Lessons Learned: Solo Travel Adventure to Jamaica

Traveling with Irine

Have you ever taken a vacation by yourself? I recently returned from a solo trip to the Caribbean Island of Jamaica. I'm Irine Wangechi, although you may know me from my web posts as just Irine. I was born and raised in beautiful Kenya in East Africa. Wangechi is my generational name from my grandmother and great-grandmother.

Growing up, I often visited my grandparents in the country and enjoyed gazing at the stars and the moon. At home, I loved eating from my parent's garden, and I now see how lucky I was to eat fresh local food. I still enjoy a healthy diet and supporting locally grown products. As a child, I enjoyed playing in open spaces, but my real love for the outdoors and travel came later.

Outdoors in Washington

It was not until I moved to Washington State (called the Evergreen State) that I rediscovered the joy of spending time outdoors. The Pacific Northwest offers access to amazing outdoor spaces and traveling. The outdoor "love bug" got to me, and on most warm-weather weekends, you'll find me up the mountains discovering trails in Washington and beyond. Other times, you'll find me exploring sites by road or air.

Traveling by Instinct

When I was much younger, travel meant booking and making plans to see as many things as possible when visiting a destination. These days, my travel style has evolved. Traveling now means my itinerary is not over-packed with activities, which allows me to be flexible and open to new possibilities. I am much more interested in discovering and immersing myself in a destination's culture and traditions, allowing moments of spontaneity.

Travel with Intention

I identify myself as an "intentional" traveler. For me, this means going to places with a rich history of black and brown people. My birthday was coming up, and I decided to celebrate it differently this time, by myself. Out of my 30-plus birthdays, I've had the pleasure of celebrating them with friends and family, but 2022 was going to be a new experience. This time, I wanted to travel outside the United States and to an area with a rich culture and history of black and brown people. I thought of Mexico, but I have already been to Tulum several times.

On Choosing Jamaica

My love of reggae music, beach vibes, and history led me to choose Jamaica to celebrate my birthday. Like many people, I grew up listening to legendary Bob Marley's reggae songs. However, I didn't know much else about Jamaica other than its Bob Marley home; there is a town called Kingston and the reggae roots.

Solo for Self-Discovery

In 2018, on one of my first solo road trips, I traveled from Seattle to Crater Lake National Park in Oregon State, searching for answers. At that time in my personal life, I had more questions than answers. Traveling solo was transformational. The experience gave me the courage to face my fears. We frequently deprive ourselves of the solace of alone time, a critical part of self-discovery. It's often in stillness that we uncover the answers to life. If you are a woman traveling solo or an introvert, be open to meeting new people. Of course, listen to your instincts, be smart with who and where you hang out, and most importantly, don't compromise safety.

Six Lessons I Learned from my Solo Trip to Jamaica

1. It's okay not to have a perfect plan

Weeks before my trip to Jamaica, I was extra busy with work and day-to-day life. Though I had made hotel reservations for my stay, I hadn't reserved a room for my first night in Jamaica. Luckily, as I was waiting to board my flight from Seattle to New York, I checked online and found a resort at Runaway Bay. After we landed in Jamaica, I called the hotel for transportation advice. I paid only $30 for a shared vehicle with fellow tourists and safely made it to the hotel. Usually, I schedule my transportation in advance. I learned that I could innovate and figure things out as I go—no need to plan every tiny detail.

2. Be flexible and adjust plans as you go 

My initial plan was to stay at Orchis Rios, but I ended up staying at Runaway Bay and then visited Nine Miles, Bob Marley's hometown. I'm glad I did. The song that comes to mind whenever I have to decide on whether to stick to my original plan or go with a new plan is the song titled "Power" by one of my favorite Kenyan artists, Muthoni Drummer Queen. She speaks of excuses we often make that "it is not the right time" and the need to write our script. This song reminds me that we have the power to write and rewrite our scripts. The best thing about traveling solo is flexibility—choosing where and what to do with your time. It's okay to be unsure and try what you've never dreamed or dared to do or be. Surprise can be magical.

3. Trust yourself, your instincts, your intuition

From hiking and camping, I've learned that it's natural to be a bit scared and nervous about the unknown. However, we need to find strength and courage within when we are the only ones taking the journey. My intuition will guide me when something isn't right. A common phrase in Kenya is: "Kwa ground vitu ni different," which loosely translates to "things are different on the ground." The lesson for me is the importance of trusting and giving myself permission to go ahead and be all. Here is beauty in saying "yes" more often and going with the flow. You, too, have the key and map within yourself to navigate whatever comes your way.

4. Seek to know and understand more

Learning about Jamaica's people and history was enlightening. It reshaped how I understand the culture of Jamaicans. It is amazing how much we can learn if we are curious and make an effort to slow down and observe our surroundings. Though you might be traveling alone, you will often find you are not really alone. So many fantastic souls are out there willing to help us figure things out.

5. Embrace the fact that plans will change

Plans often fall through. If so, instead of asking why this happened, shift your mindset to, what lesson can I learn? There's something to be learned from any encounter. I learned this the hard way. On my last day in Jamaica (my birthday), I wanted to stay at a resort by the beach, but after I arrived at my booked resort, I realized the hotel was by the cliff with no beach access. So, I had to cancel my stay there and reserve a different resort. I ended up loving the new resort; it was much cheaper with more amenities. The lesson: we get to choose how to respond to how things unfold. It's okay to change our minds. We learn from mistakes and successes.

6. Joy of Jamaica

If you're wondering about the cost, you can choose to be frugal or splurge in Jamaica. As for what to bring to wear, there are no strict rules, so bring whatever you would ordinarily bring to a tropical destination and be open to suggestions from the locals. During my second hotel stay, I met two incredible people who offered to take guests on a night excursion. A once-in-a-lifetime experience and a showpiece visible only after dusk. We saw a natural wonder: the Luminous Lagoon in Jamaica, whose glowing water is the world's largest, most brilliant view of bioluminescence. Did you know this? I certainly didn't and would have missed this amazing experience if it was not for the locals.

As for food, you should try Jamaican jerk chicken, curry goat, and run-down fish stew. I ended up having fried plantain almost every day, and of course, I could not pass trying out street food.

Whether you visit Jamaica alone or with friends and family, there are activities for everyone to enjoy. A perfect honeymoon or girlfriend's trip destination. As for the backpacks I used to travel on this trip, I brought my Osprey Ozone carry-on boarding bag(Opens in a new window) and the Transporter Wheeled Duffel 90. (Opens in a new window)I recommend the beach, listening to the ocean waves and going on a parasailing adventure. You can bring a book, but chances are you will not read it. You are better off bringing a water bottle(Opens in a new window) to keep you hydrated on the go.Visit Nine Miles Beach, Green Grotto Caves, and the Glistering Waters Luminous Lagoon. And enjoy the music and nightlife entertainment.

My Three Parting Questions for you:

  1. Have you ever gone on a solo trip? If so, what lessons did you learn?
  2. If you are yet to visit a destination on your own, what would you say is holding you back from traveling alone?
  3. Finally, what is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear of Jamaica?

I’m super excited about what’s to come in 2023. Though I have no set travel destinations yet, I would like to revisit Jamaica and go on more spontaneous adventures. Maybe even go hiking. So, let's connect on social media. You can find me on Instagram(Opens in a new window) and Twitter(Opens in a new window) at Travel with Irine.