I didn’t do my first solo trip until the summer of 2015 when I interned with a company in Madrid, Spain. What I didn’t know at the time is that I would end up spending the whole three months traveling on my own, which can sound lonely or boring, but actually lead me to understand some of life’s most important lessons. In total, I have traveled solo to 23 cities within 11 countries and there are three main ideas I learned while traveling solo as a woman.
1. Find Out for Yourself
When I told my family I wanted to move to Colombia for a year, they looked at me with fear in their eyes and said, “Why would you go to such a dangerous place?” In fact, that was the reaction of just about everyone I knew.
Being a young woman didn’t help my case either, the idea of a woman traveling to a “dangerous” place just didn’t resonate very well with society. However, none of these people had ever been to Colombia, met anyone from Colombia or actually knew anything about it besides the knowledge they maybe got from watching Narcos. None of this steered me from my goal to move to Colombia, you know why? Because I had done my own research.
During undergrad, I had learned a significant amount about Latin American history, and this provided me a good knowledge base of what I was getting myself into. On top of that, I read blogs of people who had lived and/or traveled to Colombia in the past five years, travel guides, and updated news articles to familiarize myself with the current situation in Colombia. This led me to discover what I already knew before, that Colombia was not the country everyone thought it was. It is not the image of drug cartels, guerilla warfare, and kidnappings, not to say this never happened in Colombia. But if I had listened to everyone telling me the so-called dangers and negatives of Colombia, I would have never discovered for myself the beautiful, culturally-rich and charming Colombia it is today. Short and sweet, do your research and find out for yourself if the country is safe enough to travel.
2. Be Aware
This is something that can be learned the easy way or the hard way.
Growing up in a small town in Iowa, I didn’t really understand this until I studied abroad in Uruguay during undergrad where I unfortunately learned it the hard way. Due to my stupidity and naivety, I had my wallet stolen one day while I was on the bus. Now many people think, “Oh this won’t happen to me.” But surprisingly, I’ve met a lot of first time travelers that have had similar experiences. Tracing back to growing up in small town, I again, never had to worry about this sort of thing, so I was not always aware that I could be such a target for theft.
Now I’m not saying that what happened to me couldn’t happen to a guy, but this idea of a target can definitely be enhanced if you are a woman. You have to increase your awareness, look around at the people near you, watch for people who might look a little sketchy. Also, don’t carry all of your valuables if you don’t need them. Now I only carry the amount of cash I might need, no cards, and sometimes my phone. In that case, if something does happen, I don’t lose all of my valuables at once.
Confidence is also key, people are less likely to mess with you if you appear as if you know the area and where you’re going. This advice can help avoid sticky situations anywhere.
3. Fear is Not an Excuse
As mentioned before, the reaction I got when telling people I was moving to Colombia wasn’t exactly positive. One reaction I will always having engrained in my head was when a guy responded with, “But you’re a woman?” As you can imagine, that instantly infuriated me. Who is to say just because I am a woman, I cannot do certain things?
Being a woman has never held me back from pursuing anything I’ve wanted to do. And it shouldn’t for any other woman either. I have never hesitated traveling anywhere solo or as a woman or as a solo woman traveler. This comes from the first piece of advice of prior preparation of research and information I find beforehand and the second of being aware. I’ve actually used my experience as a solo woman traveler in job interviews before, because this shows a high level of independence and confidence among real world experiences. If you want to do it, go for it. Don’t let anything hold you back, especially society’s idea of a solo woman traveler.
Written by: Megan Grubb (@megsgrubbs)
Megan Grubb is a traveler, with experience studying and teaching in South America. Megan has been to over 20 countries, including but not limited to Colombia, Uruguay, and much of Europe. In her free time, Megan enjoys watching the Miami Dolphins football games. Fins Up!