On more than one occasion I’ve had family members, flight attendants, hotel receptionists, and many absolute strangers, gasp at the idea of me traveling on my own. “You’re going where?! Alone?!” They warn me of the dangers of countries they’ve never visited and cultures they’ve never encountered.
After long stints traveling on my own, I know better. I know that I’m not only safe traveling on my own, but I’m even more empowered for having done so. This wasn’t always the case.
I remember a time when I had never even met a woman who traveled on her own, let alone considered becoming one of them. “Is this something people even do?” I wondered. My first long term trip abroad, in Costa Rica with my best friend, changed this mentality entirely.
In Costa Rica I met women from all over the world who were traveling on their own. They had done anything from sky diving in South Africa to volunteering in Guatemala to island hopping in Indonesia. They made it look and sound easy. The thought of doing it myself appeared more possible.
So one day, I finally did. First in Costa Rica, then in Morocco, again in Colombia, and eventually all over the world. Surprisingly, I never felt afraid. Rather, I felt confident, fearless, and completely liberated. Though I know that for the many women out there who want to travel on their own but haven’t, that fear still exists. And not just women, men too.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been lost and confused about a million times. Nearly scammed in countries where I didn’t speak a word of the language. Followed by random strangers at night. In the wrong place at the wrong time way too many times.
Yet despite all of that, I’ve never for one moment hesitated that I am more than capable of traveling this beautiful world on my own. Here is why:
I Am Actually Rarely Alone
Traveling opens people up. Without the distraction and busyness of “work” and schedules, we take the time to connect with one another. Locals, other tourists, expats, long term workers and volunteers, want to know your story and want to share theirs with you. Most people travel the world because they want to learn, and engaging with strangers (particularly those from other cultures) offers more insight than years in a classroom.
Hostels in particular create social environments where you can meet others interested in connecting. There has rarely been a time where I didn’t receive invitations for dinner, outings, and even extended travel plans with people I met in my hostel. You’ll quickly see that it’s actually easier to meet people when you’re on your own.
As soon as I got off of the bus in Seville, on one of my first solo trips, I met a couple of Canadians. Totally lost, we navigated the streets together and found a hostel. At the hostel, I was greeted by a group of Americans who generously fed me the dinner they had just prepared. A few hours later I went on a pub-crawl with a group of twenty travelers and as the night became dawn I found myself dancing in a club with four Australians. I would say that experience was pretty typical of how it goes on the travel trail.
There are More Good Humans Than Bad
As human beings we find safety and comfort with other people from our “tribe” and fear among “others.” It’s part of our deep, centuries old programming for survival. But we don’t actually need that survival mechanism anymore. We’re evolved enough to move beyond it. Part of the freedom of traveling the world comes from breaking down those barriers and seeing that you are not only a member of your native tribe, you are a citizen of the world.
Over the years I’ve had my bag stolen once, been nearly scammed another time, had a few creeps follow me, but more often than not, my experiences have been positive. Generally, I have been treated with profound kindness in countries that some people would never even consider traveling in.
In Morocco, on a long train journey by myself, a local woman in the same car as me handed me a candy bar because she was worried I was hungry. Bear in mind, this was during Ramadan when the entire country was fasting. In Vietnam I had a horrible wound from a motorcycle burn and a local spa owner stopped me on the street to clean and dress the wound for me, free of charge. In Indonesia walking by myself on the beach one afternoon, a group of locals having a BBQ insisted I come and drink their beer and eat their fish with them.
These are just a few of hundreds of stories where I’ve connected with and received unbelievable generosity and support from strangers. The more I travel, the more I witness how many wonderful human beings exist on this planet.
I Take More Caution Abroad
How often do you make statistically unsafe decisions at home? Walking to your apartment alone after too many drinks? Spending the night with someone you have only just met? Telling strangers where you live? Getting into a car with someone you hardly know?
