In the summer of 2016, I set off on a two-month journey across 10 countries, completely alone and with absolutely no idea what I was doing. I was shy, clueless, and had never done anything like this before in my life. I had dreamed of traveling the world my entire life and planned to do so after college, but was never able to convince anyone to come with me on this journey (and tbh don’t think I’ve ever liked anyone enough to travel with them for that long).
The question I was asked most often as I was preparing to leave and repeatedly throughout my travels was this:
Are you (a woman) scared to travel alone?
I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone ask a man if he was nervous to be traveling alone. Why would they be? Anyone (male or female) can run into challenging or dangerous situations, but that alone should not keep you from traveling. You take risks any time you cross a busy street or get into a moving car, so why would being in a new city or a foreign country make that any different?
Traveling alone was one of the single most empowering experiences of my life, and for anyone who has been wanting to travel but are hesitant to set out alone, here’s why you absolutely should:
1. Traveling alone will make you more confident.
I was painfully shy for most of my life leading up to this trip. I hated being in situations where I had to talk to someone I didn’t know and avoided large-group activities like the plague.
All of that changed when I set out alone for two months. I was completely alone, halfway across the world, and if I didn’t get over myself and talk to strangers, I wouldn’t be able to talk to anyone at all. And in fact, the best part about my trip ended up not being the location but the strangers I met and turned into friends.
Hostels are a great place to do this, and if you’re traveling on your own, I absolutely recommend that you seek out one with a good social vibe. It’s a great place to meet other people who are also looking for friends (think first week of college, but all the time and hopefully with fewer cases of alcohol poisoning).
2. Traveling alone will force you to be self-reliant and learn how to ask for help when you need it.
One of the best parts about traveling alone is that no one tells you what to do or where to go. The worst part is that no one tells you how to get there. Whether that’s learning how to navigate the subway system in Budapest, finding the best trans-Atlantic flight deals, or figuring out how to keep yourself healthy when you’re surrounded by unfamiliar foods – you’re going to have to do it on your own.
Whether that means you have to ask for directions or find someone to help you translate food labels at the supermarket so you don’t accidentally buy red meat, you’ll learn to advocate for yourself when you need it and trust in your ability to figure life out eventually.
3. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want.
You’re traveling for yourself and yourself only. You don’t have to plan your activities to please someone else, and you don’t have to operate around your traveling companion’s schedule. If you think Mannekin Pis is overrated and you’d rather sit outside a cafe and people-watch all afternoon than fight the hordes of tourists in Brussels to see the main attractions, then you can do it. If you are exhausted after walking around in the sun all morning, you can take a nap without forcing your partner / group to stop and wait for you. If you want to stay out dancing on the beach until the sun comes up with people you just met, you can absolutely do it. If you want to be alone and have a night in after being around new people constantly for weeks on end, you can do that too.
It’s your trip, your life, and your chance to make the most of it in your own way.
Of course, no one is there to tell you that a diet of exclusively alcohol and borek for two days is a terrible idea, but you’ll figure that one out on your own. (Also if anyone knows where I can eat borek in Chicago, pleaaase help a girl be reunited with her favorite food)
4. You are free to exist outside the societal expectations and don’t have to care about what anyone else thinks.
When you’re alone on the road, you get to escape the pressure of society’s expectations. Travelers tend to be far more open minded than average, so you’re far less likely to be met with judgement for (insert bullshit double-standard or stereotypical gender role here).
This experience is yours and yours alone. You can share as much or as little of it with people back home as you wish, just as you can share as much or as little about yourself with the strangers you meet. And because you’re alone, no one knows you and you’re free to authentically be yourself without caring what anyone will think.
5. Eat, Pray, Love and all that Garbage
I never got around to reading / watching Eat, Pray, Love because I thought it was cliche and had other things to do, but things become cliches for a reason. In case you’re not familiar with it, the main character has everything she’s supposed to have to be considered “successful” and “happy,” like the marriage, the career, and the stability that Western culture teaches us that we want and need, but instead she breaks out of that mold and travels to Italy (to eat), India (to pray), and Bali (to love).
The travel for self-discovery trope is waaayyy overdone, but to some extent, it is true. Travel will push you to rethink everything you knew back at home in your comfort zone and force you to get to know yourself better, allowing to figure out what it is that you really want out of life. Along the course of your travels you’ll definitely eat some delicious food, wherever you are. You may find a spiritual or transcendental experience, albeit maybe in a non-traditional way. And who knows, maybe you’ll find love somewhere out there on the road.
The possibilities are endless, and you’ll never know until you go.
6. Just as many bad things can happen to you at home, so you shouldn’t let fear be a deterrent.
One of the biggest reasons people (especially women) are hesitant to travel alone is the perception that it’s not safe. However, just the same as at home, with a little common sense (try to arrive in new places during daylight, exercise caution with alcohol and substances, etc), you’re going to be fine.
In fact, here are some statistics that show it actually might be safer to be alone, anonymous, and on the road:
- 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted on college campuses, so if your family was okay with you going to college, they should have no problem with you being on the road.
- 7 out of 10 of rape victims knew the perpetrator, and 55 percent of all sexual assaults occur at or near the victim’s home. The stereotype of the perpetrator being some creeper in a mask popping out of a bush or an alley at night to attack you is actually not that common.
- The CDC reported that 55 percent of female murder victims were killed by their husbands or romantic partners as a result of domestic violence.
- The rate of gun violence-related deaths in the United States is eight times higher than in Canada, 27 times higher than Denmark, and even higher than many places in Europe and much of Southeast Asia. The rates of violent crime are relatively similar between the U.S. and the rest of the world, but the lethality of violent crime is much higher in the U.S. due to the prevalence of guns.
Obviously these statistics don’t deter people from going about their daily lives at home, with taking some basic precautions like sticking to well-lit areas at night and being aware of your surroundings. It shouldn’t deter you from traveling either.
7. You will meet new people and make new friends.
Even if it’s just the person sitting next to you on the train or the couple across from you at dinner, you can’t avoid meeting new people and striking up conversations when you’re alone. You’ll meet people with similar interests (traveling) who are also alone or out of their comfort zone, which makes it easier to bond over the things you have in common.
Some places will be harder to meet people than others (maybe your hostel is empty or you’re staying in a small town), but ultimately there are 8 billion other humans on earth and we all share basic traits like kindness, compassion, empathy, and curiosity, and that’s all you really need.
8. Get outside your comfort zone and grow.
I don’t know about you, but I get really restless when I stay in one place for too long. I get too comfortable with where I am and the lack of growth and forward momentum becomes worse than the initial discomfort of doing something new.
I’m not saying your solo adventure needs to be absolutely crazy, like bungee jumping in New Zealand or skydiving over the man-made islands in Dubai. It can be something as simple as driving to new town or state you’ve never visited before on your own for a day trip or a weekend. That counts.
Do something new. Talk to someone you wouldn’t otherwise have met. Explore this beautiful rock we inhabit. And, most importantly, do it for you.
Hanna (Bubu Backpacks)
P.S. – Do you have any more reasons why everyone should travel alone at least once? Let me know in the comments below!