After the Internet kept bugging me about how every woman should take a trip by herself at least once in her life, I thought I'd give it a go.
I'm never one to shy away from a challenge, but I'm also not the person you'd go to when you need directions (unless you actually want to get lost).
As women, we're taught that the world is dangerous and we should have a man by our side to protect us. Obviously, there are places which are genuinely unsafe for both genders, but the majority of the world should not leave you cowering in fear just because you're female. As long as you do some research, the benefits of solo female travel far outweigh the cons.
Solo travel is terrifying but exhilarating. I took my first solo trip in June 2015 through Costa Rica and Panama, and these are the lessons I learnt.
People are kind
It's easy when you first set out by yourself to be suspicious of everyone and everything around you. That street looks a bit dodgy, you might think, or Cross the road and avoid that person: they might rob you!
Your mind can quickly go into overdrive. While it's absolutely necessary to take precautions and have your wits about you, be open to kindness as well.
At an airport in Costa Rica, a man told me which direction to go after I deeply suspected he would demand money for the information (he didn't). At one hostel, a girl invited me to dinner with her friends when she saw me by myself.
When travelling alone, you may predominantly rely on yourself, but you also take more chances on other people. When someone does something nice for you when you feel a bit lonely or lost, you return the favour: whenever I saw someone by themselves at a hostel, I immediately went over to say hi.
Foreign languages (and cultures) are important
I went to Costa Rica and Panama with minimal Spanish skills. I'm not even being modest, I was really clueless. Apart from going back in time and deciding to travel a country I'd have had more luck in (a French-speaking country, for example) or practising Spanish months in advance, nothing could prepare me for the guilt I would feel upon that first "hola."
It's just simple manners to make the effort to speak the language -- however little -- of the country you're travelling in, not to mention respectful and a lot smoother for your travel plans.
Saying goodbye is tough
When you move around during your trip, you make an effort to talk to people and make friends. The sad part is that each place I'd make a lovely group of friends, we'd inevitably go our separate ways - then you're back to the beginning, introducing yourself to new people, going through the usual routine backpacker questions. It was like ending and starting a whole new trip, setting the restart button.
Solo, you don't have that companion who's your constant while everything else changes. Solo, you reflect on everything, then have to move on and adapt again. Your time travelling becomes more like lots of fleeting, separate moments than a linear, continuous journey.
Being alone can actually be comforting
When I took off on my solo adventure, I thought I'd always want to be surrounded by people. I like my alone time at home, but would I like it so much when I didn't have the comfort of having someone I know only in the other room or a train ride away?
Turns out, yes. I loved moments of going to find something to eat on my own or picking the comfiest looking hammock and reading by myself (and there are definitely no shortage of hammocks in Central America). There's a calmness in just being in your own company that makes you more present and in the moment.
Being alone can also be really disorientating
On the other hand, there were times that all I wanted was to go home and wondered what on earth I'd got myself into.
I forced my expectations and hopes of my trip onto myself and got disappointed when they didn't work out. That sort of pressure isn't helpful to your happiness on a solo adventure.
The times you want to feel good about being alone, you might hate it. The times you want to make deeper friendships, there may not be anyone you bond with. But that's ok, because travel comes with the nice surprises, too. Solo travel means learning that you don't have much say as to whether you're going to find what you're looking for, so you might as well just trust the ride.
Or anyone you want to be. The point is, you don't have to impress anyone. The only person you have to answer to is yourself.
Travelling solo can be completely liberating: you're probably never going to see the people you meet on the road again (unless you really click) so who cares if you'd actually rather go to bed instead of staying up all night drinking with people you only sort of like? You're just doing what you want without pressure from anyone. People go travelling for all sorts of reasons so leave the judgement behind and let people be who they are.
If you don't like it, change it
If you don't like a place, move on to another. You may waste some money, but wasting time being unhappy is worse when you've put all this effort into giving yourself an amazing experience. Create a buffer in your budget for the possibility you won't like a place -- I would have been a lot happier if I hadn't have stayed in empty, rainy Puerto Viejo for as long as I did.
Similarly, if you don't get on with someone, or they want to do something you don't want to do, politely excuse yourself and do what feels right to you. The beauty of solo travel is that you don't have to answer to anyone but yourself -- take advantage of that!
To read more about my solo travel experiences or about Central America (among other destinations), visit my blog, Kirst Over the World.
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