On the road again – the life of the solo traveller

I chat to travel blogger Phoebe Gill about the successes and struggles she’s encountered while exploring the globe

The world is getting smaller every day. With global travel and internet access becoming cheaper and more accessible to all, it’s now easier than ever to discover what the world has to offer. More recent advances in technology and social media have led to the rise of the travel blogger – the average person who seeks to explore the globe and tell the tales. It has evolved into a competitive industry where many have forged lucrative careers, which may sound like a dream, but involves a lot of hard work and so many do not succeed.

Phoebe Gill has always loved travel and photography, but has recently undertaken a new adventure – solo travel – which she documents on her blog The Start and The Bean. Heading out into the world alone is a daunting thought for many but Phoebe reveals the benefits of it, and the downfalls, with a bit of humour and humility. In the past year alone she’s travelled to Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Japan, and she has big plans for the future.


“I suppose I was tired of waiting on other people”, laughs Phoebe when I ask her what prompted her to start travelling solo. “There’s so much that I wanted to do and I’m very definite with my plans, but other people take their time. I realised that some of the things that I want to do might not appeal to other people – like sleep in a van, drive around for a week, live on the bare minimum. I don’t think a lot of people are up for that.”

There are certain highs and lows associated with these kinds of adventures, however. Phoebe is a very independent person and so loves being on her own to have full control over the trips. The disadvantage of this? “There’s nobody there to take your photograph so I’m never in any of my travel pictures!”


Selfies aside, it can also be a lonely experience, and sometimes she just wants to share the experiences she’s having with other people. “When I was in Japan, trying all the amazing food, all I could think was that my family would love this.”

While most of her trips have been successful so far, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Phoebe tells me about the first solo adventure that she ever planned – a roadtrip around Iceland.

“Everything went wrong! I lost my phone on the first day, and the van I rented turned out to be an old banger so the steering and gears were dodgey. It was a real learning experience; things will always go wrong and you have to try and make the best of it. Of course you can’t plan for everything, but you can be prepared for the fact that maybe not everything will go as expected.”


Since then, Phoebe has learned from her mistakes, and says that her most recent trip to Japan was her “biggest highlight so far”. Travelling such a long distance on her own was a major goal for the 24 year old.

“It’s somewhere that I’ve wanted to go to for about ten years. It’s such a different culture, different language, and I didn’t know much about it, so learning that was great. But it was easy because people were so polite, and I felt very safe there.”

Still, she admits that the bustling streets of Tokyo and the beautiful serenity of Kyoto were nothing compared to the best holiday she’s ever been on – a trip to South Africa with her family two years ago.

“South Africa is incredible! Of course there is a huge social disparity there, it’s a country of massive contrasts, and I wanted to explore more than just the beautiful tourist places. There’s so much to do and so much to see, especially the wildlife! We went to Kruger National Park and when we were eating dinner I looked up to see bush babies in the trees above us – I couldn’t stop staring. South Africa stopped me dead in my tracks and really reminded me how beautiful the world is.”


While global travel has become more affordable than ever, it can still be an expensive business if you’re globetrotting as regularly as Phoebe. When I ask her about this she begins to go red and admits “I’m so bad at budgeting to be honest”. She stresses the importance of saving in between trips and prioritising what to spend your money on. “I usually put my money into good accommodation or a rental car – they’re the things that are important to me. I try not to waste too much money on food or anything else along the way.”

She’s definitely considered where she would go if budget wasn’t a consideration, however. Her eyes light up as she shouts “Antarctica!”.

“I’ve looked into it and it would cost thousands so I don’t think I’ll be doing it any time soon. I think it’s just one of those places that you have to see it to believe it. My father went there years ago, and always talks about it. I’d say it’s so other-worldly and incredible – I’d need to see it with my own eyes. Also penguins!”

With all this travel under her belt, what finally prompted Phoebe to start a blog?

“Well the passion for travelling has always been there. My father has always said that he wanted to give my sister and I two things: education and travel. So from the time that we were very young we’ve been really fortunate to have the chance to explore beautiful parts of the world.

“My passion for documenting these travels came much later, probably when I became interested in photography. I’m terrible at writing, but I studied photography in college and started my blog during that time.”


In just the past few years alone travel blogging has become a bit of a saturated market. With the rise of WordPress, Instagram, and other easy-to-use tools, anyone with a phone can create a blog and document their lives. I was eager to find out how Phoebe tries to separate herself from the pack.

“My biggest reason for setting up this blog was because I wanted to give people the kind of information that I usually want to know before going to a new place. So often on social media or on blogs you just see pretty pictures of places, but no real information on how to get there, what can I do there, how much is it going to cost. So I guess I just try to be very honest about my experiences, even if my opinions are unpopular. I want to tell people about the real things that happened to me, even if they’re not pretty.”

The top bloggers in this field can make a decent career out of something that is just a holiday for the rest of us. While this began as a passion project for Phoebe, she hopes that one day she could attain that level of success.

“I’ve always said that I don’t really care if I make money from it, but honestly I do. I put a lot time and energy into this and so I do want it to be successful. I think I put in the effort because I want to make it the best that it can be.

“It takes a lot of hard work to get there though. There’s pressure to keep creating content. At first I’d try to post things a couple of times a week, then once a week, and now sometimes it’s very difficult to keep it up. The passion to travel is always there, but getting organised to write about it is a bit more demanding. Travelling itself is so spontaneous and fun, and so I want to keep all of my content interesting and useful.”


Many of the travel blogs I checked out seemed to make a distinction between being a ‘traveller’ and just being a ‘tourist’. When I ask Phoebe about this, however, she laughs and calls it “absurd”.

“Sure you can even be a tourist in your own city, your own country. To me, a tourist is someone who wants to learn something new about the world and experience new things, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

And does she like the idea of being a tourist in her own town?

“Completely – Ireland is such a great country and there’s loads of things I haven’t done in Dublin. I’ve never been to the Guinness Storehouse, I haven’t fully explored the Phoenix Park. There’s so many things that people overlook because it’s right on your doorstep, but it’s good to know your own city. There’s so many times that people have asked me what the best things to do in Dublin are, and I love being able to give them good recommendations.”


Phoebe says that her recent experiences with solo travel have really made her “more open to trying new things”. Although it has pushed her outside of her comfort zone, she adds that it’s also given her a lot of self-confidence, and she’s learned that it’s nice to be on your own sometimes. She smiles and seems genuinely proud of her achievements.

She has no intentions of stopping any time soon, however, and has big plans for the future: “I’m currently trying to save as much as possible so that I can go on a major road trip across America. At the end of that trip I’ll head to Canada where I’d like to stay for a while and work. I think at some point everyone should live in a different country and fully experience a different way of life.”

And any advice for someone who wants to try a solo travel adventure?

“Just do it. It’s the best thing you’ll ever do.”


You can follow Phoebe’s journey on InstagramFacebookTwitter


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