The other day I was in Target getting a few things for my upcoming trips. One of these things just happened to be a portable luggage scale. And that set off the questions by the friendly, but misinformed cashier. I should point out that the cashier was a woman, most likely in her 50’s. The conversation then went something like this.
Cashier: I wish I could travel.
Me: You can. Anybody can really.
Cashier: I have a job
Me: So do I
Cashier: Well, I don’t have anybody to go with me.
Me: Neither do I most of the time
Cashier: You go BY YOURSELF! Aren’t you scared?
Me: [Commence Eye Rolling]
And that is how nearly every interaction goes with someone who I don’t know well or not at all whenever they find out I do this thing called TRAVEL BY MYSELF. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve received a handful of emails and comments from seemingly well-meaning people [mostly women and mostly older than me] asking me all kinds of questions about traveling solo. I don’t necessarily want to be pigeon-holed as a SOLO FEMALE TRAVELER [or solo female traveler blogger for that matter] because what happens when I have a travel partner, or a sex change? Does that mean my experience is no longer valid or relevant? I’d like to think not, but the fact remains, that as of today, I am decidedly female, and I do travel alone about 95% of the time. So I guess that sort of makes me an ambassador for girls traveling alone.
Anyway… I’ve been traveling alone for a few years now — not because I inherently dislike people, but usually because I don’t want to wait around for someone to travel with me and because I kind of LIKE to be on my own and have the freedom to do what I want when I want. And yes, since I am being honest , I WAS scared the first time I traveled by myself, and I was probably scared the second and third times as well. And planning trips with others in mind is a huge task… especially when said others don’t have a fucking clue about what they want to do in said place.
The media–whether you are right leaning or left leaning or somewhere out in left field– is our common enemy when it comes to traveling alone. It’s a common misconception that it’s inherently dangerous to travel solo if you are a woman. I’ll admit–traveling solo as a woman IS a different experience than traveling solo as a man. As a woman, you DO have to be more careful and more vigilant in some cases. You have to be more aware of how you’re dressed, who you decide to trust, and how decisions you make could affect your safety. However, this doesn’t just apply to traveling. In a world where violence against women is a growing problem [even here in USA and especially in SC which ranks #1 for violence against women], being careful and vigilant is something women just DO. EVERY. SINGLE. FUCKING. DAY. It’s certainly not confined to traveling. Which brings me to my point [and I do have one, in case you were wondering]:
Traveling solo as a woman is not automatically dangerous.
It’s no more or less dangerous than doing things alone as a woman in your home country or town. People ask me [quite frequently these days] if I’m ever afraid to travel solo. And my answer is always no. And these are the reasons why:
I Trust Myself
This hasn’t always been true. There have been times in my past where I didn’t always trust my instincts or did things that dulled those instincts. Common travel wisdom is don’t do anything abroad that you wouldn’t do at home. I take that a step further. Some of the things I would do at home, I would never do abroad. So I evaluate the situation and assess the risk. Things that I would do at home like wander around, accept rides from strangers [yes, I’ve done it], go off without telling somewhere where I am, get blitzed on a night out are things that I’d never consider doing abroad. I also get a map and study it on day 1 so that I can be aware of my location. I have learned to be aware of my surroundings and to trust my gut. Should I find myself in a situation where I feel uncomfortable, I do what I can to remove myself from it. When you travel solo, you are your own best, and sometimes only, defense.
I Trust strangers
People you meet on your travels ARE, for the most part, going to be helpful rather than threatening. As a solo female traveler, I’ve had countless experiences where I’ve actually had complete strangers looking out for me on subways [giving me directions when I got on a wrong train], making sure I got off at the right stop on trains or buses, or given me rides when it was needed. My travel experiences have be greatly enhanced by trusting my instincts when trusting strangers. Just as the world isn’t an inherently dangerous place, people are not inherently evil. I don’t always make conversation with strangers and occasionally I am suspicious about anyone who tries strike up a conversation with me, but most of the time people are just trying to be friendly. Which brings me back to point 1: Yes, it’s important to be careful and to trust your gut. But every unknown face as a threat. Your travels will be enriched when you open yourself up to new conversations and meeting new people. And you’ll learn that people are more similar than different.
I Trust the Herd
If I ever DO find myself in a destination where I don’t feel completely comfortable on my own, I know that there are always ways to ensure that I’m NOT alone. A lot of times, I may book myself on a day trip to a place I’m unfamiliar with or want to visit, but don’t feel confident visiting it solo. It’s rare that you’ll find my in a hotel. I opt to stay in hostels or guest houses where it’s easy to meet other travelers and join in on group activities. Usually people don’t mind if you tag alone. I’ve learned that traveling solo doesn’t necessarily have to mean being alone all the time.
I Trust my research
I am not a planner, but I do like doing research on new destination. I will always have a couple of things in mind that I’d like to see or do for any new destination. If it is a truly foreign destination, I’ll brush up on a bit of the language, read up on things like cultural norms, common scams, and how I should dress as a tourist. If I am traveling to some of the more conservative countries, I make sure to pack more modest clothing. Not only does this make me feel more comfortable, but it also tends to cut down on unwanted attention. Doing my homework helps me fit in to new cultures better, and also makes it easier to be vigilant without being scared or paranoid.
It’s, OK…I knew ahead of time there would be a musket firing demonstration
I trust humanity
Every country has statistics of which they are not proud, but that doesn’t mean every person who lives in that country has contributed to those statistics. The US has some of the highest violence rates in the world, and yet I wouldn’t consider it a dangerous place in which to be a tourist… although once again, there are some places that I am scared to travel by myself in the USA.
We see so many movies and read so many sensationalized headlines that we’ve become conditioned to assume that the world “out there” is a scary, dangerous place. But guess what? It’s not, and if you were that scared and that worried about safety, you’d never venture outside your front door.
and if you can’t trust people, trust animals… animals will never lead you astray, but sometimes, I get scared of animals… especially bears.