My first five months in Thailand were spent working with a small organization. I didn’t leave home with anyone else, but I felt like I had security going to Thailand with a job already lined up. It was the perfect way to travel to another country without really having to do it alone or with my own money. Over my Christmas break, I traveled down to Koh Samui to visit a friend and on my bus journey I met a girl who was backpacking alone for a year. I was in complete awe of her. I asked her question after question trying to figure out how this girl was able to do it alone. Aren’t you scared? Do you get lonely? What does your family think? Is your mother okay with this?
Now that I think back on that conversation, it seems rather silly of me to be so in awe of her since I was technically traveling alone already, I just hadn’t realized it yet. A few months after talking to this lone backpacker, I would make the decision to backpack through Asia alone and it felt like such a huge deal. Making the decision to travel alone was probably more difficult than the actual act of backpacking alone.
I had originally intended to travel with a friend after my contract was finished because the idea of traveling solo as a very petite girl didn’t sound like a smart idea. But while we were planning where to go and what to see I realized that our travel styles were completely different. We were both agreeing to do things we didn’t want to do.
My travel style was a little more spontaneous and less about seeing the sights you are supposed to see. I am really uncomfortable in crowds with loads of other tourists, so I tend to stay away from the popular destinations. I like to show up somewhere, eat with the locals, and rely on the small tips I pick up from other backpackers along the way. Not only is this style of travel cheaper, but it also lets me peer into how the country really works. Compromising on something so personal and wonderful felt silly. So after a long hard think, I decided I had to just do it alone. If I wanted to travel my way, then there was no other way than to do it by myself.
Once I made the decision to travel alone, I got the same questions I had asked the girl I met on the bus. It was funny to find myself responding to the same inquiries I had had just a few months earlier. I told everyone not to worry, but was still secretly not entirely convinced that I was capable of pulling it off. I thought I could probably do it since I’d survived five months in Thailand already, but then again backpacking and living in an apartment abroad are two different animals.
Choosing to backpack all by my lonesome was not an easy choice, but it was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. It wasn’t dangerous or scary in the least bit. Now I tell everyone I know that they should travel alone at least once in their lifetime. Most travelers are not just in search of beautiful places, good food, and interesting cultures; they are also looking to learn. They want to educate themselves about the rest of the world and at the same time they are looking to learn about themselves. There is no better way to get to know yourself than putting on a backpack and sending yourself out into the world unaccompanied. When you are on your own, you have no one to listen to but your own thoughts. You see sides of yourself that are usually hiding below the surface, sides that you love and sides that you want to work on.
Most people don’t want to take the leap and travel alone because there is this nasty rumor going around that it’s dangerous. If you make stupid decisions, traveling can be dangerous whether you are alone or with a group of friends. Unless you have a buddy to watch your back, getting black out drunk while backpacking is just asking for trouble. A lot of problems arise from being unaware of what’s going on and there is no better way to dull your senses than a few too many drinks. Staying alert is a good way to stay safe and in possession of those important things like your passport and debit cards. Plus, I like to think that getting hammered is something we can easily do at home, so why travel to another country to do it? If you are truly interested in traveling, then you won’t want to be hungover the next day. A killer hangover is a great way to miss out on the happenings in the city where you’re staying.
One of the other most common worries regarding solo travel is that you will get lonely. This is an easily avoidable problem because you will inevitably meet other travelers along the way and will make friends if you want to. In fact, I have found that when you travel in a group you usually don’t meet as many new people as you do when you travel alone. Being alone makes you more approachable and people are more inclined to talk to you or invite you to join them.
I do have to admit one little downside to being a girl and traveling alone…you are going to have to fend off the men. I never felt sexually threatened, but I became very tired of being asked out and I even became wary of men asking for my hand in marriage! My guide in Tibet was convinced that I was his future wife and it made things a little awkward for me when he wouldn’t accept my refusals. I usually don’t sign up for guided tours, but China requires all foreigners to travel through Tibet with a guide, so I was stuck with him and his declarations of love until I left.
Western women have a somewhat slutty reputation abroad and the men in some of the countries you visit may try to cash in on that. From one girl to another, lets try to turn our reputation around. Tiny shorts, tank tops, and dresses that are a little too revealing are not always appropriate apparel. The first way to getting less unwanted male attention is to cover up. The second is to lie.
When I was single I found myself with an imaginary boyfriend who was always living in the place that I was on my way to. He was an English teacher, we were madly in love, and his name frequently changed to keep things interesting. This story was slightly more believable than when I said I had a boyfriend back home. I have met many girls who travel with a fake wedding ring, but guys who speak good enough English to hit on you have probably already seen that trick. Plus, if you are married and traveling alone, then they usually think something isn’t right in your marriage, giving them permission to continue flirting with you.
My last bit of advice for the lone female traveler is to trust your instinct. Women have incredible gut instincts and the best way to stay out of trouble is to listen to them. If deep down you feel like something or someone is sketchy, then go someplace else.
Taking a trip alone will change your perspective and your life. It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself. Don’t second guess yourself and go do it! You will thank yourself in the end, I promise!
This post was written for www.diwyy.com.