When I landed in Buenos Aires in August, the reality of being alone in a new country was still dawning on me.
There wouldn’t be a welcoming party at the arrivals terminal, there wouldn’t be a companion to watch my bags if I needed to run to the restroom, and there wouldn’t be a gaggle of girlfriends to accompany me on my adventures.
I would be traveling alone.
Ever since I began considering traveling solo to Argentina, my mind had been flooded with questions: Where would I stay? Would I be safe? Would I make any friends? What if I were robbed? Who would be my emergency contact? The list goes on.
I have been drawn to the concept of solo traveling, especially as a woman, because of the sheer strength, confidence and self-reliance that comes from navigating a foreign country sans companions.
While the idea of traveling solo has always existed, as of late it seems to have reached a fever pitch as women embrace travel and all its intricacies with open arms.
Rather than fear strangers and the dangers that may live abroad, women are staying savvy, street smart and open to the experience of discovering themselves against the backdrop of an exotic location.
Whether a woman should venture into the world solo is an ongoing debate that brings up questions of safety, health and security.
Of course, the world we live in is not one without dangers, and while there may rest a double standard between how the public views a solo male traveler versus a female one, there are things to consider when venturing into the world on your own.
Here, I share practical tips and advice for the first-time solo female traveler on what to expect, what to avoid and how to stay safe:
Know Your Destination
I have a love affair with spontaneity when I travel; I love serendipitous encounters, stumbling upon charming cafés and meeting people from around the world.
More often than not, the best moments in travel (and life) are the ones we don’t plan for. When flying solo to a new destination, there is a fine line between embracing chance and being totally unprepared.
When I caught a boat over to Uruguay, the lack of preparation I had done was comical. It wasn’t until my passport was stamped and I was standing on Uruguay soil did I realize I had no idea where to go, no idea where to exchange my money or how to get around.
It's good to leave plenty of room on a trip for whirlwind adventures and chance meetings, but you should also be armed with practical information on the destination to which you're traveling.
Trust Your Gut
It’s said that women have a very keen sense of intuition and an uncanny way to sense danger a mile away. When I was visiting the rough and tumble neighborhood of La Boca in Buenos Aires, I was advised by many to be careful.
La Boca is beautiful, colorful and playful, but beyond the two streets that tourists populate, there are dangers to be had. As I roamed through La Boca with my camera bag hoisted on my shoulders, I noticed a palpable shift in the air as I crossed over a set of train tracks and realized I was no longer in the “tourist friendly” part of town.
I felt the change before I saw it and promptly turned around, knowing that nothing good was ahead. As a first-time solo traveler, my intuition was my greatest asset in throwing up red flags in situations I knew I should potentially avoid.
Be Confident in Yourself
It may be your first day in a new country, and you may be clinging to a map like a lifeline, but you are savvier and stronger than you give yourself credit for.
One of the first things I did when I arrived in Buenos Aires was go to a restaurant to ease into being solo. Get comfortable in your own skin and let your thoughts wash over you as you explore a new destination and all the intricacies of your personality.
Confidence is absolutely key and emanates in how you walk, carry yourself and talk. Be patient and give yourself time to adapt to this new mode of travel.
Skip The Drunken Nights Out
When I traveled to Panama with my girlfriends, we would stay out dancing until 3 am at a local island bar in Bocas del Toro. We were all together, and if one of us had overindulged in the libations, there were five other girls to keep an eye out and watch her back.
My nights in Buenos Aires were tamer when compared to the frivolity of Bocas del Toro. Unless I was meeting a friend for drinks, attending a local asado or simply having beers with travelers at my hostel, most nights were low-key.
The truth is solo traveling means no one else is responsible for you or your belongings but yourself. If you get lost, drink too much, get robbed or simply lose your way home, you do not have a safety net of friends to defend your silver lining.
Even in the evenings that I met friends or locals for drinks, I made a point to keep my wits about me so that I was always savvy to the situation and sure I could get home safely at the end of the night. While half the fun of travel is to seize opportunities, it is advised to skip on drinking to the point that you cannot take care of yourself.
