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, is one many have thought and dreamt about. And, while it’s a marvellous dream, the practical reality of such an impulse decision would be somewhat more troublesome (for starters, how are you going to know how many socks to pack?!).
However, there is a lot to be said for jacking in long-term planning and embracing a last-minute adventure. On that matter, I’m talking from experience.
I’d muted a solo trip learning to scuba dive
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 had led to the venn diagram hovering over Mozambique, where I’d muted a solo trip learning to scuba dive. It’s a relatively quiet scenic haven, with friendly locals, gorgeous weather and some of the best underwater wildlife on the planet.
Four shoulder shrugs and a couple of browser clicks later, I’d half planned my last-minute solo travel adventure. I was imminently bound for Mozambique’s Tofo Beach and a scuba diving for beginners 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.
Seventy-two hours after booking, I’d landed in Maputo International Airport to be told that my connecting flight had been cancelled. Because the country has an emerging infrastructure, there was no replacement – for four days. I’m all for channeling my inner zen and rolling with the punches, but with my scuba course starting the following day, I was a little lacking in wiggle room.
The two strangers were basically family by the time we arrived
After some conversations with fellow stranded flight pals, we came up with a last-minute game plan – hiring a local taxi and traversing the country by road. 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 informed me, a 98-hour walk. It’s fair to say that the two strangers I’d met, moments before this last-minute adventure, were basically family by the time we arrived at our destination.
Not only did this nine-hour commute give us the opportunity to see the country, but it gave us ample time to discuss major life questions: why we were there, where had we come from and, after the sixth hour or so, why our second-twice-removed third cousin’s life choices weren’t the greatest. It was one of those amusing bonding experiences that life gifts you.
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 become fast friends. The super last-minute nature of this cosy taxi journey had forced us to connect on a level you don’t often reach within the short space of a single day. It was a (strange) solo trip all on its very own, I suppose.
There’s no greater social connector than learning a new skill
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 put a beer into my hand and enthusiastically invited me down to a dance party fundraiser for the community. Although I was on a solo trip, traveling 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-cum-taxi-lag away, and ended the night sat under the stars, talking 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.
Letting go of the reins lead to some enjoyable memories
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. The local culture, incredible scenery and disconcertingly 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 (“Steve can’t make it to poker tonight, ‘cos he’s got malaria 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.
It led to genuine friendships
That last-minute decision to hop on a plane to Africa introduced me to fellow travelers 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 and genuine friendships that’ll live long, long beyond the end of the trip.
If you’re on the verge of booking that adventure or feeling a little impulsive like I was, do it. You won’t regret it, no matter what goes wrong.
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