The Ups and Downs of Solo Travel

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:)


About

I'm a restless writer with a passion for travel, and an inkling that my generation will change the world for the better. I want to be a part of it all.


'The Ups and Downs of Solo Travel' have 5 comments

  1. August 16, 2011 @ 10:10 pm Lex

    To put this in context, how long will you be traveling for and how much of that time are you actually travelling solo? From your posts so far it seems you’re sticking pretty closely to the standard Southeast Asian backpacker trail that most solo female travelers have been following since the 90’s, so I’m struggling to see what your blog (and eventual thesis) will offer? (insights like “alcohol makes people really friendly” are hardly headline-worthy)

    I don’t mean to be critical but I’m hoping there’s a perspective here which offers broader appeal than running commentary for friends and family who haven’t been to these places – which is what I’d think you would be hoping to achieve as a travel writer.

    Reply

  2. August 17, 2011 @ 3:21 am britanyrobinson

    Lex,

    Thank you for the insight, but I think this post may have mislead you. My blog and my thesis are two separate projects entirely. My blog is not meant to be headline worthy- it is simply stories from my travels which I hope friends, family, and others, will enjoy reading. My thesis is an analysis of the genre that has risen amongst solo female travel writers, and how a very specific niche and a helpful, supportive community has been formed around the topic. It discusses the first women travel writers and how they were breaking social expectations by facing dangers and sharing their observations with the world- many of them often used these observations of foreign cultures to criticize their own culture, which would not have been inappropriate otherwise.

    I simply used this blog post as a way to get people talking about their own experiences as female travel writers, in hopes to use the quotes in a section of my paper. Seeing the lack of responses, it obviously hasn’t worked, but I’ve gotten some great feedback from female travel bloggers and writers outside the blog.

    thanks for the comment and I’d love to hear if you have any personal stories of traveling solo to share.

    (oh and my trip is about to end, it was 2.5 months and I went to Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand.)

    Reply

  3. August 17, 2011 @ 7:42 am Lex

    Thanks for clearing that up. My one suggestion is that it would probably benefit you and your thesis to a) spend a bit more time actually travelling solo (as it seems it’s only been a couple of weeks out of your 2.5 months) and b) veer off the well-worn gap-year trail – even while ostensibly traveling solo you’re completely cocooned in the very well-developed support infrastructure that’s been built for western tourists. In that region some time in Burma would give you a lot more insight into the solo travel experience, IMHO.

    Reply

  4. August 17, 2011 @ 8:10 am britanyrobinson

    Unfortunately, I do not have the time or budget to continue my trip further than I have planned, but I do not think that will affect the quality of my thesis, as I am discussing the journalism and literature behind solo travel and my personal experience is only a small part of that. I also believe you can have a very genuine and fulfilling trip by staying on the backpacker trail. Although I can’t wait to veer off of it in future travels, there are endless experiences to be had and shared in popular backpacker destinations, if you are adventurous and imaginative enough to find them.

    Thanks again

    Reply

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