The Stigma Less Traveled: the 2 Key Steps to Become a Successful Solo Traveler
Brave, lonely, depressed.
No, I am not listing character traits from a character in a J.D. Salinger novel. These are comments I hear from people after I tell them I travel alone.
After a decade of traveling to over 20 countries and most of them alone, I get the same reaction all the time from both men and women.
It starts with a bevy of questions affiliated with my current emotional state and then leads into detailed questions about fear, language barriers, boredom, etc. It never ceases to amaze me.
I have heard it all… “Were you finding yourself?” or “Doesn’t it depress you not having someone there to talk to?” My all time favorite, “Are you afraid that you won’t ever meet the right guy so you think you should do this now?” My response is usually extremely sarcastic followed by a series of eye rolls or a nice classic cup of “F*%# you!” Usually the latter response doesn’t go over so well and I don’t have to pull it out as often.
Why is it brave that someone with a uterus decides to travel without another human in tow?
Men have been doing it since the beginning of time and nobody questions them.
Why is there a stigma about women traveling solo? Society in general has not fully embraced gender equality. The perception is that a woman traveling alone must be deficient in some way or working out emotional distress; which is not the case at all. Some women actually fear these perceptions and don’t want to be branded with a negative label. I just want to say, “Ladies! Don’t be afraid! Just do it! Who gives a shit what anyone thinks? ”
Don’t hinder yourself from great experiences because you are afraid that people won’t approve.
Everything in life happens in phases and traveling alone is no different. It comes down to two fundamental steps:
The first step is to decide that you can do this on your own and then insulate yourself from outside opinions.
People will criticize your choice and some are jealous because they have their own insecurities to deal with. Stop creating obstacles for yourself. You need to shut those people out.
I ask most of my coaching clients to tap into why they are creating obstacles. This is not an easy exercise. If you make a list and are really honest with yourself then most of the time you will see that excuses are elegantly wrapped in fear and branded as “obstacles.”
Focus on why you want to travel alone and how that will add value to your life vs. why you can’t and how people will perceive you if you do.
If you make a list and are really honest with yourself then most of the time you will see that excuses are elegantly wrapped in fear and branded as “obstacles.”
The second step is to accept and expect that things will go wrong. You can handle them, I promise! Obviously, use your judgment. LABG writer Emily Byrski has a great piece about this called Solo Travel 101 (from a Serial Solo Traveler).
Fight the fear and do not victimize yourself as a female in another country. You wouldn’t do that here in the U.S., would you?
I remember the first time I traveled alone. I spent two months traveling with one of my best friends at the time. Her boyfriend met up with us in Italy. After traveling with the love birds across three countries from Italy to Greece and then to Belgium, I needed some serious space. Was I afraid of traveling alone? Yes! Smart phones did not exist and I had been traveling around with my crew for sixty days.
But I knew I needed to do this. I had to take the plunge. I was also excited about experiencing a new land on my own and doing whatever I wanted to do without her critiques and daily agendas.
Many things that could have possibly gone wrong for a young woman traveling solo went wrong in my first twenty four hours in two foreign countries. I was headed to Dublin from Brussels and flying out of their cheap local airport. On the way to the airport in Brussels, my bus encountered massive traffic which resulted in me missing my flight. Another flight as cheap as the one I initially purchased was not available for 14 hours. Due to an extremely tight budget, I had to stay in an airport that looked like it was made out of Tinkertoys. I started questioning the safety of my upcoming flight and my safety for the evening as this place did not have massive security. I stocked up on Pommes Frites, coffee, Chimay, and Belgian waffles from the vending machine that night. I was determined not to fall asleep, but I did. I fell asleep on my North Face backpack (the transition from suitcase to backpack is a whole other story).
I woke up a few hours later to this long-haired, hippy artist sketching me. There is nothing creepier than waking up to some random stranger leaning over your unconscious body drawing you with the noise of charcoal hitting their sketch pad in your ear. I was startled and decided to smile instead of berating him just in case he was crazy. He smiled back and we spoke. He was an art student from Germany traveling around for the summer and he found my big, untamed black hair fascinating. We had a rather comical exchange for a few hours and went our separate ways.
However, during our conversation he asked if I was lonely. I responded with an emphatic “no!” and asked him why he thought that was the case. He said that everyone knows only girls who are depressed or lonely travel alone. I was dumbfounded and amused by his statement. I am an extremely extroverted person with a very active social life so the fact that his assessment was so incorrect really tickled me. I was also shocked that a young, free thinking artist had an archaic slant regarding independent female travelers.
He said that everyone knows only girls who are depressed or lonely travel alone… the fact that his assessment was so incorrect really tickled me.
I eventually arrived in Dublin during one of the worst rain storms of the season on a Bank Holiday which is when the whole country basically shuts down for a day and many country people flock to the city. Everything was booked. I was cold, wet, and sleep deprived when I arrived at the hostel. I was told by the staff that my bed in the female dorm was given to someone else because I was 10 minutes late. I was offered the last bed in the mixed dorm. I reluctantly accepted the bed and soon discovered that I was the mix in this ‘mixed’ dorm of 19 guys. Like most women, I have watched many Lifetime movies thinking this was not going to end well for me and all the fear kicked in immediately. Shortly the rush of fear converted into an adrenaline spike and I was not afraid. All 5’3 of me walked in this room of men and they looked at the doorway as soon as I flung open that door. It was as if their mom had just walked in on them doing something seriously wrong. I shouted, “Hey Boys! What’s up?”and threw my backpack on the top bunk in the front of the room. I made a conscious decision to set my fears aside and get dinner.
Once I returned to the hostel from a local bar with a belly full of Irish coffee, soda bread, and stew, I realized my predicament wasn’t as bad as I thought. All the stigmas and fears society instills in us as women about being a solo traveler triggers negative emotions which create a domino effect of paranoia. You should always be astute and aware of your surroundings, but really take the time to assess your situation. Most of the time when you step back you will see there are very few predicaments that don’t have a viable solution.
Most of the time when you step back you will see there are very few predicaments that don’t have a viable solution.
I decided to acknowledge and move through my fear instead of allowing it to ruin my trip. I stayed up talking with a couple of nice guys from Amsterdam that night who were also assigned to my room. I am still friends with one of them today and met up with him when I was in the Netherlands a few years ago. And the following day a few girls from Paris checked into the room as well!
Although I had experienced some challenges traveling and settling into new territories for the first time without someone else, I learned so much about myself and how I manage certain circumstances that don’t occur on a daily basis within my comfort zone. I am so happy that I created my own path and didn’t allow those ugly lies so many of us let influence our decisions prevent me from traveling alone. Those experiences led to many more global adventures, friendships with more stories and lessons learned. Who I became on these trips is who I am today. And I don’t regret any of it.
I am so happy that I created my own path and didn’t allow those ugly lies so many of us let influence our decisions prevent me from traveling alone.