Why going to Morocco on my own will always be one of my greatest life achievements

Yesterday morning, I wrote about the demise of STA travel while on a news reporting shift at The Guardian (but from home). It was a reflective piece featuring former staff and clients and I suggested it because I had noticed a wave of sadness and nostalgia all over my social media feeds when people heard the news that the youthful travel agent was going bust. I enjoyed writing it despite the bittersweet nature because I love hearing other people’s travel stories and because it reminded me of my own brushes with STA.

When I was a student the first time around it was the mid-2000s (well 2003-2007 to be exact) and STA Travel was in its height. Campuses had their own STA stores and anyone who had been on a round the world trip (I had not and still have not) or gap year (same) had booked their trip through the travel agent. My experience with it is slightly different as I would instead scroll through the STA website without actually booking anything and even used to request copies of their brochures so I could plan out trips that I would never actually take. As one of my interviewees said about her own travel window shopping, it was a form of escapism from student life. When I was first a student I had only been abroad a handful of times (and that included a memorable holiday with my boyfriend at the time, which I tweeted about yesterday) but I have had itchy feet for as long as I remember.

When I was 15, my family and I went on holiday to Spain for the first time (normally we would go to Wales or Cornwall). It was to Malaga and was in a bargain holiday complex where you didn’t need to bother trying to speak Spanish and you could even eat British food. In reception, there was a board with nearby experiences and excursions and within minutes of arrival, I had clapped eyes on the day trip to Morocco on offer. The trip involved a ferry ride across the Strait of Gibraltar and then you would get taken to a traditional Moroccan souk (market) and to eat traditional Moroccan food. I had long had a fascination about Morocco and so spent the rest of the holiday begging my mum to let us go. At one point it seemed likely we would do it and I was thrilled before suddenly no-one wanted to go anymore. I was 15 so couldn’t go alone. I can still feel the crushing disappointment of missing my great adventure.

I think my Morocco obsession first started when my best friends and I would spend our lunch breaks at school planning a European adventure in a campervan that we were 100% sure we would do just as soon as we were 18. There was a huge map in our form room because our head of form was a geography teacher and so we would stand in front of it planning where we would go. Hopping over to Morocco while travelling through Spain made total sense to us. But there are other countries further afield I’ve long been fixated on most notably many in Latin and South America. Costa Rica and Chile, for example, have always had a particular pull and over in Asia, it was the Philippines and India.

When I was about 23, my friend and I decided to save up and finally go on a big trip. I had watched with envy as friends and classmates had gone off on their gap years (either before or after Uni) and was desperate to follow suit. I moved home to live with my parents to make it happen and I remember taking the train to STA travel in Birmingham (it was the nearest one) and making a plan. We decided we would go learn Spanish in Costa Rica before travelling through Latin America and down to Brazil, then Argentina and then Chile where I would then stay to do a six-month radio internship and my friend would continue to Peru where she would do something similar based in a hospital. After that, I would then join her in Peru and we would travel to Ecuador before going home. I had done so much research and we even had a spreadsheet on the go.

But just when we were on the verge of booking the first flights I noticed on her Facebook wall that people were congratulating her on getting a place to do an MA. I was confused. They made it sound like she was starting in just a couple of months which didn’t make sense as that’s when we would be heading out on our big trip. I had to confront her and it turned out she had changed her mind and hadn’t been able to bring herself to tell me. I had that same crushing disappointment of when I missed out on a day trip to Morocco.

I weighed up my options. What I should have done was gone on my own anyway but I was too scared and chickened out. Instead, my mum’s cousin got in touch after hearing my plight and offered to have me stay with her for three months on Whidbey Island in the US, which is what I ended up doing. I don’t regret it because my time in the US was amazing and I even braved my first ever solo trip (five days in Canada!) but I still wish I had had the guts to follow my dream because I still haven’t made it to South America.

Another time I have been to scared to go alone was when me and my boyfriend at the time planned to go to the Phillippines when we lived in South Korea. There was a public holiday coming up so we would have a week off. Once again I planned everything out after doing hours of research but then we broke up just before booking the flights. I could have gone alone but I couldn’t do it (and was in a fragile state!) and so instead I tagged along on a friend’s trip to Seoul, dragging my broken heart with me.

Fast forward to 2016 and I had to take a month off my job (it’s a long story but quite a common thing in the world of casual employment in the media). I googled flights to Morocco and realised how cheap it was to get there. This was it. I was finally going to my dream destination. Of course, before I could go I had to first get through many conversations with friends, family and even strangers about how Morocco is the very last place a woman should go on her own but this time around, I wasn’t scared. I batted off their concern and if anything the naysayers made more determined than ever.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons that going to Morocco on my own for a whole month is one of my greatest life achievements. Whenever I think about my adventure there, my heart swells. I think another reason it meant so much to me was because I had spent my mid-late twenties living abroad and travelling and then was “grounded” in the UK as I retrained as a journalist and went through a period of being incredibly broke. My trip to Morocco made me feel like myself again and it reminded me of what I am capable of.

While I absolutely love a lazy beach holiday or reading a book by a pool, there is nothing like the feeling you get when you navigate your way across a country carrying your belongings on your back and not being able to speak the language and all the while having to bat away taxi drivers trying to grope you and wondering if you’re going to die as the bus or car speeds round a corner on a cliff top road. When you make it to your destination, you feel like an actual superhero. Well, that’s how I felt the moment I arrived at the stunning L'Ane Vert in Tafedna, Morocco where I spent two weeks of my trip working in exchange for food and board. It’s the most beautiful place (see above photo) but it’s in the middle of nowhere and was really difficult to reach but I made it, all by myself. It made me feel like I could literally do anything. Side note, I also did my first ever piece of foreign reportage while in Morocco, which is another of my proudest achievements.

