So since I’ve been traveling, I’ve been slowly chipping away at my thesis, which finally, TODAY, has a title- “Creating Genre through Gender- Living and Exploring the niche of Solo Female Travel Writers.”
Although I’ve been writing all about women travel writers who travel solo, I’ve not been completely on my own until recently. Now I’m experiencing the harsh reality that traveling solo is not as easy as I may have portrayed it. Yes, its great, and I’m glad I’m doing it. But sparking up a conversation with strangers is easier said than done.
I consider myself a pretty social person. A little shy at first maybe, but with the right people, I open up- or just put a drink in my hand and I bloom into a social butterfly. But I’ve been in Chiang Mai for 2.5 days and have yet to meet anybody. The first night, I made my way down a strip of restaurants, discretely eyeing each bar to see if it held any solo patrons. But it was early and the bars weren’t bustling yet so I finally picked a restaurant that- shit- didn’t even have a bar. So I sat down at a table, pulled out my laptop, and got some work done. Nothing says, “come talk to me,” like someone typing furiously on their laptop. Stupid.
The next day I had a visa run booked. My visa was going to expire today, and I’m still here for two weeks. So I hopped on a day trip to the Golden Triangle, where Laos, Burma, and Thailand meet. That way I could cross over into Burma, cross right back into Thailand, and get my Visa restamped for two additional weeks. Its a pretty regular practice for people who stay in Thailand long-term.
The trip was cheaper than going to immigration and paying them to do it, and I figured it would be a chance to meet people. I was wrong. The van picked me up first, then a Japanese couple, a French couple, and finally a South African couple. None of them were speaking English. (I thought South Africans spoke English. No idea what they were speaking though.) They were also all above the age of forty. The Japanese couple sat next to me and in the beginning of the three hour ride out, she starting crying and yelling at her boyfriend in Japanese. He comforted her briefly, and then started laughing at her. Then she bit his arm and angrily threw her water bottle on the floor. I put my sunglasses down and opened a book. Welp, not making any friends here…
On a more positive note, I have found that people are always willing to help a female traveling alone- almost too much sometimes. When my program coordinator from the elephant camp picked me up to bring me to Chiang Mai, she was a little taken aback by the fact that I did not have a hotel or guest house booked. “Oh you can just drop me off on the main strip, I’ll find something.” This did not satisfy her and she insisted on finding me a place before leaving me in a city by myself. I really don’t mind schlepping my stuff around for a bit, in search of a place to stay. Abby and I did it the whole time we were in Laos- never booking anything in advance. The “best” was when we arrived in Luang Prabang at 4:30 am, after the most miserable, sleepless, overnight bus ride ever. I was still fuming about the guy who slept, snored, and sweat on my shoulder and when we realized we had no idea where the hostels were, I was in no mood. So we walked (I stomped) around Luang Prabang for about twenty minutes, me with my grumpy pants on tight, (sorry Abs) and finally found a place. We had to wake up the owner to get in, but we found beds and immediately crashed. So yeah, arriving midday in a big city without a room no longer phases me.
After my coordinator was satisfied that I had a safe place to sleep, the owner of the guest house curiously questioned what I was up to that day. When I told him my shopping list of stuff to get done, he insisted on giving me a ride on his motorbike. Yes, please!
So there’s definitely been ups and downs so far, but tonight I am dead set on sitting at a bar and talking to SOMEONE- the bartender, the bus boy, whoever. And in the meantime, here is some fabulous advice that I’ve gathered from friends to use in my paper… Time to start putting their wise words to good use!
Amanda A… “I’ve met the most people traveling when i’ve just saddled up to the bar with a crossword, book or magazine as a buffer and started a conversation with the person sitting next to me. Locals, like your waiter, are going to know the best places for a night cap, or the best place for dessert. One of my favorite experiences traveling alone was when i was in london and was looking for a bar to have a glass of wine before i headed back to my hostel. I started chatting with a
couple gentlemen smoking outside the bar, who then invited me in, and i spent
the next two hours meeting new people who then invited me out the next night! a
chance conversation gave me new friends that i still talk to over a year later.Be smart, but be confident! and keep a few comforts close at hand.”
Ava L… “Always protect yourself and your belongings by thinking ahead. For example, pack several locks with you. There may be time at the airport or train station that you’re waiting and need some shut eye. In that case, you want to be assured that your things will be there when you wake up. There is no guarantees that your stuff won’t be stolen anyway, but at least you have locks on your things so people will think twice. Also, pack your identification stuff somewhere safe around your body. Keep a copy of your things in another place. In addition, when you travel alone and backpack, you might not have a set place to keep your things.
Try this: go to a train station and ask where you can keep your things. most
times, the train station will have a “locker room” of some kind to keep your belongings for a period of time. You may have to pay, but it’s better
than lugging things around.
“Vanessa C… “Embrace the unknown. There is nothing more liberating
than trying new foods, asking stupid questions, pretending to know a language, and attempting to fit in. (Recently) I was meeting some females in Vegas on a short trip. When I arrived, they were in shock at my ability and comfort with
traveling alone. Most of them had a fear of it. I told them that there was
nothing more liberating than being only on your own watch with no one to answer
to but yourself. They respectfully disagreed and told me they would never fly
alone. As I contemplated their comments, I realized that those of us that have
the confidence to embark on the unknown should feel blessed that we have the
independence and curiosity to do so. It makes me feel grateful for my
experiences and the people that help me on the way!”
If you are a solo female traveler, I’d love to hear your tips as well! Comment below:)