We tend to take bigger risks when we feel more comfortable. Personally, I take considerably more caution in unfamiliar places, which I believe puts me in less risky situations than when I am at home. It all comes down to awareness, and nothing brings my attention to the present more than exploring a foreign place.
Bad Things Can Happen Anywhere
This is not to say that you should approach the entire world with fear. Rather, to show that simply because you’re somewhere unfamiliar and foreign, you’re not necessarily less safe. In fact, the most endangered I’ve felt was in the USA while living in Seattle, in a safe neighborhood. What happened? I was beaten and mugged, right in front of my own apartment building.
Bad things can happen everywhere in the world. Even in the safest of neighborhoods, in the safest of cities, in the safest of countries. However, we can respond to that reality by living in fear, or learning to trust our instincts over news reports and travel warnings.
I Listen to My Intuition
Fear can be your best friend, or your worst enemy. When it comes from outside influences, excessive mental chatter, or general anxiety, the chances are, it’s not serving you. Biologically we are designed to experience fear in moments when we need to respond quickly. In this case, fear is an important tool for survival. Connecting with that form of fear over the anxious mental fear, is the difference between listening to your gut over your worries.
I’ve noticed that the less I feed my irrational worries and fears, the more in tune I become with my actual animalistic intuition. Think about times when you’ve had that strong gut feeling and it turned out to be true? Or the worries you’ve had that turned out to be nothing? What was the difference in the way that you felt in each situation? Connect more with the feelings in your physical and emotional body, and likely your intuition will speak loud and clear. We can all access this voice, we just need to trust it.
I Accept That There are Things I Cannot Control
The world is not a perfect place. Things may happen that we have no control over. Sometimes planes crash. Sometimes cars collide. Sometimes tsunamis sweep their waters over populated paradise beaches. Sometimes people hurt and take advantage of one another. Sometimes we are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The fact is, we don’t know when we are going to die. This inarguable truth inspires me to take charge of my own life. To make the most of every moment. To live it to the absolute fullest. We each have this particular life to live in this particular human form, and we can limit ourselves out of fear, no matter where we are, or we can choose to take risks that make us feel more alive. I choose to feel alive.
I Trust That the Universe Has My Back
All of us have heard the term paranoia, and perhaps we’ve even used it to describe our own behavior. But how many of you have heard of its opposite, pronoia? (I’m guessing very few, if any.) Paranoia believes that the world is a scary place, out to get us. Actually, that sounds quite a lot like the way the world has been painted by the media. On the flip side, pronoia believes that the world is out to help us. Call it a delusion, but I believe that planet earth, the atmosphere, the many planets and stars, the entire universe, WANTS us to thrive.
Consequently, that has been my experience. Mostly I’m greeted with beauty, love, generosity, appreciation, kindness, and magic. The times when I feel like I’m not? I’ve realized those times, the hard times, the challenging times, are simply opportunities for growth.
So, what about you? Do you feel safe traveling the world on your own? If yes, what makes you feel safe? If no, what fears do you have?
I sent this to my father, who is worried SICK about my upcoming solo trip (first one) to Peru. I couldn’t be more excited, but he keeps asking me to reconsider. Everything you’ve said is what I try to explain, but maybe reading someone else’s POV will help him to understand. Thank you for posting 🙂
Amanda, I hope it helps! Do your homework and be cautious, and you should be fine. Best of luck 🙂 And enjoy Peru!!
Hey Amanda (and American Girl!), I cam across this blog post and your reply here when looking for advice about travelling to Peru alone as a female. Another female friend of mine, who has done a lot of solo travelling, actually recommended that I do not go to Peru — she cited poverty, associated crimes, altitude, dangerous roads, and the fact that I don’t speak Spanish…. I’m not sure if she’s just being overly cautious though. I think her primary concern was really the language barrier, since someone who speaks Spanish could probably deal better with any other problems that would arise compared to a non-Spanish speaking person like myself. Any thoughts? How was your trip?!
