My first solo-travel experience was an accident. I was twenty-years old and I had never left the country before. I’d never really traveled and I knew very little about the world. Really, I didn’t even know much about how to be a human. Yet! Being a human takes practice.
Back then, I never would have chosen to go alone to another country! But during a backpacking trip through Europe with my best friend, I danced all night at a club in London, got robbed in a cafe as the sun was rising, and discovered my love for solo-travel.
How are are these things related? Well, we weren’t able to find a hostel for a night, so we decided the best option would be to stay out all night dancing instead. (Best option for twenty-year-olds. Now I get cranky if I am up past 9:30). We danced all night, most of the night spent deep in a fantasy that definitely the attractive bartender and I were going to fall in love, and I was going to move to London to have a love affair. Spoiler alert: it didn’t happen.
When the club closed, we spilled out onto the streets of London with some other stragglers, and met some man who said he would escort us to an all night cafe to wait it out until the new day dawned. At the crowded cafe, my things were stolen from my backpack as it sat at my feet. Circumstances forced my hand – my passport was stolen, and to replace it, I had to return to and stay in Paris for a week before my flight back to the United States. I actually don’t remember why this was required, but it was. My friend and I parted ways somewhere in Europe. She took the train on to her semester abroad in Italy. I took the train on to Paris. I found myself in Paris, alone for a week.
So: this story does contain a theft, which might be scary and off-putting for some less intrepid travelers. The interesting thing is, this is the one time anything like this ever happened while I was traveling, and it happened when I was traveling with someone, not when I was alone. Basically, we put ourselves in a situation that is iffy even if you are not in a foreign country. Traveling safety amounts to basically common sense and street smarts.
My number one solo travel safety tip? As a woman traveling alone, don’t go out to bars and drink alone. That’s the basic rule I follow. Everything else is common sense.
I have traveled safely and fearlessly, alone, and never felt in danger. I spent seven months backpacking alone through Central and South America, and on a solo drive across the United States and back.
So, back to that long ago week in Paris.
I walked along the Seine. I went to the Musee D’Orsay. I stopped at little stands and looked at art and books. I had my portrait drawn. I met people, I went where I wanted to, when I wanted to. I met an artist and danced drunkenly with him in a cafe. I stayed out as late as I wanted and did everything on my own schedule, as I desired. It was liberating and freeing and scary and empowering.
That’s why, when anyone asks me if they should travel alone; if they should travel at all, I always say – get out there and do it.