It was kind of scary to leave Belgium as a girl who had never really travelled (alone) before. Therefore I kept on postponing my trip with different excuses in order to hide my fear.
Yes, my friends, I was afraid.
When I turned 26, and felt more like a woman rather than a girl, I realized that I did not keep my promise of leaving before turning 25.
So I kicked myself in the ass and just did it.
It was a painful action, but I’m not regretting the bruises on my behind that led me to the life I am living now.
I can not even read a map, hence I can not tell the difference between left and right to save my life, but 6 months and 8 countries later I still have all my limbs and healthy portion of proud and courage.
It was almost disappointing how non-scary it was. The moment I got into my first car and wiped away my last tear I realized that it was not so hard after all.
It’s making the step that is the hardest part, not the step itself.
As I said earlier, I am a die-hard amateur traveller and I actually don’t really know what I am doing.
I have travelled in Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, Mongolia, China and India so far. The passed 6 months, I have hitch-hiked, taken trains, buses and BlaBla-Cars without any problems, all by myself and without any plan.
Here are my first impressions and some useful tips:
1. Arm yourself clever
Make sure that the people that you trust for sleep and transport, have somewhere a connection with you to reduce the danger of falling into the wrong hands.
I don’t want to pay for sleep, so I use CouchSurfing instead. It is very important to check the profiles carefully and trust your gut.
People who claim to be new at CS and therefore have no contacts have to be a carefully selected risk, or just don’t meet up with them. Also, the fact that some members are verified, can give you an extra security in case of doubt. Be careful: there is such things as fake profiles connecting with each other, so if you have a person with 5 references and his friends have none, or only from these same 5 profiles, you know it’s a scam.
Although, I must admit, I don’t always take the above tips in consideration... I just feel kind of obliged to warn you. Sometimes there is simply no other option than contacting half-completed profiles. Taking calculated risks has brought me to places I otherwise would never have seen.
Which brings me to my next point: in case there would be something wrong, it is super easy to track the person down via your communication history. Fake profiles are taken down every day, since the above mentioned websites are highly secured.
It’s a cheap and safe way to travel, so even if the persons you are driving or sleeping with are a little bit dodgy, keep in mind that they can and will be tracked, so probably won’t hurt you. If you feel unsafe, get out of there and report them.
Besides that, I have created a very big and self confident mouth. From the moment I left my trusted surroundings, it was like something tough took over. I was alone in the world and needed to be able to take care of myself. I am not naively wandering around, but also taking the doom-scenarios in consideration. I mostly ended up being ashamed of doubting certain situations which turned out to be pure magic. Anyhow, stay alert.
If people ask me whether I am not afraid to travel alone on our dangerous planet, I simply tell them that I know krav maga and can break their leg in three seconds. This is not true, of course, but being able to tell this in a way that people are already afraid by just looking at you, will make them silently gambol on (in case they have bad intentions). Just keep in mind, that people willing to do you harm are cowards. They pick weak victims who probably won’t fight, because they are even more afraid than you are to get a scratch, or - in my case - having one of their eyes poked out.
2. You are an easy one night stand
Being a solo female traveller makes you the perfect target for all the horny men out there searching to get laid. They simply believe that, because you are a woman, alone - and therefore probably lonely - you need a man to make you feel better.
Well, my best friend always told me that mother Theresa is whore compared to me, sorry dudes.
As a solo female, men believe you are easy and free, so they often do everything within their power - and within the time limit of you being on the same place as them - to get you in bed. Whether they are old and married or good-looking and young, they have no boundaries for emptying their sack.
80% of your man-friends will try at some point, 100% will at least consider it. (statistics based on own experience)
My shield against the annoying and persistent ones: be a bitch. Why try to keep being nice if some of them do not respect one ‘NO’? ‘No means ‘no’, you know?!? Be as rude as you can be, because as for the same reason they want to get you in bed to never see you again, you can insult the shit out of them and wave them farewell forever as well.
Yes, I am pretty radical in this. And proud of it.
3. Enjoy your own will
One of the main reasons to leave on a trip with no one more than yourself is the magic of not having to take other opinions in consideration.
Travelling alone will allow you to be - in all your over-social behaviour - very individualistic too.
You will meet loads of new friends, and you have with neither one of them the slightest responsibility to stick together. This is your eternal me-time. Enjoy!
4. Solo is cheap
The need to spoil yourself depends on your surroundings. If you bundle up with fellow travellers, the seduction of spending more money on food and accommodation lies around every corner. Also, your fellow traveller can have another vision of getting around, so while compromising, you might realize that alone you would have done things different and in a more low budget kind of way. CouchSurfing becomes more difficult and not everyone is open for cheap street food.
On the other hand, some private rooms can turn out cheaper with a partner in crime, and there is a lot to learn from experienced travellers too. It's all about balance, even though I wish the balance on my bank account looked different than it actually does.
5. You are never alone.
When I am talking about travelling alone, I actually mean: not with other travellers.
It’s not that I am languishing in hotel rooms trying to avoid people.
As an individual it is much more easier to get in contact with locals and see the world through their eyes and not a touristy eye. There is a big difference between booking a room in a tourist area to hit some bars with your dorm mates and getting yourself a CouchSurfing host who drives you around on their motorcycle to end up having dinner with their whole family. Both are nice, but I truly prefer the last option.
6. Lost and found is your best friend.
Since the budget is limited, being creative with the sources you have is a big plus. When you change countries, continents and wind directions on a monthly basis, the weather can change drastically and your backpack can get very heavy.
I tried to shop for clothes, but I just couldn’t. I could not bare the fact that I needed to get rid of what I had and replace it by new stuff.
So, I started cutting my pants and snoop around in lost and founds in hostels to recycle what is already out there.
Trousers became shorts and long sleeves became tops.
Did you ever forgot your favourite dress, chill pants or travel pillow in your room? Well, probably I am wearing it right now!
7. You can be proud of yourself
Frankly, I did not really believe that I was able to do this. Still today, I cannot imagine how the hell I already got this far. Every time I cross a border, joy overtakes reality and mostly I can barely believe where I am.
I am super proud of myself, being here and now. On my own, without booking any flights and with the most crappy travel gear on the planet. With my little knowledge of what is out there, I have crossed countries I do not speak the language of, lived on primitive farms in poor conditions, traversed deserts in -45°C and build up a passion for getting lost.
This is an experience of a life time, so pack your bags, go to the station without them, catch a train and leave yourself behind.