The Scandal of Traveling Solo
These are some things I have noticed when I travel alone.
People will think you are exciting. Some will think you are a hero. And/or think you're simultaneously crazy.
Others will be confused, at a loss for words. They don't have a box for this in their brains.
People at your destination can be shocked. Or ask repeated questions. “You came by YOURSELF?” “Now wait, why aren't you married?” Or make judgments with a condescending head shake: “How sad.”
Some people offer fake friendship. They want you to buy something. Or to give them some cash.
Some clearly cannot deal with solo women in particular. No one seems worried when a solo man walks into a fancy seafood restaurant alone, but a woman? Gasp. Is she okay? We should maybe bring her some historic photos of our town to look at.
People might ignore you and may not give a flip, other than the “sad" comment. (Alright fine, it was Paris. After some travel in Africa where I was treated as a celebrity, this was a harsh but probably needed deflation of my ego.)
All of these scenarios are real.
But you, solo friend, you keep traveling. After a few of these instances, you start to develop some resilience. You start remembering, “Hey, I paid for this trip, hotel, food just like everyone else. I deserve to be here.”
Some people are very kind too. They are incredibly welcoming and invite you along on their drive/walk/hike. Waiters make appropriate extra chit chat or seat you by a scenic window, if you want, to ensure your comfort.
And through all this, for reasons of pride and safety, you attempt to look like you know what you’re doing.
In my experience, even though I may over-worry that I look weird, I have suppressed the urge to flee and walked into a fancy romantic dinner without a partner, pretending I am totally cool and meant to be here. (Uh, fine food and drink that they won’t deliver to your room is a powerful motivator, btw.)
Basically, you have to fake it till you make it. Act like you know what you're doing, and it will frequently (well, maybe) work out. Or it won’t, and you ask someone for help and perhaps learn something new.
Maybe extroverts thrive on this kind of unknown situation, but it is WORK for us introverts, to go outside what is known and ask questions and try new things.
When I once told people I was going on a trip “to to sit on a beach and not talk to anyone,” all the introverts nodded a contented “Ahhhh.” All the extroverts said, “Whaaat?”
And so we all look through different lenses.
In some parts of the world, solo traveling is not a big deal. Europeans and Australians are streaming through Central America on solo adventures -- including one Finnish woman I met who was bicycling and camping alone, on the back roads of Guatemala.
So why is it strange for an American woman to show up in Guatemala or Costa Rica or Uganda solo?
Maybe we are lightweights. Maybe we are afraid. Maybe we just don't get much press.
But I can tell you, I didn't go because I wasn't afraid. Quite the opposite, in fact.
And I learn so much differently as a solo traveler, I wouldn't trade those experiences. More later on some things I've learned.