The day the travel bug bit me there was no going back. I went on my first overseas’ trip when I was 18 and ever since then my mom has joked that my life’s motto should be “Have passport, will travel. Have Bible, will preach.”
There are many reasons why travelling abroad is a life-giving and wonderful experience. It opens up your horizons, shows you a different way of living, introduces you to other cultures, and brings you to places of natural beauty. Furthermore, it doesn’t always necessarily have to be hindered by cost. If you’re a good planner and excel at making connections, you will soon find that you have friends all around the world who open up their home to you to bunk in at night while also exploring the sites.
Yet, being single, and especially being a single woman often raises a certain level of alarm. Many people will discourage a single woman from going abroad on her own due to safety and cultural factors. I have been the recipient of such over-control many times myself and having been to some remote and somewhat dangerous locations, I will be the first to admit that in certain cases bringing along a companion might be in your best interest. Nevertheless, being single should not inhibit you from exploring all the world has to offer. Thinking back to all my overseas’ experiences, I have never been on an international trip with people I knew well, but I have always gone with a group. This past year, I travelled to Edinburgh, Scotland (and from there took many side trips to various places around Scotland, England, Ireland, and Wales) all on my own. In fact, I can honestly say that I have never flown so much in my life as I flew this past year. Travelling abroad alone was definitely one of the most formative and important steps I have ever taken and it has started me on the path of continuing to solo-travel. Solo-travelling might not be for everyone, but it’s well worth some thought-out consideration. Below, I’d like to suggest a few reasons WHY solo-travelling might be something to try out and also give a few tips for how single women (and possibly even single men) can be safe while doing so.
REASONS TO TRY SOLO-TRAVELLING
#1: Discover More About Yourself and the World at Your Own Pace
I am probably the farthest thing from being an introvert, so it may surprise you that I am so in favour of going on a trip alone. If you’re as extroverted as I am this suggestion may raise a few questions: what if I get bored on my own? What if I get lost? What if I want to share my experience with someone else? Or my personal favourite: who will take the pictures? Travelling alone comes with some challenges for sure. When I went to Wales and Ireland, I took mostly selfies, pictures without me in them, or had to ask a random stranger to take a shot (and sometimes they said no). That to me, is one of the drawbacks from going on a trip by yourself. However, there are many other benefits. For example, solo-travelling permits you to create your own schedule and then change it up at will. I’m a planner so I usually sit down a month before my holidays and write out all the activities I’d like to partake in when abroad. Yet, being alone means that if I suddenly walk past a museum I like or an art gallery I want to try out, I can just change my plans and do so without asking another person’s permission. Solo-travelling also means that you get to choose what time to wake up, eat, and sleep. It also is the perfect way to make a statement: that you don’t always need to have someone around you to have a good time. It’s perfectly fine to go to a nice restaurant or the movies on your own – even if society wants to tell you something different.
As an aside: I do occasionally go on trips with other people and that can also be quite nice. But the real kicker is knowing what each person in your group is interested in and wants to do. When I’ve been on trips with friends it occasionally puts a strain on our relationship because I see a different side of them. They tend to be more relaxed and chill – wanting to veg out and take in a few rays, and I’m just the opposite. I feel like if we’re going away, we may as well push ourselves hard from sun up to sun down to see all the sites. In this case, you might need to work on compromise. Perhaps each having a large block of free time and then meeting up again at dinner. But then again, if that’s what you’re after – why not just travel solo?
Also, I should be careful not to be misleading here. I have many friends in England and across Scotland. So even though I might have gone there on my own, it’s not like I went 2 weeks without any form of human interaction. I usually plan a day or two with my friends and bunk over, then I’m off to the next biggest city, and eventually I’ll run into even more friends. That’s one of the benefits of planning a trip yourself.
#2: Becoming Approachable to Other Travellers
There is a certain camaraderie that takes place with other tourists when you’re a solo-traveller and you might just be surprised at who you get to meet as a result. Staying at a hostel is a great idea. It’s not something I did much of until I spent a year in Europe, but many hostels are waaaaayyy cheaper than a hotel or a B&B and most of the time you get better service. There are people from all sorts of different walks of life in a hostel, many of them are also solo-travellers. If you see a lonely person, just walk up to him or her and strike up a conversation. In some cases, you might even end up having company for the day because you both wanted to see a certain museum or a concert. This works out well for me because when I’m with my friends, I tend to just gravitate towards them. Even though I’m rather extroverted, I don’t really go out of my way to talk to complete strangers, but being a solo-traveller forces me to take that extra step outside my comfort zone.
Here’s a perfect example. One day I was at the movies alone and I met a random girl. We ended up talking about 20 minutes while waiting for our movie and discovered that we had a few things in common. We exchanged phone numbers and ended up meeting on a few occasions to see a movie and have coffee together. At one point, we discovered that we are both writers so I even helped her set up her first blog and taught her some of the techie sort of things. This would never have happened if I was with my friend, but being alone made me more approachable and I made a new friend.
