I’ve always been OK with doing things alone: traveling alone, living alone, eating at restaurants with nothing but a book (or more realistically, my iPhone) for company. Maybe that ease with solitude comes from being an only child. Maybe it’s because I’m also the only child of an only child. Or maybe it’s because I’ve lived my life in a way that has meant I’ve had to get really good at being alone—and I’ve had to learn to like it, too.
I grew up in the heart of London, surrounded by people and buildings, traffic and noise. It was an intense and exciting kind of childhood, broken up by holidays offering moments of calming respite: the deserted streets of Spanish towns at siesta time, the beaches of coastal Wales. My mother is a travel writer and my dad had lived in three different cities by the time I turned 18: Traveling was just something we all did, not because we were wealthy (we definitely weren’t) but because my parents both believed in building a life rich in experiences, not things. It’s a philosophy I’ve adhered to in my own adult life.
As soon as I was legally old enough to travel alone, I did. A solo trip to New York at the age of 17 and, later, a gap year spent interning in the US by myself. I loved the thrill of venturing out and putting my own tenacity to the test, as well as the challenge and excitement of finding new friends wherever I went. At the age of 24, I took my own nomadic impulses to the extreme by moving to Los Angeles without a job, a car or any long-term living arrangements in place. I’d only visited the city once before, but I figured it would be a good place to figure some things out. I was right.
Living in Los Angeles taught me a lot, not least the fastest way to get from Silver Lake to West Hollywood in rush-hour traffic. Described by Jack Kerouac as ‘the loneliest and most brutal of all American cities,’ the infamous LA sprawl meant independent living to an extreme I’d never before encountered. In a city where street culture happens in people’s backyards and everyone is locked in their cars, the sense of isolation can be palpable. Working from home and living alone, those first few months in LA were the first time I’d truly felt lonely, rather than just alone.
But it transpired to be a formative chapter in my life. It was that sense of isolation that eventually inspired me to start The WW Club, a platform I launched in January 2015 to connect, inspire and educate women working in creative industries worldwide. Struggling to find motivation and support while working from my LA living room, I decided to create an environment for women that would bring together all the aspects of London that I’d taken for granted before I moved: creativity, connectivity, and most importantly, a sense of community from which to draw inspiration.
The WW Club started life as a co-working and event space in downtown Los Angeles, and from day one it was filled with amazing women from across LA and beyond. My ‘PR plan’ involved little more than a few personal emails sent to friends and colleagues, and yet somehow word spread across the city—and, to my astonishment, the world. The feedback I received in real life and via email blew me away: so many women got in touch to say they’d been both comforted and inspired by The WW Club, and several asked me when I’d be bringing the concept to their cities. I soon realized that my struggles in LA are experienced by working women everywhere, and that coming together to share ideas, information and support is the best thing we can do for our mutual advancement.
Since then, I’ve hosted talks, workshops and mentor sessions around the world: including my hometown of London, my adopted hometown of New York, Paris and most recently, Taiwan. In partnership with SUITCASE Magazine and the team at W Taipei, we brought The Taipei Exchange to life in May 2016: a four-day cross-cultural meeting connecting five young successful female entrepreneurs across the creative industries in the UK and the US with our counterparts in Taiwan.
Our time in Taipei was totally different from my usual travel experiences. While I’m used to wandering around new destinations by myself, this time I got to see a new city with an amazing crew: my friend Madeline Poole, a super-successful nail artist and creative director with whom I share an office in New York, as well as Olivia Lopez, a brilliant travel photographer and writer I met in LA. In Asia, we met up with Serena Guen and Emily Ames—SUITCASE’s founder and managing editor, respectively—and Alice Levine, a hilarious broadcaster and entrepreneur, all living in London.
With our group I explored the city’s temples, teahouses and tranquil tree-lined streets. It was incredible to take in such an unfamiliar landscape and culture with friends who were also seeing it for the first time—and to have our time in Taipei curated by people who knew the city so well. The week passed in a blur of eating, drinking, walking and learning about the culture of Taiwan along the way. Oh, and laughing. Lots and lots of laughing.
Ultimately, that’s the true joy of travel. It opens the mind, broadens perspectives and helps you to really get to grips with the differences (and similarities) that affect us all. When it comes to traveling, work and life in general, I still believe it’s vitally importantly to be able to go it alone. But I also know that the journey is so much better when it’s shared.
Find out more about The Taipei Exchange here.