I am always surprised at the number of people who are ready to convince me that as a woman I can’t, or shouldn’t, travel alone. They make comments like: “Aren’t you scared?” and “You know you could get robbed or raped.” and the all too familiar, “Why would you even want to travel alone?”
There are even times where I’ve felt like people pity me. Like traveling solo is somehow synonymous with not having any friends or family who want to tag along. But the reality is that travel preferences, money, and vacation time often get in the way of making schedules work between two or more people. If I always stayed at home waiting for a travel partner I would miss out on a lot of fun.
The irony is that I rarely hear similar statements when a man decides they want to travel solo. Instead, you hear comments like “That’s awesome!” and “You’re going to have a blast!” To be fair, there is a vulnerability that women traveling alone face that most men do not, but this shouldn’t prevent you from hopping on a plane or getting in your car to explore somewhere new. It just means you need to be more alert and make smart travel decisions.
For example, don’t travel to an area whose current political climate is extremely volatile, is unfriendly to tourists, and/or is occupied by radicalists hell bent on beheading people. As much as you may want to go there, right now is not the time.
Also, don’t walk alone at night and be sure to dress modestly and appropriate to the culture, because if you wear a tank top and shorts in a community where every local woman is wearing pants and a long sleeve shirt, you will most definitely invite unwanted attention from both sexes.
The point here is that if you travel smart and take proper safety precautions, the very things that can make you vulnerable as a woman can also empower you. And while traveling solo as a female can seem like a daunting task, it is one of the most liberating experiences you will ever have.
For starters, you are less intimidating as a woman traveling alone than a man traveling alone, which means other fellow travelers and locals are more likely to approach you and help out.
People will invite you into their home for a meal. You’ll receive tips on what is worth checking out and what isn’t. When you have no idea how to get where you need to go someone will approach you, walk you to the bus stop and tell the bus driver to let you know when to get off. When you’re trying to book an excursion and the tourist operator says, “Two people minimum,” the other traveler standing across the room will ask if s/he can join you.
And, despite your preconceptions about solo travel, you’re never truly alone if you don’t want to be. Companionship will come in many different forms along the way. For me it was the group of school age boys who invited me to play soccer with them as I sat watching on the sidelines; the tiny Guatemalan man who asked if he could practice English with me every afternoon in Antigua’s Central Park; the Aussie in New Orleans who took me bar hopping on Bourbon Street; the indigenous woman in El Salvador who invited me into her home for a traditional meal.
Part of the process of discovering where you are is reveling in the people who reside there. It is one of the greatest joys of traveling. Because women are more approachable your experiences will be more intimate and enriching than you ever imagined or even anticipated.
Many people believe the greatest challenge of solo travel is that you are alone. But what many find to be the greatest challenge I actually find to be the most freeing. When no one is there and your day is wide open it means you can’t defer to the preferences of the person you’re with. You have to make your own choices and that can be a transformational experience as you gain insight into aspects of your personality and those activities you enjoy. I love the idea of waking up in a totally new place and asking myself,”What do I want to do today?”
Keep in mind that being adventurous and brave and courageous enough to embark on your own solo travel journey doesn’t mean you have to backpack through a foreign country like I did. Maybe to you it means checking out a national or state park nearby, or eating at a restaurant alone, or, like my grandma, going camping for the first time at age 70. Wherever you want to go, go. Whatever you want to do, do it. Don’t let being scared of doing all that alone keep you from following your dream of experiencing your surroundings.
The trip may not always be glamorous but when you get past the excruciating heat, poison ivy, broken down buses, frustration at not being able to speak the language, and having a bad case of giardia you will be left with the reassurance that you can stand on your own two feet.
Solo travel is humbling in that way: it makes you wonder what else you can do alone.