We’ve all thought about it. The romance of arriving at an airport with nothing but a packed bag, time to kill, and the spontaneity of booking a last-minute solo trip to the first place you see on the Departures board.
And, while that’s a marvellous dream, the practical reality of such an impulse would be somewhat more troublesome (for starters, how are you going to know how many socks to pack?!).
That said, there’s a lot to be said for jacking in long-term planning, embracing a last-minute holiday and going with the flow – and I’m talking from experience.
The initial plan
When a house move fell apart, so did my planned staycation.
With 10 days off work already confirmed, I decided to embrace change and throw myself – last-minute – into an adventure I’d always dreamed of.
Recent conversations with friends about ticking off the bucket list and visiting places off the beaten track had led to the venn diagram of a solo trip learning to scuba dive in Mozambique. It’s a relatively undiscovered scenic haven, with friendly locals, gorgeous weather and some of the best underwater wildlife on the planet.
Four shoulder shrugs, three ‘bugger its’ and a couple of browser clicks later, you might say I’d half-planned my last-minute solo travel adventure. I was imminently bound for Tofo Beach, and a ‘Scuba Diving For Idiots’ course that ticked every one of my boxes.
But what happened next was as predictably unpredictable as you’d imagine, and all the better for it.
The last-minute trip I’d never forget
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Fast-forward 72 hours, and I’d landed in Maputo airport only to be told that my connecting flight had been cancelled.
Oh, and because the country has what you’d politely call an ‘emerging’ infrastructure, there was no replacement.
For four days.
Now, I’m all for channeling my inner zen-Buddha and rolling with the punches, but with my scuba course starting the following day, I was a little lacking in wiggle room.
But a quick natter with a few of my fellow stranded flight pals and we came up with a last-minute game plan – hiring a local taxi and traversing the country by car.
The only snafu was that Tofo was around 500km away from Maputo. That’s a nine hour drive (on a good run), or as Google Maps happily informed me, a 98-hour walk.
It’s fair to say the two strangers I’d met moments before this last-minute adventure were basically family by the time we arrived at our destination.
So, not only did this nine hour commute give us the opportunity to see the country from a local’s-eye-view, but it gave us ample time to discuss major life questions: why we were there, where we’d come from…
Of course – after the sixth hour or so – also why our second-twice-removed third cousin’s life choices weren’t the greatest, especially when you considered that they’d left Trevor to be with Tracey and that’s a whoooole other can of worms we don’t want to get into.
It was as amusingly random a bonding experience as life gifts you and, by the time we each departed the taxi to our respective BnBs, we’d made firm plans to catch up for drinks over the coming days.
We’d made fast friends and the super last-minute nature of this cosy taxi journey had forced us to connect on a level you’d never usually reach within the short space of a single day. It was a (strange) solo trip all on its very own, I suppose.
The BnB I’d impulsively booked into was just as welcoming.
As soon as I’d emerged bleary-eyed and creaky-limbed from the car, the reception team thrust a beer into my hand and enthusiastically invited me down to a dance party fundraiser for the community.
Though I was on a solo trip, travelling alone, so far I hadn’t really felt alone at all.
Within 30 minutes I’d been reunited with my taxi buddies. I inhaled a sizeable portion of ‘Matata’ (a delicious seafood and peanut stew), danced my jet-nee-taxi-lag away and ended the night sat under the stars, talking about life, love and everything in-between with people who had been strangers mere hours before.
It was an evening I’ll never forget, but not anywhere near where I’d expected to find myself four days – or even four hours – before.
The scuba school was exactly the same. There’s no greater social connector than the attempt to learn a new skill.
After three days of theory exams, pool-flailings, and buoy-headbutts, I was confidently scuba-ing.
An unforgettable solo trip
The following few days were spent swimming beneath the ocean, listening to whale song and paddling alongside whale sharks.
Evenings were spent with my course-mates, discussing the day’s adventures on a beach under a spectacularly starry night sky. We quickly bonded over the ridiculousness of our shared life experiences.
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The native culture, incredible scenery and diconcertingly friendly wildlife was all incredible. But it was the people I met along the way who made it the solo trip of a lifetime.
From the locals whose laissez-faire approach to life was endearingly infectious (when we were told the entire country was having its electricity switched off for the weekend, they simply replied with smiley optimism) to the comically ingratiated ex-pats (“Urgh, Steve can’t make it to poker tonight, ‘cos he’s got malaraia again’), it was proof that letting go of the reins and going with the flow can lead to some of your most unexpected, enjoyable memories.
That last-minute decision to hop on a plane to Africa introduced me to fellow travellers who were as interested as they were interesting.
Being around people so different in background but similar in character led to countless magical memories – impromptu BBQs on the beach, hilariously failed attempts at learning the local dance moves (just YouTube ‘Tufo Dance’ and let your imagination do the rest), and genuine friendships that’ll live long, long beyond the trip ending.
If you’re on the verge of booking that trip or feeling a little impulsive like I was, do it. You won’t regret it, no matter what goes wrong.
Ready to book a last-minute trip of a lifetime? Try these adventures:
Escape to mind-blowing Bali
Sunrise volcano treks, shipwreck snorkelling in azure waters and tropical beach havens – this adventure has the perfect mixture of rejuvenating chill and exciting adventure. Explore the coral paradise of Gili Air and bathe in the bubbling beauty of Toya Devasya Natural Hot Springs. Then summit a live volcano – for reals.
Conquer bucket-list Morocco
If you need some serious heat in your life (Brits, I’m looking at you), how about the Sahara Desert? Seriously – we go glamping here, in luxury desert tents with Moroccan feasts and flowing wine aplenty. Then we saddle up for sunset camel rides, go wild water swimming in the waterfalls of Akchour and explore the dazzling ‘blue city’ of Chefchaouen.
Soak up the vibes in Vietnam & Cambodia
Kayak between ancient limestone grottoes in Halong Bay, take a first class sleeper train to the lush green valleys of Sapa and go on foodie safari in the markets of Hanoi. Will you be brave enough to eat a fried insect? Instead, you could always focus on learning the secrets of Vietnamese cooking in a private cooking class and you’ll also visit the iconic Angkor Wat at sunrise and sunset. This trip takes in all the incredible culture Vietnam and Cambodia have to offer and then dives deep under the skin of both intoxicating countries.
Pictures: Matt Risley/Shutterstock