As I walked through the departure gate making one last tearful wave goodbye to my friends and family behind me, I was a mixed bag of emotions.
Up until this point, after months of planning I had only thought about the destinations I’d go to and had only excitement for the unknown adventures that lay ahead.
All of a sudden for the first time a little voice came out of nowhere as I handed over my passport to the customs man and said, ‘how are you really going to be survive spending six months by yourself in Europe?’
The moment I stepped off the plane I quickly shut out that ridiculous sound in my head and found the short answer to the question was stubbornness.
Be stubborn against any naysayers. Growing up with traditional Italians means that my parents and grandparents simply did not understand why I wanted to travel by myself for that length of time and felt it compulsory to tell me how much they’d be worrying all the time, although I know it was just out of concern for my safety which is rather touching in a way. Regardless, I wasn’t going to be coming home early from this trip at any cost because quite frankly I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction!
The case is similar with friends too, while often well meaning, they would say things like ‘I could NEVER do what you’re doing’ or ‘I could never stay in a hostel!’
I really don’t see myself as a particularly brave or adventurous person, I mean I fear airplanes! But statements like these make you realise how people’s fears and misconceptions of the unknown often prevent them from embarking on their own journeys, simply because they listen to the doubts of others instead. It’s a real shame. I met some of the most amazing people and had fantastic times in hostels that were almost always clean, modern and the exact opposite of the run down, dodgy hostel stereotypes.
Be stubborn against doubt. When there are days on the road where you feel tired, sick or lonely just remember how lucky you are to be in the position to travel and afford to do so. This already means you’re much more fortunate than most in this life so by all means rest up a little but never let it deter you from continuing your adventures and enjoying them. Plus you generally meet so many amazing people constantly on the road it’s not likely you’ll feel this way for long! The beauty of solo travel is that you discover your capabilities are often greater than you imagined or ever have given yourself credit for.
Be stubborn against not meeting your goals. If you want something bad enough, you concentrate on it every single day. I didn’t earn a high wage or anything leading up to my trip, I worked HARD to save and budget the money to travel and I was going to enjoy it without worry, thank you very much. It was my one and only goal at the time – to travel Europe for half a year. While I did some organised tours and met up with a couple friends along the way which are great in their own ways, as it turned out solo travel suited me the best since it meant I got to see everything I wanted, when I wanted at my own pace without having to worry about others likes, dislikes, budget or diet. I never would’ve realised the joy and freedom I get from solo travel without giving it a go!
Be stubborn against media stereotypes and portrayals of solo female travellers and the world around us. Obviously there are dangerous areas where it would be inadvisable to visit but for example, with the recent tension in the Crimea almost everyone I spoke to when I said I was going to Russia thought I was crazy. In reality I had a great time there and never felt unsafe.
Further on this point, when unfortunately tragedy or incidents occur to solo female travellers, often the media place some amount of blame on them for being alone which is a fact that many times doesn’t get a mention if the same situation happened to a man. The fact is that women will and do get treated differently for traveling alone in many places – it just is what it is. Especially in countries where women are not always afforded the same rights as men, locals may not understand why you are by yourself. Personal safety is a concern that should always be taken into account, particularly as a woman but for men too, but as long as you are aware of your surroundings, exercise sound judgment for situations you feel uncomfortable in and use basic common sense the chances of something happening are really not so different overseas than they are at home.
The most important I feel is to trust your gut instinct. It is rarely, if ever wrong.
Do your research. If you’re traveling to a country with strict dress standards, adhere to them. It’s not only respectful but you really don’t want to attract unwanted attention because you didn’t know how to dress appropriately.
I always had my phone on me with an international SIM card that worked in every country. It meant I could make emergency calls or contact friends and family at any time if I needed to. Using a GPS map service too is helpful if you frequently get lost for peace of mind!
If you feel uncomfortable when people ask you if you’re traveling alone just state that you’re here with a friend in whatever city you’re in, and they’re back at the hotel/hostel. I found a good rule was to never give away more personal information than needed to people you have just met.
Always remember that the world is seldom as scary a place as it’s made out to be so if you want to travel solo, just do it!