When studying abroad, we often expect to have wonderful travel experiences surrounded by friends who have journeyed with us from our home universities, or with our new friends we make as part of the program. Organizing within everyone’s travel goals, schedules, and budgets can be tricky to manage, yet some students find themselves going along with the plans of others simply because of the fear of missing out or just out of convenience. This is especially the case for women. After all, regardless of where you are studying, there is a sure chance that a section of your study abroad orientation will stress the safety precautions women must take while traveling abroad, and will encourage women to travel with a companion or two. While there is nothing wrong with choosing to travel with a group of people, there is also nothing wrong with choosing to travel alone.
It is possible that traveling alone will most likely result in fewer glamour shots for your social media posts, at least in your early stages of traveling alone, but that is honestly a shallow way to view your study abroad experience. Traveling alone allows you to have a greater opportunity to experience the most of the cities you are exploring. More importantly for women, it empowers us to deconstruct the socially constructed barriers of fear, dependence, and immobility that keep us from doing what we want to do. Of course, it would be wrong to deny that female students face greater challenges when traveling alone than male students do, but it is also important to recognize that many of the “dangers” presented to women may be exaggerated. For example, many people warned me about the dangers of traveling alone to a country such as Turkey, a primarily Muslim country, where women are expected to be modest, accompanied, and reserved. However, after seeing how the locals interacted, I quickly recognized how much stereotypes can affect our approach. From interacting with local vendors and stepping foot in Sultanahmet Camii Mosque, to trying traditional Turkish dishes off the local hostel staff’s own plates, I experienced a warmness from people that quickly eliminated my preexisting fears of danger, and allowed me to approach future solo travel with a different attitude.
So, once you decide that you are ready to make your first solo trip, here are a few things I recommend we do as female solo-travelers:
This is a must for anyone who is traveling alone. Make sure you know what type of environment you are arriving in. Our adventurous spirits may lead us off the beaten path, and while it is great that we wander down these paths it is also important to be smart about it. Inform yourself of the potential travel warnings associated with the country. Will you be traveling to or around politically unstable areas? Are there any health advisory warnings in the cities you may be visiting or traveling through? Have there been recent reports of increased violence in the area? These are things to consider and keep in mind when deciding where to solo travel. A good source for updates on travel information is the U.S. Department of State website, travel.state.gov. It may also be useful to scan the news for current events taking place in your destination country.
Let someone from home know where you are going. It can be a family member, a friend, or someone you are close to at your home university. Whoever it is, it is important to let someone know about your travel plans. Let them know when you are departing and when you are scheduled to arrive back in your host country. You can expect the unexpected when traveling alone, and in case of an emergency you may need help from your loved ones back home.
Expect to feel a sense of nervousness and fear when being alone, but do not make it apparent.
It is normal to feel a sense of nervousness and a bit of fear wandering the streets of an unknown city alone, but try not to show it. Chances are, it will be a dead giveaway that you do not belong to the city you are visiting, but there is a way to be lost without looking completely lost. Try to study a map of the areas you are staying in and memorize the directions to the places you will be sightseeing ahead of time. Don’t be afraid to pull a map out, but also don’t be afraid to put it away. If/when you get lost, enjoy it! Some of the best places and experiences are found when you are least looking for them.
Enjoy your time alone.
Women are often afraid to be alone; society has taught us that is a sad story when a woman ends up alone. However, traveling alone can be such an empowering experience. You learn things about yourself that you never knew, you push yourself beyond your limits, and gain a sense of confidence that is unapologetic. If that’s not enough, when traveling alone you also have the opportunity to surround yourself with locals. Your ability to break away from the comfort of traveling with people you know will allow you to make new friends worldwide, thus enhancing your time abroad, and making it a life changing experience you will cherish forever.