Evelyn poses with street musicians in Dubrovnik during our Hidden Gems of the Dalmatian Coast & Greece Small Ship Adventure.
Evelyn Hannon is the founder of journeywoman.com, an online travel resource for women. On her website, she’s published many articles about traveling solo—a subject in which she has decades of personal experience. We loved the honesty in this piece, and asked for permission to share it here.
By Evelyn H., 3-time traveler and 4-time Vacation Ambassador from Toronto, Canada
Lately I've noticed many more articles about the joys of women-centered solo travel. These articles are being written by both women and men and, of course, I'm delighted to see them. It's a message I've been advocating for a very long time. In fact, I wrote about my first solo experience for a singles magazine as far back as 1985.
While I'm happy with the publicity the women's solo travel niche is being given, I'm feeling uneasy about the reality that is often omitted from many of these travel pieces. I believe that by talking just about the highs of solo travel and not giving enough emphasis to the lows, the real solo travel experience is being distorted. First-time travelers are not really being given the full story and they deserve to be prepared.
Solo travel can be painful...
I admit that in writing my very first article, I am somewhat guilty of that wrongdoing myself. In that eighties issue I described 35 days of post-divorce, solo travel, and all the things I was experiencing for the very first time.
“There were good days. There were bad days. I experienced highs and I cried alone. I was single again after so many years. My love was no longer there to hold my hand."
I now understand I should have said a bit more about the anxieties I experienced during that first trip. They were normal trepidations and a reality for first journeys. Yet I didn't dwell on them because once I came home, they were overshadowed by all the exciting, positive adventures and the new confidence I had acquired along the way.
Solo travel can scare you...
We read so much about the gifts of “finding ourselves” on a solo journey. The writer tempts us with dreams of climbing mountains or finding the perfect café in a small village or meeting that tall handsome stranger when you least expect it. These are all glorious portrayals and they are wonderful to read and to experience but, where is the talk of the uneasiness? Where is the mention of loneliness or of fear? These are also truths associated with being on the road all by oneself. They are nothing to be ashamed of. It takes courage to step out your front door not knowing what to expect. It is the conquering of that fear and finding ways to alleviate that aloneness that makes each of us better travelers, and perhaps, better women.
Some people pretend to be heroes...
I remember reading a conversation on Facebook on the topic of “dealing with loneliness.” Many young travel bloggers took part in that exercise and not one of them would admit it could be a problem.
"I'm never lonely," they wrote.
"I love being in places where I don't know a soul," they boasted with lots of exclamation points.
Guess what? I didn't entirely believe them. Did they recall their first big trip? Finding yourself in a foreign country, not knowing a soul is not simple at the start. Most humans want to make contact with other human beings. That is part of our goal when we embark on our journey. Yes, we want to see the Eiffel Tower but we also want to have the opportunity even for a few minutes to connect with someone else to talk about that experience. I wonder if the travel writers who deny this reality believe that never being lonely is a professional standard to aim for. If that is the case, what a shame. All they are creating are false expectations of “utter euphoria” when one sets off by oneself for the very first time.
You can even feel lonely at home...
I distinctly remember being two months into my 16-week stay in France when I experienced several days of being totally on my own. It was the days before cyberspace and I hadn't had the opportunity to speak to another soul. I hungered for some interesting contact. I was tired of traveling and missed my family; I didn't want to see the inside of yet another church, and wearing that same sweatshirt over and over again was disheartening. In fact, I was sad enough to contemplate changing my plane ticket and going home the very next day.
What stopped me was my inner voice saying, "you've had lonely days before and you were not even traveling. You were at home. Running away is not the answer."
Instead, I booked an appointment at a local spa and enjoyed the pleasures of a relaxing massage. That evening, I took myself out for a lovely dinner complete with wine and a decadent dessert. I bought myself a new sweater. Somehow that extra bit of self-nurturing did the trick. Thank goodness I didn't go home. I was refreshed and ready to start all over again with gusto.
Once it happened to me, I could recognize homesickness in others. On an intercity train, I once sat beside a young American woman. We chatted and she told me that it was her birthday, the first one she was spending away from home. She sorely missed her family and friends. I suggested we go out to celebrate by going to the movies that evening. It would be my birthday treat. So we watched a Woody Allen movie in French with English subtitles, laughing along with the French audience. It was easy to see that a little bit of adventure cheered her right up. That's the beautiful magic of coping on the road.
During my travel career I've developed ways of making friends along the way. Check out this list. It might prove a help to you when you set off on your own for the first time.
Traveling solo is a skill that needs practice...
Traveling alone (like any other skill) requires practice. Begin by joining any one of the wonderful female-centered tours being offered today. Yes, you have the protection and camaraderie of the group but you also have free hours when you can go off and experience the culture and the people on your own. In time, you might feel the need to go off entirely by yourself. With each journey you will get better at it until one day you'll wake up and realize that you are a full-fledged solo travelling JourneyWoman.
However, you must promise me this. When offering advice to another woman travelling solo for the very first time, tell her the truth. Explain that she will not experience perfection. There will be times when she will be sad and will wonder why she ever embarked on this crazy solo adventure. Tell her not to give up. The benefits and pleasures she will reap are enormous and life altering. Looking back, she will never, ever regret putting that backpack on.
I know I never did.
Safe journeys, everybody!