Over the years I’ve heard more women than you could imagine say that they want to travel the world on their own. And yet, many never make it happen.
Perhaps they don’t have the money. Or they can’t take the time off. Or traveling alone sounds dangerous, boring, lonely, or sad. Or they have boyfriends or spouses or pets or kids or parents or contracts or loans or a million and one responsibilities they can’t leave behind. Or they think their dreams are silly and irresponsible and they’ll come back home with nothing. Or quite simply, they don’t think they’re capable of it.
I honor and acknowledge each and every one of those worries, because I know how real they can feel. But I’m willing to bet that most of the time, deep down, they’re excuses rooted in fear.
Fear, not money or boyfriends or safety warnings or responsibility, is what holds us back from pursuing that which our heart desires most. Fear is what holds us back from booking that flight or quitting that job or taking that pilgrimage or going our own way.
And not even fear of failure. Fear of greatness. We’re so afraid of what we’re capable of, that we keep ourselves in boxes so that we’ll never have to find out.
That’s why fear is something that needs to be discussed. It needs to be pulled out of the shadows and brought into the light. Because only when we acknowledge and embrace the fear can we liberate ourselves from it.
If you want to travel the world as a strong, confident woman on her own, fear is where it all begins. Each of us must face our fears so that we can work with them and become the most confident women that we know.
So today I’m asking, “why are so many women afraid to travel alone?”
The Fear: Being a Target for Crime
For women traveling alone, safety is a far greater concern than it is for men. We believe that we’re less equipped to defend ourselves, and we’re therefore more of a target for crime. Would you feel safer walking down a dark alley alone, or with a man by your side?
As women we feel like we’re greater targets for being mugged, harassed, cat called, and worst of all raped. In fact, I’m willing to bet that the number one concern most women have when it comes to traveling alone, is rape.
I’ve felt that fear myself. When I’ve met men who have slept alone in hammocks on deserted islands or couch surfed all over the world or backpacked alone through India. A voice inside of me has said, “I’d love to do that… but I can’t. Because I’m a woman, so I’d probably get raped.” We’re conditioned to believe that there’s a whole list of things that we can’t do as women alone, because we’re targets for rape and other forms of abuse and violence.
Traveling adventurously does not immediately resign you to being a rape victim. I’ve encountered very little crime in four years of solo travel. I’ve experienced some petty theft when I left something on the beach, had my bag stolen off of my bicycle once, and been approached by scammers a few times. My greatest challenge has been dealing with cat calling and sexual harassment from a distance. Read my post What Can a Girl Do About Cat Calling for solutions for that.
There are plenty of things that you can do to make yourself less of a target for crime while traveling. I’ve found that the most important is to trust your intuition as your guide, and always follow it. The times when I’ve been in sketchy situations have always been when I ignored my intuition. I also recommend taking physical defense classes to arm you not only with the ability to defend yourself, but the confidence to carry yourself in a way that repels criminals. For all of my safety tips, read How to Feel Safe as a Woman Traveling Alone.
I would like to emphasize that I place no blame or responsibility on anyone who has been a victim of rape or any other crime. If it has happened to you, it’s not your fault because you didn’t follow a certain protocol. Violence and abuse are symptoms of an illness in the world and our responsibility is to simply love and forgive ourselves even more when faced with it.
The Fear: Disapproval of Family and Friends
People often ask me how my parents feel about my choice to live nomadically and travel to developing countries alone. I feel so fortunate to say that they are one hundred percent supportive. But that hasn’t always been the case. I’ve also had many friends from my “past life” judge my decisions or incessantly question how it’s even possible. Not to mention some very critical comments from strangers on my blog.
This fear of not being accepted by others for making an unconventional choice prevents many women from traveling alone. And the thing is, no matter what you do, the naysayers are always going to be there.
They may project their fears onto you. They may not understand your dreams or decisions. They may tell you that it’s not safe for you to travel on your own. They may tell you that long-term travel is irresponsible. They may plant seeds of self-doubt that make you question what you know in your heart you really want.
People who love you want to see you grow. They want to see you happy. They want to see you free. But even the people who love you aren’t perfect. They’ve got their own shit that can muck up their filter, often their own fear, which can make them less than ideal cheerleaders. If someone judges, questions, or criticizes your dreams, remember that it’s not about you. It’s about whatever your choices are triggering in them.
In the same turn, your insecurity is not about them either. It’s about what their concerns are triggering in you. You don’t need to take on what they feel, and at the same time seize this opportunity to own what you feel. Can you see the criticisms and hesitations of others as helpful opportunities for you to become even surer of what you want?
What if every naysayer was here to help you cultivate more confidence from within, and each positive response you offer in return was here to remind you how powerful you really are?
As I’ve learned to become more secure and confident, the less unsolicited feedback and the more support I’ve received. Because frankly, most people have good intentions and just want the best for you. They want to solve your problems and make sure you’re safe. Reassure them by first reassuring yourself, and watch as little by little even your naysayers become your cheerleaders.
The Fear: Feeling Lonely or Bored
Years ago I never would have imagined myself traveling the world on my own. In fact, I didn’t even have the desire. Not because I was afraid of being mugged or raped. Not because I was worried what my parents might think. Because I thought that traveling alone was sad and pathetic.
Consequently, I was always waiting around for the perfect scenario to work out with friends. But who wants to spend their life waiting for other people to join them in following their dreams?
The irony is, once I started traveling alone, I realized that I actually prefer it to traveling with others. Traveling alone gives me the freedom to travel in the way that feels best to me without compromising with others. I learn more lessons, feel more alive, and actually meet more people and make more friends when I’m alone.
That said, yes I’ve had times where I felt lonely or bored. Though they’ve been few and far between, and are often the moments when I’m forced to look inside at what truly needs my attention. Loneliness and boredom can be amazing teachers when we listen.
If you’re just getting your feet wet, there are ways to travel alone and guarantee that you’ll have instant friends. Spending time with like-minded people and having activities already organized is one of the main advantages of group tours and travel retreats. In my Jungle Bliss Women’s Retreats in Costa Rica, we all stay in a house together and do plenty of bonding activities while also getting free time. By mid week the ladies are already best friends.
Another way is by signing up as a volunteer with an organization or doing work trade. You’re instantly part of a community. I’ve experienced this working as a yoga teacher. When I’ve connected with or worked at different yoga studios across the world I instantly connect with people with similar interests.
Often avoiding boredom or loneliness is a simple choice. Decide to stay in social places like hostels, and there will always be people to meet. Decide to step outside your comfort zone and chat it up with a stranger. Decide to be vulnerable and show your depth and see how much deeper your interactions become. Seize the day and get out there and have experiences and see how quickly boredom drifts away.
The Fear: Entering the Unknown
As intricate and myriad as our fears seem, they are in fact simple and they are in fact one. All fear is simply a resistance to the unknown. A discomfort in something that we don’t understand, can’t see, and can’t predict. This fear controls us, because we don’t know how to not have control.
Though the unknown is where the true magic lies. The unknown is the space where we expand. The unknown is the gateway to greatness.
Take the leap. Surrender to possibility. Trust that the universe has a greater plan than you could even conceive. Accept that you don’t have control, and recognize what a tremendous relief that is.
Stay tuned for much more solo female travel advice in my next eBook The Single Girl’s Guide to Traveling the World! Make sure to sign up for my newsletter to be the first to know when it’s released.