Travelling alone can be daunting. Especially as a woman. There are plenty of people who will tell you that it’s unsafe, or lonely. They’ll point out all the cases of girls getting mugged, kidnapped, lost, or taken advantage of while travelling. They’ll tell you about the dirty hostels, the food poisoning you could get, the cultural differences that will surely trip you up.
Here’s what they don’t tell you: travelling alone is absolutely AWESOME. It’s liberating, it’s empowering, and it can be a great way to see the world, on your own terms.
I’ve done some travelling alone and the main impact it has had on me was to give me wanderlust. It has inspired me to see more, do more, learn more, and be more. It forced me to meet people, to have some great conversations, and to expand my understanding of the world.
My first solo trip was to Guatemala when I was 18. I didn’t speak Spanish, hadn’t been to that country before, and didn’t have much planned, but it turned out to be the best few weeks of my life. I had the inexplicable experience of literally swinging on vines in the rainforest, swimming at black beaches (literally, the sand was black!), having dinner in a straw house with a K’iche’ family, and learning some Spanish by playing I-Spy with kids in the village I visited. Had I been traveling with a friend or a group, I doubt I would have interacted with the locals as much, and that’s what made all the difference on my trip.
My most recent solo trip was to Barcelona for a few days. Actually, I just got back last night. The highlight of my trip was meeting other travelers along the way, and building on what I’ve recently come to call my “travel family”. All the people I met who were traveling alone were not only very open-minded, but super chatty and willing to explore the city together. So despite the fact that I was traveling alone, I didn’t spend very much time on my own.
There are plenty of ways to prepare for your trip that will help to ease any worries you may have. First, book your hostel or hotel ahead of time and pay attention to the reviews. Most hostels nowadays let you pay only a deposit ahead of time, so that you can reserve your spot without paying the full fee until you arrive. By using this service, you can cancel the booking if you feel uncomfortable in that environment, and find another place to stay nearby without losing a ton of money. And second, know your limits: if you are not comfortable rooming in co-ed rooms, or travelling by local public transport, or if you have allergies or special diets, plan ahead to accommodate. There are options for just about everything when it comes to travel, so do your research and plan ahead. Finally, know that not everything will go to plan, and that there will be moments when the trip may seem like a bad idea. In times like these, hang in there and know that things will work out. Be patient, be open-minded, be flexible.
For any girls or women out there who are debating the idea of traveling alone, I offer you this: rid yourself of expectations, ignore the nay-sayers, and take hold of every ounce of confidence you can muster. Book your ticket, hop the plane (or the bus, or the train), and don’t look back. Be open to meeting new people, introduce yourself to everyone you meet, and ask tons of questions. Be aware of your surroundings and take care to protect yourself as appropriate (wearing a money-belt, packing a lock for your hostel locker) but don’t let fear limit your experiences. Take pictures, lots of them, and have fun.