Taking the Chance: Young, Female and Travelling

After finishing university, Laura Ponting decided to travel South America on her own. Here she tells us about her travel experiences, and why the pause in her career was worth it.

At 25 years old I am still living at home. If I told my 16-year-old self this I would have been shocked and disappointed, and maybe I am.

You should understand my main aim at the moment is to get a job – actually not just a job, but a career – and of course this takes time. But when I think about where I have travelled, I think this almost, very nearly makes up for my living situation and the pause in my career.

By the time I was 24 I had reached six continents. This number does include Europe and some holidays with my parents but my own solo experiences have nonetheless taken me to South East Asia, the USA, Australia and, most recently, South America.

There is no denying I am part of the milieu of privileged middle-class British travellers who are able to leave home to ‘travel the world’. If I think about it now I sometimes wonder if I should have gone straight into the job market after university, and by now I’m fairly sure I would be living in London and making my way up the career ladder. These thoughts may create pangs of regret sometimes, but when it boils down to it there has been nothing more exciting and adventurous in my life than travel.

UntitledDuring my post-school, pre-university gap year I chose to do the stereotypical South East Asia trip: Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. I was young and naïve, and although this may sound like a cliché, when I look back I sometimes wonder how I got back to the UK in one piece. Over the first few weeks I managed to lose two credit cards in two separate ATMs; get my handbag cut off me by a Vietnamese on a moped; get on the back of a moped with a very inexperienced British driver who then crashed, resulting in very bad grazes (luckily no broken bones) and which later got very infected; and then managed to get conjunctivitis after playing in a dirty river in Laos. Despite all this, I really did have an amazing time and I don’t think I was the only one who experienced these kinds of issues. I’m sure I won’t be the last. Needless to say my experiences made me much more wary on subsequent travels – not that I haven’t made any other mistakes. In Australia my then-boyfriend and I missed a flight from Sydney to Cairns, by an entire day. Obviously it was all his fault . . .

Although I have probably made travel sound like one bad experience after another, it really isn’t – or doesn’t need to be. Early last year, I spent five and a half months travelling around South America, alone. Before I went everyone I spoke to was shocked, partly because I am a female and chose to go alone, but also because South America is viewed as a dangerous place. I think people are scared to break out of their comfort zone. I won’t say I wasn’t apprehensive at the thought of travelling alone, but I knew if I gave up the opportunity I would likely never go. I can tell you now, it was worth every single moment and if anyone else was thinking about doing something similar I would encourage them every step of the way. There is nothing better than seeing and experiencing things so completely different to your own way of life. It can be surprising how similar people are all over the world, but also how accommodating and friendly they can be.

So many of us think about going travelling and never quite get round to it – and of course we’re lucky to even be in the position to consider it. We may all be in different places in our lives, but something we as British people all have in common is our nationality. Owning a British passport is a valuable commodity. I never realised how fortunate I was to be a British traveller until I travelled in South America. Our British citizenship means we are exempt from paying entry fees when visiting countries like Colombia, Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil, as well as many others around the world. Other developed countries like the USA, Australia, and Canada all have to pay some hefty visa fees. So really, we should take advantage of this privilege and travel, travel, travel. It’s a big world.


Laura Ponting | @laura_ponting

Read more about Laura’s travels on her travel blog South American Dreams here! Not recommended if you’re stuck at your desk, and prone to experiencing massive wanderlust.