And that fear needs to be squashed to a pulp.
Remember that one time your mom threw you into the pool? When dad let go of your first two-wheeled bike? When you had your first job interview? Your first kiss? Before those moments, entire worlds — neighborhood blocks, corporate ladders, relationships — were out of bounds for you. And then? You went ahead and conquered. What makes traveling solo any different? If anything, it’s easier. All you have to do is get to a place and exist. No balance, no buzzwords, no fancy tongue movement required.
And this worry needs to be squashed to a pulp, too.
How often do you look at someone dining alone, taking photos alone, or simply wandering around alone with disgust? Pity? Condescension? Not often, right? Right. Whether you’re at home or 6,000 miles away from home, everyone is too damn wrapped up in what they’re doing to pay attention or care about you. That waiter at that darling little café along rue de Rivoli isn’t going to laugh at you as he goes to fetch your café au lait, so sit down. In fact, he’s really not going to pay you any mind at all. He isn’t and no one else is, either.
What’s more, even the people who are “together” are just busy ignoring each other on their cell phones. What’s to envy about that?
Sometimes depending on people can be pretty great. Whether it’s a tour guide, your boyfriend, or a galpal who doubles as a spatial intelligence wizard, it’s nice to just coast through a vacation. You know what can be better? Making one all your own. You did all the research. You found the cutest little hole-in-the-wall boutique. You haggled with an old woman till she invited you to her home for dinner. You flirted with the security guard and got some time alone with the statue of David.
Who did? You did. You rock.
Not only are you showing yourself that you can create weeks worth of memories on your own, these memories are going to be can’t-eat, can’t-sleep, reach-for-the-stars, over-the-fence, World Series kind of memories. Every item on that itinerary is something you’re interested in enough to actually do and you’re not going to waste a second appeasing anyone else or missing out on something that was on your bucket list. Talk about a break from everyday life! When’s the last time you only considered yourself?
When we operate in a group, it’s easy not to be able to distinguish what we’re really good at and what we enjoy from vibes and goings-on produced by the entire group. You’ll never know that you’re awesome at sweet-talking old Malaysian women until you get yourself in a bind on the local ferry. You’ll never know that you’re really good at using waterways as a map until you get lost getting gelato in Venice. Traveling solo forces you to only depend on you, to only use yourself as your gauge for enjoyment, and brings you closer to who you actually are.
Don’t be fooled — this isn’t a bad thing. After all, you can’t tackle your weaknesses until you know what they are. Once you’ve identified them, you can either avoid them, prepare for them, or practice until they’re no longer your Kryptonite. Terrible at bartering? You will be until that one trip to the Central Market in Phnom Penh where you mysteriously spent all your pocket money in one go. You won’t let that happen again. Terrible at thinking ahead, booking hostels, organizing cheap transportation? It’ll burn you once when there’s some convention in Amsterdam and you’re left paying $200 for a twin, pull-out bed one night, and you’ll make sure it never happens again.
Weaknesses be damned.
There aren’t a lot of benefits to being female in this world, and there definitely aren’t a lot of benefits to being a female alone in a strange place, we get it. But instead of focusing on the fear of being taken advantage of (or just taken, thanks Liam Neeson), focus on the fact that amongst strangers, you’ll be more welcome than your male counterparts almost anywhere. A harmless-looking female can walk up to a group of other female travelers or traveling coeds and likely be accepted. For a guy? It’s a little harder. So put on your smile, some deodorant, and think of a question you can ask that group in your hostel’s lobby. A few quick lines of conversation and you’re in.
It’s like traveling solo but better: you get the benefit of companionship, yet the ability to peace out whenever you like. Hashtag #winning.
It’s fun to be with a group of friends and all pretend to be other people or even people from other countries. The charade might last for 15 minutes and then you all have a good laugh, no harm no foul. But when it’s just you, you can keep it up. You can tell that stranger you met on the train that you’re a bartender with a pointless BA or you can tell him you’re a freelance writer/traveler. You can be loud and obnoxious or you can bury your head in a book with your elbows on the table. You can wear your hair in a ponytail and throw away your eyeliner or you can don heels 24/7 because no one is going to question you and dammit, you just feel like it. You might find an aspect of your personality you really like that couldn’t shine before.
And you may want to hold onto her.