How does one become a solo traveler? Is it a personal choice or is it because of those unexpected circumstances or maybe a voice from within saying “Pick up your suitcase, polish your wings and fly away”? Which countries feel more comfy and safe for solo women travelers?
These and many other questions are a significant concern for ladies willing to travel solo, but not for me, or leastwise not till the recent times.
I was 19 years old when I traveled alone for the first time, and the first country to “take my breath away” was Italy. I had a vague idea of what it is like to travel solo. How should I behave myself in a foreign country, what should I try and what I had to avoid. No one in my circles had traveled solo by that time. The only “rule” or an emotive desire was to learn the language in advance, in order not to face discomfort when asking for the routes from the locals. Learning Italian was a pleasurable “rule” for me. It felt so atmospheric and natural. Only one month of pleasurable “rule” and I knew some phrases that would come in handy for a traveler, for instance, “Come posso andare a… ?“ “Dove è?” “Quanto è?”
Another critical side for a solo traveler to consider is to get knowledge about the destination before traveling. When you travel in a group with a guide, there is no need to inquire prior information on where to go or what to see, unless it is your wish. Whereas for a solo traveler, it is vital and can be helpful. So I purchased several guidebooks via the internet (since by those times, it was hard to find those type of books in my city); one about Venice, another one about Florence and one other devoted to attraction sites and history of Milan. I read them all, one by one to be prepared for the awesome tour. Unlike the ordinary guidebooks, the one about Venice, for instance, gave me information not only about its attraction sites but also about the perfect time of the day to visit La Piazza di San Marco and take shots while the square was breathing in light without tourists. Regrettably, I slept the perfect morning time and visited the square when it was full of tourists. It was truly impressive, though with its carefully designed buildings!
A second thing that I learned from my book companion about Venice prompted me to take an ordinary water bus instead of the tourist water transport. As it said, it was way cheaper than to open your mask of the tourist in water transport.
What I learned from my first solo travel:
Lesson N1: Make preparations well in advance, but also be ready to improvise during travel!
Lesson N2: Learning certain phrases in a local language is good, but similarly you have to be open to understand the responses given by the locals :)
That means learning a foreign language for just one month is not enough if you want to understand the locals. I mean to “really,” “truly” Understand.
My second solo trip was realized when I was 22 years old. The country was the complete opposite of Italy, and my preparations for the first trip did not come into use. The country was Germany! How do they say about Germans “Strict and punctual?”. Well, I got some doubts about the second one on the very first day of my trip: the train that was supposed to take me to Frankfurt Central Station from the Airport was delayed for a total of ten minutes! So, I thought to myself: “where is the German punctuality?” However, later on, I was reassured quite well of how punctual Germans are.
A major lesson that I learned from my German trip was to:
Lesson 1: Learn about cultural differences and be prepared to adapt.
This rule came in handy during the next long journey, and my solo stays abroad in The Netherlands. Dutch people are generally very friendly and joyful, but they love to repeat: “We are Dutch, and therefore, we are very direct. “ There was a time that I had to deal with cultural barriers to understand them better. Perhaps it’s all because of the climate, those harsh winds, and constant Dutch rains. But time had shown that this is not harshness, but merely sincerity rooted deeply in the Dutch people's character.
As a solo woman traveler, more precisely a female student traveling around in the Netherlands, I also learned that Dutch men are somehow cautious when helping women they do not know. They feel cautious not to scare us, women when helping out on the street. The drastic contrast of this trait was present in most of the Italian men. Whenever they see a solo woman traveler, or simply a girl walking alone, they approach you without any hesitation and offer their help (or a cup of cappuccino:)).
Lesson learned from my stay alone in The Netherlands: Learn about cultural differences and know how to act in relations between genders.
My solo travels in different countries have taught me different approaches to male from countries in the South and the North. Not surprisingly, Southern men are generally more enthusiastic and open when getting to know a new lady alone in a foreign country, while the strong gender from the Northern countries is more careful and delicate in their steps. Here, I am not talking about romantic relationships, but rather about generalist conversations aimed at simply knowing or helping each other. However, the same can be true in romance as well.
Most of the upcoming tours were again realized solo. But they are way too much to integrate them all in this piece of article. Otherwise, I risk transforming this slice of writing into a small book or a travel memoir that will not fit a journal article format. So, I am going to skip those trips and “Warn” you about those obvious benefits and qualities which traveling solo will donate you with. These qualities I assume are vital especially from a feminine perspective. Here they are:
- When you travel solo, in particular without a male companion by your side, you learn to protect yourself. You learn to be wise and conscious while walking around in unknown places. This is your chance to uncover the braveness in you.
