With the most popular travel season upon us, vacation plans have been set in motion.
From high school grads teetering between the decision to go to college or travel the world to people who want an escape from the office, the main question I’ve received recently is in regards to the safety of solo travel. After fielding several emails and messages about it, I figured it would be beneficial to share my responses publicly. So let’s talk about it.
Here in America, we’ve been conditioned to believe that the world is a scary place. Many of us are trained not to deviate away from our commute between work, home, the bar, maybe the gym, and a couple of errands because if we do, something bad will happen. God forbid. At the end of every article, I should leave a bold but friendly reminder not to watch the news so often.
Do I travel alone? Isn’t it difficult and scary to travel alone as a young woman?
Yes, I do travel alone, and at first, I was nervous to do so. Who wouldn’t be? But the truth is, I’ve never felt like my safety was threatened outside of American borders, even in the Middle East. In fact, I found people to be extremely kind, humble, and hospitable, ESPECIALLY in the Middle East. You just have to take the necessary precautions like you do at home, use your common sense, listen to your intuition, and don’t intentionally go looking for trouble. Traveling solo presents all sorts of unique obstacles, and even though it maybe frustrating and disheartening in the moment, half the fun is trying to overcome them.
Do I ever get lonely? How do I meet people?
At times, I have felt lonely, but it’s always temporary. Staying in hostels and couchsurfing are great outlets that have introduced me to so many wonderful people that I feel very fortunate to have be a part of my story. Group accommodation options like hostels make it easy to meet people and find a few companions with which to explore, but sometimes, you have to be the one to start the conversation. Use sites like Couchsurfing and Meetup to attend local events, talk to strangers on the street, reach out to friends online to see if they know anybody traveling in the same place as you at the same time. Every person around you is a new friend waiting to happen. As an introvert, connecting with people or starting the conversation is really hard for me, but I learned that amazing things come from simply saying hello.
How do I get around if I can’t speak the language?
The world is well-equipped for travelers, more so than we give it credit for. In many developed societies, English is prevalent, save for a few oddballs like Russia. Most road signs, ports of entry/exit, tourist spots, menus etc. are bilingual, even multilingual. If you need help reading something, writing something down, or getting somewhere, ask your hotel/hostel staff for assistance or even get information from your respective embassy. For basic phrases, grab a pocketbook dictionary or something similar to carry around with you, before you leave home.
What if something bad happens on the road?
If something bad happens on the road, ask for help.
Look, I’m not going to sugar coat it. Traveling alone takes a leap of faith, but the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward. People get raped, injured, drugged, and even murdered. It’s tragic, and it also doesn’t happen as frequently as the media would like you to believe.
Anywhere you go, it’s important to stay in tune with your surroundings and move with confidence. If something doesn’t feel right, walk away. Watch your drink, stay in public areas, and don’t do something potentially fatal just to fit in. But also know it’s okay to let your guard down, and if something bad does happen, that’s okay too. Take a deep breath, try to remain calm, and do what you have to do for your safety. Remember, even though it feels like the worst has happened, it’s only temporary, and don’t let it deter you from traveling onward. The mishaps, hassles, and sometimes downright dangerous allow for contrast. You’ll learn just how strong you didn’t know you were and come away with captivating stories.
In Russia, an ATM ate my debit card, in Japan I was publicly shamed twice for not speaking Japanese, and in Thailand I got hit by a taxi cab, etc. All of those things were frustrating in the moment, but they didn’t shake my positive impressions of each country or dent my love for traveling. After a while, I learned to shake it off and make peace with the cultural differences.
It may be difficult to comprehend that people would be willing to help a foreigner or take you under their wing. It’s one of those things that you won’t believe until you experience it.
Why do I recommend solo travel?
I cannot speak for guys, but the thing about traveling alone as a woman is that people are more willing to help you than if you were in a group. To the rest of the world, it’s uncommon to see women backpacking solo so people are curious about your story and protective of you without even knowing you. It’s quite a blessing.
In closing, yes, I 100% back solo travel. The treasures to be found in doing so include independence, inspiration, reflection, freedom, and cleansing. It’s getting to know a different country on your own terms and moving around where you want, when you want, and how you want. It forces you to listen and observe, and personally speaking, it has been a collection of the most sobering experiences of my life.
- Dear Dad: Please Don’t Worry (via A Dangerous Business)
- Revisiting the solo female travel experience (via Legal Nomads)
- 17 Safety Tips for Solo Travelers (via Gadling)
- The Truth About Solo Female Travel and Safety (via Adventurous Kate)
- Solo Travel Safety: 20 Common Sense Tips (via Solo Traveler Blog)