“Are you going alone?” is the puzzled look of disbelief I get when I tell people I’m planning a trip abroad…or anywhere for that fact. I get this look everywhere, even in the visa applications centres. “Yes,” I reply, “I’m not going to wait for anyone if I want to do it now.”
Why Travel Alone?
Travelling alone is an adventure in itself. You have nothing but your planned itinerary and gut instinct to guide you on your trip. My first solo trip ever was when I moved to Lima, Peru for a work opportunity. I knew nobody there. I could not speak any Spanish and really knew nothing about Peru to be honest. When I thought of South America, only countries like Brazil and Argentina would spring to mind. By the end of that year, I could speak a third language, learned to manage a monthly financial budget, made new friends, learned to enjoy the excitement of last minute plans and ultimately know how to build a life for myself by myself.
While moving abroad alone will undoubtedly make you grow, travelling on holidays or even short getaways can do the same. I find when you travel alone the uncertainty you once feared becomes something anticipated and you eventually realise how comfortable you are with being independent.
What if you get lost?
This has been the second big question I get asked or many ask themselves when considering travelling alone. While the thought of getting lost, especially in a country like South Africa, can be a risky venture especially for a woman it’s also the most liberating. I have gotten lost several times all over the world, but have realised you can never truly get lost on your own journey. You will realise that this is your planet and what an amazing world we live when you receive help from strangers and encounter kindness that only inspires you.
Women obviously always have to play it safer than men. This is a fact. We also end up spending more to ensure we arrive safely in a new destination. I personally always arrange for airport transfers on arrival if available. Most first world countries with really good integrated public transport provide you with easy to use options that’s safe and you wouldn’t mind using as a seasoned solo traveller.
Getting lost can be one of the most fun experiences and sometimes you can stumble upon a hidden gem. Believe it or not, your gut instinct will become a strong guiding force when this happens. You naturally wouldn’t plan to explore an area that’s dodgy or too remote. I personally find big cities the best to get lost in as they cater for tourists and usually have people who can speak English to accommodate the influx of visitors.
There’s lots of benefits to solo travel for both men and women. You gain your independence, learn more about yourself personally and it helps you find the direction you are looking for in life. You also learn to deal with failure, challenges and all the hard stuff life throws at you. I think it’s because your internal compass to navigate the storms and unknown encounters becomes so strong and fine-tuned that you can always find your way through. You end up looking at these experiences as adding balance to your life.
Solo travel can pose some challenges, but this is how I prepare for them.
Taking photos can be challenging.
If you are lucky to meet a travel buddy along the way this problem is easily solved. However, you will have to rely on the kindness of passing strangers. Luckily, in the age of social media you will find crowds of people around posing around a site who will help. In return you can snap them and all your social media feeds’ needs are met. I also tend to wait until I see someone wandering with a DSLR camera too. These people usually take the best ones… and most likely not to run off with your camera!
Money lost or stolen
Hopefully, you won’t experience this but it does happen. Things can also go wrong with your card not being able to work in the ATM, you lose money or your wallet gets stolen. This is one of those things you need to plan properly when travelling alone. I don’t leave it to chance. I don’t keep all my cards (yes, you should preferably have more than one card) and cash on me while exploring. I leave these, and my passport, locked up in my hotel. I also make sure my bank knows I‘m travelling and I have all the necessary information on me in case of emergencies.
What I learnt travelling alone as a South African
Growing up and living in South Africa has obviously made more wary and paranoid about venturing anywhere alone. The built in anxiety that is created in a high crime environment takes a toll on your psychology and can easily cloud your logical thinking. Taking the leap to live and travel alone abroad has really helped me realise that the whole world is not like that and crime can happen anywhere at any time, even though the chances might be obviously lower in those countries. It also lowers your defences to allow yourself to enjoy where you are and appreciate the beauty of the world and the good that exists in humanity even in your home country. Your belief in yourself and that of others is also one of the most amazing things that develops on a journey alone.
Are you thinking of travelling alone somewhere? If you are a seasoned traveller where did you last venture alone in the world and how was it?