I often get emails asking me for solo travel tips and I guess this newsletter is my way of answering. I know only too well the feeling of longing mixed with too much fear that leads people to chicken out of going alone. The list of things that could go wrong are endless and of course, personal safety has to be taken into consideration.

I also know that sometimes you just want to experience a place with other people. I had always wanted to go to the Croatian coast but had missed out on going with friends in my twenties. I just didn’t want to do that particular trip alone so I was thrilled when I got invited on a hen do there last year. A lot of people assumed I would be pissed off about having to spend so much money on a trip to celebrate a friend getting married but instead I was so glad it meant I got to go somewhere I had always wanted to go and have that girlie holiday I had never experienced. It was a ridiculous amount of fun and I’m so grateful I got to go.

But if you really want to go somewhere and you can pluck up the courage to actually go it alone and you do all the research and really prepare yourself then, the rewards of solo travel can be absolutely immense. I honestly still think back to my Morocco trip when I am having a wobble or a crisis of confidence. I close my eyes and I get that feeling of invincibility all over again.

Also, I will let you in on another secret. Whenever you travel alone, you will not be alone for long because you’ll end up making loads of friends. It’s happened to me every time I’ve gone on a “solo” trip and it started with that first one to Canada where I was alone for approximately three hours before making friends with a bunch of cool and very funny Germans.

The other point of this newsletter is talking about travel helps ease the feeling of having itchy feet a little. I really want to go away right now but I can’t. For one I am still feeling very cautious about the pandemic and for two, I am skint after spending all my money on things for my house. So I’ll just have to spend some time dreaming up a plan for an adventure I may or may not end up taking…

Have a great week,

Nicola 

Twitter: @TheSingleSupp | Instagram: @TheSingleSupplement

What caught my attention

I don’t want to go abroad, I really don’t – so why am I a seething mass of envy?

This is not about being single but it perfectly sums up how I am feeling and I think some of you are feeling similar as well. Like Hadley, I too suffer from FOMO really badly. I have joked, it’s one of the reasons it took me so long to actually leave London but in all seriousness, I was really scared of how I would feel to be missing out on so much. Anyway, that fact my move coincided with us all being forced to stay home did really help matters but now the feeling is coming back again as I see London friends doing London things together. And yes it is also there when I am seeing all these gorgeous holiday pictures from Greece all over my Instagram account. (Side note, Greece is another place on The List). There is also the FOMO of seeing people’s family snaps while you’re sat on your own, which someone on the Facebook group was talking about recently. Do you get FOMO? or are you more of a JOMO person (joy of missing out).

'My world came crashing down': how 2020 took me from a six-figure salary to universal credit

If you can get passed the words “six-figure salary”, this is actually a really well written and thought-provoking article. I actually found it terrifying although I have seen on Twitter some people mocking her for not having savings. Again the writer doesn’t explicitly talk about being single but she does talk about living alone with her dog. This article has really stayed with me since I read it and it has really made me feel passionate about the additional pressures single people face – when the shit hits the fan, there is no partner or husband to help keep you afloat. The author of this doesn’t have parents to help either and I know I am so fortunate to still have living parents who although aren’t rich, would obviously do what they could and take me in (which they have proven this year when they quite literally took me in!)

Single people are like songs

OK here is one that is actually about being single! I really enjoyed reading this because it made me realise some things about myself, which is the best kind of writing in my opinion. This paragraph hit me like a sucker punch: “From my experience, this scarcity mindset has particularly indoctrinated women in their 30s and above. A single woman recently said to me that she feels like online dating is like putting money into an almost-empty vending machine, where all the good snacks have already been taken. The belief in this scarcity mindset also lowers your belief in yourself —you’re saying you’re one of the leftovers, that you’re the last bounty bar, standing alone in the vending machine, slowly expiring.”

The lowdown

  • I had the BEST response to my newsletter about films. Thank you so much for all your emails and messages with film suggestions. I’m still going through them so apologies if I haven’t replied yet. I am excited to say I now have a long list of films to watch before I make the final list with my notes. I’m going to give myself a month to do this so expect the film watching list towards the end of September. I’ll be post it on here and also on my Medium so people can easily find it. In case you’re itching for something to watch here are a few films which got a lot of recommendations: Alien, Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, The Terminator and In Her Shoes. So it’s going to be a really nice mixed bag!

  • Huge thanks to everyone who confirmed I was in fact in Women’s Health magazine and to those who sent to me to read! Sadly the article doesn’t seem to be online so I can’t easily share it but I’m thrilled it has brought so many new readers to The Supp. Welcome!

  • For the pet lovers out there, I wrote this article about homeless people and their pets and the love and companionship they get from them. It also features an amazing charity which is trying to get as many homeless people and their dogs off the streets.

  • Calling all amateur/novice/new writers! Do you have a story you want to tell? Do you write to make sense of your own experiences and believe that by sharing your story you can help others? Are you not sure where to begin or are you scared of what will happen if you publish your story? Join Tiffany Philippou and I on Tuesday for an online class in how to get started. This class sold-out last time we did it in June and we had amazing feedback. People even got published and launched newsletters after attending. Get your tickets here!

About me

For those who don’t know, I’m Nicola Slawson, a freelance journalist who lives in Shropshire, UK. If you would like to support what I do, please consider subscribing to be a paid supporter of The Single Supplement. If you would prefer to make a one-off contribution, you can also buy me a coffee, here’s the link to my Ko-Fi page. Follow me on Instagram and Twitter

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