“Here was something I already knew to be true about myself: Just as there are some wives who will occasionally need a break from their husbands in order to visit a spa for the weekend with their girlfriends, I will always be the sort of wife who occasionally needs a break from her husband in order to visit Cambodia. Just for a few days!” — Elizabeth Gilbert, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage
The story of the New York wife, mother and solo traveler, Sarai Sierra, has gotten a lot of press around the world and especially here on the local New York media.
Once I heard the story that she was traveling alone, I got nervous, and sad. I figured all the nay-sayers would say things like ‘She shouldn’t have been traveling alone’ and ‘Why would she go on holiday without her family?’
After reading just a few articles, and their comments, it didn’t take long to see the point of view I feared.
Hold on a minute.
Not travel alone? WHY?
Sarai was supposed to go on this trip with a friend. Her friend cancelled. Was Sarai expected to cancel as well? No, of course not.
Every time I turn on the news, I see stories about assaults, shootings and stabbings and that’s just my local news. Should I never leave my home since these things are happening in my own backyard? I think not.
I traveled alone in Europe as a recent college grad and I traveled alone more recently in South America for eight weeks in 2012.
Before I left on my trip, I had read countless tips from Janice Waugh who writes the Solo Traveler Blog. With a little common sense, being a solo female traveler is not a problem. In fact, I found that people went out of their way to help me when they found out I was traveling solo.
Did the man I met on the ticket line at the Buenos Aires bus terminal advise me to hang out in the crowded and loud terminal for a few hours so I could take a later bus that would allow me to arrive in Cordoba at seven am instead of three in the morning? Yes.
Did I have lunch with a man in the cafeteria of a local market in Valparaiso, Chile where I never would have gone? Yes, and I would not have gone, not because I was afraid, but because I would have never known about its existence otherwise. (It was above the market, not in the market and I was the only gringa in there. Clearly a good, local find.)
Did a French man see my confusion in a time of chaos just shy of the Chile/Argentina border? Yes, and he kindly translated for me that our bus ‘might not make it’ to our destination 11 hours away and if I wanted to get off, now would be the time. (After a quick assessment, I didn’t see anyone else get off the bus so I stayed on.)
Did I say yes to an offer for a tour of Maipu, Argentina and its vineyards with a local man and his partner? Yes. (This offer was made in the Cordoba airport when our flight to Mendoza was diverted, cancelled and rescheduled.)
Did I accept an invitation to drink mate (and have dinner with two Argentinian guys I met at a cafe overlooking the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca earlier in the day? Yes, and they even walked me back to the hostel afterwards.
Are you shaking your head in disbelief? Are you raising your eyebrows? Are you thinking ‘Is she crazy?’
Would you have batted an eye if I said I stayed with a girl from California in her apartment in Mendoza, who I met in a tasting room?
What if I told you I traveled in northern Argentina and southern Bolivia for nearly a week with an Australian girl I met at a hostel? At her father’s request, we introduced our families via email (who were around the globe from one another) with our whereabouts.
What about the girls I met at the beach in La Pedrera, Uruguay who invited me into their homes in Montevideo when I arrived in the city? (One of whom accompanied me for an emergency eye doctor appointment at the British Hospital).
What about the couple from the US who I met at my hostel in Valparaiso? We spent the day at wine tasting at a vineyard in the Chilean countryside. That day trip had the added benefit of the discovery that I like Chardonnay so long as it’s not in an oak barrel.
What about the group of Australian girls, and one girl from Colorado, traveling together that I met at the hostel pool in Huacachina, Peru? Not only did I join their small group for dinner that night, but I met up with them a few days later in Lima.
What about the two girl friends from Ecuador that I met in Uyuni, Bolivia who, before they got on their bus, took me to a local market to sample local pastries and api, a thick local beverage made from purple corn served piping hot, that, according to them, I had to try. (Good call, it was delicious.)
What about the two Austrian girls who I met at breakfast and then spent the better part of two days with them as we hiked, shopped and went sightseeing in Salta, Argentina and the surrounding areas?
What about meeting a girl from Andorra because our current hostel had no vacancies for each of our individual requested extra days because we both fell in love with the same city. Together, we moved hostels, became roommates for two nights and shared a lovely Valentine’s Day dinner in Valparaiso?
What if I told you I made my way alone from my hostel to a restaurant to meet up with my newfound friends from Amantani Island, Peru - from Canada and Brazil – for dinner in Puno, Peru?
What about the group of solo travelers from Canada and the US – who were all traveling solo - in Paracas, Peru? Even when our tour left us at the bus station in Ica, Peru, we counted on each other to make our way back to our respective hostels in Huacachina.
What about the Dutch couple who I met at breakfast in the hostel in Tupiza, Bolivia? They were witness to the first time I publicly cried on my trip. And I had just met them. I traveled with them from Tupiza to Uyuni, Bolivia on a harrowing bus ride. In Uyuni, we shared a dorm room, and raised beers to the craziest bus ride we each had ever endured (and they had been in Bolivia for a few weeks at that point).
What about the Australian guy/Canadian girl couple who I met at the ‘airport’ in Uyuni, Bolivia? I did not have accommodations booked in La Paz and they invited me to join them in the taxi to their hostel to see if I could grab a spare bed. There was, and we had a great, albeit mostly out of breath, day in the highest capital city in the world. Oh, and together we discovered amazing Indian food in La Paz.
Now you’re probably not even batting an eye.
But guess what? All of these people were strangers when I first met them.
Did I say yes when my seatmate from a 12 hour bus ride wanted to share a taxi from the bus station to my hostel in Salta, Argentina? He didn’t have a reservation and it was after midnight. I had spent nearly half a day in his company in the seat next to his and I had a weird feeling. So I went with my gut, and my own taxi.
Sure, there are risks. There are always risks. But isn’t the bigger risk not to go at all?
I had the opportunity to spend the night with a local host family on Amantani Island, an island situated on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca where most of its inhabitants speak Quechua. Three women and I were assigned to the same host family. We were all in our thirties and we were all traveling alone. The four of us represented Canada, France, Argentina and the US.
As we got to talking about travel, and more specifically, solo female travel, we shared the reactions of our friends and families once we had announced that we would be traveling alone. For four girls from four countries, the reactions we received weren’t that different. The net net: We all had nervous moms and dads awaiting our safe return.
And then, on a little island where lake front property is a given, eating locally is the only option, and there’s no electricity on the island, I realized that I wouldn’t be traveling alone for the next two days and thanks to everyone I had met along the way, I hadn’t been alone most of the time I had been ‘traveling alone.’
So I say, to any woman (or man) that may have some hesitation about taking that solo trip, you should go. Because even if you go solo, you are not alone.