“Do you feel safe as a woman solo traveling?”
I get asked this with every country I visit. The first time I left the country on my own I was 20-years-old. I stepped out of the plane in Madrid, Spain. I remember stepping off the plane not really knowing why I was there.
My mind, my soul, everything in me felt a year prior it was time to take a trip. It’s almost like the universe was guiding me to take the plunge. 20-year-old me felt stagnant, I craved adventure and had a strong desire to be taken out of my comfort zone and out of the United States.
I worked 3 jobs for a year while in college, with the one goal in mind, to take my first trip to Europe in between finishing my first degree and moving to start my second.
I told my mom I was booking a solo trip to Europe. That I was going to Italy to hike the Cinque Terra & cliff jump in Sorrento, see the famous works of Gaudi in Spain, have a picnic under the Eiffel Tower, and tour castles in Scotland.
She wasn’t quite as excited or supportive about my grand idea. She was used to my fearlessness talking to strangers my whole life. There are many stories my sweet mom had in her memory where my fearlessness got me in a few scary situations as a kid. My mom asked why I wasn’t going with a friend or my long term boyfriend at the time. I had asked both of them months prior, they all said yes. The time came to buy tickets and there were different reasons as to why they couldn’t go. Mostly it came down to priorities, eating out, shopping, concerts, drinking, were where they had spent their money.
I never looked at travel as being contingent on having someone to go with. I remember throughout life getting asked where I was from. When answering it never felt totally right. When I was 13-years-old and camping in Joshua tree, I felt like I was home under the stars in nature. I had that feeling of being “home” while in Hawaii, Canada, then again in Florida. It’s a bit hard to explain but exploring at a young age even on family trips (AKA- Mom and I) I knew I needed to see more of this world. To collect the puzzle pieces across the world that would finish my puzzle.
When I stepped out of the plane in Spain, it was the first time it hit me, I was all alone. It was just me and my backpack. I didn’t speak the language, wishing I had flirted less and studied more with my high school Spanish tutor. I took a few breaths and pulled it together. I was resourceful and used my broken Spanish to navigate which train to take to my hostel. I then walked about 2 miles from the train station to my hostel because I had nervously gotten off at the wrong stop. Walking down the street all alone I remember feeling so empowered, so capable, like I grew 2 feet and was no longer a mere 5’4. Its not walking down the street alone in a new city, figuring out the trains and reading maps, that made me feel so mighty and free. It was that I wasn’t with a working phone to rely on google-maps, internet, or other people to lead me.
I remember feeling so ignited with everything I experienced, I noticed the intricate, hand-crafted doors, each were so different than the ones at home. The way the Spanish hung their meat that they call, jamon from the ceilings in bars, the streets flooded with people walking instead of driving, how dinner means meeting at 10:30 p.m. in Spain. Oh and the parks, so many parks in Madrid. Beautiful green parks with lakes, ponds and lovers. Couples very aggressively making out, not subtle public displays of affection with sweet smooches, but full on grinding on top of one another. In between the passionate heavy petting they took small breaks to picnic with fresh baguettes that were smeared with tomato jam.
Then there was the sweet women lining the sidewalk in short, sassy, metallic, dresses and stiletto heels. They all smiled and waved to me as I passed. I learned from my new friends at the hostel that they were not the pretty girls hired to promote a club like I had naïvely thought. I learned prostitution is legal in other countries. I was sheltered in America where I was aware these things happened but didn’t understand that other countries actually allowed it. Day 1 of solo traveling and I was already seeing a broader view of the world.
I met a girl at my hostel who was traveling solo and we swapped stories about our different countries, she told me how life was in New Zealand, about how travel is something as a society that is celebrated. Finding yourself at a young age by experiencing other parts of the world alone was very common. We discussed what she valued, we swapped stories and we shared things that had taken years to share with those at home. She opened up so freely, no concern with what I would think about her honesty. That’s something that very quickly appealed to me, people’s lack of reserve when traveling. No shame in sharing the sloppy parts of your life when you think you may not see them ever again.
Spain was just the beginning of my 5-week trip out of the county, but really it was the beginning of my love affair to want to explore the world. It was the most life changing 5-weeks of my life. I learned so much about myself, my fears, my passions, what held importance, what I wanted in the future, the people who mean the most to me while I was away. Travel gives me perspective. Every time I travel I gain clarity on my life and feel an overwhelming sense of clarity when I’m stagnant.
I guess my best advice is don’t let fear of being alone keep you from solo travel, some of my favorite memories in my 2.5 decades have occurred on solo trips in other countries. Breaking the perceptions that it’s unsafe or lonely. I would beg to disagree with both, I felt safer last month in Thailand alone than certain times in my own country. My recommendations are travel, get out of your comfort zone and country. The time is now, don’t be surprised when solo travel ignites your soul with a renewed sense of how you see the world. I can’t promise it will end with that first trip it will likely just set your soul on fire to get traveling more. Sending love and light for all the adventures you will have.