Ever have the feeling that you just want to get up and go? On such a whim, I found myself in a foreign country where English wasn’t the first, or even second language, and I was all alone. I was on a packed public bus in Vietnam trying to find my hostel and doing my best to communicate with the bus driver who did not speak a lick of English. I got off the bus feeling helpless and tried to make sense of my surroundings. A cry of “Lady, you lost?” made me turn around and face a Vietnamese guy on a scooter. Within minutes, he figured out where I needed to go, drove me there on his scooter and gave me some banana bread that he had in his basket. It was this experience that made me realize that traveling as a solo female opens a world of opportunities and experiences that are not available to traveling couples or groups.
I came to be in this predicament through the usual pathways, I had all this vacation time saved up, my friends couldn’t afford/didn’t have enough vacation time to come with, and I found myself single. I wanted to go traveling to Vietnam and Cambodia and if my only excuse was that I was a lone female, that wasn’t good enough. I heard all the stories about what could happen to me, kidnappings, muggings, rape, and the fact that I was young, innocent looking (according to my Mum), with long blonde hair actually wouldn’t help me in this situation.
To prepare myself, I reassessed my wardrobe choices and packed conservative clothing, wrote a detailed itinerary of my plans to my family and friends and researched the following useful websites:
Women Travel Tips
While I was traveling, I made sure I informed the front desk everyday where I was going, which was a reassuring precaution. I made sure that I was alert and aware of my surroundings when I left my hostel to the point where I was almost too careful. I gave up some freedoms like drinking alcohol at a bar and instead nursed a soft drink all night. At night, I would walk with groups of people and ended my nights earlier than I would at home. It was tiring and emotionally draining to have to be on my guard at all times and not be able to rely on someone else to work an issue out for me, but the moments of survival and strength, such as finding my own way to a recommended cafe were extremely rewarding.
I became used to meals for one and the stares that accompanied it. I ate an unforgettable bowl of pho and couldn’t tell anyone about it but it brought me out of my comfort zone like never before. I chatted to strangers on the street for conversation and met a great group of Canadians my age and ended up traveling with them for a stint. I was invited to a family’s home for lunch which would not have happened if I was not traveling solo. I began to enjoy the feeling of selfishness and the fact that I was only doing what I wanted. There were times of weariness and loneliness and it was hard to deal with the constant attention I received. At first I was embarrassed to ask strangers to take my photo, but I knew countless scenery shots would not be able to convey the experience I was having.
I returned from my trip confident and triumphant to my faint hearted family and friends. I relayed stories of amazing connections with fellow travelers and locals and showed them my photos, all of which show me smiling. Traveling solo is an experience that I would recommend to everyone, just be sure to travel with an open mind, an open eye and it will get you very far.
Originally published on Offbeat Guides
Photo courtesy of Offbeat Guides