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Finding Inner Strength While Traveling as a Solo Woman

Ocean Park Aquarium, Manila City, Philippines
Paradise on the Kerala Coast.

For more than 15 years I had been an independent, mostly solo, globetrotter. I had ridden my motorcycle solo from Seattle to Panama; driven my jeep to Alaska from the lower 48; and backpacked around the Pacific Rim countries for a year. I like to think of myself as a seasoned traveler.

But, after years of living and traveling with my significant other, Jon, I learned that slipping back into the devil-may-care existence of solo travel was not as easy as I had anticipated.

Oh No, Solo!

I planned a solo trip. No, I did not just decide to jet off to Europe for a few weeks or lie on a beach in Mexico at an all-inclusive resort. I planned a 1-month trip to India.

Despite the guilt of leaving Jon behind while I traversed the subcontinent on my own, I was really looking forward to the adventure. After all, I had written a book on traveling solo. I knew exactly what I was doing, right?

I prepared myself by reading all the guides on India, taking copious notes about where to stay, the best sights to see in each city and how to best get from one place to the next. I even joined Servas so that I could meet and stay with some locals. I forgot about all of India’s own idiosyncrasies, however.

After less than a week, I had been pursued by the most aggressive of India’s touts in Varanasi, dodged a kiss from a shopkeeper, contracted a sinus infection in Darjeeling and lost my first week’s worth of digital images after my Indian-made SD card died.

My antidote was to fly to Kerala. India’s southernmost state includes some of the most beautiful coastline in the world. Based upon the photos in my guidebook, I was assured beach time, fresh air and relaxation after having just traipsed through Delhi, Varanasi, Darjeeling, and Kolkatta.

Location Location Location

I stayed at a perfectly priced ($12 U.S.) bungalow near the cliffside village of Varkala. Palm trees swayed with the ocean breeze as the sun beat down from a consistently cloudless sky. Fresh fruit juices and just-caught fish were at my disposal. Most people would have considered this to be paradise.

I know this because I was surrounded by loving couples snuggling by the pool and European parents frolicking with their kids in tow.

Me? I blew my nose (because of my sinus infection), listened to my iPod, and eagerly read every international newspaper I could find.

One night, as I drifted off to sleep, I could hear voices in my head of foreigners and Indians speaking heavily accented English. It was as if I was hallucinating. I was sick. I was lonely. And I was in paradise, feeling sorry for myself.

Then I met Kate.

Good Things for Those Who Wait

Beth and Kate in Kerala
Beth and Kate in Kerala.

While dining solo at one of the restaurants overlooking the water and sunset, I was seated next to a table of Americans, including Kate and her two traveling companions, both of whom were departing the next day. Kate and I immediately hit it off and became fast friends in the way that travelers do; we swapped travel tales, personal stories, and details of our India experiences.

We discovered that we were both departing in a few days’ time for the airport in Trivandrum (an hour away) and made plans to share a taxi. Over the coming days, our schedules jived. We ate breakfast and dinner together and spent most days doing our own thing. We shared tips on the best massage therapist in town and went for long walks into the nearby villages along the oceanfront.

Just when I had thought I reached my breaking point, questioning my own sanity and reasons for having traveled to honeymoon heaven by myself, I was sent a travel companion. It was as if Ganesh, the Remover of Obstacles, cleared the way for me to thoroughly enjoy the remainder of my travels.

I have had many obstacles placed in my way during my years of travel. Many were far worse than loneliness and a sinus infection, such as grenades and AK 47’s. But being sick and lonely are more common to most travelers than a weaponry arsenal.   

With travel experience there comes the confidence of knowing that even on your worst day things will get better. Whatever the obstacle that is placed before you, you will find an inner strength and self-assurance that you cannot possibly discover in the safety and security of your own backyard.

Along with your souvenirs, you bring back home an inner strength, and are forever changed in a very positive way.

Tips to Avoid Loneliness as a Solo Woman Traveler

As I mention in this article, most issues that arise during travel are neither life threatening nor dangerous. Sometimes it just takes gaining a bit of self-confidence in order to fully enjoy your adventure and not to allow minor annoyances to get you down.

  1. Join a local tour. Whether it is a half day tour or over multiple days, this will give you the chance to meet other travelers and learn more about your destination.
  2. Pursue your personal hobby while you’re on the road. Whether you’re a budding photographer or enjoy world music, spend some time doing what you would do at home.
  3. Limit the use of email to connect with home. We all go through some level of homesickness and feel the desire to reach out to people we know well. Do not allow this to detract you from your surroundings as it will ultimately take away from your travel experiences.
  4. We can all feel shy at times. However, travel is the time to come out of your shell. After all, you have got nothing to lose when it is unlikely you will know anyone. Guidebooks will often recommend popular coffee shops, internet cafes, and restaurants. Visit these locations and reach out to other travelers as well as locals.
  5. Meet the locals! Try www.couchsurfing.org and stay with residents in a city or village. Eat at non-chain restaurants which are perhaps family-owned. If you frequent the same place multiple times, you are sure to make fast friends with the owners.
  6. Be open to the local people and environment. Learn as much as you can about your destination and then experience all that a place has to offer. It will build your self-confidence and help create a far more rewarding experience.
  7. Deal with feelings of culture shock. If culture shock has gotten the best of you, read books in your native language, listen to your iPod (audiobooks are particularly good) and write in your journal. These are excellent ways to help you get over the overwhelming feelings that can arise from being immersed in a new environment.
  8. Prepare and carry with you, a list of emergency contacts in case you do need help from a friend or family member back at home.
  9. Always know how to get in touch with the nearest embassy or consulate for your country at the destination where you are traveling. They may be of assistance for both minor and major problems.
  10. If you do find yourself in a less than ideal situation (your passport is stolen, for example), stay calm and remember that things will work out!
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