The first time I solo traveled was to Argentina back in 2014. I had arrived in Buenos Aires faced with the daunting reality that I was in a new country completely alone. There wouldn’t be a welcoming party at the arrivals terminal, there wouldn’t be a companion to watch my bags, there wouldn’t be a gaggle of girlfriends to accompany me on my adventures, there wouldn’t be a boyfriend to hold my hand.
Since that first solo travel adventure in my early twenties, I have found myself wandering alone in countless countries—from Canada to Indonesia—as a seasoned traveler. I have been drawn to the concept of solo traveling, especially as a woman, because of the sheer strength, confidence, and self-reliance that comes from navigating a foreign country sans companions.
While the idea of traveling solo has always existed, in recent years it has reached a fever pitch as women embrace travel and all its intricacies with open arms. According to a 2014 survey from Booking.com, 64 percent of women have traveled without a partner and 72 percent of American women solo travel. Rather than fear strangers and the dangers that may live abroad, women are staying savvy, street-smart and open to the experience of discovering themselves against the backdrop of an exotic locale. Of course, the world we live in is not one without its dangers. There are things to consider when venturing into the world alone for the first time.
Know Your Destination First
I have a love affair with spontaneity when I travel. I love serendipitous encounters, stumbling upon charming cafés and meeting people from around the world. More often than not, the best moments in travel (and life) are the ones we don’t plan for. When flying solo to a new destination, there is a fine line between embracing chance and being unprepared.
When I caught a boat over to Uruguay in my early twenties, the lack of preparation I had done was comical. It wasn’t until my passport was stamped and I was standing on Uruguay soil did I realize I had no idea where to go, no idea where to exchange my money or how to get around. As a first-time solo traveler, it’s good to leave plenty of room on a trip for whirlwind adventures and chance meetings, but you should also be armed with practical information on the destination to which you’re traveling.
Trusting Your Intuition Abroad
It’s said that women have a very keen sense of intuition and an uncanny way to sense danger a mile away. When I was visiting the rough and tumble neighborhood of La Boca in Buenos Aires, I was advised by many to be careful. La Boca is beautiful, colorful and playful, but beyond the two streets that tourists populate, there are dangers to be had.
As I roamed through La Boca with my camera bag hoisted on my shoulders, I noticed a palpable shift in the air as I crossed over a set of train tracks and realized I was no longer in the “tourist friendly” part of town. I felt the change before I saw it and promptly turned around, knowing that nothing good lay ahead. As a first-time solo traveler, my intuition was my greatest asset in throwing up red flags in situations I knew I should potentially avoid.
It may be your first day in a new country, and you may be clinging to a map like a lifeline, but you are savvier and stronger than you give yourself credit for. One of the first things I did when I arrived in Buenos Aires for that first solo trip, was to go to a restaurant to ease into being alone.
Get comfortable in your own skin and let your thoughts wash over you as you explore a new destination and all the intricacies of your personality. Confidence is absolutely key and emanates in how you walk, carry yourself, and talk. Be patient and give yourself time to adapt to this new mode of travel.
Embrace The Good And Lonely Side Of Solo Travel
There were so many beautiful moments of solo traveling that left me smiling deliriously and feeling utterly alive, but there were inevitable moments when loneliness won out overconfidence and trailed me like a debt collector. Solo traveling is an experience that reveals parts of your personality and a full spectrum of emotion. As much as I learned to enjoy the moments and embrace the present, I also learned to pick myself up at times when home felt lightyears away.
The best advice I can offer first-time solo travelers is to expect to get lonely at times and to embrace this feeling as you will every other thought and emotion that washes over you during your trip. There is a real power and simplistic beauty that comes from knowing you have the strength to lift your own chin up when sad, comfort yourself when lonely, and keep moving forward.
Go Off The Grid, But Stay Connected
There is, of course, an appeal to being fully submerged in your solo travel adventure, but when you’re out there alone, it is best to stay connected to friends and family back home. Whether you are uploading photos to Instagram, sharing Facebook updates on your latest passport stamp, or simply messaging via WhatsApp, it is smart to let people know where you are and where you’re headed.
Be Patient with Yourself
Whenever I travel, I joke that it takes a day or two for New York to leave my system. In a city like NYC, life moves quickly; lunches are inhaled, delays are not tolerated and scheduling is a way of life. It isn’t until I’m abroad that I realize just how tightly wound New York can make me. As I eased into solo traveling, I learned to be patient with myself and slow down.
Ask Yourself “What Do I Want To Do?”
During my first solo trip in Argentina, I met a person who left me with a simple piece of advice: Don’t ever do anything you don’t want to do. I’ve mulled these words over in my mind and realized that too often in life, I tend to put myself in situations and circumstances I wish I hadn’t, whether for fear of disappointing someone or a sense of obligation.
Solo traveling offers the refreshing and revolutionary freedom to ask yourself, “What do I want to do today?” Each morning I woke up in Argentina, I asked myself that question. Whether I spent that day writing at my favorite café, catching a last-minute flight to Iguazu or hopping a boat to Uruguay, everything I did on this trip was because I wanted and chose to. In life, we don’t always get the freedom to choose for ourselves, so savor this question, get comfortable with it and relish the endless possibilities of living life on your own terms.
Remember To Enjoy It
There is a favorite quote of mine that reads: “A ship docked in the harbor may be safe, but that’s not why ships are built.” It’s human nature to be cautious, but life truly begins when we step outside of our comfort zones and take a chance on the unknown.
Solo traveling is an experience that inspires, tests and strengthens anyone who ventures into the world alone. Of course, there are dangers to consider and risks to keep in mind, but so long as you’re savvy to the destination, aware of your surroundings and keen to your intuition, the trip has the potential to be life-changing.
Written by Nikki Vargas for Unearth Women, Aug 20, 2018