by Cheryl Yanek
“Don’t you get lonely?” “Aren’t you scared?” “That must be dangerous.”
I’ve heard these and many other similar comments when I’ve told people that I’m traveling alone. I love traveling alone – at first I didn’t, but at the end of my trip, I preferred it. Traveling solo gives me the freedom to do what I want when I want – it’s selfish in some ways, but I love traveling alone. Decisions are quick, and no consulting, discussing, deciding, and worrying that someone’s feelings had been hurt or wishes been compromised – instead you just do things your own way.
I live alone in New York City, which is expensive, but well worth it to me. I like being able to do what I want when I want – eat dinner while reading a book, or watch an entire season of Sex and the City while clipping coupons and neglecting my housework. So traveling alone, which seemed scary at first, also seemed like a great option. I could go anywhere I wanted, and be totally free. I changed my mind last minute, added an extra country here, or spent an extra night there, would spontaneously stop in an interesting store, or leave a museum shortly after entering because I was fed up with religious art. At my job as a corporate librarian, I had no freedom; sometimes, I couldn’t even take a lunch break. The freedom of traveling alone excited me more than anything.
I was never lonely traveling. I stayed in hostels, to defray costs, but also to meet people. In Valencia, I met a DJ who traveled with me to Ibiza. We shared a room, and went to clubs together. I went to San Sebastian with a woman I met in Madrid, and traveled to Salzburg with a Scottish, an Australian and an American. A woman I chatted with on the bus to Dubrovnik ended up sharing accommodation with me, and I often met my roommates on trains to our next location. Everywhere I went – train stations, trains, museums, parks, tours, bars – I befriended someone. I know there are countless people who I will run into again, whether we end up at the same city, miles from where we first met.
The worst times for me when traveling alone were if I had to wait in a long line at a tourist trap, like at the Palace of Versailles or in the Vatican. I felt awkward in these places, as families and friends clung to each other, giggling with familiarity. I went with new friends when I could, but braved it alone. I actually prefer going to art museums alone, so I can spend my time at whatever paintings I like, and not have to listen to someone’s, “I could have done this” comments about contemporary art, which I happen to enjoy.
Bored? Lonely? Scared? Occasionally, I was, but I’m sure I would have felt the same if traveling with others as well. Traveling alone made me more sociable – for if I didn’t make friends, I would be alone. I’d stake out a comfortable chair in my hostel’s common room, and find someone to chat with. Usually, when traveling, I was among friends.
Tips for Women Traveling Alone
- Be extra cautious. Keep your money and valuables in your money belt or in a locker.
- Do not drink to the point of losing control or do drugs. Keep an eye on your drink. Try to stay close to women and don’t be tempted by offers from men to spend the night with them.
- If you are going back to your accommodations late at night, don’t be afraid to take a taxi. Your safety is worth the extra money.
- Don’t be afraid to yell, “NO.” Tone of voice and body language are good indicators of how you feel, even if someone doesn’t know English. Try to learn the local words for “help.”
- Don’t be afraid to lie about your “boyfriend” who is meeting up with you soon.
- Listen to your instincts and take leave of someone if you get a bad vibe. Stay calm.
- Don’t hitchhike or accept rides from strangers.