One Day in Stockholm

GAFFL Interview: Balancing Wanderlust with a Career

When Abrar from the GAFFL Team reached out to me about an interview on solo travel I was hesitant… and transparent. Solo travel isn’t my thing, though I’ve always been slightly envious of those who can jet-set independently with confidence. I think the ability to go solo – whether that’s traveling, dining, or just attending a simple event – takes a reasonable amount of self-assurance, a flexible attitude, and the receptiveness to meet new people along the way. This story was originally published on GAFFL, the app that helps you find a travel buddy, but I thought I’d share it here as well. Read on to see my take on what I see as the major merits of going solo, why I prefer traveling with others, some of my most memorable moments from around the globe, plus my thoughts on balancing wanderlust with a career in travel. ✨

Shannon Kircher is the Founder + Editor of The Wanderlust Effect, a travel blog that she founded in 2009 to document her first international move. She focuses primarily on experiential travel (plus a nice sprinkle of adventure + off-beat destinations) with a luxury slant. She’s also the Director of Marketing and Communications at Frangipani Beach Resort, a luxury boutique hotel on the Caribbean island of Anguilla. She’s spent upwards of a decade in the travel industry which has helped shape her blog’s direction – it’s been incredibly interesting and educational for her seeing travel through both lenses.

Why I Travel

Charming Espellette during our one week in Basque Country

I moved to the UK for graduate school in 2009, which really kickstarted my traveling. I grew up in California where international trips were so much more complex (and often much more expensive!) to plan. Living in London, I had easy access to Europe for the first time and took advantage of it! I started my travel blog while I was living overseas to capture those adventures and it’s continued to grow since then. Travel was one of the things my husband and I initially connected over when we met, so it’s been a huge component of our marriage. We moved to the Caribbean island of Anguilla shortly after becoming engaged and have built a life focused on tourism and travel as hoteliers. Our hotel runs a 10-month season so we take advantage of that unique schedule. We now try to travel 8 – 10 weeks a year, typically with one larger 4 to 5-week adventure built in every year.

Petra, Jordan

We’ve met some amazing people on our travels, and staying connected is easier than ever with social media. During our Nile River cruise, we connected with a great group of people from around the globe, and on a trip to Israel and Jordan a few years back, we met a few fellow travelers that I still keep in touch with.

Solo Travel Can Get Lonely

I’ve traveled solo a handful of times and for anything more than a few days, I did find myself getting a bit lonely. If you’re staying in social accommodations meeting other travelers definitely helps cure that, but I always think there’s something nice about sharing memories with someone… recalling those memories together is such a part of the experience for me! I have friends that love traveling independently and I think it can be great if you’re inclined to meet other travelers along the way and push the boundaries of your comfort zone a bit.

How I Choose Where To Travel Next

I rarely travel solo anymore since my husband is a passionate traveler, too.  We typically go on a handful of trips each year: one international trip with my family (usually 7 – 10 days), a few Caribbean getaways to explore our neighboring islands, a shorter (7 days or so) international trip for the two of us, and our larger 4 to 5-week grand adventure in September/October each year. In terms of choosing where to go, it’s a bit of a collaborative effort! In the Caribbean, we take into consideration where we haven’t been, combined with time available (3 days gives us different options than 6 days), and flight routing. Getting around the Caribbean is much more difficult than you’d imagine so transit options definitely play a role! Being hoteliers ourselves, choosing interesting hotels is part of the equation, too. We love getting inspiration from other properties that are providing great guest experiences in an intimate setting.

The Indians, British Virgin Islands

For our family trip, I keep in mind destinations that interest my family (and where they haven’t yet been), plus try to choose places that offer experiences for all of us. We usually choose between Europe or the Americas since we generally have about 7 – 10 days to play with. We’re all quite different in our personalities and interests so part of my decision making there is keeping everyone’s preferences in mind to find a place that will suit all of us in some way. So far we’ve been successful!

GREECE: Two Days in Symi
Snapshot from our family trip to Rhodes, Symi and Athens

For our ‘Grand Adventure’ (our 4 to 5-week trip), my husband and I try to alternate between continents and take into consideration where we haven’t been and which countries intrigue us most (usually there’s overlap in our independent lists!). We generally plan trips where we can visit 2 – 4 countries in that timeframe, so part of our planning takes into consideration logistics for getting around. We try to get to Africa every other year in some way – it’s one of my favorite places to be and the experiences can be so diverse! Most recently we spent a month in Southeast Asia exploring Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

Dubrovnik City Walls Walk
Exploring Dubrovnik during our month in Central Europe

In terms of cost-cutting, I find one of our biggest expenses is food & wine when we travel but in many destinations local markets and street food (vet it first, obviously!) can be a great way to get a local fix on a budget. Some of my favorite meals have been in hole-in-the-wall places where meals cost just a few dollars.