- Traveling alone teaches to be self-dependant and self-supporting. You know you are alone in a foreign country, and now it is the time to depend merely on yourself. For female solo travelers, it is always harder in many ways. But experienced female travelers know: they will find their way, no matter what. “As you travel solo, being totally responsible for yourself, it’s inevitable that you will discover just how capable you are!”,- Unknown.
- Trusting your instincts and your inner voice is a major quality you will acquire while traveling solo. Naturally, women are more inclined to listen to their inner voice; they are more attached to their intuition as compared to men. And this trait will get more intensive, while you travel solo. Last year, I traveled solo to Jordan- a country that is generally not considered to be safe for solo female travelers. Despite the warnings given by my friends and relatives, deep inside I knew that I had to embark on this once in a lifetime journey. A voice from within prompted me that it’s gonna be awesome, it’s gonna be life changing and a wonderful trip that will teach many wise things for the future. So, I did it. It was one of the most enriching, contrasting and emotively positively shocking trips I have ever had in my life. In line with that, I learned that you do not always have to trust the stories about people from certain countries. Sometimes, they are extremely far from the actual truth. I truly believe it is better to see and try once than to listen to the stories told by others. After all, you will never know, if you never go. Jordanians are one the most open-hearted, caring and helpful people I have ever met in my life.
- While you travel alone, you get to know the deepest secrets settled in your soul. Traveling alone teaches you to be in charge of your feelings and hidden desires. Did you ever think you could/wish to take art workshops and to master the art of water color painting? Probably no, until you stumbled upon that piece of extravagant wall art on one of your travels, while you were alone with your very own thoughts.
Or maybe you uncovered that you wish to dive deep into a crystal azure of that marvelous lake/sea while you were indulging in alone time on your trip? Being on a trip with a companion or a group, we often feel confused about our desires or motives; we get to adapt or join the travel plans of a certain group. Whereas, when traveling alone, we have the space to meditate, to sort out things that we were unable to do in a crowd. In addition to that, a new place, an unusual environment may spark our creativity given the many opportunities to get out of our comfort zone in a foreign place.
- Further on, traveling solo will improve your chances to meet someone that will turn your life upside down, or at least will add up to the positive experience you will have abroad.
- While traveling alone, we are more attentive to the world around us, we pay a closer look to every detail, swallowing the history and culture with all our senses and feeling a heightened sense of reality.
For instance, did you ever feel like this: one in a crowd, alone with a history?
Reflecting upon the questions asked in the first part of the story, I have no clue on what kind of definite answer to give to the question on “Which countries are safer for solo women travelers?”. Some people generalize and wrongly believe that Europe is safer than other continents of the world. What I may note here is that it all depends on which part of Europe and in which exact country are you traveling solo. It even differs largely within one country and between various cities of the same country, not even talking about the whole continent. For example, every canton in Switzerland is very different in its lifestyle, cultural habits. Saying for instance that the little town Stein am Rhein is safer than Zurich, can be very close to the truth:
Meanwhile, they are both located in the German part of Switzerland. But if you ask me: “Is Jordan dangerous to travel alone as a female?”. I will say “In some parts of Spain it is even more dangerous.” So, do not be fooled by the fact that Spain is in Europe and the EU. Just be cautious, know the people and the rules in advance, and everything will be fine.
As I look back on my past solo travels, I realize: there was always a slice of romance revolving around. Be it travel realized with the purpose to explore new places or a trip aimed at opening up new horizons; romance was constantly there to escort me on my journeys. Is there a romance without a special other by your side, you may ask? Many women solo travelers will say “Why not?”, While others still have no clue… As for me, true romance comes from within, which has to be shared with a special other. Solo travel is awesome; it is a beautiful way to get deep into our unconscious sleepy desires, to realize what sets us apart from the rest and fulfill some dreams which are hard to conquer in a group. Nevertheless, there comes a time when you want to share your thoughts and feelings with someone else during the trip. After all “Happiness is real when it is shared.” I believe many solo women travelers realize it deep inside, despite the fact that they do not confess.
As a final touch, I wish to quote a phrase that illustrates the beauty of solo travel in a pretty awesome way: “Just because my path is different, doesn’t mean I am lost!”.