“One of the great things about travel is you find out how many good, kind people there are.” —Edith Wharton
People often ask me what it’s like to do all the traveling that I do alone. The truth is I seldom travel alone.
Since I’m a social animal, I like to share the road. When I start planning a trip, I’m almost as careful about selecting a traveling companion and/or tour group as I am a destination. What I want on my journeys are wondrous new discoveries, of course, but also compatible company.
Fellowship, I think, is as essential to our wellbeing as food. For me, the tie that facilitates companionship is conversation—being in an environment in which I am heard, one in which I can share my feelings and impressions. That requires, quite naturally, that I provide the same for my fellow travelers, that I am an enthusiastic and empathetic listener as well.
Some Pros of Solo Travel:
(including suggestions by women friends who have traveled alone)
You’re free, unencumbered, flexible. You’re captain of your own ship. You can do what you want when you want. You’re much more approachable than when in a group; hence, you’re more likely to meet interesting new people. Traveling solo will force you to reach out to others—to break out of your comfort zone.
I have a friend who hiked solo in England. There she met another solo woman hiker. They became and still are lifelong friends. Another acquaintance, who when traveling alone, sometimes stays in hostels. There,” she says, “you have a ready-made family.” Still another woman friend makes a point of attending English language church services in foreign capitals. I did that while studying art history in Florence, Italy, for nearly a year.
I was enrolled in a university program, but my classmates were twenty year-olds and I was middle aged (I discuss that experience in my first book: My Renaissance: A Widow’s Healing Pilgrimage to Tuscany.)
Sometimes I simply longed for adult conversation. I found it at St. James Episcopal Church in Florence (also called ‘the American Church’ in Florence.)
At the church’s coffee hour I met visitors from around the world—people of many religious backgrounds. Not only that, I was also invited to participate in the broader life of the church community: making excursions deep into Tuscany; using their English language lending library; receiving invitations to their Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Over the course of now many years, I’ve attended both holiday occasions and they have proved unforgettable.
Some Cons of Solo Travel:
There’s the vulnerability factor: the perceived potential for theft, harassment, and loneliness. But the friends with whom I talked say that women alone can alleviate most of these concerns by simply “traveling smart.” “Create environments that in all probability will prove advantageous,” Sarah said. “Don’t wander around by yourself at night; don’t announce to the world that you are traveling alone.”
Carol said she makes a point of dressing modestly (best dark colors), even wearing a fake wedding ring. She always tries to arrive at a new destination in daylight; she pre-books the first night’s accommodation. “That way,” she says, “I have some place to land.” She always carries a rubber door stopper (in her mind, an inexpensive security device). In fact, in third world settings, she carries individually wrapped, sterile syringes.
Beyond that, all the solo women travelers with whom I spoke offered tips such as: wear a money belt; keep your passport and credit cards on your body, and xerox copies in other places. Carry a well outfitted Swiss Army knife.
Before departure, check with the Department of State about travel warnings. Go with your hunches. “If something doesn’t feel right, avoid it.”
Generally, though, my advice is to be a sensible risk taker. Decades ago I found this poem and have kept in my “things to remember” file ever since. I resurrect it now for you.
If I had my life to live over again,
I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.
I’d limber up.
I’d be sillier than I’ve been this trip.
I would take fewer things seriously.
I would take more chances.
I would eat more ice cream and less beans.
I would, perhaps have more actual troubles, but fewer imaginary ones.
You see, I’m one of those people who was sensible and sane,
Hour after hour, day after day.
Oh, I’ve had my moments.
If I had to do it over gain,
I’d have more of them.
In fact, I’d try to have nothing else—just moments,
one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day.
I’ve been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot-water bottle, a raincoat, and a parachute.
If I could do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.
If I had my life to live over again,
I would start barefoot earlier in the spring
And stay that way later in the fall.
I would go to more dances,
I would ride more merry-go-rounds,
I would pick more daisies.
(Composed by Nadine Stair when she was 85)