I’m a huge fan of solo travel and will sing its praises from every mountaintop. But (there’s always a but, right?) I’ve never felt 100% safe traveling solo.
I’ve never been mugged or molested or even propositioned overseas. No one has threatened me or tried to force me into anything (knock on wood like a bazillion times.) So I’m not speaking as a person who has been through some horrible thing.
But still. There was an early morning in Frankfurt when I found myself wandering the deserted streets, waiting for my hotel to let me check in. I met a friendly young man who helped me find a coffeeshop where we spent a couple of hours trying to communicate with each other. He walked me back to my hotel later in the day and asked if he could come inside and sleep on my floor. At least, I think that’s what he wanted. I somehow managed to slide out of that situation by promising to meet him later. I spent the rest of the day on the balcony of my hotel room, looking down at the street below and waiting for him to leave.
Oh, then there was that time in Prague when I was looking at a wall map in a deserted train station. It was one of those maps that wrap around a column. A young man approached and followed me, inching closer and closer as I moved around the column. I hightailed it out of there.
These could have been innocent things. Maybe that guy just wanted to see the same parts of the map that I was seeing. Maybe that kid in Frankfurt just desperately needed a place to sleep. Maybe.
As travelers, we’re told to put our ethnocentric egos away and be open to other cultures. Everyone hears things about other cultures – men from this country are more aggressive, women from this country will trick you into spending all your money,and so on and so forth. As travelers, we’re expected to see these things as normal and harmless. We’re made to feel guilty if we worry about our safety. We’re suddenly called “snowflakes” and other precious names if we wonder aloud if our bodies are at risk because of some stereotype.
But look – minimizing risk can be dangerous. Trusting too much can be dangerous. Expecting men from some country to be aggressive – but yet harmless – can be dangerous.
I won’t tell you to trust your gut when it comes to your personal safety. My gut has been wrong before. What I can recommend for solo travelers is to avoid being in situations where something awful can happen. Don’t be alone in deserted areas with people you don’t know, walk away from any situation that makes you feel uncomfortable, and most importantly, stay sober. Too many stories of travelers being robbed or worse start with alcohol.
And most importantly – you don’t have to prove to anyone that you’re the most open-minded, bravest traveler on earth. You’re right to be hyper alert when you’re traveling alone.
Taking a solo trip can be one of the most rewarding experiences you ever give yourself. But I encourage you to go into your trip with the full knowledge that you’ll be scared sometimes. Embrace your fear, and then move through the world with all the confidence you can muster. If we let our fears stop us from doing something, well, we would never do anything at all.