My Best And Scariest Travel Experiences Happened On The Same Trip

Nyiragongo Hike, Virunga National Park, DRC
Mount Nyiragongo Hike in the DRC

If I had to pick a travel memory that stands out the most, it would probably be our week in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Virunga National Park. It still stands out to me as one of the most authentic, raw, and special weeks I’ve had in travel. Gorilla trekking in the Congo is still my favorite wildlife experience to date – we did it for two of our days and I would go back every year if I could (I’d recommend gorilla trekking to anyone)! We hiked to the top of the world’s largest lava lake and overnighted in A-frame huts at the top, watching the lava bubble and boil overnight, and bonded with fellow trekkers. And the experience of talking with locals in the region and getting a glimpse into the lifestyle there was eye-opening.

Nyiragongo Hike, Virunga National Park, DRC

My scariest travel moment was ironically on that same trip to Africa. My husband and I had booked a ‘luxury boat transfer’ from Rwanda to the Congolese border to cross into the Congo. The boat was not what we expected. Our ‘two-hour journey’ turned into eight hours where our tiny boat was filling with water in the middle of the lake. The Rwandan military ultimately had to send a rescue mission to get us! Traditionally, I plan all of my travel myself; all logistics, accommodations, etc. On this particular trip since we were heading to the DRC where it can be politically unstable, we opted to use a tour operator who would have a better grasp of the day-to-day on the ground. While it was collaborative and we had all of the details with us, we didn’t coordinate these pieces personally which left us trusting the tour operators to handle this on our behalf. It was the first (and only!) time I’d ever done that and while most of it turned out well, this incident made me realize why I find it so important to plan independently and/or to ask even more questions going in.

Gorilla Trekking in the Congo, Virunga National Park
Gorilla trekking in the Congo

Challenges To Traveling

I’m fortunate to be in the travel and the hospitality industry in the Caribbean so even when I’m not traveling, I’m involved in making other people’s travels memorable, which I love! Many out there can relate, but having a busy full-time career (alongside all of my other endeavors) can make the prospect of getting away difficult. We’re fortunate that the general tourism season where we live is a 10-month season which gives us a bit of time for our extended getaway. During the year, we try to be strategic with our timing to coordinate our time away with less-impacted work periods.

Mar Saba Monastery, Judean Desert

With solo travel, I think the challenges vary depending on the person. As far as challenges go, as a solo female traveler, there are probably elements that I consider that single male travelers don’t: attitudes towards women and personal safety in a given destination, for example. Beyond that, finances can make solo travel a bit more difficult if you’re inclined towards more luxury experiences. There can be a supplement for single travelers, and costs can skyrocket quickly when you’re not splitting the tab with someone else so a bit of creativity with accommodations, tours, etc. can help there. I think one of the greatest benefits of solo travel though is that there’s no compromising. You can focus on what interests you and fulfill your own desires around the globe. If you’re traveling with a group of friends or family, there’s often some compromise involved whether that’s with sightseeing, dining, or even the destination in general. When funds and time are limited, it can be refreshing to know you’re spending your resources on something that you’re 100% in control of.

Advice To New Travelers Out There

Hang gliding in Rio de Janeiro

I think so much of this depends on the type of traveler you are to an extent! I’ve known solo travelers who love the freedom of traveling independently and appreciate the alone time to reflect during their travels. For more social travelers traveling solo, I think small group tours can be an amazing opportunity! I’ve been on some incredible small tours (4 – 6 people usually) where I’ve had the opportunity to meet lots of like-minded independent travelers. You’ll get to know each other in an organic way, plus it makes traveling deeper in off-the-beaten-path destinations a bit more accessible. Even if you don’t consider yourself a total extrovert, small tours make meeting other travelers very approachable, even if you feel like you are a bit more on the introverted side. One of my favorite small group tours was with Abraham Tours in the West Bank off-roading in the Judean Desert. Our guide was young and vibrant and our fellow travelers were great – I continue to stay in touch with a few of them!

Anyone else have thoughts on solo travel vs. traveling with friends or family? Any married/coupled up people out there that still travel solo sometimes?

More about Shannon Kircher

Shannon Kircher is the founder and editor of The Wanderlust Effect. Founded in 2009, she has continued to document her international escapes as an expat in Europe and the Caribbean. Additionally, Shannon is the founder of Compass & Vine, a luxury boutique travel design firm, and is the Director of Marketing for the Frangipani Beach Resort. Shannon holds an MSc in Social Policy and Development from the London School of Economics and is a current candidate for WSET Level 3 in Wines & Spirits.