“Doesn’t it get lonely when you travel solo? And is it safe? A girl travel alone, I don’t know. It is risky. Why don’t you travel with Karen and her family?” These were the questions that my friends asked me when I told them I traveled somewhere solo. There seems to be this fear that solo travel is very unsafe for woman.
In contrary, I like to travel solo. Well, I love travelling period! If I can afford to, I will travel till my legs can no longer move. I could be a travelling gypsy in my previous life. My favourite pastime is reading travel blogs. It sort of like my mini “mind-get away” when I need to escape but can’t yet due to well…budget constraint.
Here are my favourite bloggers: Marie-Eve at To Europe and Beyond, Amanda at Dangerous-Business, Jodi at Legal Nomads, Kristin at Be My Travel Muse and Lauren from Never Ending Footstep. You can see it right? Yep, they are my pep. They are the awesome, fearless modern travelling gypsy ladies and they are fabulous. All of these fab ladies raised and discussed the issue of woman travelling solo. I didn’t know this issue was “a controversial thing” until I read their blogs. It is not easy to be a woman isn’t it?
Travel solo is common in my family because my mom, Karen or I all traveled solo at some points. I was 20 years old when I did my first solo stretch. I was in my 2nd year of university and I well…sort of having a little too much fun and had a slight drop in my grade. A slight dip was all it took for my mom and Karen to get bend out of shape. The arm sergeant, also known as Karen drilled and then lectured me for hours before released me. So, I decided to take a year off to re-charge.
Inner Mongolia seemed like the right place for a re-charge, I decided. What would be better than goat milk tea, constant sand storms, freezing cold, cut-throat expensive leafy green and 50% of the foods were pickled? Yum! Signed me up. Like I said, I wasn’t thinking clearly. I had a little (just a little, I swear) to much fun. So, when a university in Inner Mongolia looked for an English speaking teacher, I jumped at the chance.
Inner Mongolia wasn’t a place of luxury but it was a place of raw beauty and you could learn a lot about Chinese culture, way of life, challenges and things that just perplexed you. I spent one year in Inner Mongolia and I traveled to most part of China during my 1 year stint there. Beijing, Datong, Dalian, Dandong (also known as the border between China and North Korea), and I almost made it to the Tibet border before I realized that I couldn’t go into this autonomous region because it was off limit to foreigner unless I got the authorization from the Chinese government. Well, I was very careful at the Dantong area to never cross to the hermit kingdom. The Kim’s educational camp (as they called) was not a place that I could survive.
My second and third solo run was Holguin, Cuba. I needed a break and Karen wasn’t available, so I just went by myself. I had a blast and everyone at the all-inclusive resort felt bad for me because they all thought that I had a bad breakup and went alone to lick my wounds. Seriously, why would people think that when woman traveled alone she had no one in her life? But they did and I didn’t brother to care. I had a blast though. It was restful and peaceful. I did what I wanted and when I wanted. Easy and breezy!
Then, I was tapped to travel to Ireland for a 6 months work assignment 2 years ago. Loved it! Every weekend, I was out and discovering the mystical land where leprechauns ran wild (well, in my imagination anyway). I tasted Guinness in all 4 provinces of fabulous country. Kissed the rock at Blarney Castle and did few more unspeakable things. Well, Karen thinks they are, but I don’t.
When back to my homeland of maple leaf and delicious maple syrup, I made short trips to Halifax, Nova Scotia and Montreal on my own. I am so used to travel by myself that I made a silly assumption that every women like travel solo. Yes, it was silly of me but I have always been very comfortable with my own company. I traveled with Karen often but I did a lot of things on my own. Whether going to the movie, shopping or weekend trip, I just did what I wanted on my own bucks and my own time. Anyway, I can easily amuse myself so it never bothers me. So, it was a bit of a reality dose when my fearless woman travellers pointed out that solo travel was not always ideal for women. Seriously? So why do people travel solo? Why I travelled alone?
Here are my 4 reasons to travel solo
1 – Live your life; don’t wait for anyone because you never know what you will miss.
Well, this is my biggest and main reason. I want to LIVE! And it is my life so I shouldn’t wait for someone else to get mine started. Granted, Karen will always support me (my one and only sugar mommy) but I don’t want her to give up things in her life to accommodate my needs. So when I saw a promo for round trip flight to Taipei, Taiwan for $500 last year, I salivated. Taiwanese food is on my list for many years. Din Tai Fung ‘s xiaolongbao (steamed dumplings), night market, the land of people that invested the heavenly drink called bubble tea that can instantly lift my spirit. What was I waiting for? Taiwan, here I come!
