Earlier this year, the deaths of two female backpackers traveling in Ecuador prompted a controversial conversation around whether or not women should travel alone.
Many people pointed fingers at the female backpackers, claiming they should have traveled with men or stayed home. That's when the #viajosola movement took the internet by storm and women all over the world began sharing their support of solo travel by tagging their posts with the #viajosola hashtag. ('Viajo sola' means 'I travel alone' in Spanish.)
The online movement got me thinking about my own personal experience traveling solo as a woman and I wanted to share some thoughts...
When I was 21 years old I graduated from university and bought a one-way plane ticket from New York City to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I had a strong impulse to explore the world and I wanted to do it on my own. I didn’t ask for anyone’s thoughts or company – I just decided to go.
Now, I’m a type-A person. That means going anywhere without a plan just isn’t in my DNA. So, as type-As do, I spent 6 months saving every penny I made and spending most of my free time planning my trip.
I settled on a route: I would start in Vietnam and then make my way through Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Nepal. I reached out to local nonprofits and made connections with people in those places via email so I wouldn’t be totally lost when I got there. Then, I packed a bag, kissed family and friends goodbye, boarded on that one-way flight, and spent the next 6 months traveling around Southeast Asia by myself.
Looking back, I can honestly say it was the best decision I have ever made in my life. I learned so much about myself, because I had to spend so much time with myself. It made me stronger, more resilient, and more independent. The experience has truly shaped who I am today, and I think everyone should try it at least once in his or her life.
DEBUNKING THE MYTHS
Something I hear all the time from people is “I want to take a trip, but I have no one to go with.”
Whenever I suggest they go somewhere alone, I am always surprised by their reactions. It usually goes something like this: “Gosh, that would be depressing.” or “How lonely…” or “I’d be scared to go without someone else.” or “That’s not really my style.” or “Isn’t it dangerous?” And the funny thing is that most of those reasons aren't actually downsides to traveling alone...
So let’s debunk some myths about traveling solo:
MYTH #1: IT'S DANGEROUS
I’m a big believer in the thought that fear shouldn’t stop you from traveling (or living your life). I feel similarly about the idea that traveling alone is more dangerous than traveling with someone else.
Sure, I wouldn’t recommend you travel to Afghanistan on your own, but I also wouldn’t recommend that for a group of travelers.
The bottom line is: bad things can happen anywhere – abroad or at home.
When you’re home, do you ever go outside without someone else? Of course you do. Do you always have a buddy to go shopping, grab coffee, or go to the gym with you? Of course you don’t.
Traveling on your own doesn’t equate to danger. Like you would at home, use your street smarts, trust your instincts and you’ll be fine.
MYTH #2: IT'S LONELY
Traveling alone can be lonely if you don’t approach it in the right way. The key is to put yourself in situations where you can meet and talk to locals and other travelers.
Stay in a hostel (there are nice ones now!) or a guesthouse with a communal area for travelers to hang out. You’ll make 10 friends in one day!
Instead of asking for a dinner table for one (sad, I know), eat at the bar. That’s where all the other solo travelers will be and they’ll be happy to have the company.
If you think about it, it’s actually much easier to approach one person than a group. You’ll probably be surprised by how many friends you pick up along the way by just smiling at people and being friendly.
MYTH #3: IT'S MORE FUN TO TRAVEL WITH A FRIEND
Sometimes this is true. Most of the time it’s not.
It can actually be really annoying to travel with a friend unless you are completely aligned in how you like to travel, spend money, and spend your vacation time.
Some of us are lucky and have found our travel soulmates, but the rest of us would be stressing out by vacation day 3 because our BFF wants to lay on the beach all day and we want to go do something active instead of sitting around.
Travel by yourself and you get to do whatever you want, whenever you want. Embrace a plan or don't. (Sounds dreamy, right?)
WHY YOU SHOULD TRAVEL SOLO
Now that we've discredited the most common reasons not to travel solo, let's chat about the reasons why everyone should give it a try.
GET TO KNOW YOURSELF BETTER
Travel by yourself for even a short period of time and you will get to know yourself pretty well.
You could say the downside of traveling alone is you have make every decision yourself, but since you're on vacation those decisions will likely be made by your inner wants and desires rather than you trying to appeal to an outward audience.
Do what you want when you want - sleep in, stay in bed all day, read a book, eat out, don't, whatever. The world is your oyster.
Who knows, you might even discover something new about yourself in the process.
GAIN A NEW PERSPECTIVE
You're able to absorb more of your surroundings when you're on your own.
Walk around a new neighborhood, sit at a sidewalk cafe, shop around a local market.
You'll notice small details that you would have missed otherwise if you had a friend chatting you up the entire time.
PLAN ON YOUR OWN SCHEDULE
Sick of having no one to travel with?
Well if you actually end up liking to travel on your own, you'll never have to wait to coordinate with a family member or friend again. Book your ticket and hotel on your own schedule, and you can be on your way!