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“You’re Traveling ALONE?”
I’m amazed at how many people are shocked that I would dare venture off in this world on my own. What is wrong with traveling alone? Apparently, a lot of people have a lot of opinions about it. Women shouldn’t travel solo! The world is a dangerous and scary place! But actually – none of that is true. The world is an amazing place, ripe for exploration. And honestly, solo travel is liberating. But, let’s look into why some folks have issues with me wandering the globe by myself, and find some ways to put their minds at ease.
The Biggest Culprit
Funnily enough, my sister is the biggest culprit. I don’t mind so much when she does it though, because it isn’t meant to be sexist. She worries about everything, all the time, no matter what. That’s just who she is. So when I first told her I would be traveling by myself, she was horrified, as expected.
But she’s not the only one who questioned me. I was surprised at how many questions I got from so many different people. Is it really that shocking that a woman would travel alone? Is the world such a dangerous place that we should be protected from such independence and nonsense?
The answer is a resounding no! Women don’t need to lock themselves up to be protected! We should be able to go out an explore the world, whether that means alone, with friends, or with a travel partner. The world is an oyster!
Of course, there will be naysayers. Folks who think it’s weird, or who get overly protective, or who just don’t have the courage to do it themselves. They will ask you questions, sometimes masked with concern, to try to get you to rethink your quest for adventure. I’ve gotten all them, so I know how to answer.
Common Questions Designed to Make You Rethink your Solo Travel Plans – and How to Respond!
“Is it safe? Aren’t you scared?”
Yes, it is safe, and no, I’m not scared. This question is the easiest for me to answer. You see, I am from Chicago. For the past few years, Chicago has been known for its ever increasing gang violence. People are shot and killed every weekend in the rough neighborhoods of Chicago. But for some reason, nobody ever questions me when I tell them I’m going to Chicago.
I get that there are differences. Chicago is familiar. I know where the dangerous areas are, and I know to avoid them. I also know a boatload of people who live in and around Chicago that I could call if something went wrong.
My sister’s biggest worry when I travel on my own is that no one would know if something happened to me. No one would know to even start looking for me. Since my sister worries (a lot) I’ve agreed to a system that helps calm her down. I have agreed to post at least once per day on Facebook when I’m traveling in a foreign country. I usually post my pictures from the day before I go to bed at night. This way, I get to show off my grand adventures, and she gets to know that I made it back to my room safely. Everybody wins!
The truth is though, that the United States is more dangerous than most other developed countries. It’s also true that I’m more likely to get hurt in an accident driving home from work than in a plane crash. And my attitude is that I’d rather live life to the fullest than live life in fear. If you live life in fear, are you really living life? And usually, the biggest thing tourists have to worry about when traveling abroad is pickpockets anyway.
“Why Don’t you Wait and Go With Someone?”
I am not going to give up my dream of traveling the world in the hopes that one day, someone will be willing and able to go with me. I’ve even tried to include other people in my travels. I’m not opposed to traveling with company. In fact, I’ve taken quite a few girls trips, and I went with an ex partner to exotic locales such as Machu Picchu and Prague (I would’ve totally done both of those alone had he not been willing to come with me). However, there are four huge limiting factors for other people. These things can make it extremely difficult to plan trips with others.
Unable to Afford the Trip
A plane ticket to Europe generally costs over $1000. After you factor in food, lodging, and fun, the cost of a trip could soar to over two grand. Many people just don’t prioritize travel the way I do, so they would not be willing to pay this much for a trip. And that’s ok! Everyone has their own ideas of what makes them happy, who am I to force others to prioritize travel? However, I’m not going to not go just because others can’t afford it.
Unable to Take Time Off of Work
Unfortunately, the United States does not have any laws which mandate time off. I have a few friends and family members who would love to take a trip with me, but their employers won’t let them have two weeks off in a row. My coworkers and I have a job with great benefits, but we all can’t be off at the same time. That makes it impossible to plan a trip with them, which really sucks because we’d love to travel together! We usually do weekend trips instead, which are just as fun. I have no qualms about traveling in the USA alone (I mean, I spent five days exploring the southwest by sleeping in a car by myself!) but it’s always fun to have a travel companion.
Fear of Flying
For some reason, this is a huge problem in my family. My sister won’t fly over water. My father needs to be drunk to board a plane, and my brother refuses to fly in general. I’m so grateful that this fear skipped me, but it does limit my ability to plan trips with family. I would love to take a family vacation (with a few of them at a time, not all of them, that would be miserable!) but given their limitations, we are probably going to meet up in Chicago.
I actually tried to plan a trip with my sister once. We picked Costa Rica, an extremely safe destination with a fairly short flight from LA. I paid for her ticket as a birthday present, and we were going to meet my cousin there, so it would be a family thing. Although I paid for her ticket, I told her we couldn’t sit together, because she’s a crazy person and I didn’t want to deal with that. I love that she’s very self aware, because she had no problem with this reasoning.
As I was getting comfortable in my seat near the front of the plane, the flight-attendant came to find me. She said my sister needed help. I found her hyperventilating in her seat, having a panic attack because there was no built-in television. And by panic attack, I mean she was freaking out – tears were streaming down her face and she repeatedly said she couldn’t do it. I din’t want to cause even more of a scene than we already had, or cause other nearby passengers to start freaking out, so I told her she could leave if she wanted. So she got off the plane. Unfortunately, she checked luggage for a two-day trip, and since baggage can’t fly without it’s passenger (for safety reasons) the plane was delayed by two hours. But I still went and enjoyed a pleasant weekend adventure with my cousin.
