It’s incredibly lonely, extremely scary and fraught with unimaginable danger.
Or at least, that’s what friends and family shrieking with concern would have you think. The truth is that solo travel is a beautiful thing. One popular misconception is that wanting to venture out into the world alone is the equivalent of throwing caution to the wind. But that could not be further from the truth. Rather, travelling alone requires that you take complete responsibility for yourself — nothing and nobody else. You learn what you are capable of, and that, is what makes solo travel such an incredibly liberating, illuminating and invaluable experience.
Why is solo female travel even a big deal? Nobody writes articles encouraging men to go out into the world alone and to find themselves. Some quick Googling would reveal that solo travel articles targeted at men generally revolve around how to have a good time as a single lad. For women travelling solo, there is no shortage of online advice on how to stay safe.
In Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling book and movie, Wild, where she hiked 1770km of the Pacific Crest Trail alone, she had to worry about two seemingly-threatening men she encountered out in the middle of nowhere, and fret about getting into a strange man’s vehicle when she was desperate to get some food and help. Would a man be less worried about danger in those circumstances? That’s debatable.
It is true, however, that women have to be more aware of their environment and to remain alert, particularly in places where it is an anomaly for women to be alone, without a man or a family unit in tow. Still, it’s hardly a reason to stay home. Travelling is immensely rewarding because it exposes you to the beauty of diversity and the power of human connections. Now, more than ever, it is important not to be afraid of what is foreign or unknown. The more of the world you see, the more you realise that it is safer than you can ever imagine. With some sensible precautions, you can have a fantastic time, all by yourself.
- Check in with social media often
The whole point of travelling alone is to be alone having new experiences. You don’t want to be texting with people back home 24/7. That said, friends and family just want to know that you are safe. So this is when those selfie-taking skills come in useful. Whether it’s Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook, make it a point to update once or twice a day. Writing a daily post is also a way of jotting down your thoughts for the day and documenting precious memories you can look back on. Establish a routine such that when you drop off the face of the world, your bestie is going to notice immediately.
- Have an open mind, but don’t be reckless
Be open to trying new things and by all means, do stuff that you would not normally do at home. A fussy eater who sticks with the familiar? Get adventurous with your meals. A new cuisine presents great opportunities for expanding your palate, plus you can learn so much about people and culture through food. That said, don’t make impulsive or reckless decisions. You wouldn’t normally hop into a friendly stranger’s car at night or go out and get drunk in a bar alone back at home, so there’s no reason to do that just because you’re on vacation.
- Be respectful of cultural norms
Always be aware of local norms and dress codes. By all means, be a feminist who believes you should be able to wear whatever you want. But if you’re in a village where bare arms are a strange sight, do you really want to be stared at for wearing shorts?
- Be firm and assertive when things get uncomfortable
In some places, you will find yourself a curiosity. You will get questions about where your boyfriend and husband is, especially if the local culture is for people to get married and start families young. In some places, there will be men who associate a woman’s independence with a mistaken interpretation of open-mindedness. Don’t be paranoid with strangers, but do trust your instincts about people.
- Do join adventure group tours and make friends
Travelling alone doesn’t mean having to be by yourself all the time, unless you prefer it that way. There are plenty of ways to get to know a place and make friends at the same time. Sign up for things like walking city tours, cooking or dancing classes, even truffle picking or wine tasting experiences. Alternatively, sweat it out with adventure group tours that take you cycling or hiking and camping.