This is one of those very personal decisions that women have to make for themselves and often do so in the face of those around them trying to talk them out of it. I will admit, it can be scary thinking about being in a new place all alone, with nobody to fall back on which isn’t helped by the fears of those who are looking out for your best interests. However, if you can get over that fear, the rewards are far greater than you could ever imagine. I don’t want to make a blanket statement that every woman should travel alone to the most exotic location they can find and just throw caution to the wind. I know the kind of growth one can gain in doing so but all I can say is that I have traveled with friends, without friends, and very often, on my own. When traveling alone, aside from my own stupid mistakes and miscalculations here and there, I’ve had the best of luck and have never encountered some of the horror stories that are found, well, in horror stories. Far be it for me to dish out rock solid advice on how to do anything, but these are the recommendations I would make, based on my own successful trips in the past.
Have total confidence in yourself. You, let me introduce you to……… you. Meet the person who will be resourceful enough to ask for help when needed. Traveling alone doesn’t mean you have to throw yourself to the wolves and wander aimlessly through a foreign city. The best way to arrive with a little bit of confidence is to arm yourself with some sort of game plan. Some women do just throw caution to the wind and wing it one hundred percent. Kudos to them but I am too much of a trip planner to just wing it. I’m anal. I have found it easier for me to have good maps and/or a proper guide book about my destination and try to book a hotel for at least my first night’s stay. I try to find out where tourist offices are and have found that a hotel concierge can be your best friend. Depending on where I am at, I try to get a small amount of local currency at the airport when I arrive so if I can’t figure out the local bus system or am too tired to deal with it, I’ll have enough currency for a taxi ride.
Don’t be afraid to talk to people. One reason I absolutely love to travel alone is because it has forced me to approach people and have conversations I may have never experienced had I been traveling with a partner. I once got lost in the Cook Islands while driving around on my moped and decided to pull into a little museum. The owner was a wonderful woman who for three hours, told me everything she knew about the islands and informed me of a dance recital which only took place once a year and better yet, was not advertised to the general public. Of course, this conversation could have easily taken place had I been traveling with someone but there is the possibility that a travel partner would have set me back on track, never having found this little museum. As it turned out, this event she told me about turned into an evening I would never forget having seen the local dance troupes perform their best island dancing with beautifully made costumes and the islands’ best musicians playing drums that you felt down to your toes.
Women meet other women in the same boat. It’s funny, but one of the fears in traveling alone is the reaction you may get in talking about it. You may already be feeling a little “weird” about it, when low and behold someone will come along and look at you like you’ve grown another head at the sheer mention of it. It’s still so strange to people that a woman would choose to travel alone. But guess what often happens when you do? You meet other women who said “the hell with it” and decided to venture off into the world the way you did. And when you do meet those women, those conversations are life changers. When I was in Florence, I met two women who left their lives in the States behind, and moved to Florence. One was teaching English and the other was leading bike tours through Tuscany. The apartment they were renting was no bigger than a studio apartment but with a couple of pretty nice amenities. The first was that it was located in the heart of Florence, walkable to the Duomo, close to shopping, and within walking distance to cafes and restaurants in the city. The second was that one of the bedrooms had a fresco on the ceiling, with angels and clouds to fall asleep to during siesta. These ladies were in their forties at the time and simply wanted to add this experience to their list of things to do in life. They are the types of women that make you feel like you are correct for having the guts to be out there, seeing the world and appreciating everything you encounter. Meeting other brave, adventurous women is simply reaffirming during those times of self questioning.
Another reason I often love to travel alone is because you are completely free to travel based solely on your interests and instincts. Numerous times, I have set out for a two or three day excursion to a destination and ended up staying longer simply because it felt right and I wasn’t ready to leave yet. Simple as that. I went to Malta for a weekend getaway, and ended up staying for a week (which is where I took my photo in my header). I set out for the Cinque Terre for a three day side trip and stayed almost two weeks! I know, there’s not a lot in the Cinque Terre but I got to know the locals a bit and got very comfortable at the beach. And also hooked up with other American ladies who just wanted to hike, eat, and enjoy the Italian beaches.
There is so much to be gained for women if they are willing to trust themselves, take a few precautions, and open themselves up to the experience. For me, it’s an addiction. It’s always a little scary but the sense of accomplishment you feel after you’ve done it is immeasurable. It’s something that is different for everybody and something that nobody can ever take from you because it’s YOUR experience. Here are a few things I practice when I travel:
– Make 2 copies of my passport. One to leave at home in case I get the urge to get into an international scandal and my loved ones need to contact the consulate. The other goes into my carry-on bag in case I lose my passport or it’s stolen and I can report it.
– Always have a pashmina or wrap of some kind so you are ready to enter all the cool looking churches you’re dying to get into. The churches are usually architectural masterpieces that you won’t see at home.
– Going out at night is great in crowded, touristy, well lit areas. I’m thinking Rome at night in the middle of July. But walking around side streets of Rome at night by myself? Not so much. Common sense always has to prevail. There are enough tour groups to join where you should not be stuck walking around at night by yourself in quiet, desolate areas. Again, this is how I roll. Someone else may have the best experiences in the world at 2:00 a.m alone where the crickets are but unless Javier Bardem is out there waiting for me, I’ll be where the noise is.
– Call or email home. Come on. Don’t forget that you’re the crazy one who is brave enough to actually bungee jump off of a bridge in New Zealand for your 40th birthday. Just send a occassional email saying, “I’m still alive,” and then go jump off again.
– DO IT! There’s a world out there waiting for you to see it!!!!! And be sure to share your experience with everybody!!!! 🙂
“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”
*photo credit on top: “American girl in Italy”-Ruth Orkin