The sun is setting over the city of Positano, which is built on a hill along the Mediterranean. It’s one of the towns on the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy, which I had decided I wanted to visit. I was traveling with a friend over Reading Week in early November. We’d purchased the tickets, found a hotel, and booked day trips all on our own. We got up when we wanted, ate what we wanted, and stayed out as late as we wanted. In other words, it was bliss, and as I watched the sun set over this colorful coastal town, I felt peace fold its soft wings over me. I love traveling, I thought. That moment, and several others like it on the trip, set off a travel obsession for me, just like it has for many others.
Sara Turner, 18-year-old college freshman, traveled to Krakow, Poland in November 2014 while studying abroad from her home university in America to England. She planned the trip in October, having dreamt of visiting Krakow and Auschwitz. When it came time to go, she was nervous. She worried about being alone in a foreign country. Sara is one of many young females who are part of the “wanderlust craze;” rising numbers of young women are traveling independently, exploring the world on their own terms. There has been a 230% increase in the number of travel companies that cater to women only in the past six years. 66% of US women polled by booking.com say they have traveled without their partners. 63% of 100,000+ bookings made by Intrepid Travel last year were made by women. 65% of the adventure trips booked on TourRadar.com are booked by women. The idea is certainly appealing – when you travel alone, your choices are entirely your own and the experience is crafted solely to your needs and desires. However, many women are too afraid to travel alone. For many, solo travel is synonymous with danger, abduction, rape, and being taken advantage of.
I decided to delve into whether or not this is accurate. I asked a few friends who have recently returned from solo trips what their experiences were.
Tori Stuart, 18-year-old American studying abroad like Sara, went to Prague for four days in the beginning of November. When she landed at the airport she waited over an hour for a taxi that was supposed to pick her up but never arrived. She had to find a way to contact the company and call for a new one, which also didn’t come. At the time she felt frustrated and says it was one of those “oh God, I’m in a foreign country alone and it’s past midnight” moments, but looking back on it, “it was kind of a funny story, and I feel like I learned a lot from it because there’s no one else there for me, so I kind of had one shot. It was just a matter of figuring it out.”
Sara had a similar experience – “I was stressed out and kind of nervous, but every time I passed a hurdle – like every time I asked somebody and got an answer, and then got to the next stage it was like affirmation that it works out and you can solve your own problems, and you never have to actually do it all yourself – because people will help you.”
This was only the beginning, though. Tori and Sara were both staying in hostels, which helped them to make friends from the start. “I just walked into my room in the hostel and introduced myself,” Sara recalls, saying that the conversation went from there. Everyone in a hostel has a few things in common: they’re young, they’re traveling, and often, they’re eager to make friends. By going on the free tours offered by their hostels – and most have this option – Tori and Sara were able to befriend even more people. With their newfound friends, they didn’t have to do much alone.
Candice Walsh, editor at Matador Network, the world’s largest independent online travel magazine, and Lead Writing Faculty at MatadorU, an online travel media school, says, “I made so many amazing friends in Greece, both locals and other travellers. I was staying at an Airbnb property on Chios island and the owner (a woman named Maria) took me under her wing and showed me parts of the island I would NEVER have known about. We bonded instantly, and we still exchange emails.”
As young female travel blogger Stephanie Yoder, writer at Twenty Something Travel, says, “When you travel on your own everyone is a stranger until you make the effort to get to meet them. Then they are either really awesome fellow travellers, or interesting locals with stories to tell.”
Even if you do end up doing most things alone, you can still have a great time! Tori believes that because she was alone, she actually received better treatment. She describes feeling that she gained special favor in restaurants and shops because she was alone and not clearly a tourist. If she had been with a group, she would have likely experienced annoyance and harassment from vendors because she’s obviously from somewhere else. “If you’re alone it’s easier to ask for directions because you gain other’s sympathy.”
You have to do away with the concern about talking to strangers, because most people are genuine and kind. Instinctively you can size up a person and tell in a matter of seconds who is and isn’t good to talk to.
Being alone doesn’t have to mean that you’re unsafe, especially if you choose your destination wisely. “I think part of it had to do with the culture of the place,” says Sara. “If I was in Marrakesh I would’ve been harassed a lot more, but Krakow isn’t that kind of place. Nobody was there to eye up young women who were alone, everyone was there to see Krakow.”
The benefits to solo travel are beyond just making friends and having a good time. Jill Filipovic, blogger at Feministe and writer for the Guardian, says, “Waking up in a totally new place and asking yourself, “What do I want to do today?” is a pretty fantastic way to get to know aspects of personality and your preferences that you may not usually tap into.” It may seem a bit daunting at first to have your time utterly to yourself, to do exactly what it is that you want to do, but it can be freeing and more rewarding in the end than traveling with others.
If you do choose to travel, be prepared by doing the following:
- Use common sense. If somewhere doesn’t feel safe, leave.
- If you’re going to talk to a stranger to ask for directions or help, choose someone with a family or who is working in a shop.
- Follow your instincts. If someone gives you the creeps, leave. If they follow, go into a hotel and talk to the receptionist as if you’re staying there, then ask for a cab to take you to wherever you’re staying.
- Learn key words in the language of the place you’re traveling to, such as “Help!”