You are very brave. I could never do what you do– traveling on your own…
[ HAhhh, here we go again… ]
How do you do it?
[ Well, you think this is a vacation? ]
No, I need to go with my husband. He always arranges and schedules things. I wouldn’t know what to do if I had to travel on my own…
[ Honey, you'd be surprised what you can do on your own if you had to or really wanted to. ]
If I didn’t have my husband, I wouldn’t go anywhere.
[ ...or, you could choose that option too. ]
Shweta was an intelligent and forward Indian wife and university professor in her 30′s, vacationing with her husband in Ladakh, India. We were sharing a truck through the icy slopes of Nubra Valley and I was being bombarded with the questions that many females ask about solo travel, when they’re standing on the opposite side of it. As Shweta listened to my answers, her eyes drew a hallowed aura over me– a mixture of admiration, awe, horror and …pity.
There’s a mystique around female solo travelers. We’re considered an anomaly and yet, our numbers are growing. These days, I meet all types of journeying women, from experienced to the ‘newbie soloist’ ready to cling to the first companion that reaches out to her. Countless travel articles spill the hurrahs of journeying alone (read here , here , here and here); and although the advertised gains can feel as sexy as a self-help book or a diet and exercise program to lose 10 pounds, they’re all 100% right. The benefits of solo travel, oddly enough, are experiences you will thank yourself for later.
Is female solo travel easy?
One of my pet peeves is when I meet or hear a female solo traveler claim that solo travel is easy… for her.
Several years back, I met a European girl in her mid 20′s on a van to LAX airport. She was regaling her recent travel tour de force of countries. She was alone. This woman, I thought to myself, was born with monumental balls I didn’t have the gene pool for! How could any woman be so heroic and brave? Me, I had to plan my “balls”; sketch out their shape and size … psych myself into getting them. If I could buy them at a store, I would! I asked her questions similar to Shweta’s .
Euro girl cooly tossed her head back and smugly replied that solo travel was easy to her. Easy.
At that time, I could barely cross the globe, unless I had a friend to visit and stay with in that country.
If solo travel was so goddamned simple, why was I terrified of doing it? Was I that much of a wimp? Was there something wrong with me? If solo travel was so great, then why weren’t many women doing it?
Whether she truly believed that traveling alone was easy (more power to her!) or felt the need to front bravery, due to a missing companion, what it said to me back then was that solo female travelers were cut from a cloth of courage, I didn’t have a needle and thread for. These kind of woman were bold, daring, relentless and badass.
Female badass-ism isn’t bad (just annoying to hear, if you’re not a badass yourself). It creates a lop-sided myth that solo travel is for those female heroines, who need no one and never feel vulnerable.
In many ways, I’m very comfortable with my independence. Eating in restaurants and going to movies or traveling the U.S. by myself isn’t worrisome to me as it is with others. Raised like an only child, I’m conditioned to being alone. But born to a Hawaiian-Asian family, where safety and wisdom was preached again and again, I came from a ‘sheltered‘ upbringing.
In 2008, I was separated from friends in India and forced to go it alone. It was a massive and terrifying crash course I wasn’t prepared for. Yet somehow I survived (lessons here). Then, there was my first ‘planned’ solo trip to Thailand in 2009, where I highlighted half my guidebook, color tabbed pages and literally held my breath, as I bought my flight ticket.
If you’re a newbie solo traveler standing at the edge, reluctant to take the plunge, there’s good reason… It’s a scary jump.
The raw truth of the solo female traveler and the life of a single woman.
When I met Gray of SoloFriendly on her vacation to Hawaii, we talked about the ‘pits’ of solo travel. As a single woman herself, we could easily relate much of it to our non-travel lives and when I read her confession in ‘When Solo Travel Sucks‘, I exhaled. Vulnerability is one of the few things a soloist likes admitting aloud.
The hardest part of journeying solo is similar to the challenges of living as a single woman:
You don’t always get to fully collapse into your vulnerability, even when you feel it immensely.
Eating alone at a restaurant feels awkward, having no one to watch your luggage when you have to go potty is a pain, and bouts of loneliness will probably never make your proud Facebook status; but crumbling to a sob in your room when someone is unkind, feeling overwhelm with all the decisions you must make for yourself, almost getting pick-pocketed or stomaching a pervert’s failed attempt to jack off to you in a bus … all make you feel like a helpless little girl stranded in a big, scary world.
Instead of wallowing, a solo traveler must pick herself up after enduring the blow.
She has no choice.
What’s the greatest comfort for a solo traveler?
Angels in the form of passing ‘strangers ‘ or fellow travelers, who offer a word of encouragement, some helpful guidance and an umbrella of temporary protection… before moving on.
Why did I choose solo travel?
I was having lunch with a PR representative for a famous Hawaii hotel chain. We were talking about tourism and travel blogging , when she drew into her admiration for female solo travelers like myself. Travel alone was something she’d never done. Not without her husband or family.
I felt like I was growing big bulging biceps, rippling muscles and a red cape! I felt self-consicous, naked, proud and yet embarassed.
Out of the blue, my spigot of truth turned. Out came the answer I’d been holding back :
” Honestly, the only reason I became a solo traveler was because I had no one to travel with. I love travel and as a single woman with no babies or husband, I didn’t want to drown in wait for someone to arrive to start my travel dreams (I could be waiting forever and how pathetic would that be, right?…). I wanted to travel -not badly, but desperately- and if you want something desperately enough, you find a way!
…. But had I a constant companion to travel with, I can’t say I would’ve ever tried going solo.”
There it was… out on the table as if I had vomited all over my lunch. The rep sat speechless. I felt like a prim vegan, who broke into a gorge on a package of good ‘ole Craft American cheese.
Maybe I was expected to stand strong… survive the myth of a heroic female Tarzan.
Everything you want is on the other side of FEAR. - Jack Canfield
How did I make the leap from fear to solo travel?
I’m a woman like any other. I wasn’t born with superhuman genes and I didn’t jump into solo travel out of courage. I leapt out of fear in the way a person in a burning building leaps to a possible death.
In short, to not attempt my travel dreams equated to ‘a death worse than any other’. My fear of regret trumped fear itself.
Simple as that… although not quite simple.
If you’re a newbie to solo travel, when does it get easier?
I’ll tell you how it happened for me and my first solo trip to Thailand…. After I hurdled my fear to buy my plane ticket, everything became more breathable. It was like jumping into cold water. You feel the first bite of cold and then you acclimate.
Perhaps I felt more relaxed because I was then dealing with a tangible reality that I couldn’t make an excuse to back out on. Or maybe I went numb as a way to deal with aftershock.
After landing in Thailand, I felt a shaky and uncertain. But the intoxication of being in a foreign country on my own, quickly turned into an energizing buzz. I couldn’t believe I did it. I was scared, excited, thrilled and freaking out. But overall,… I rocked. I found myself more capable than I imagined and that trip was the best in my life!
Does the fear in solo travel ever go away?
Even though I’ve traveled on my own many times in the last two years and living abroad for a year has helped me (read here), I still experience bouts of reluctance in planning a solo trip. You get the hang of things and you don’t. You think you know how to navigate a new place and know the ‘ins and outs’ of being on your own, but travel holds many surprises to keep you on your toes. It’ll thrill you, scare you, piss you off, challenge you and make you laugh at yourself and life.
There is nothing like going solo… if you can find your own way get over the initial fear.