I have been traveling since 2007. Now, when I think about the modern day luxuries of free WiFi, Whats App, Instagram, and Snap Chat, technology has come a long way since I first started globe trotting. Just to offer some perspective, when I first began traveling, I literally had to find phone call centers to call home, time my contact so it coincided with waking hours, and use email check-ins to relay updates to my family and friends who would then relay the messages to my mother. We’ve all come a VERY long way since those days.
Yet, despite this increase and speed in communication, there is still an immense fear of traveling alone despite all these technological, and communicative advances that we’ve made as a society.
As someone who has traveled more solo, than with groups, one of my friends asked me to speak on it. Her specific question was: “What would you say has been the best way to balance staying open to experiences available in a new country let's say "after hours" at a club, with remaining vigilant/safe as a Black woman traveling alone abroad?”
While I have extensive experience in being a #blackwomanabroad and brown girl traveling solo, I have seen several notable sources about #BlackGirlMagic solo travel (and just #FemaleSoloTravel in general) that I think do a decent job of covering the basics.
From the heavy hitting mainstream to one of my spirit travel maven goddesses (at least we are friends in my head) - this is a topic that has garnered a lot of attention as women of all shades, sizes, and familiarity take the world by storm (more so than men might I add, although they are coming up!).
So to answer my friend’s question I wanted to share some insights that aren’t offered in the resources linked above - that I think provide advice and hopefully answers this question honestly.
FIRST: I WOULD ADVISE NOT TO TALK ABOUT YOUR PLANS UNTIL AFTER YOU HAVE PURCHASED YOUR TICKET, AND MADE UP YOUR MIND.
Being afraid to travel alone is definitely normal, however from my experience, much of the fear of going alone is fueled by other people’s projections of their own fear or bewilderment, amazement, disbelief, or ::insert other emotion you did not have when you made your plan here::. Fear is often magnified by those who have never traveled solo, those who are impressionable by the media (hence why people believe they will be the next unfilmed Lifetime version of “Taken”), and those who cannot really speak to the experience accurately.
Common responses to people when they hear you are traveling solo will include:
“Oh girl, I could never do that, I would be too afraid”
“You going by YOURSELF? That’s crazy!”
“You’re not worried you’re going to be bored being yourself all day long? What are you going to do?”
I truly believe that once a commitment is made, no one can speak over your movements. Or at least, if they do, you have already committed to going - so, you’ll just have to show them how “crazy” it is to travel alone. I also believe that projections take on more precedent in people’s lives when one is not sure enough within themselves to go for it. Other people’s opinions also often deter people from making the moves they want to, and feel perfectly okay with making. I am honest about knowing that it is okay to seek validation, but not at the expense of having your own desires fulfilled. I will also be honest and say, the thought of traveling alone never scared me THAT much because I am okay with being in my own company, and there is nothing wrong with getting to know yourself a little better without being wedded to others plans, demands, moods, desires, and/or interests. Lastly, I really do not like waiting on people in many things, and booking travel just happened to fall in that category.
SECOND: TRAVELING IN A GROUP DOES NOT MAKE YOU ANY SAFER OR LESS SUSCEPTIBLE TO HARM! IS GROUP TRAVEL EFFECTIVE: DEFINITELY! HOWEVER GROUPS OF TOURISTS ARE TARGETS AS MUCH AS INDIVIDUALS ARE (ALBEIT FOR DIFFERENT REASONS).
I think it is important to NAME THE #FEAR you have about #travelingsolo first, so you have articulated the specific aspect of traveling alone that is scary to you. This way, you can do all the reading you need to, and all the preparation you can think of to head off that fear first hand.
From my conversations with people here are a few common fears about #femalesolotravel in particular:
The reality is that each of things can be issues when you are in a group. For example, I know I have interests in art, culture, and like to get acquainted with places on a deeper level than others. So, if I was stuck with a group that was not into any of that, I would in actuality be bored. . .and eventually annoyed that I was not having the experience I wanted for myself.
I like being able to choose when and if I WANT to have a conversation. The perception of #solotravel is that you are traveling in some vacuum where other humans don’t exist. That is not the case.
You can and will most definitely meet people throughout your time traveling alone. The idea that being in a group is the only way to prevent loneliness, is a misconception. So, while being with people prevents loneliness in some way, sometimes in a group, you have to be “on” all the time. It can be hard to find a quiet moment without people being in their feelings about your desire to be to yourself, or do something by yourself.
THIRD: LOSE THE PARANOIA. AMERICA HAS CORNERED THE MARKET ON MAKING PEOPLE AFRAID. AFRAID. OF. EVERYTHING. EVERYONE IS NOT OUT TO GET YOU, AND EVERYONE DOES NOT WANT TO KIDNAP YOU.
