Solo travel was quite a frightening prospect to me before embarking on my round the world adventure. I spent hours reading advice and worrying about whether I really had the courage to do it. Would I meet anyone or just be alone for the whole year? Would I be safe? Would I just get horribly lost? Well, now I’ve done it, I can honestly sayit was the best year of my life so far, full of surprises and adventures I could never even have dreamed about. So what is solo travel really like for a woman in her 30s? What are the best and worst bits? And could you do it?
Since I embarked on my solo round the world adventure, I have a new favourite past time… talking to a lot of very brilliant women about solo travel in Central and South America. I was amazed at how many people have contacted me to ask if I would mind talking about it – friends, acquaintances, friends of friends, total strangers on social media. This is my absolute favourite subject, so I’m delighted every time – but I’ve realised how many people want to go but have similar concerns I had before I went away and sometimes it stops them doing what they want. I found an email this week, sent to a friend before I went on my Latin American adventure. It said something along the lines of ‘I probably won’t stay in South America for too long, it’s far too dangerous and so I’ll probably have to leave and go straight to New Zealand’. 10 months later, I was crying on a plane from Chile, wishing I never had to leave and trying work out how I could possibly move somewhere in Latin America because I loved it so much. It is a pretty daunting prospect to travel alone for the first time. The world is full of unknowns and with heavily documented alien dangers for single females, it’s very easy to talk yourself out of going. I had forgotten this feeling, because after the first few solo bus journeys where I realised to my surprise that I had in fact survived, that fear turned into adrenaline. I remember the moment I started to feel the rush of excitement without fear. It was on a boat from Jaco to Montezuma in Costa Rica. The sun was stroking my face from behind a soft cloud and all I could see was the waves of the sea lapping gently together. I’ve never felt so happy and free.
Anyway, I thought I’d try and write a little about what I say to these lovely ladies about solo female travel in the hope that maybe it might answer some questions for someone else out there. What is it really like to travel alone? Will you be OK? Should you join a group maybe? Is it safe? These are the best and most challenging things I experienced when travelling alone.
TOP 5 PARTS OF TRAVELLING ALONE
Total Freedom – do whatever you want – no one is there to argue If you only want to eat ice cream for lunch – then you absolutely can! (I did this a bit too regularly!). When travelling with someone else you usually have to consider them and what they want with the trip. When you’re alone, you can make decisions spontaneously on the spot without having to consult anyone and no one is there to judge you except you. If you want to stay an extra night in the latest beach paradise you’ve fallen in love with then you can, no question. If you’ve had enough of the town your in and want to move on, you can head straight to the bus stop without asking. This freedom helped me to really get in touch with what I wanted each day and make decisions based around what I was feeling at each moment in my trip. This isn’t a very common experience in modern life as there is usually at least one other person to consider, so I value it immensely in solo travel.
Be whomever you want to be If you want to be a party animal in one place, chatting to everyone in the hostal bar and dancing on the tables that’s great. In the next town, you could be an introverted book worm and no one would know you have two sides. You could pretend to be a vet in one place and a circus performer in the next. You meet new people everywhere you go so you are free of the identity you had previously and can be whomever you want to be. I don’t mean this in a weird way, it’s not like I went around lying all the time or pretending to be something I wasn’t. It’s more about experimenting with who you want to be and learning about yourself without the constraints you have in ‘normal’ life. I’m quite an introverted person at home, so during my travels I could indulge that if I wanted but then push myself to be outgoing and gregarious in another place to see how that felt. No one knew me, so they had no expectations, which somehow made it easier to experiment.
Build confidence Travelling will help you to believe in your ability to do anything. Well, this is what I found. I had very little confidence before I left – I was worried I wouldn’t even make it from one place to another because sense of direction was entirely lacking in my brain. However, every time I did make it to the next destination – which I always did – my confidence grew a little more. This happened with language learning, making friends and negotiating deals amongst many other things. There is no doubt that the independence of solo travel will build you into a confident human being.
