Traveling solo internationally may have people pondering your sanity. Especially if you’re a “not young” woman.
Picture yourself, single, carefree, and laying in a hammock under a mango tree. The wild horses wander in to eat whatever mangoes they can find and the chickens stay close hoping for some leftovers.
I picked up my backpack to travel solo 10 months ago, for better or worse, and am seeing the world. The last few years I’ve spent time in French Polynesia, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, amongst others.
Living on the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico with no end date in sight wasn’t all bad.
When I left I didn’t have much of a plan A and definitely no plan B.
I’ve always been a fly by the seat of your pants kind of a gal.
However, I did spend time researching places to see, and where to stay. Before I leave on an international travel adventure, I generally have airfare and accommodations set. Coupled with a pretty good idea how I’m going to get from point A to point B.
But, I’m not the kind of girl that has her whole itinerary planned.
Fearless or daft? Both sides could be argued, and I’ve often pondered that point myself.
Nonetheless, that’s just how I roll.
The people I talked to before I left were easily divided on this.
“So cool! Have fun!”
“You’re not 20 anymore, you know…”
“What if you get hurt? OR KIDNAPPED!!??”
“Wow! I wish I was doing that!”
“Why aren’t you going with anyone else?!”
National Geographic Magazine
“I can go anywhere in the world with this wonderful magazine.” My mom used to say about National Geographic Magazine.
That stuck with me and fueled my wanderlust from an early age.
In addition, I’d raised my kids, had relationships and careers. Those all required consideration of everyone else’s sleeping, eating and working schedules.
Seeing that many of us have been there, and for many people it’s worth every minute of sacrifice. However, there is little time or money for serious travel.
In fact, for a long time it can feel like you’ll never have a life of your own, ever again.
Filling Time When Traveling Solo
Filling your time when you’re traveling solo is just that. You get to wake up and take your time deciding what you want to do for the day.
Above all, there you needn’t worry about when you want to go to the beach. Now, it’s your choice. You can spend your time writing, or reading. Do you want go to the corner Cantina and dance the night away with the locals?
In fact, changing your mind without cramping anyone else’s schedule or style can cloak your solo travel in serenity. Putting a fellow traveler out can put a damper on an adventure.
In Costa Rica each Monday and Thursday afternoon the fish truck did it’s rounds. You could jump up, and look into the huge bins at the fresh catch.
With no one else to consider, you can buy the partial kilos of what you want to cook.
Given that there is no one else to ask you can indulge without guilt.
Shrimp or fish for lunch? Go surfing or read in a hammock? Or walk on the beach without a care in the world? When you travel solo internationally it’s all on you.
It can be pure bliss.
Independent Travel Is Empowering
Being an independent traveler is empowering. You don’t have anyone else to rely on when things go wrong. So when they do, and they will on occasion, it’s easy to panic
One rule of thumb is to allow yourself several minutes of panic time before you advance to problem solving mode
With this approach you’re more apt to figure out a solution more quickly.
In Thailand I found myself without a room after the sun went down.
“Fine…I’ll figure out another room.” I said to myself with a fake smile plastered on my face.
It felt vulnerable stepping out into the night in a foreign country with no idea where to go.
Pa Tong has a bustling, crowded, night scene.
The thought of bad things happening was frightening…
Especially as a woman traveling solo…
After I located internet, I booked a hostel that was close by and looked decent. Instead, it was a dump.
With the added weight of fear, my backpack seemed to have taken on more kilos than I thought I could carry.
I got lost trying to find my hostel.
Seeing that the landmarks didn’t match my expected journey, I paused. I had three different locals who didn’t speak English try to help me.
When I finally found my hostel, I was swimming in sweat, exhausted and grateful. I put down my pack and my head hit the pillow.
Tears of relief ran down my face.
You Will Meet Amazing, Helpful People
Being a solo traveler increases your odds of meeting people ten fold.
The kindness of strangers is magnified when you’re by yourself and you’re so damn happy someone is helping you.
I was riding on a bus for the last leg of my 30+ hr trip to the island of Moorea in French Polynesia. My schedule got screwed up so my host family wasn’t there to meet me.
I showed the bus driver the address.
He looked confused.
To be fair, addresses don’t really exist on the tiny island. He stopped the bus and told me to get off. Looking back, that would have been great. However, I didn’t know where I was.
Luckily my host had Skyped me around the property so I knew what it looked like.
Exhausted, carrying a pack that now felt like 1,000lbs, I looked around after getting off the bus.
With no clue what to do or where to go, I felt defeated. On the verge of tears I went from panic to problem solve. The problem was what the hell was I going to do on a tiny island with no way to contact these people.
I looked around and started calling out, “Herbert, Helen”… “Herbert, Helen”…
An older woman, Marilaine, came up her driveway.
“Do you need help?” She asked.
“Yes I do!”
She motioned for me to walk with her toward the house.
I showed them the “address”.
They looked at each other and shook their heads almost in choreographed unison.
Subsequently, there was a discussion in French with her granddaughter who also spoke some English. Everyone, including me, agreed that I should have gotten their phone number before I traveled. (Read poor planning here).
Following that exchange, more French was spoken and her granddaughter threw my pack in the back of the truck. I was told to get in the truck.
Grateful that I didn’t have to walk I happily hopped in the passenger side.
We drove for a few minutes until I saw the house.
“THAT’S it!” I called out.
Relief washed over me. I found it.
in retrospect it felt like a miracle.
Positively good luck at the very least.
Long Term Solo Travel
Imagine you check into a hostel in a foreign country.
You’re by yourself.
In fact, most people staying there are in the same boat.
It’s easy to make friends in a hostel. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some beautiful people that have grown to be true friends. I fully expect we’ll be crossing paths on purpose, another week, month or year in the same place or another country.
In addition, most days you’ll be surrounded by people from multiple countries and continents. Throw in more languages than you can identify and it makes for a very interesting place to lay your head at night.
That’s why I’m a solo traveler.
The people that you’ll meet!
Solo Travel Can Be Hard
Solo travel can be SCARY…
It can LONELY…
Thirdly, you may find it DEPRESSING…
Especially when you’re having a down day.
Because of the nagging feeling of missing your family and friends. Or a boyfriend just broke up with you long distance. You gave your heart to him, and he said he was fine with you traveling.
You’re surrounded by people that completely understand.
Yet the overwhelming feeling of loneliness can be suffocating. In fact, you can’t always call family or friends because the time zones are all over the board. You can’t hug someone because the hostel mates you know well enough aren’t there.
You lay in your hostel bunk crying.
You get it together and head up to the kitchen to cook something.
Solo Travel Good Times And The Bad
There are the sun drenched pictures where I’m working on my laptop, writing, reading, snoozing in a hammock and it’s a beautiful life. Granted that isn’t always the case.
If you are getting ready to venture out as a solo traveler, don’t be discouraged by the downs.
Whether you’re in a cubicle or on a beach in Vieques, Puerto Rico, there will be good days and bad days.
Go venture out and look at the world through different eyes.
Don’t worry if others don’t understand your reasons for traveling solo. In fact, they may not suffer from wanderlust at all.
You can travel solo and see the places in the world that you’ve dreamt of for years.
And you don’t have to only do it through National Geographic Magazine!