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After risky spine surgery the surgeon told her not to plan any travel. Here’s what happened when she didn’t listen

As she prepared for a risky spine operation around 18 months after sustaining injuries in a horrific 2011 car accident that left her in constant pain, Pamela Holt made a promise to herself.

Not only would she be able to travel again within six months, she would make it to 80 countries by the time she turned 50.

Holt, who was in her mid-30s at the time, had already visited around 55 countries, but the severity of her injuries had put her life, and her travels on hold.

Shortly after waking up from the successful surgery, Holt, originally from California, was so determined to take a solo backpacking trip to the Middle East that she asked her mother to call American Airlines to book her a plane ticket.

Life-changing accident

TV host Pamela Holt  visited Petra, Jordan six months after having spine surgery. - Courtesy Pamela Holt
TV host Pamela Holt visited Petra, Jordan six months after having spine surgery. - Courtesy Pamela Holt

“The surgeon thought I was insane to book something six months in advance,” Holt tells CNN Travel.

“He said, ‘There’s just no way you’re going to do this. “I said, ‘Yes, there is. Let’s make it happen. So I have something to look forward to.”

“Having that positive attitude, I think helped with the healing. Because I had been in pain for a year and a half and quite frankly, I was ready to drive myself off a cliff. It just wasn’t worth living in that kind of pain.”

Thankfully, Holt was well enough to make that trip in July 2013, and spent time in Petra, Jordan, which she describes as an “eye opening experience.”

“I really, really enjoyed Jordan, because they were so excited and so welcoming to me as an American,” she says. “And I wasn’t expecting that.”

She explains that her love of travel began during her early teens, when she visited Hong Kong with her family and celebrated her birthday in the country.

“I think that’s where I got the travel bug,” she says. “I looked around and thought, ‘I want to live outside the bubble that I grew up in.’”

Holt went on to take her first solo trip at the age of 19, traveling to Japan, where she lived for several months.

“I would travel on my own during the weekends,” she says. “And then I ended up living in Japan again about three or four years later.”

Holt, who was able to travel extensively while working as an actress, soon developed an intense passion for solo travel.

Going solo

Holt is the host of TV series "Me, Myself & The World: The Art of Solo Travel," which showcases her passion for traveling alone. - Courtesy Pamela Holt
Holt is the host of TV series "Me, Myself & The World: The Art of Solo Travel," which showcases her passion for traveling alone. - Courtesy Pamela Holt

“It [her travels] was mostly through working,” she says. “But I had always made solo travel a priority.

“I literally worked to travel.”

Of course, her life changed forever after the car accident, which left her near immobilized, and she was advised to get her affairs in order before undergoing surgery.

“Going through something so traumatic and life changing – not only the accident, but then that spine surgery, it’s really scary,” she says.

“It kind of makes you stop and ask, ‘Am I living the life that I want to live?’ “And I knew that solo travel had been the biggest joy for me in the past.

“And it just really became even more of a focal point in my life after that.”

Once she returned from that trip to the Middle East, Holt was even more determined to achieve her goal of visiting 80 countries by her 50th birthday, taking the vast majority of the trips by herself.

So what is it about solo travel that appeals to Holt so much?

“I love the adrenaline, the freedom and the joy of solo traveling,” she says. “You get to meet new people everywhere you go.

“You get to challenge yourself. Build self confidence. I sound like a billboard for slow travel, but it’s shaped who I am over the years.

“And the more positive experiences I had as a solo traveler, the more I wanted to do it again.”

Holt goes on to explain that, as she was single for a long time, she often didn’t have anyone to travel with.

And during the times that she was able to travel with friends, she usually found that they had different ideas on how they wanted to spend their vacations.

“Most of them wanted to shop and eat,” she explains. “And I wanted to explore and dive into history and literally walk past the next corner and then see something and get to the next corner.

“I wanted to go beyond my comfort level.”

Rather than rushing from destination to destination, Holt is a big fan of slow travel.

When it comes to destinations most suitable for solo travelers, she recommends Thailand, Bali and Vietnam.

