There she goes (solo) again. You've heard this before - the amazing, life-changing stories created when your fellow globe-trotter girlfriends travelled alone; how empowering and transformative it was...and, the freedom!
I have been travelling solo for many trips now. It’s one of the most liberating experiences in life, second to jumping off a plane. My first solo adventure was road-tripping and camping in the Australian Outback in 2008 with a bunch of strangers who became friends. Since then, I’ve ventured solo in Brasil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and counting. If I had waited to sync and arrange travels with my friends, I wouldn’t have seen half the world I did! Yes, it is definitely heaps of fun to travel with friends. But travelling solo almost always leads to an adventure, if you pack that Wonder Woman cape in your bag! And trust me, every girl has one.
Are you a beginner at solo travel but keen to embark on this exciting journey?
Don’t let the fear of unknown stop you. Few days before I flew to Uzbekistan, I started feeling anxious about the trip. Is it actually safe to travel there?? (I’d often jump on a travel opportunity and figure it out later.) After some research on current news, I realised people there somehow live their lives like we all do! They have news on politics, business, tourism, music, education, etc. Of course, do your due diligence and be well informed on the current political situation, places to avoid, clothes to wear as a female, etc.
When I arrived in Uzbekistan and interacted with the locals, my anxiety went away. Most locals, including taxi drivers were friendly and genuinely helpful. Students were eager to speak English and take photos with me. Some tourist sites were surprisingly clean and organised like Disneyland!
More often than not, we feel afraid because we do not know much about a place or a topic. But once you find out more and allow yourself to experience it little by little, you will realise the reality is not as scary.
#1: Ease yourself into the new place. Stay in a hostel (get a private room if you don’t want to sleep with strangers!), make new friends with fellow travellers, get tips from the staff. Wander around the city and familiarise yourself with the environment. Soon, your anxiety will go away. If that’s still daunting for you, book a local tour for the first part of your trip. You might make some new friends and explore the place together after the tour. Even if you don’t, you will get more informed about the country through speaking to the local guides and fellow tour mates. By then, you would have felt more familiar and comfortable with the new place, people and culture.
#2: Trust your gut instinct and react accordingly. I have met good people who became friends throughout my solo travels. Trust your own instinct and judgement with people. Fellow independent travellers share that same understanding of being in similar situations and will generally support one another, sharing tips and experiences and in most cases, friendships! If you don’t feel comfortable with some people, you can always make up stories, tell them you are meeting a friend who is arriving later, etc. The times I didn’t feel right, I just put on my game face and walked away from the situation.
#3: Use gender stereotypes to your advantage! Instead of getting all righteous about gender stereotypes, you can use it wisely. People always say "It's too dangerous to travel alone for a girl!". First of all, I don't think travelling alone is dangerous, if you are well prepared. Of course, this is assuming you have the common sense of not walking alone in dark alleys or seedy places, flaunting your assets (body and money alike), etc. Plus, I don't think guys have it better!
In fact, travelling alone as a girl makes it easier because people tend to be more trusting and helpful towards us. They are more likely to initiate a friendly conversation out of curiosity or admiration of our guts. Or maybe they see a damsel in distress and want to do good. Guys, on the other hand, have to get past the first hurdle of even asking. ;p Jokes aside, just be smart with who to approach, when to be friendly, when to put on a game face.
When I crossed the border from Uzbekistan to Kyrgyzstan, I was the only traveller amongst the hordes of locals crowding around the fence, waiting for it to open. With my big backpack, I walked up to a military guy, gave him a weary smile, showed my foreign passport... and I got an escorted service, passing through the locals and straight to the custom officer! In another story, a businessman thought I was either crazy or brave (pick one or both!) to travel alone as a girl in Uzbekistan and offered me a free ride to the airport from the border in his fancy car!
#4: Be spontaneous and be open to adjusting your plan. Sometimes the best plan is not to have a plan. Make friends with strangers and go with the flow. It might just surprise you with unexpected adventures and friendships. Kyrgyzstan wasn’t part of my plan at all, if there was one to begin with! I had just wanted to travel within Uzbekistan as I imagined crossing the border alone ‘as a girl’ would be stressful… Well duh! That was one of the roughest journeys I’ve ever experienced in all my travels. But that's a story for another day. 3 Polish guys I met at the hostel convinced me that their childhood friend who lives in Kyrgyzstan will take good care of me if I visited. A quick check online showed that Singaporeans don’t need a visa. So, my trip took a complete turn and I had one of my craziest adventures to date and made wonderful friends! My friends back home thought I was crazy to trust people I barely know and crossed the border to hang out with another stranger. All I say is: read #2.
#5: Trust that you have it in you. When you only have yourself to rely on, your survival instinct kicks in. You can’t count on your friend to read the map, to decide where to go, to ask strangers for help. You will try all means and ways to solve any issues because YOU are the only way out. You will be amazed by how independent and resilient you can actually be when put in tough, challenging situations. I've never thought of myself as brave, in fact quite the opposite. But whenever I travel by myself, I have this sudden surge of forced confidence and adventurous spirit in me. At the end of it, you learn so much about yourself and discover your own potential & personal growth.
#6: There is no better time than NOW. If you have been thinking about that trip for awhile now, go book that flight and figure it out later! The only way to embark on this journey is to take the first step and let the adventure unfold. Guts come with experience, and experience comes with doing it. Hopefully, again and again...
So, pack that Wonder Woman cape in your bag, get out there and explore our big, vast and fascinating world!
What adventures are you seeking? Are you currently on a sabbatical and looking to travel, explore and learn more about yourself during this break? Share with us! Drop us an email at [email protected].