Hi Allison! I met many women who traveled alone all throughout South America, including Peru, and none spoke Spanish at all. To be honest, I wondered how that was even possible considering most people do not speak English, but they said they just pointed at things and were fine. Of course, if you speak Spanish I’m sure you have the option to get more off the beaten path and be more adventurous. Anyone else have tips you can give Allison about Peru??
There is crime everywhere in the world. In Peru, the farther you get from Lima the less crime you will encounter. In the interior the people are very kind and principled and respectful. Language can be an issue but my experience is that people will go out of their ways to help.
Completely agree with this Camille – people often raise their eyebrows when i tell them i’m off to another random country to travel alone. As a priviledged Delhi girl – my family find it hard to let me explore the bazaars, chownks and beautiful little Delhi gullies alone, yet i’ve seen more of India, let alone dozens of other countries, alone. I agree with your mantra – be fearless, only then can you hope to reach your dreams.
Even though I love traveling alone, can we please run away to some random country together? 😉
Yes please!! I want to do some more West Africa – maybe Togo, Benin and Burkina?! Also want to go party in Angola….i might be in Zambia later this year…where are you thinking….excited!!
Ah i loved reading this and the way you write. Everything you describe is exactly how I feel, i think we’re really similar! That’s great you’re enjoying travelling by yourself, feeling confident, secure and strong describes it so well. I look forward to following your blog:)
Thanks Liliana! I just started exploring yours. Your travel adventures so far sound absolutely amazing. I’d love to hear more about your experience working on a boat, I’ve heard it can be a great way to save money and travel.
Thank you and same for you! Yeah I don’t spend anything on the boat at all, so can save enough to do what I want when I get off. It’s a bizarre lifestyle working offshore, but there are plenty of benefits!
This was such a great post!
I’ve never travelled alone or been to the amazing places that you have, but I understand what you mean. Last year my boyfriend and I spent 10 days in Mexico exploring towns like Tulum, Akumal, etc and we enjoyed every minute of it. The locals were friendly and I never once felt unsafe. However, whenever I told coworkers or friends about Mexico they’re first reaction was “MExico is so unsafe” or “Weren’t you scared to go there”.. etc. And I couldn’t help but get discouraged with these people… I could get killed tomorrow driving to work or raped while walking home from the bar. Sure we hear bad things on the news about Mexico, Peru, Morocco, etc., but have they not watched the American or Canadian news and heard what’s going on in our own neighbourhoods?
Like I said, I’ve never travelled alone, but stories like this make me realize that it’s definitely Ok to do so 🙂
Thanks for your comments Bailey. Isn’t it interesting they way we sensationalize what countries are dangerous? I have received the same response about travel in Mexico, and I’m sure the recent occurrence in Acapulco has only made it worse. I think it’s great to do your research, be very aware and maybe slightly paranoid of your belongings certainly on buses, but it’s sad to me that people won’t travel because of these often irrational fears. And P.S. How ammmmmaaaazzzing is Tulum?? Cave snorkeling in the cenotes is an experience I will remember for the rest of my life…. however long that is 😉
I can’t explain how happy your blog and each post you write make me. You tell stories so eloquently, so impeccably that make me look forward for each post you publish. I don’t know if this made any sense haha. I love your blog.
Aw thank you Erika! Your compliment truly means the world to me!!
What an inspirational post! 🙂 Feel like dragging my backpack out the cupboard and hit the adventure trails running!
Woo hoo! Do it! No time like the present 😉
Thank you, Camille, for articulating this! Well said. I am in complete agreement with you!
You’re welcome 🙂 Glad we share the sentiment.
Empowering, inspiring- and so very genuine. Thank you!
You’re welcome Nancy. I’m so so glad you enjoyed the post!
Wow that was so inspirational and beautifully written.
I am considering a trip to Peru and Bolivia but because I cannot speak Spanish, and am terrible at picking up languages, I am thinking of going elsewhere. You’re post, however, has inspired me to challenge myself and go anyway.
