How many times have you been afraid to take that plunge and say ‘yes’ to a trip that meant going out and conquering the world alone? As women, most of us have been at the crossroads of deciding to set out alone, while also being scared of the repercussions that might follow. Those travellers who do take that plunge, are often met with expressions of bewilderment and astonishment. Having travelled alone for the past five years, I often come across reactions that put me on a pedestal and exalt me for ‘being brave’. Those who have traveled alone, can probably empathise with this. And those who haven’t can still understand where this comes from.
There continues to be a mindset of discomfort and disbelief when it comes to women travelling alone. This is a global phenomenon, but might be more ingrained in some societies than other. The situation is even more unwelcoming for transgender people and gender-nonconforming people in a world where ‘man’ is the universal and everything an ‘other’.
There has been a growing literature on solo travelling and a spurt of blogs and travelogues that have delineated the status of solo female travellers. This community of solo travellers, around the world although placed in diverse settings with diverse experiences, might have some consensus with regard to one question: Is it safe to travel alone?
This fear is not altogether unfounded.
I’ve come across situations that haven’t been all too pleasant. And circumstances that are not remotely safe. But it is necessary to understand what ‘safe’ entails here. For far too long, we have been conditioned to believe that we are better off inside our houses. And even when venturing out, we need a male companion to depend on to navigate our needs. This is true of every sphere, including travel. Let’s face it. Travelling for women is very different from men. We have to be constantly vigilant about our surroundings, the people around us, making conscious efforts to present ourselves to escape catcalling or threats of assault.
This is not to scare you away or overwhelm you. Instead help you take that leap of faith to go out alone and experience the world. Here is a list of things that can help you do that.
- Planning and researching are the key: I cannot stress this enough. While most of us are about the spontaneity, it is necessary that we have adequate information about an unknown place that makes navigating easier. You know beforehand what to expect and thusl, will be able to adapt according to the demands of the place. The internet is filled with travel guides that are place specific and they provide you with all details ranging from the best sightseeing places to the best places to dine-out. There are also often active local LGBTQ organisations that help figure out your travel and plan your stays. Such guides are helpful to provide you adequate knowledge to move around and enjoy your stays to the fullest.
- Join a tour group or association: If you are extremely wary about traveling all by yourself for the first time, it’s always good to join tour groups that allow travellers to go out and explore in groups. There are also often informal groups consisting of solo female travellers that allow you to explore on your own and also let you rely on your fellow travel mates as and when situation demands.
- Respecting cultural boundaries: Travelling involves often visiting places that have very different cultures from that of your own. We often find ourselves caught in conundrums when dealing with situations that require taking a stand for what is right or conforming to what the place and their people stand for. I’ve faced numerous such instances and under such circumstances, it’s better to stick to the latter. While you can always engage in mindful discussions and try and advocate others, you also need to take into account their perspectives and understand that they often are a part and parcel of their cultural setting. This would also often mean dressing in a way to mingle with the people, and to be mindful of not making outrageous statements. You’ll be surprised with the opportunity that it provides you for a prolific cultural exchange.
- Plan your stay in hostels or dormitories: When travelling alone, hostel or dorm rooms are the best place to stay. They are a cheaper option than hotels and also offer you the occasion to engage and interact with other travellers. Hostels have especially given rise to the new ‘backpack culture’ that has helped connect solo travellers and create a community beyond travelling. Home-stay is another option that has flourished in recent years and is a great occasion to plan your stay.
- Keep your documents handy: This is especially true for gender-nonconforming travellers, for most countries and cities do not offer the option of changing the gender marker on the passport. To tackle such hurdles, it is easier to update your passports and visas beforehand. A quick search for different documents required to visit different countries will give you prior knowledge and help you stay prepared.
- Engage with locals: There is ample opportunity to engage with the local culture and the people while travelling alone that would otherwise not be possible when travelling in a group. This is one of the most rewarding experiences of travelling alone, and one that helps you further in manoeuvering your stay. When travelling alone we do not let our guards down, often missing out on things that can be enriching. Especially, a solo traveller will draw in more curiosity and if you can use add that to your advantage, you’ll have more fun exploring. You will be called to share a meal with the families, or women may gather around and try to indulge you in stories and conversations. At the end it’s all about discovering new stories, unfettered.
- Avail public transport for commuting: There are a number of companies that provide special cabs for women for pickups and drops and also for commuting around. While taxis and cabs are great to avail and more comfortable, I would still prefer public transport. They are the best option when you are on a budget. They allow you to get a closer insight into the local culture, the region and the people which is an interesting experience altogether. More importantly it doesn’t make you feel out of place. You’ll always find someone or the other trying to strike up a conversation, and if you are one of the kinds who loves making the first move, you will be offered with a lot of opportunities to travel and explore offbeat places and places beyond your guidebook and travel trail.
- Build new friendships: the best thing about traveling solo is the experience of meeting new companions along the way. Who said traveling solo means you have to be all alone? You will meet so many strangers along the way and build engaging and enriching connections. Being an introvert, I’ve often found it hard to strike up a conversation or make the first move, but also wished to meet new people and engage. It’s surprising how at times like these, there are other travellers who have come to my rescue and made this experience so smooth and enthralling.
Look for local organisations and charity houses that allow travellers to participate in volunteer activity. There are plenty of these in every city and country, and one of the best ways to mingle with the local crowd as well as build new friendships. You’ll also be able to engage in productive ways and help do your bit towards the community.
- Follow your instinct: At the end of it all, you have to trust your gut. While you can indulge and engage as much as you want, if something doesn’t feel right and your intuition tells you to get out, then leave ASAP. For innumerable situations, I have been able to steer clear of hurdles simply because I trusted my gut. Above everything all, what matters most is your safety and comfort. So, while letting loose is necessary, you also need to be cautious about where and with who you are.
Traveling alone can be scary the first time. But once you take that leap it can be the most exciting experience. It not only helps you build confidence but also helps you reconnect and reflect. It allows you the space to be on your own and take decisions for yourself without having to rely on anyone else. Sure, there are a few rotten apples, but there are equally good people who will make you feel safe and your experience fulfilling. Above all, the freedom is exhilarating.
So, the next time you have doubts about stepping out alone on a world tour (or a weekend getaway) just do it, and you’ll be surprised with the person that you come back with.
Featured Image Source: Feminism In India