nantucket, and ended up working there in a pharmacy and as a waitress in a chowder house.

Because she wasn’t tied to the gals, she could maximise her travel before she headed back to Ireland. “Once we got our college results later in the summer, we went travelling. I’d my mother’s cousin in Boston so I went to her for a while, then headed down to New Jersey again where I went on a road trip down the East Coast, before going back to shop in New York before the flight home. It was pretty hectic.”

And that was just the start of Mary’s solo sojurns. Once she finished college, it was off on a round the world trip. “After living in Spain for a year for Erasmus and doing lots of other small trips in between, I felt I needed to go travelling again. Myself and my friend Amy put our heads down for a year, I worked three jobs, and by August of 2009 (I was 24) we’d enough money to go,” Mary explains.

Mary McGuire - so traveller

Starting off in South East Asia before heading to Australia, the pair worked as milkmen – “yes, really” – and then something happend. Amy fell in love. “I decided to leave them to it,” Mary says. She headed to Fiji, where a series of events unfolded that you couldn’t make up. Earthquakes, tsunamis, no phones or internet and being brought to caves for safety by locals all featured, and brought the girls back together. Following that, they continued on to New Zealand, Chile and Argentina, hooking up with some new travel companions Dave and Brian, before she parted ways with Amy for the last time, as Amy was moving to the UK to start a new life with her guy.

Mary McGuire - so traveller

“A mutual friend of ours from Mullingar was over visiting at the time, so we travelled around Argentina with her, but when she left, it was me and Dave and Brian. It goes to show you how seemingly random encounters can become so important – we met Dave in New Zealand, then in Chile and both he and Brian ended up being my travelling companions for the next two months,” she explains.

Mary’s fully aware that it’s not all sunshine and roses, and has had her fair share of hairy moments. In Buenos Aires, she was accosted by a gang of kids. “We got held up by a group of lads, who were no more than 15 years old. They’d broken bottles and cornered us against railings. Terrifying; but what was most terrifying was nobody, not one person stopped to help us, we were on a busy main road, in daylight, and even with me roaring in Spanish everyone ignored us.”

Mary McGuire - so traveller

It didn’t dampen her enthusiasm for exploration, and even after travelling the globe, Mary still had itchy feet. Dubai beckoned. “It had always fascinated me, but to be honest, I’d never dreamt of actually moving there. It was a spur of the moment kind of thing, and I just went with it. I applied to be a teacher at a school over there and got located in Sharjah, a city just outside Dubai. I was very nervous when the day actually came to leave, whereas previously, I’d been so excited when the day of my flight came.”

Her fears were unfounded, though it did take her a while to settle. “I remember my first Christmas back home after only being there three months. I cried going back to Dublin Airport – I hated it there so much at that stage. I’d settled in, had great friends, but the job and the culture shock got on top of me. After I landed back in the sand pit (as we called it) that January, I didn’t look back. Everything got much easier, and I loved it from there on in.”

Mary McGuire - so traveller

“I’ve played GAA all of my life, so I immediately had a circle of friends when I moved to Sharjah, as I simply joined the local GAA team, which had teachers from all over Ireland. We travelled every few weeks to play tournaments – up to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and flying to Oman, Bahrain and Qatar. It was an amazing experience and one I’ll never forget.”

Dubai had other things to offer for Mary, too. “The best thing about Dubai is its location. It’s the perfect starting point for more travelling adventures, and aside from all the travelling with the team, I was also lucky enough to go on safari in Africa, explore Beijing in China, travel to India, Jordan and lots more.”

Now back in the Emerald isle, and working as an online journo, how does Mary rate the solo ‘sperience? “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I’ve made friends for life in America, South America and in the Middle East. Friends from all corners of the globe and indeed, Ireland. I wouldn’t have met half as many people if I hadn’t gone solo, nor had half as many amazing and life-changing experiences. Everything will work out, keep your wits about you and be willing to talk – you’ll be perfectly fine.”

Want more solo travelling? Check out the August 2015 issue of STELLAR!