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Thursday, September 1, 2016

Honest Truths About Traveling Alone


People usually gasped anytime I said that I was out there (wherever I was at the time) backpacking by myself… And even more gasps and fake faints upon the realization that I was traveling by myself – as a woman.

I get it, but at the same time, I don’t.

What are we all really afraid of? Is it because, as women, we are prone to more danger than men? Is it because we are really perceived as the weaker sex – that we need people around us to protect us all the time? Or is it because of just the mere fact of being by one’s self that we fear? The loneliness… The being alone part?

Well, do you want to know the truth? 

In my experience… When you’re traveling by yourself, you’re hardly ever alone. Not really. Unless you want to be.

I was gone for over 18 months. The trip was mine.

And most of the time, I was only really ever truly alone while I was traveling from one place to the next. On the plane, the bus, the train, or the car. Yes, there were moments when I chose to wander off somewhere by myself, but I think a little isolation is part of the experience.

If I weren’t visiting my family or my friends, I was either Couchsurfing, Voluntouring, or staying at hostels.

ACCOMMODATIONS = LOTS OF PEOPLE

Couchsurfing

When I Couchsurfed, I was very lucky about the hosts that I stayed with. They were very accommodating, generous with their time, and I ended up either hanging out with them, or with the other couchsurfers staying there, same time as me.

This is my Couchsurfing host, Karen, and fellow surfer, Dulce :)

Work Exchange/Volunteering

When I was “voluntouring” via Helpx and Workaway, I was working with other volunteers, and I usually found voluntary employment in hostels or B&B’s. I was constantly surrounded by people, and constantly meeting new travelers!

This is how we did lunch while I was working for a hostel in Italy
These were my fellow volunteers working for a luxurious B&B in Umbria, Italy
This is us, folding sheets, while volunteering at a hostel in Tel Aviv, Israel!

When I stayed at hostels… well, this is when I had to get a little smart and creative.

First of all – I chose to stay at hostels that had a really nice common area. I had a tendency to choose the smaller ones with a more homely vibe. I was very diligent in doing my research, and I read a LOT of reviews. It’s just that the smaller ones with a good common area sort of draw people in, and the space invites the guests to hang out… therefore making it SO much easier to meet people.
HBB Hostel in Sao Paulo during the World Cup!
I have NEVER been in a situation where I didn’t make at least 1 friend while staying at a hostel. As a matter of fact, the acquaintances usually start right at the moment when I check in. If someone there sees you with a backpack, it’s automatically – “Hey! Where u from? What’s your story?” And BOOM. Instant best friends.

Instant besties at our hostel in Lisbon, Portugal
Second – when you are by yourself, and people see that, they usually are the ones to approach you anyway. I’ve always believed that people, in general, are kind. And if they see that you’re alone, they’ll reach out and include you. 

Instant Friends from our hostel in Rome!

So if your excuse is that you’re shy --- then tough luck. You can’t wiggle your way out of this one because people come to you regardless. They introduce themselves to you, they invite you to tag along with them… Trust me. There’s usually always at least ONE person in the whole hostel who will act like the host/ess, or the glue that will turn the whole joint into an organized (sticky) group tour. And most of the time, if you’re lucky, that person is me.

Obviously it helps if you have a more outgoing personality, and making friends with strangers is second nature to you. But even if I think of myself as one, I do have moments when I get a little shy or embarrassed to start up a conversation. I learned though, that sometimes even just a little smile goes a long way. Or a stupid question like – “Do you know where the toilets are?” or “Hey, what kind of currency do we use in this country?”

Once when I tagged along with these Danish girls to go and get all muddled up in the Dead Sea! This mud is magic, BTW

One time, I bumped someone on purpose and said, “Omg I’m sorry! HEY! Nice shirt! Where are you from? I’m Eartha.”

Lame. I know. But we ended up being friends and traveling together for 3 days!
Just remember that most of the time, they are just as scared as you are when it comes to these things… you know, like meeting strangers. But keep in mind that strangers are friends you just haven’t met yet!

TOURS BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER

Another thing that I did quite frequently was go on Free Walking Tours, or random city tours and excursions. These usually lasted for about 1 to 3 hours long, and about 80% of the time, the whole group ends up having lunch, dinner or drinks together afterwards. Instant buddies in a strange land!

Friends I've made on a walking tour in Athens

I went on a Greek Hiking Tour once and I was in Santorini by myself. On the boat on the way over, I met a few groups of girls, and we all just sort of ended up in a little pack. We exchanged emails and we basically hung out with each other the whole time I was there. I even ended up traveling to Mykonos with one of them randomly, and her and I became really good friends.