Keep traveling : )
Jenny you have no idea how touched I am by your comment! YES you absolutely can do it! I can’t tell you how many solo travelers I met in South America who had been traveling for months without knowing a word of Spanish. That said, I definitely recommend taking some classes before you go and practicing as much as possible, as experiencing the local culture is so much more fulfilling when you can speak the language. Best of luck and let me know how it goes!!
I’m about to hit the 6 month point of my trip and I have yet to find myself feeling seriously unsafe so far.
There have been times where I kept someone behind me in my peripherals to make sure they weren’t really following me but other then that there weren’t much for problems.
Once you start traveling, you develop a sense and learn to be aware of your surroundings. It definitely helps keep you safe.
That being said, I am glad that I was born a guy.
I’m currently in Malaysia and have made many friends here. In my opinion, traveling as a women is (in most places at least) safe here but, the combination of the sexually repressed nature of this country in addition to it’s gender roles (submissive position women have in this country) cause many local men to be …well …crude, to put it lightly, to any women not in a baju.
Observing this while walking with my respectfully dressed female friends had made me both sick to my stomach and angry.
Stay safe girl! and keep livin’ the dream!
Thank you so much for your thoughtful response! Can we please meet up when I get to Southeast Asia??? I’ll be there next month!
Great article, really enjoyed it! It’s great to hear about someones experience when travelling alone as I plan to do some solo travel next year and am fairly worried about feeling lonely. Is it genuinely not that bad?
Not at all! Just stay in hostels and you will have the option to hang with people when you want and go on your own when you want. It definitely teaches you to get out of your shell and be more outgoing however. Where are you headed next year?
I am heading to Panama with a group to volunteer but want to stay a couple days longer to sightsee. I read you were in Panama. Where did you go? Did you feel safe? do you have any suggestions? I really want to stay 3 days and see san Blas islands, the canal and part of old town.
thank you so much
Hey there! Here is a link to my Panama posts: https://www.thisamericangirl.com/category/panama/
I felt totally safe in Panama 🙂 I highly highly recommend going to San Blas and you can easily book a tour from Panama City. Check out my post on San Blas:
Let me know any other advice you need!
Thank you very much for your response, it is very helpful 🙂 I am staying in Panama city by myself ( I am a female) for 3 days and its so inspiring reading your blog, I was considering just leaving but after reading about your adventures I have decided to stay extra. Quick question: have you stayed at mamallena? Do you recommend it? again thanks
I’m so glad to hear that 🙂 I stayed at Luna’s Castle, but I’ve heard good things about Mama Llena. I liked Luna’s Castle, it’s a very big hostel and the staff is not always the most helpful, but the common areas are really nice, they have a great bar downstairs, and I love the location right in the Casco Viejo.
Thank you for the response, I will look into that:) Sorry, last question: what do you think mare must-see things other than the Panama Canal, San Blas and Casco Viejo? And how did you get around?
Thank you 😀
Have you read this post yet? It has some recommendations.
I got around on foot but when I went further outside the Casco Viejo I took taxis which are pretty inexpensive in Panama if I recall.
Thank you 🙂 I will def. keep that in mind!
Although I am a male, I thought of this post when I saw some unwelcome news on Facebook yesterday. I can’t say she’s a super close friend, but a Japanese person I know stated that she was robbed of her belongings (credit card, passport, money, driver’s license) in Spain.
Ran is taking an around-the-world trip and I had been concerned about her safety as her itinerary included several countries in Africa and Peru, Mexico, and the U.S. But nothing bad had happened until after leaving a flamenco show in Seville.
Of course, as you mentioned, bad things can happen everywhere in the world. But certain locations do worry more than others.
But from afar, as I said, I was worried about her safety until things seemed to be going so well. And this happened.
I traveled alone in “dangerous” countries like Morocco and Colombia and never had any problems, yet was mugged in a safe neighborhood in Seattle. I think the lesson is not to avoid places because you’re a woman alone, it’s to be as mindful as you possible can. Because I know anything can happen anywhere I carry the bare minimum on me when I go out, especially at night and typically put my money, cards, etc in my bra.
