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How do you do it, Roopa? Aren’t you scared to travel alone as a woman? Is it safe? Don’t you feel alone? And lonely?
As someone who has travelled to over 30 countries solo (spanning the United States, Europe, East Asia and South East Asia) I get asked a lot of questions.
How do you do it, Roopa? How do you travel alone? Aren’t you scared to travel alone as a woman? Is it safe? Don’t you feel alone? And lonely?
All very valid questions. And I’ll answer them shortly. But if you’re thinking about traveling alone, start by asking yourself this extremely important question.
I cannot stress how important this question is and how honestly you need to answer it. Not to the outside world but you need to really mull over this question and answer it for yourself. You can fool everyone else but you cannot fool yourself. Especially when it comes to traveling alone as a woman.
From personal experience let me tell you, your desire to travel solo should not be because of peer pressure – because you have friends or acquaintances who’ve done it. Or because you just read your favourite travel blogger write about how much fun she had on her latest solo trip to Fiji. Or because you want to one-up men, if men can do it, so can I. Or because you think you’re a 21st century woman and if women can go to space, surely you can go to Nepal on your own, right? Or because you think it’s a mental challenge you need to overcome. Or because you want to prove a point to friends, family, society and, even, yourself that you can.
Not that these are invalid concerns.
But, Let me come back to that but above in just a bit.
I travelled alone for the first time to Singapore in 2015. I’d just come back to India for good from having spent over a decade in the US and I was hoping to land a job in the Lion City. Since I planned to scout for opportunities and land multiple interviews – I decided I needed to stay for at least a month.
In hindsight – when I traveled alone to Singapore I had no real concept of the fact that I was going alone. To me – it felt like any of the hundreds of trips I’d made to the US till then. I always flew alone from India to the US and back. Sure, I flew from my home in India to my home in the US, so just the flying part was solo. But to me – going to Singapore felt like that. I was flying solo to Singapore and staying in a hotel for the entire month. And then I’d come back to India.
I’m still not sure why the fact I was traveling solo and staying in a hotel as opposed to my own home did not strike me. I think it was either because I was genuinely stupid and clueless or because I was so comfortable being by myself, being on my own – that traveling to Singapore on my own for a month seemed an extension of my daily life. Also, I lucked out with my first solo trip as a woman because Singapore is a very safe country to be in. After my first week there – returning home from a friend’s apartment in a taxi in the middle of the night was normal. I never did it in any other city again (well, OK, I do travel at all times of the day and night in Shanghai because it’s also a very safe city for women) because you know, better safe than sorry.
And while I’ve traveled a lot prior to 2015 – it was always with family and friends. But since 2015 – I’ve traveled to well over 30 countries alone because i like travelling alone.
So, to get back to the but above…
The key for me with traveling solo is i like it.
It’s not for everyone and it doesn’t have to be. Basically, I’m comfortable with myself and i like my own company. I like knowing I can wake up anytime in the morning and go anywhere I want. I don’t have to go to seven museums in London because my family or friends want to. I can spend an entire day just watching gorgeous men surfing or count the various shades of blue on Bondi beach and do nothing else because I can. I love watching uber stylish French men and women walking briskly by as I order crepes and hot chocolate at a Parisienne coffee shop. I like haggling and feeling triumphant over a good deal when buying a colorful jumpsuit at Ubud, Bali.
On the other hand, I also love traveling with friends and family. I’ve travelled to 48 states in the US (haven’t been to Hawaii and Alaska) – most of them with friends driving from one state to the other. I loved traveling with my mom in western Europe and have travelled all over southern rural India with my dad.
But before you think about traveling solo, here’s what you should ask yourself.
Are you Ok being a single woman and the 9th person in an 8-seater van in Hong Kong where there are four couples and…you? And the guide tells everyone loudly that you’re the only ‘single lady passenger’ and they couldn’t find a place for you anywhere else?
Are you Ok knowing you will never have those perfect Instagram worthy pictures of yourself posing in front of the incredible Bayon temple at Angkor Vat in Cambodia and that you may have to ask others to take a picture of you or just click selfies?
Are you Ok knowing that you will be one of the few single people (sometimes the only single woman) eating breakfast alone in the morning at the café in your hotel in Vienna while you’re surrounded by noisy families with children and couples or groups of friends traveling together?
Are you Ok knowing you’re standing and touching the historical Berlin Wall and you turn around to talk about the implication of the fall of the wall and the end of modern communism with someone and realize you’re all by yourself?
Are you Ok when you’re inside the Hagia Sophia mosque in Istanbul and you’re awestruck by the sheer beauty of its colors and architecture but have no one to share it with?
Are you Ok being excited AF that you’re standing at the very same spot where the Game of Thrones was filmed at the Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach near Vik, Iceland but there’s no one to show off to?
See, i am ok I’ve done every single one of the above and so many more and I am more than ok, i loved it all.
Because I just like traveling. Alone or with others. But the key thing with the former is to want to do it. I like the freedom that comes with traveling alone. I like having the space to explore a new place, a new culture, a new country and meet new people on my own.
But most of all…I feel comfortable knowing that while I am alone when I’m traveling – I am more than enough for myself and never feel lonely. There’re too many places to see, too many people to meet, too many cultures to partake of, too many cuisines to enjoy, too many gorgeous men to ogle…just too much of everything for me to ever feel lonely.
Also, for all of you who wonder if it’s weird, odd or dangerous traveling solo as a woman? Not really. We women instinctively know how to protect ourselves because we are conditioned to be careful on a daily basis irrespective of where we are – at home or in a strange place. So, as you would every single day of your life – if you keep your wits about you, not go to unsafe places, get into strangers’ vehicles for a quick lift back to your hotel, be smart about your choices (if you’re in a conservative country…don’t wear skimpy clothing and attract attention…cover up)…you’ll be fine. Also, in case you’re wondering if you will stick out like a sore thumb as a solo woman traveler? Sorry to disappoint you. Being a solo woman traveler is no longer like finding Big Foot. There are many solo travelers out there these days – men and women.
So, again, ask yourself, Do you want to travel alone?
Then traveling alone becomes a simple case of logistics and being smart about how to do it safely instead of worrying about if you can do it or should you do it.
Happy Travelling Ladies!
Image Source: Still from the movie Khoobsurat
Hi...I'm Roopa. I'm also a messy optimist! I'm an academic-cum-artist. I'm a writer, filmmaker and professor of creative writing. Academically, I've a Double Masters and a Phd read more...
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