Expect to get Lonely
There were so many beautiful moments of solo traveling that left me smiling deliriously and feeling utterly alive, but there were inevitable moments when loneliness won out over confidence and trailed me like a debt collector.
Solo traveling is an experience that reveals parts of your personality and a full spectrum of emotion. As much as I learned to enjoy the moments and embrace the present, I also learned to pick myself up at times when home felt lightyears away.
The best advice I can offer first-time solo travelers is to expect to get lonely at times and to embrace this feeling as you will every other thought and emotion that washes over you during your trip.
There is a real power and simplistic beauty that comes from knowing you have the strength to lift your own chin up when sad, comfort yourself when lonely and keep moving forward.
There is, of course, an appeal to being fully submerged in your solo travel adventure, but when you're out there alone, it is best to stay connected to friends and family back home.
Whether you are uploading photos to Instagram, sharing Facebook updates on your latest passport stamp, checking in on Foursquare or simply messaging via WhatsApp, it is smart to let people know where you are and where you’re headed.
Be Patient with Yourself
Whenever I travel, I joke that it takes a day or two for New York to leave my system. In a city like NYC, life moves quickly; lunches are inhaled, delays are not tolerated and scheduling is a way of life.
It isn't until I'm abroad that I realize just how tightly wound New York can make me. As I eased into solo traveling, I learned to be patient with myself and slow down.
By nature, I am an emotional person who is wildly passionate and can (admittedly) skew towards dramatic on occasion, but rather than chastise myself, I am patient with myself.
Ask Yourself, "What do I want to do?"
During my stay in Argentina, I met a wonderful person who left me with a simple piece of advice: Don’t ever do anything you don’t want to do.
I’ve mulled these words over in my mind and realized that too often in life, I tend to put myself in situations and circumstances I wish I hadn’t, whether for fear of disappointing someone or a sense of obligation.
Solo traveling offers the refreshing and revolutionary freedom to ask yourself, "What do I want to do today?" Each morning I woke up in Argentina, I asked myself this question.
Whether I spent that day writing at my favorite café, catching a last-minute flight to Iguazu or hopping a boat to Uruguay, everything I did on this trip was because I wanted and chose to.
In life, we don’t always get the freedom to choose for ourselves, so savor this question, get comfortable with it and relish the endless possibilities of living life on your own terms.
Bring What Makes You Comfortable
As a writer, I draw comfort from journals and books when I travel. My journals reflect back at me my innermost thoughts, while my books offer escape, advice or solace in harder moments.
Every day I was out exploring, I had my Nikon and journal in my bag with me. Both were small comforts and became extensions of myself as I waded further into my solo traveling adventure. Bring what makes you comfortable.
Be Wary Of Your Surroundings
I’ll admit that when it comes to my personal belongings, I’ve sometimes been a little too casual with leaving a bag next to me, leaving a purse unzipped or leaving my camera in plain sight.
On my first day in Buenos Aires, I found myself at a local bar enjoying a drink in celebration of my arrival. As I tried to get comfortable with the idea of drinking alone, I left my bag next to me with the flap thrown back and my camera exposed.
I hadn’t thought twice about it because it was, after all, daytime; the bar was fairly empty, and I was sitting directly next to my bag, but a few moments later, a local (and soon-to-be new friend) told me to be careful. In a city like Buenos Aires, she warned, I have to watch my surroundings.
Being wary of my surroundings extended beyond watching my bag. As a solo female traveler, it’s important to always be aware of your surroundings; be careful and be cautious.
Enjoy Your Travels!
There is a favorite quote of mine that reads, “A ship docked in harbor may be safe, but that’s not why ships are built.” It’s human nature to be cautious, but life truly begins when we step outside of our comfort zones and take a chance on the unknown.
Solo traveling is an experience that inspires, tests and strengthens anyone who ventures into the world alone.
Of course, there are dangers to consider and risks to keep in mind, but so long as you’re savvy to the destination, aware of your surroundings and keen to your intuition, the trip has the potential to be life-changing.
Photo Courtesy: We Heart It