My ladies in Greece! We are still friends :)

DANGERS ARE EVERYWHERE ANYWAY


OK. When I look back on all the places I visited, I think I was on my guard the most while I was in Argentina, and Rio. I was heavily warned by both travelers and locals, mostly about pickpockets and such. And I did see and feel danger while I was there… that everyone was just wary of one another.

My bag got stolen when I was in Buenos Aires
. It was a rookie mistake. I was in a very posh area of the city, having lunch with a friend. I usually do not let my purse leave my body, but on this occasion, I put it on the ground next to the wall and I was stepping on the strap. Sadly, it was still swiped from under me without me even noticing it. I regret being stupid. But then again, I was having lunch with this gorgeous Uruguayan model and I think anyone else would have been just as distracted.

He is a real person. His name is Fernando. Dangerous.

In Rio, during the 2014 Carnival, it felt like the dangers were a lot worse. So I didn’t even bring anything out with me. My money and my lipstick were stuffed in my bra, and I had nothing in my hands. I hardly even brought my camera out. I relied on others to just send me the photos they took.

Trying to protect my dignity in Rio!
But in all of these instances, I always had my wits about me. I was smart. I never walked alone in the dark by myself, and I never allowed myself to put myself in dangerous situations. I always had a keen sense of awareness, and I always carried my pocket pepper spray!
In hindsight, I was very lucky that in all the traveling I did – getting my bag stolen from under my nose was the worst thing that happened. And I’d like to think it’s because I put my adult hat on and took care of myself pretty well.

THOUGHTS ON BEING ALONE

During the moments I was actually on my own (pretending he's beside meee...), it wasn't so bad. The thing is, when you are in some form of isolation, you really end up learning a lot about yourself.

For instance, I learned that when I'm by myself, there is a LOT of internal monologue going on. I talk to myself constantly, and I narrate as if I were telling myself the story of what is currently happening to me. 


For example... "Oh... I can see that there is hail. Right. I am right in the middle of a hailstorm and I am freaking out. It sounds like someone is shooting a machine gun at my car. Oh my God. What shall I do? I will stay calm and keep driving. Just keep driving... Just keep driving driving driving.... Oh look, a rainbow!"

Is that weird?

Yeah this was my drive during the internal monologue you just read above.

One of the most significant alone times of my journey was when I was driving through the North Island of New Zealand. It was during the first leg of my trip, and I was driving through the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen in my life, on a right hand drive car, up and down a mountain. I was completely out of my comfort zone in a completely strange land, populated by mostly sheep.

Meh-eh-eh-eh-eh!

I felt completely isolated - and with that, came a little fear, but that's okay... Because along with the fear came a little courage, and a very strong sense of self awareness. I realized that as I was talking to myself... comforting myself through this whole process - I made myself laugh. It wasn't so bad learning that I actually liked my own company -- and THIS is very important self-love stuff.

One of very many "scared" selfies I took, driving in NZ on my own
Your location plays a lot into the experience too, because it's hard to achieve a good sense of solitude when you are surrounded by the noise of the city and society.

But when you are in a place as beautiful as this....

Gasp.

...things become really clear. Outward silence bring inner silence, and it is usually then that you learn your life's greatest lessons. 

I remember feeling that I was exactly where I was supposed to be at that exact moment. I remember feeling grateful that I made the decision to take a leap of faith. And I remember thinking to myself, that I must always remember that when I am alone, I am not necessarily lonely. 


All I know for sure is that I felt more alone when I was living in LA than I did when I was traveling the world solo. And while I was out there, I learned a great deal about myself that I never would have known had I stayed in the comfort of my old life... trapped in the four walls of society.

These experiences of solitude tested and challenged me to understand who I really am and what I really wanted out of my life. And because of this, I am a better and happier person. 

AND SO


Now that I have experienced both traveling by myself and with a partner, I can definitely say that there are perks to doing both. It's great to travel with someone, yeah... But it's equally satisfying going on a trip by yourself.

I just think that if you've been wanting to go on a trip of a lifetime but you're putting it off because you're still waiting to meet that one person to go and travel with... Well, you may as well toss that suitcase out because I think you may end up waiting a very veeerry long time.
Don't postpone these kinds of adventures because of the fear of being alone. You're never gonna get to do anything if you keep giving into those reasons why you shouldn't do it.

Believe me, if you go, you'll end up having a great time, make a ton of friends - real ones, and I bet --- you're probably even going to meet someone special while you're on the road. It's happened to me a few times... and trust me... A little romance never hurt anybody ;)

I heard someone say that the "You only live once" quote is false. "You only DIE once," is more accurate. And I completely agree. You do only die once - but you live EVERY DAY. 

So let's make it count.