It is really important to CHECK THE FEAR MINDSET before you take off, because the law of attraction is real, and what you tell yourself will appear if you believe those things.
My travels have given me faith in humanity when staying at home has diminished it a whole lot! People are kind in this world, provided you have some awareness of that - and not in some naive sense.
In terms of balancing my openness to experiences while staying safe, this is exactly what I lead with. The knowledge that not everyone is out to harm me, the fact that I have some level of street smarts and common sense, and that my wits and intuition will keep me safe.
For example, I was on a group trip in #Morocco, standing outside the hotel having a smoke. It was also Ramadan, and so not the best idea, because the streets were empty. This older man rolls up on a motorbike and starts asking me questions about how many people I am with. I told him 14. He said with a thick accent: “Vwell on my bike I don’t have vroom for 14 but I have vroom for you, I can take you to special market. . .”
Now at that moment was when I KNEW, Taken was a possibility in my life if I made the dumb decision to go with said toothless man to some “special” market. By that time I had been all over Morocco with my group, we had been to like 15 different markets in about 7 different towns, and so like, c’mon. Really? That was the line?
And so there it is, I said "No, thank you. I've been to enough markets!" Smiled, and went back into the hotel. It’s that simple to be safe when you are alone.
FOURTH: I DO MY BEST TO HAVE A MIXTURE OF ALONE TIME & INTENTIONAL GROUP EXPERIENCES BY SIGNING UP FOR TOURS, HANGING OUT WITH FRIENDS ALONG THE JOURNEY (THAT'S WHAT I CALL PEOPLE I MEET WHILE I AM TRAVELING), AND DOING CLUB ACTIVITIES WITH THE GROUPS THAT I MEET, OR THE HOSTELS THAT I STAY AT.
As much as hostels get a bad rap from many people, I’ve had some amazing adventures by going out with groups of people from the hostels, getting free drinks because I was staying at the hostel, and/or taking advantage of hostel bars/clubs (those are common these days and it’s great to turn up on a roof and then go to bed in the same building). I always returned with a few people or one reliable person from whatever group I went out with.
You don’t need to be like clingon, but making sure to have a line of sight of who you came with at all times is wise. Typically, I am partying with these people, so this shouldn’t be difficult. Also, don’t be so caught up making love in the club that you lose your night team. Also, if all else fails, make SURE you know how to get back and/or how much the taxi should be so that you have your exit strategy once you are ready.
When I am alone, if I do go out, and am on a budget - like the time I was in Tokyo and wanted to peep the scene, I made sure to time myself so I could catch the last train back to where I was staying. With cab costs at about $60 to go across town, I was not interested in partying hard, and staying out all night. It also didn’t seem like it would have been worth it since I can party hard at home.
At least I got to see where the clubs were, heard the music they played, and got treated to a round of drinks by a bar owner before my time to go arrived. As a woman of color, traveling solo, there will be opportunities to meet people, and be treated nicely in a genuine way if you have your boundaries established in your mind. Not everything needs to be stated, but it was clear to the bar owner, I had to catch that last train, and I made it!
I had also had a karaoke adventure with my hostel buddies at the previous hostel I stayed at, so I felt okay with skipping out on the club scene.
FIFTH: CONNECT WITH THE CULTURE OF YOUR DESTINATION BY STAYING IN DIFFERENT AREAS TO GET A WELL-ROUNDED EXPERIENCE WHILE TRAVELING SOLO.
In order to have adventures, you have to be willing to move around a destination. So I am going to go against the grain here and recommend that while you should plan your first 2 days, you can travel solo, with a fluid plan to see where the winds can take you. I’ve gotten the BEST recommendations from hostel buddies about where to go and what to see, because #Backpackers be knowing! This gives you the potential to meet and see as many people as possible, while also catching different vibes and scenes that suit your taste.
For example if you only stay on or near Khao San Road (#PubStreet) in #Bangkok, #Thailand you really will have a bad impression on the nightlife, because it is everything related to #Ugly #Tourism. Imagine #drunktourists acting like drunk tourists, all entitled, obnoxious, sick, loud, and being surrounded by way too many expensive tacky souvenirs. … Exactly, not fun!
I know this only partially answers how I have balanced all these things as a #solofemaletraveler. I hope part 1 of my #travelingsolo tales are helpful to all those considering taking that trip! Part 2 will speak more to the elements of trust as a solo traveler. Stay tuned, and comment below with your questions, thoughts, and concerns! Also, feel free to reach out if you are thinking about #travelingsolo and need some #positive #encouragement from a #solotravelpro.