Meet more awesome people
It’s not like you wont meet people when you are travelling with a friend, but I think I met more people travelling alone It’s easier somehow. You have no choice but to meet people and when you are a solo traveller in a dorm, chances are you’ll get chatting to a lot of interesting strangers, who may just become really good friends. I met people from all over the world, and sometimes had in depth conversations that helped me learn so much about life.
Well I guess I’m an introvert, who likes writing and reading, so quiet times would be a favourite for me. I appreciate that others may feel different, but I would still argue that in the hectic busy lives that many of us lead these days, these quiet peaceful moments are immensely restoring for anyone’s humanity. It was the times when no one was around that I could reflect on what I was doing and try and take it all in, working out what I wanted from life the universe and everything. It’s possible to do this back home, but there are a lot more incredible places to do it out there in the world, without any distractions.
5 MORE CHALLENGING THINGS ABOUT TRAVELLING ALONE
Attention from men
Several of the countries I’ve travelled in Latin America do have a bad reputation for men on the streets hassling women, especially foreign looking travellers. Unfortunately in several places this reputation is true in my experience and sometimes some men are after more than just being your friend if you do end up talking to them. This did make me a little sad sometimes, but it’s also something that after a while I just stopped noticing or caring about. The important thing to remember is that not everyone is like that, and those that are are possibly just very intrigued by you. It’s possibly not in their culture for women to travel alone independently (I realise this will wildly vary depending on the country so is a generalisation!). It’s important to think about what you are wearing and be respectful of the culture you are in – this can definitely help the situation. However, the absolute vast majority of people will be absolutely respectful and kind to you as a woman travelling alone, so just ignore the weird whistlers and don’t let them ruin your view of a place.
This could well be a fear you have before going away and the truth is that if you are going to travel alone for a long time then at some point you probably will feel a bit lonely. As a woman in my 30s, sometimes I was older than others in a place, so there may have been places I found less people who I connected with. It’s quite hard work always meeting people, so sometimes loneliness was probably my fault as I couldn’t face having the introductory chats again on that day. I don’t think it is a bad thing to experience loneliness sometimes in life and travel isn’t about everything being perfect all the time. Getting through those less good days and feeling great again the other side is so rewarding and usually even on those days something incredible will happen that makes it all worth it. There is lots of advice out there on how to meet people when travelling alone, and I found myself searching this sometimes on the web and it is really useful to take those tips on board. I can almost guaruntee that the bad times won’t last long, so don’t worry about this. Being able to be comfortable being alone with yourself is one of the best things you can have in life.
Things are more expensive when you are a one
This can be a little frustrating and it’s something to take into account when planning a trip. There aren’t any guaruntees you will meet people who want to do the same as you, so there may be times when you want to do something and you have to do it alone. This can cost more – think about possibly having to pay for a taxi by yourself for example. There are some things out there where people just seem to charge more for anyone travelling alone or it’s slightly easier to negotiate when there are more than one of you. We can be discriminated a bit for this. However, a lot of the time you will find people to go with or you can compromise somehow so that it doesn’t cost too much.
Toilet stops in bus stations
This is probably the worst part. If you don’t have people to travel a journey with you, who is going to look after your backpack while you pee? This is a dilemma faced by many and definitely affects women more than men!! But there are ways… you will find ways!!
Of course as a solo female you have to stay safe. Men travelling alone have to be also in much the same way. They are vulnerable to crime too, but somehow this is slightly more of a concern for most women. I don’t have all the answers, but in a future post I’m going to share my tips for things I did to stay safe. All I can say for now is be sensible, look after yourself and don’t take any risks that you wouldn’t at home. More on safety coming soon but for now I really like this blog post by A Dangerous Business about how she views safety as a solo female traveller. Actually she has a lot of great tips for a first timer, so I recommend having a look.
How about you? What’s the best part of solo travel for you? Do you love it or hate it? How do you overcome the challenges? I’d love to hear some tips!