NOTE: Hostels have a rather “hit-or-miss” reputation. You’ll get some really nice and fancy ones, but you’ll also get a few dodgy ones. When travelling to unknown territory, I always do my research. I go online and look up reviews – I make sure that the hostel has high rates for cleanliness and security. If there is an option to just bunk in with girls, that’s usually what I do. If you know someone who has travelled to that region before, you can also ask them for their advice. Another thing that I have done at times is to email a local church – sometimes this has resulted in a nice dinner and even a free hotel room at one place! I work for L’Arche so I am fortunate enough to be able to bunk in at any other L’Arche around the world… you might not have that type of luxury, but there are other Christian retreat centres, intentional communities, and even hostels that might be more than willing to let you spend the night and give you a few meals at a rather reasonable cost. Plus, it’s a great way to network with others who have similar beliefs and interests to you and maybe even to get to experience something different.
#3: Turn Your Trip Into an Impromptu Mission’s Trip
When I’m on holidays, I don’t necessarily go with the intention of converting souls, but as a Christian, you should always be prepared for that reality. Here’s a perfect example. Before leaving Scotland, I chose to spend a few days up in L’Arche Inverness (about 4 hours from my base in Edinburgh). I emailed the L’Arche up there and they were happy to provide me with room and board and I even ended up going out to the pub with a few of the assistants (remember: in Scotland going to the pub is basically going for a coffee!). While at the pub in a relaxed environment, I made a connection with the assistants. On the way back, I ended up just walking with one of the girls while the others had gone ahead. Somehow our conversation turned deep. She told me about some of the painful things she experienced in her own life and how she was seeking God through them. Because we were alone, I also was able to reach into my mind to pluck out a similar situation and explain how God redeemed me through it. I was able to see how sorrow can lead to salvation and encourage her in the same way. Once again, this is where being solo made me more approachable and a better ambassador. If I was with a friend, I might not have shared for fear of how I would be perceived or to keep the conversation even and not one-sided.
Here’s another thing. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been on many trips with people I hardly knew well at all but who were students at my Bible College and Seminary. Since we were basically “forced” into these situations where none of us really knew the others well, it created a special bond between us. We might not have become “best friends,” but we certainly became friends. I have been for coffees, lunches, and other events with these travelling buddies and we always have each other to rehash funny moments of the trip together. In some cases, I probably would not have become friends with these individuals had it not been for the special bond that travelling creates between companions.
HOW TO BE SAFE AS A SOLO-TRAVELLER
As I mentioned, solo-travelling has many perks, but there are also a few things you need to be aware of if you’re going somewhere on your own. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned for the road:
- Be Smart – It is very easy for men to express interest in a single woman travelling on her own. In some cases, she may be seen as vulnerable or naïve and in certain cultures (primarily Middle-Eastern and some European countries) men can be very straight-forward and romantically aggressive. Be cautious and keep your wits about you. Don’t go out to a restaurant with some random guy you don’t know – that always ends badly. Keep yourself in well-lit areas that are teeming with life. Even if you like nature (like I do), you can easily find yourself a walking group or outdoor activity with other people nearby.
- Know the Culture – In some countries it is considered immodest and improper for a woman to travel alone. Know this before you arrive in the country and arrange for a chaperone if need be. Understand how women need to dress in these contexts and try to respect those around you. Do your research ahead of time to know if there are any areas where a woman should not be on her own.
- Avoid Travelling Aimlessly – I get it. I like to explore. Some days, I take the bus by myself with no real intention of getting off anywhere special just because I want to explore the city. But you need to understand the when you’re walking around without a target in mind, you’re easier prey for unscrupulous men. So do your research. Have a general idea of where you want to go and where you want to end up and plan your route accordingly. In some cases, this may mean not being out too late at night or only going somewhere close by your hostel or hotel. I am a feminist, but I cannot stress safety enough. Your trip will always be much more enjoyable when you know you’re playing it safe and not taking needless risks. If you happen to be out late at night, keep your wits about you. Once when I was in Edinburgh, I was walking back to my house late in the evening and a drunk guy made a pass at me and kept walking beside me. I felt highly uncomfortable with his nature, so I needed to state very clearly that I had no intentions of having anything to do with him. Then at the nearest junction, I zig-zagged back to my house. This is one of the best solutions for you in this type of situation. Don’t run straight on, zig-zag. Take an unpredictable side-street path and once you get back alert someone of what has happened. It’s also always a good idea to carry a phone with you. Even if you don’t have connection in the country, whipping out your phone and pretending to talk to a friend while you walk home alone in the night is usually a good measure of protection. If you do have a connection, talking to a live friend will at least calm your nerves: I used to do it quite frequently when I was cutting through the park late into the evening.
I hope that the following points give you some good information and suggestions for when you decide to travel on your own. Remember: be wise, be safe, and have the time of your life! Bon voyage!!