Good points. Actually, Ran was not alone (she was with a friend) when she was pickpocketed. Also, years ago, my mom (I think) suggested that I put a passport pouch around my neck. Usually, when I travel with my passport, I put it in the pouch, where I often put money. I’ve never been in a dangerous situation abroad but as long as I feel my money is the pouch, I feel somewhat secure.
i travel all over Europe ALONE, and love it. ay my own pace, eat what and when i want. tour what and when i want, i love it. i am aware of my surroundings, i never stay out way pass 9p.m., i get a nice hotel, so i can enjoy the lobby, i always put something in front of my door at nite. i go to many part of Europe twice a year. and i am 60 years old.
So great to hear that you are empowering yourself by traveling solo Jeannette 🙂
I love this post. The part of trusting your instincts hit home for me. I question myself often and thats why I need to travel. I have traveled alone and when I do, I have seen some of the most beautiful things. The time lapse between travel is long and it takes so much to get out the door on my next trip and I become scared again. I have spent a week fretting over a trip to learn to dive in Thailand. Something about this trip doesn’t sit well for many reasons. I feel everything will be fine but I have not been able to book the ticket. I realized that its just not the best time, and I will know when it’s the best time to go. Instead I may need to work my way back up to traveling again. I saw you went to Little Corn Island and Bocas. Do you have a recommendation for which place might be best to learn to dive?
Whenever I get scared I remember this: I will not die from this. Then I ask myself: What would you do if fear did not exist? Then I do that 😉 Both are good places for diving, though not the best in the world by any means. I would say, go to whichever destination appeals to you more, as both have good and inexpensive diving.
Right On. Thanks. Actually I figured go somewhere inexpensive to learn but now Im thinking I can learn anywhere. Have you dived in Belize? I am.interested in going to Belize.
I’ve been to Belize, but only snorkeling. The snorkeling was PHENOMENAL and I hear the diving is as well!
I totally agree! I was working in Australia in 1988 (wow, that dates me!) and spent 6 months traveling south east Asia by myself. No one could belive it was safe. Like you, I had a few scary incidents, but the people there really reached out to me in every place I went. I felt I truly connected and made friends. I have grown children now and encourage them to do the same. I’m apprehensive for my 19 year old daughter because of human trafficing, so glad to hear young women are still able to travel alone. I liked your comment about being more vigilant traveling than at home–good point. Thanks for expressing what I’ve tried to tell people for years!!!!
Sure thing Libby! Thanks for sharing your experience, it sounds incredible 🙂 It’s absolutely safe for young women to travel alone today, and actually I’m planning to put together an entire eBook The Single Girl’s Guide to Traveling the World. So keep your eyes peeled 🙂
This is EXACTLY how I feel. I’ve traveled alone quite a bit and you’ve summed up my view of the world and of traveling solo perfectly! My friends and family always worry, even when I was traveling in Iceland, which is statistically a much safer place than California. We tend to have an odd mindset that we’re safer at home, but it’s simply not true. Next time someone tells me I’m crazy for traveling solo I’ll point them to this post 🙂
Awesome so happy to hear that Kate!! 🙂 Keep rockin it
Hey. Great post!
I’ve travelled alone more so than I have with others and my friends and family worry like hell, but I feel I have had a better experiences for it. The friendliness and hospitality I have seen in other countries is phenomenal. Nothing like I have seen in my home town in the UK. You are never alone as there are many others in the same position as you, and you always manage to find each other. And of course, you can pretty much always rely on your instinct.
I totally agree 🙂 Glad you liked the post!
Fantastic post. It’s too true that many people back home, and that you meet on the road think you’re silly for going to ‘dangerous’ places, when in fact those places are relatively safe, and in some cases, probably safer than your home city!
Totally agree! 🙂
I love that notion – the universe will have my back! I absolutely believe in that too. And you are quite right – we actually do take more risks at home, I never thought about it but what an excellent argument to those naysayers.
Thank so much love, I appreciate you!