“It [the Far East] is sort of the solo traveler Mecca,” she says. “I think that it’s the best place to go for a solo traveler that’s wanting some adventure.

“But there’s [also] a really good core of resources for solo travelers. Places to stay. Tours. Stuff like that.”

Holt points to the European country of Italy as another fantastic location for those who are going it alone.

Building self reliance

Holt explores the backstreets of both Hanoi, Vietnam and Bangkok, Thailand in the second series of the TV show. - Courtesy Pamela Holt
Holt explores the backstreets of both Hanoi, Vietnam and Bangkok, Thailand in the second series of the TV show. - Courtesy Pamela Holt

“The reason I love it so much is, one, there is so much to do,” she adds. “And you really can, in the most positive way, lose yourself in Italy and soak in the flavor.”

While Holt had been due to book her first Broadway tour before the accident, she struggled to revive her career back on track afterwards.

“Trying to rebuild myself after that car accident took a long time,” she says.

She eventually came up with a concept that combined her love of solo travel with her entertainment background, TV series ‘Me, Myself & The World: The Art of Solo Travel,’ which Holt both hosts and executive produces.

The second season of the travel series, available on Amazon Freevee and GoTraveler, sees Holt exploring the backstreets of both Hanoi, Vietnam and Bangkok, Thailand, while meeting and talking with locals, as well as other solo travelers.

Holt says she’s often contacted by budding solo travelers, particularly women, who are keen to travel, but can’t quite build up the courage.

She explains that she advises people to “start small” and take a day trip somewhere nearby, before working up to a bigger trip to somewhere further afield,

“Get used to relying on yourself, and being comfortable with yourself,” she stresses. “Some people don’t ever want to go out to dinner with themselves.

“But if you just keep doing it, you’re going to build that confidence and you’re going to learn how wonderful it is.”

Holt points out that many older people seem to view solo travelers as “a group of backpackers in their 20s, or the 40-year-old woman who had a midlife crisis,” stressing that there are many different types of solo travelers.

“I’ve redefined solo travel to an acronym of, Seeking Out Life’s Opportunities,” she adds. “That’s what solo is. You can still be a partner or spouse to someone.

“You can still be single. You can be anything you want. It’s about seeking out life’s opportunities for yourself.”

However, she cautions those who are new to solo traveling to accept that while they may meet wonderful people who are willing to help them along the way, they will be primarily depending on themselves, and should always trust their instincts.

“The biggest challenge is trusting yourself,” she adds. “Trusting your gut. Paying attention to your instincts.

“I see a lot of solo travelers make the mistake of being nice, and overriding their instincts, when they should pay attention to that first.

“You can always be nice and always be courteous. But pay attention to your gut and what it’s telling you about people and about surroundings.

“If you get sick, or you lose your wallet. You’re on your own. So you have to become hardy. If you weren’t hardy before, solo travel will teach you to be very hardy.”

In the 15 years or so between her spinal surgery and her 50th birthday, Holt was able to fulfill that promise she made back when she was in hospital, and opted to celebrate in style, flying into Bhutan, her 80th country, on the big day in August 2019.

“I wanted to do something epic,” she says. “Because, honestly, I didn’t want to be that poor 50-year-old woman who didn’t have a partner. So I created my own joy. And I had a terrific time on my golden jubilee.”

While Holt is now married – she reconnected with Brodie, who she first met when she was 15, shortly after completing her “80 by 50” challenge and the pair tied the knot in 2022 – she has continued to travel alone and still has the same joy for solo travel.

“He travels about one to five weeks a year [for work],” she says, explaining that her husband owns a company and also works as a volunteer golf coach. “So the last thing he wants to do is travel [again].”

“If we can do one international trip [together] a year, great. But I am happy to solo travel for a long time. And he’s happy to let me go.”

Reflecting on that bleak period after her accident, when the prospect of being able to go anywhere seemed almost inconceivable, Holt says she has a completely different outlook now.

“I really live life to the fullest,” she adds. “I take more chances in life. Travel is my foundation and it is continuing to shape me. Every trip I take, I am more understanding of people.

“More open to everything that’s going on in this world. Especially right now, I have a totally different perspective because I have a world perspective.”

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