I'm 33, female, and want to go traveling alone. Perhaps for 6 months to a year. Where do I start? What is the best place to get information and where are the best places to go? Is it tough? Sounds stupid, but i'm worried about dangerous spiders and stuff like that. Yes, perhaps I'm a wimp, but that's why I want to go traveling - see the world - toughen up.
Where do you start? Anywhere. What grabs your fancy? If you don't know, walk into a bookstore and start leafing through lonely planets (or even just look at their covers). Or look through the gallery of featured photos here on travellerspoint. Or go on flickr and do some searches on general terms like "rtw" or "backpacking". Or if you're not visually oriented, browse travel blogs. See what calls out to you. Note those places; national parks, beaches, cities, mountains: keep a (mental) list of them all.
When you have a couple of dozen, group them together by country or continent. See if you can string them together in some kind of rough geographical order. (You're posting this in the "Round the World Travel" forum, so I'm assuming you want to do that kind of trip, rather than going to just one country for the entire period.) Some locations will not fit in very well; put those aside for some future trip - focus on the rest for now.
You don't list in your profile where you're from, but I'd recommend starting in a "western" country, just to help you build confidence: Canada, USA, Europe, Australia / New Zealand. These all are perfectly safe, and have great infrastructure. (There's many countries in South America and South East Asia which are perfectly doable even as a first time traveller, but if I remember myself back then, I know I wouldn't have had the confidence for it either.) I don't know what I can say about the fear for spiders, except that I spent over a year in Australia and never met a single one.
Anyway, with a first destination in mind, go and buy the lonely planet for that (or any other travel guide if leafing through them you find that you prefer the writing style and general organization of one over the others) and start leafing through it in more depth. Read the "getting started" (particularly "when to go") and "directory" sections in depth. You should now have some idea about the necessary practical matters. Read the sections on the specific locations which you identified before. Look at the photos in the lonely planet and see if even more places call out to you. Try to get a feel for how much time you'd like to spend there in order to thoroughly see these places. Then double that amount of time (50% extra to see unexpected things and 50% extra because you didn't calculate in travel time, nor the even more important rest time when you're not going out to see anything, but just lounge about to recover from too many days filled to the brim).
You should now have a first destination, the rough time of the year when you're setting off, and a very rough idea of an itinerary through that first destination, plus some sequence of other countries / areas of the world which you're interested in. Realize that you can't even begin to plan an entire 6 to 12 months of travel, so don't attempt it. Just make wild guesses for all the other countries, by ratio to this one first country based on size and number of interesting places which you found before.
Based on that list (something of the form: "2 months canada, 1 month japan, 1 month new zealand, 2 months australia, 2 weeks laos, 1 month thailand, 2 weeks turkey") go to a travel agency specializing in round the world flights, and get yourself a quote for a ticket. (Don't be afraid to let them talk you into additional destinations, or dropping some from your list - but don't immediately book the ticket either; let the options and possibilities sink in for a bit, and let them work for their commission, asking them about changing this bit and that bit, and would it also be possible to...?) You'll probably have a gazillion questions on practical matters, visas, insurance, luggage, recommendations for where to stay and what to see exactly, etc. Ask them here on the forum (we're more than glad to help), but also accept that you can't know and do everything right.
Things will go wrong.
You will deal with them.
Don't let fear of the unknown and the uncertain prevent you from just setting out at some point. There's tens and tens of thousands of fellow travellers on the road who you can turn to for help and advice. Random strangers tend to be friendly and helpful. You can always ask. You can always buys necessities in wherever you find yourself.
By the end of your travels, you'll be amazed at just how much you dealt with; how much you experienced. Then come back and tell us about it all.
[ Edit: Edited on 30-May-2011, at 10:07 by Sander ]
Wow. This is really amazing! If I were you, I would go anywhere. But where to start, you were asking? Start from where you are. Explore your very own country before going outside of it. If you've done that already, then go to the country nearest to you then circumnavigate the world! Then you go back!
Thanks Sander and paulmacpaul - really informative and insightful feedback. I'm from the UK and have seen some but not all - so good advice to start where I am...I have been to Canada and Borneo/Kuala Lumpur and spent time jungle trekking, but i was with someone and can imagine doing the latter myself a bit too daunting. I think Australia just might be the place to start..will check out the gallery - cheers once again