Why Traveling Solo Isn’t So Scary

About the Author: Sally is a writer, teacher, performer, photographer, traveller, eater and all-around scaredy cat. In February, she left her full-time job in Japan and has been travelling throughout Asia ever since, one odd job at a time. She is currently volunteer teaching in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Find out what else she’s up to on her blog: www.unbravegirl.com

When I tell people that I travel solo, they often ask me if I’m afraid. Of course, I’m afraid. The world can be scary. People can be scary. But the world can also be pretty amazing. And, people, well, they can be pretty amazing, too.

On my blog, I write a lot about my thoughts on fear and bravery. I suppose this is a given with a name like Unbrave Girl. It’s not just a catchy blog title, though — I truly believe that I am not a brave person. But I also believe that you don’t need to be brave to travel the world alone. You just need to trust in yourself and others. You need to believe that not everyone is out to do you harm. You need to believe that most people are good. You need to believe that help will come when you need it.

I can’t say I’ve always been so trustworthy. When I first came to Thailand, over three years ago for a month-long backpacking trip, I was convinced everyone who so much as talked to me was out to get me. I had read the Internet warnings about jewel scams and passport pickpockets and swindling tuk-tuk drivers. I spent the month walking around with my arms thrown protectively around my purse and a permanent scowl affixed to my face. If a stranger smiled at me, I would suspiciously glower back, even if that stranger was another tourist like me. Hey, I had seen Brokedown Palace, and I wasn’t about to let any sweet-talking traveller dupe me into becoming his drug mule!

Over the past ten months, I have been travelling solo and volunteering throughout Southeast Asia. About three months ago, I came back to Thailand to volunteer to teach with a program that helps migrant students. Since I started travelling, I’ve tried to become more trusting. Sure, if someone seems shady or a situation is giving me the creeps, I go with my gut. I try not to do anything stupid. (Try being the operative word here; I still manage a whole bunch of stupid, but not on purpose, I assure you.) However, I also try to believe that the world is good and people, for the most part, are good.

Earlier this week, the back tire on my mountain bike went flat. In order to get it fixed, I needed to haul the bike across town to the bike shop, where I had originally rented it three months ago. Sure, I could have probably had the tire fixed at any bike shop in town (like one that wasn’t five miles from my apartment) but the shop where I had rented it promised me free maintenance. I would not exactly call myself a thrifty person. (Unless I’m mistaken and ‘thrifty’ actually means ‘willing to spend three month’s rent on a spur-of-the-moment plane ticket.’) But, hey, free is free, right? (Besides, the more money I save on bike tire repairs, the more money I have for last minute airfare purchases!)

As I was dragging myself and my bike across town, I got more than a few odd looks from people passing by me. A couple people even stopped me. After first inspecting my tire, they would try to inform me where I could get it fixed nearby. As I don’t speak any Thai, I would respond by shaking my head, pointing five miles off into the distance and exclaiming ‘Free!’ (To which they would respond by shaking their head, pointing at me and saying something in Thai which I was probably, ‘Crazy white girl.’)

Travelling alone can be scary. But you’ d be surprised at how helpful strangers can be when they see a girl on her own, especially if that girl happens to be dragging a defunct mountain bike behind her.

About The Author

I'm a travel writer and photographer who specializes in bespoke travel experiences. I write about boutique, savvy and cultural travel. My writing has been featured in Outpost Magazine, Travel + Escape, and UP! Magazine.

Related Posts

29 Responses

  1. Katie

    This may be the shortest post you’ve ever written! 🙂

    It’s so true about strangers though – you want to keep your guard up when you’re traveling alone, but there are more good than bad people out there and sometimes you have to be willing to let yourself be helped. (I probably would’ve done the same thing with the bike!)

    Reply
    • Sally

      Ha ha! Thanks, Katie. Yes, every once in a while I can be concise. But not often.

      Reply
  2. KimKs

    I know I need to keep this in mind when I leave for Guatemala Wednesday. Good guest post! Just what I needed to read right now.

    Reply
  3. OneGiantStep

    One of the biggest surprises of my entire trip…was how helpful people are around the world! People really just want to help! Get out there…it’s not that hard!! Cheers!

    Reply
    • Sally

      Yeah! Even the tuk-tuk drivers were trying to help me — which is funny because before that experience I would have just thought the tuk-tuk drivers were trying to sell me a ride in their tuk-tuk. But, nope, they just wanted me to go get my tire fixed.

      Reply
  4. Alicia

    You know what sometimes being too scared is limiting ourselves with a wider exploration of the world. And what is so sad is when we get to scared we become so paranoid already and poor strangers being accused of something they are not. I agree there are more good people around and to will with those bad ones.

    Reply
    • Sally

      Yeah, it’s hard to remember most people are good when you’re surrounded by strangers & everything’s so… so… strange. But, as you say, fear can really limit you & you can have so much more fun if you try to let go of your suspicions of strangers.