No one was available to go with me. Karen was building her dream home and desperately preventing my brother in-law/her hubby from turning their dream home into a case of “Vatican meet Forbidden Palace”. How do those two stay together for almost 20 years? They are at opposite end of most of things. I digress.
I had 2 choices: 1) go by myself or 2) wait for someone to go with me and pay $1,000 for same ticket. Forget that! I bought the ticket that night. Mark Chao, wait for me! O.K! Maybe not. I am not that into the brooding look and also Karen may pass out from envy. Like many Asian women who got a glimpse of Eternal Love, she succumbed to deep and sexy voice of Mark Chao. He is one good looking guy though. Say no more!
I was so jazzed planning to eat and drink my way thru Taiwan and possibility catching a glimpse of hot Taiwanese actor (hey, a woman can dream) till my mom decided that her precious granddaughter could potentially survive for 12 days without grandma. So, she promptly invited herself along. What? This was me time, mom. Ah, no it was no longer me time when my mom was involved.
So, my point is: live your life and others may decide to join you. If family and friends can join you, then it is great. If not, you never know when Cupid may decide to shoot you and a hot guy an arrow of fate and love. Just saying, it may happen for you. The best part of solo travel is you are the driver of your solo travel vehicle and you can go when and where you want! Live your life now.
2 – Make new friends and open yourself to new learning and possibilities.
I am an introvert and so I am reserved when I meet someone new. But once I get to know someone and get a comfort level, then I am a chatterbox. I discovered that when I traveled solo would open up to stranger. Yes, the oddities of me. During my trip to Cuba, I made friends with a gentleman who came to visit his son and daughter (they were Cubans while he was a Canadian). Through him, I learned so many amazing facts about Cuban daily lives, their culture, and what had been changing in that small but mighty little island over past 20 years. I had wonderful conversation with him and I looked forward to our daily chat because I learned so many interesting things and facts from him.
While trekking my way thru Kilkenny, Ireland I meet this wonderful lady who was on her first solo trip to Scotland, England and Ireland. This was a dream trip that she and her deceased husband wanted to make but he passed away before they had the chance. With him in her heart, she made the trip for both of them. We sat next to each other on the tour bus and became fast friends. I learned about her family’s journey from Ireland to US. I have a whole new appreciation for how tough the Boston Irish Americans could be. These people were tough as nails and hearty as Guinness drinks.
She was a delightful person and shared with me life story and her adventure eating of haggots in Scotland. I couldn’t believe my eyes. What was in that haggots? The best part was probably when we came across a store that had the same name as her maiden name. She was thrilled and to see the joy, amazement, and tears of happiness that she had was a great joy for me too.
I believed that people tend to be more open, willing and warmer when they travel. Partly because they tend to be in better moods (well, no work) and in a new environment which can tickle people sense of adventure and willingness to embrace new things including friendship. I made friends on trips that I still stay connected with. I have heard endless stories of how people met on trips and became friends or even romantic happy endings. Who know what you will get when you open your heart and mind to new possibilities.
3 – Stretch your comfort zone.
Pub hopping in the Dublin Temple Bar area was one of my best travelling experience. True be told, I am not a bar crawler. I got it out of my system in university days. I am the nice dinner with good wine and desert preferably with nice ambient kinda of woman. So when Karen and my friends learned that I pub crawled, they were flabbergasted. Well, I didn’t lose my mind temporary.
On a day trip to Glendalough, Ireland I met a fellow traveller who was also in Ireland for work, but she was there for one week only. We quickly hit it off and decided to have dinner when we reached Dublin. It was the Irish wine did us in, because we decided to go to Temple Bar after dinner and then we literally crawled thru every bar within the district that night. We danced and jammed with the bands and just had a really good time. To meet the objective of crawling thru every bar in Temple Bar area, we had each had 1 drink sang 2 songs at each location and then moved to the next target. Yep, we did.
On my own or with my friends, I would never do that. But something about being with someone who didn’t know my life story and a new place pushed me to do something totally out of character. I wasn’t sorry. I had a blast and wonderful memories.
4 – Time for reflection.
Karen told me about this one and I must agree with her on this. She travelled to a remote island in Cuba for a one week alone time leaving her then fiance at home. Our friends all thought that they had problem and Karen wanted time to think. The truth was Karen has been and always will be an independent woman and she wanted her me time for self-reflecting.
Alone time for self-reflecting is one healthy thing that you can do to bring peace to your mind. You will get to know yourself better than you ever have before, learn what truly makes you happy and what you need to work on to improve as a person. It can often be challenging to face these truths but learning to overcome and growth as an individual. When you’re on your own, you can do whatever you want without having to worry about anyone else. That freedom and solitude is incredibly liberating.
What are the downsides of solo travelling?
With all good stuffs of traveling alone, there are downsides too especially if you are a woman. Here are just of the few issues that most of the woman solo travellers and me identified:
1 – Safety
Safety was always on my mind when I was on my own and in a foreign land. It was difficult to ask for help because I didn’t know if I could trust someone to help me. There was always that nagging feeling that you could be taken advantage as a woman.
2 – It can be lonely if you are on the road for a long time.
Many of friends would agree this is one main reason for them to have a partner instead of going solo. We are sociable creatures and we thrilled on interactions with other human beings. So yes, it can be lonely when you are eating alone in the restaurant and have no one to share a joke, to enjoy the fabulous foods and discuss interesting that you learn on the trip. And don’t you hate it when the waiter condescendingly says: “Table for one?” It can sound so judging. I am being judged for dining on my own. Darn you waiter. No tips!
3 – Higher Costs.
For budget-minded travelers (aka Karen, the budget hawk), cost is a major downside because traveling alone nearly always works out to be much more expensive than traveling as a couple. As a couple, you can share meals, rooms and expenses. Let’s not forget about cost for private tour. It is definitely cheaper per person if you have 2 instead of numero uno. There’s no doubt about it: solo travel supplements can suck big time for the solo woman.
There are ways to mitigate these downsides though. And I definitely want to share with you.
1 – Know your limit and have self-control.
Ok, don’t roll your eyes at the screen. I know what is going thru your mind right now. Yeah, this is coming from a woman who did a pub crawl. Lady, listen to your elders! In my defense, I was not drunk that night. I knew that I would be able to handle the amount of alcohol and I drunk a lot of water in between to sober up. I was still able to walk, knew my direction, got in a taxi safely, paid the fair in correct amount and walked to my apartment in a straight line!
Hah! Also, I had my cell phone with numbers of couple of my peps who could bail me out of emergency situation. They were on my speed dial. I planned for these things. It was years in training with Karen, the planner. Yes, I will have fun but I always stop before I reach my limit and have control on my mind and body. So don’t drink to the point where you can’t fight back.
2 – Avoid empty streets or alleys.
Temple Bar was always a crowded area and I avoided the empty lanes at all cost. You never know who can be lurking around the corner so stay on the safe area where there are a lot of people can see you.
3 – Don’t go looking for trouble.
You should have fun and let loose, but don’t go looking for trouble unnecessary. Don’t go to areas that known as shady part of the towns. Single or travel in pair, you can get yourself into trouble if you go into those places.
4 – Listen to your instinct.
If your gut feeling is giving you a kick then listen to it! Don’t speak to someone if your gut is giving you the jitters or when the pit of your stomach drops like a ton. Listen to your instinct, mind and body.
5 – Look for savings.
As a solo traveler, you will have to pay a single room supplement if you stay in hotel or motel. But if you book an Airbnb apartment, it can save you a few bucks. When you make friend with other travellers and you have good feeling about them, it won’t hurt to ask if you can travel together for shared destinations so you can lower the travelling cost. I did that many times. I typically looked for other women who shared the same interests. It is your time to open yourself up to new adventure so explore the new possibilities.
I will end my rambling here. My last words on this subject are: I encourage you wholeheartedly to give solo travel a shoot. You may enjoy it and discover many new things about YOU! So, go buy that ticket to Taiwan, Spain, Italy, Korea or Peru. Wherever it is, don’t just have it as our bucket list. Do it! Make your bucket list come alive and don’t wait for someone to make the trip with you. You may be missing out on wonderful experiences if you wait. I would hate to see you looking back one day and say I wish I did that. So don’t wish! Just do it.
Share with me your solo travel tales. I love to hear it. I am obsessed about all things travels so don’t leave me hanging.