My sister apologized profusely, and she knew there was no way I could leave too and strand my younger cousin by herself (who was traveling there from a different city). Now, we just laugh about it, and I know not to even bother.
Desire to go Elsewhere
Everyone has their own idea of a dream vacation. Some of my friends only have two paltry weeks of vacation per year (or less!) and they want to spend it checking off their own bucket lists rather than mine. I say go for it! ( And use skyscanner…it’s one of the best places to find cheap flights!*)
I also have to give a shout out to Scott’s Cheap Flights. Skyscanner is great if you already know when/where you are going, but if you’re waiting for a great fare – you need Scott’s Cheap Flights. They send you email alerts of mistake fares, price reductions, and other amazing flight deals. You can limit the alerts to your most-used airports as well! Let Scott’s search for the deals for you. Sign up now.
I’m not going to hold the fact that they want to go someplace else against them. I’ll check off my bucket list while they check off theirs, and we can compare notes when we get home!
“Is it Weird to Travel Alone?”
When people ask if it’s weird to travel alone, they are appealing to your innate fear of being an outsider. No one wants to be weird, we all want to fit in and be a part of the group. But guess what -traveling alone isn’t weird. It’s empowering! You get to do whatever you want and don’t have to answer to anyone. If you want to spend nine hours in a museum, you can. And you don’t have to worry about anyone else telling you it’s weird or boring. If you want to spend 5 hours people watching in a cafe – you can, and no one will rush you. Being completely in charge of your time is such a precious gift.
Another similar concern is that traveling solo would be lonely. Yes, I do get lonely. I’m a people person, I like people, and I like having friends around. But I am comfortable being by myself too. I am comfortable eating a meal by myself, relaxing in a room by myself, or exploring ruins by myself. Sometimes I do get lonely, but I don’t NEED someone to be with me. I would love to have someone experience the world with me, but I’m not going to limit myself because I don’t have that.
There’s one more tactic that many of my family members use to deviously try to discourage me from traveling solo:
“You Should Find a Tour Group and Go With Them”
This is good advice, on the surface. Traveling with a group is a wonderful way to see all of the super touristy attractions. They are a great option for people who just want to see those things, and are happy going with a big group. However, they are not for everyone, or for every situation. They tend to be over-priced and don’t leave a lot of room for individual exploration. I didn’t want to be stuck with a group for my entire vacation. I wanted to get out there, do my own thing, and explore the world! So that’s exactly what I did.
I’m not mad at them for suggesting it though. I know they just care and want me to be safe. I think I managed to stay safe traveling alone very well though, thank you very much!
Benefits of Traveling Solo
I think the benefits of solo travel far outweigh the risks. You get to do whatever you want, go wherever you want, and have complete freedom over your trip. Another bonus is that it gives you the opportunity to meet new people. When you are with friends, it can be tough to venture out of the group. But after a few days by yourself, you’re kind of forced to talk to strangers! The loneliness gets to you,and you end up saying hi to people just because.
I had this experience when traveling alone in Greece. I used Viator to sign up for a few tours and classes – one of which was a Greek cooking class (fantastic by the way!). Since I was alone, I kind of had to interact with strangers in order to complete the cooking assignment. It was a lot of fun to share travel-stories with like-minded individuals while experiencing this brand new thing! Some of the girls in the class also went on the day trip to Delphi (also booked through Viator -they have some amazing tour opportunities – you should definitely check them out when planning your next trip!) so these girls became my traveling companions for the day. Looking back, I wish I would have added them on Facebook, but I’ll always hold the memories of our time together in Greece dear.
Tips for Safe Solo Travel
Traveling alone is an amazing experience and everyone should try it – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take some precautions, especially as a woman traveling alone. But both genders should do everything possible to stay safe.
First, you should always have extra copies of your travel documents. Make copies of your passport, drivers license, and itinerary. Keep a copy with you,but also keep a copy with a trusted friend at home. Having these copies will help you prove your identity at an embassy should the originals get lost or stolen.
Keep extra money or an extra credit card locked up in the hotel safe (or in a different pocket) for emergencies. You never know when something random will happen, and you will need access to a separate pool of money. My identity got stolen while I was on my way to my first ever solo trip (It had nothing to do with the travel -just terrible timing) and I was super lucky that I had a completely different bank account ready to go, or I’d be stranded for two weeks with no money.
Let your friends and family back home know you are safe. I do it with daily Facebook posts, but most phones have international plan options you can turn on. If they don’t hear from you when they know they should, then at least they will know to start looking for you. We don’t ever want to think that the worst would happen to us, but it’s best to prepare for those things.
The bottom line here is don’t let anyone or anything hold you back. The world isn’t always a terrifying place that we need to be sheltered from. Accidents can happen anywhere. Terrorism can happen anywhere. We have an illusion of safety where we live because it is familiar. Familiarity doesn’t always equal safety. So live the life you want to live, for you, your way. And stop worrying about whether others like it or not.
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.