      Reply
  5. Anonymous

    I often travel alone and it can be scary, but if you lower your guard just a bit, you can meet some really cool people. Nice post! =)

    Reply
    • Sally

      Thanks! I still find I have my guard up in some countries that I’m not that familiar with… but I think I’ve gotten pretty comfortable in Asia, especially Thailand, and it helps that I’ve had really good experiences. But, every once in a while, I do have to remind myself to stop scowling!

      Reply
  6. Aaron

    I was absolutely terrified for my first solo adventure. And the minute I stepped off that plane, I realized there was nothing to be afraid of, yet I still retaiend some of the basic “precautions” you described above.

    I didn’t quite realize how much my perceptions had changed until I had a friend come visit me while I was studying in Thailand. Prior to his arrival, he sent me a fairly frantic email listing off things we needed to watch out for. I was quite taken aback as he had never been to Thailand before and I had spent the past 4 months there and here he was, telling ME what things we needed to be watch out for! From the sounds of his list, he basically should’ve never left his hotel room…

    It served as a stark reminder for me of just how other people perceive both the world and traveling alone or even in a small group. And it reminded me just how far I’d come!

    Reply
    • Sally

      Ha ha! I’d LOVE to see that list. I’m pretty sure I read it before I went to Thailand the first time.

      Reply
    • Sally

      Ha ha! I’d LOVE to see that list. I’m pretty sure I read it before I went to Thailand the first time.

      Reply
  7. Sally

    Totally did that too the first time I was in London. My passport became all warped & moldy from being sweated on. Gross.

    Reply
  8. Sally

    Totally did that too the first time I was in London. My passport became all warped & moldy from being sweated on. Gross.

    Reply
  9. Anonymous

    Sally,

    I love how you talk about fear. It’s one of the things that kind of aggravates me about a lot of the lifestyle bloggers. How they act like their fear is just some pesky thing that doesn’t exist for them because they’ve chosen to ignore it. Yet then there’s the rest of us who are scared.

    So what are the rest of us supposed to do when we can’t quite conquer the fear so easily.

    Thanks for the answer.

    Reply
    • Sally

      Yeah, I get peeved, too, reading articles that make it seem so easy to overcome fear. It’s not, people. That fear stuff is tough to defeat! And, yeah, I’ve overcome my fear of solo travel (to an extent — there are still plenty of countries I wouldn’t feel safe to travel in solo… yet) — but I haven’t overcome my fear of other things (ceiling fans and spiders come to mind). If there’s anything I want to do with my blog it’s just to reassure people (not inspire, mind you!). Just to tell them: “Hey, it’s scary out there. But, you know what, I’m scared & I’m doing okay. You can too!”

      Reply
  10. Megan

    All good points…but honestly, I think if I hadn’t started traveling when I was young (like, 20, when I was studying abroad), I might have a much more difficult time doing it now. As it is, I’ve kind of turned a corner where I appreciate having company when I travel.

    FREE is important, too! Good on ya’!

    Reply
  11. Single Occupancy | Weekend Intelligence: January 15-16, 2011

    […] Occupancy Weekly: Sally of Unbrave Girl, guest blogging this week for SpunkyGirl Monologues on how solo travel isn’t nearly as scary as people think it is. She writes “When I tell people that I travel solo, they often ask me if I’m afraid. Of course, […]

    Reply
  12. Kimberly

    More often people tend to exaggerate and overreact, they forget about the exercise could self-awareness and precautions. If their are thousands of crimes that can be done to you, there’s also thousands of precautions available not to be harmed. Nice insights.

    Reply
  13. Lauren Rains

    Hey Sally!

    Awesome post! I’ve actually never truly solo traveled but I plan to do it this year! Even if its just a week trip that’s domestic I’ll do it as I don’t plan to move abroad again for another year. I just feel it’s something I have to do to face my own fears and really gain even more independence. I’m on a big mission this year for a lot of personal self growth, and I know this is a great step for me to take to get there.

    Thailand is so BEAUTIFUL! Glad to see you’re enjoying the adventure. You rock!

    (Check out this post on Flightster – “A Tribute to the Amazing Female Nomads of the World.” – THIS IS YOU! )
    (I wrote that guest post btw its really not to self promote haha. It’s just you’re the exact kind of girl I wrote it for!)

    Reply
  14. Shivya

    Love this article. I travelled solo after a long time last week, and you’re right, it’s not so scary. It helps to get everything you read online out of your head. People really do go out of their way when they know that you’re a solo female traveller.

    Reply
  15. Solo Traveler

    The scariness of traveling alone stems from the fear and mistrust of all the people around you. You might start out that way, but like you said, you eventually realize that not everyone is out to get you. What might be helpful if you’re still terrified of traveling solo is to travel with other singles. This way, you’re still in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people, but you’re not truly alone…baby steps.

    Reply
  16. Ailsa Ross

    Yo go (Unbrave) girl!
    I’ve also lost count of the number of people who have said, ‘Wow, you’re so brave, but don’t you get lonely?’ Looking all sorry for me, as I say in those hostel first-conversations, ‘Nope, just me, not here with friends. Solo. Ahem.’
    Sure I do, and I’ve felt lonely at home too, and with friends and with boys.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: