This week's guest blogger is Stephanie Yoder, a girl who can't sit still. She's a traveller, a writer and blogger at Twenty Something Travel. To keep up to date with Stephanie you can follow her on Twittter and Facebook.
So you have this great trip planned out, to a place you've really been longing to see, but you can't seem to convince anyone to come with you. What's a girl to do? Wait? I don't believe in waiting around for other people to make your travel dreams come true. I've travelled solo through a slew of countries from China to Cambodia and Scotland to Slovenia and it's been both fun and enlightening. Along the way I've heard every misconception about solo female travellers you can imagine, so I'm here to set the record straight with nine myths and one truth about solo female travel...
1. It's a scary world out there
Despite what movies like Hostel and Taken would have you believe, the world outside your nation's borders is not full of treachery and danger. As women, we are often taught to regard the unknown as threatening, which is unfortunate because it keeps us boxed up where we feel safe. The truth is that in many, if not most, places, if you travel intelligently and responsibly you are probably at least as safe as you would be in a major city at home.
2. You need to speak a foreign language
Personally I'm hopeless with languages, but luckily for me (and probably you) English is now the universal travel language and by far the most important one you can know. It's probably advisable to learn a few key phrases for the country you're visiting – things like ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’- but don't let your language inability stop you from going.
3. Don't talk to strangers
This advice was probably useful when you were five, but now that we’re all older it's just not practical. When you travel on your own everyone is a stranger until you make the effort to get to meet them. Then they are either really awesome fellow travellers, or interesting locals with stories to tell. Use your instincts to encourage the people worth knowing, and just walk away from anyone who makes you uncomfortable. It's totally okay to be rude when safety is concerned.
4. You should wear a fake wedding ring
Does anyone actually do this? I've seen it written in about a billion travel forums, but I don't think I've ever met anyone testing this ruse. If it makes you feel better give it a shot but the sad thing is that most men who are obnoxious enough to keep hitting on you when you’re obviously uncomfortable are not going to be dissuaded by a wedding band. If someone is bugging you, a far more effective strategy is to leave the area.
5. Eating alone is scary
Okay, let's talk about eating alone for a minute - everyone seems to be hung up on it, but have you ever actually done it? Before you go travelling try a test run at home - take yourself out to dinner and a movie. It will be fine, I promise. Nobody in the restaurant is going to care that you are sitting alone. Plus, if you are staying in hostels there is almost always somebody to tag along to dinner with if you want.
6. You will be lonely
Along those same lines, this also seems to be a common fear among potential solo travellers. Someday I'm going to get a t-shirt made that says “Alone does not equal lonely.” Learning to be alone is a really important skill, and you may find you actually really enjoy your own company. That said, the beauty of backpacking is that you pretty much never have to be alone if you don't want to be. Hostels around the world are bursting forth with friendly people who want nothing more than to hang out with you! Those friendships you make traipsing through the streets of Madrid in the middle of the night or piling into a traditional restaurant in Kyoto are beyond valuable.
7. All solo travellers are single
Every couple of months I get an email from someone who wants to travel, but their boyfriend does not. This should not hold you back. I know quite a few women who travel without their significant others. Many people enjoy the clarity that travelling alone gives them and come back to their relationships feeling refreshed. Or maybe they break up. In any case, it's certainly better than resenting your partner for keeping you grounded.
8. Travelling with anyone is better than being alone
I've seen people willing to attach themselves to total strangers because for some reason that seems better to them than being independent. This is a bad idea - people you genuinely like at home can turn into total monsters on the road. Just drag a bitchy, complaining college student who will only eat at McDonalds through Eastern Europe and you will see what I mean. If you do decide to travel with someone make damn sure they are on the same page as you.
9. “I could never do that”
I've heard this more times than I can count and I'm always puzzled. Solo female travellers are not some subspecies of hearty Indiana Jones type warrior queens battling their way across a dangerous world- they are regular people just like you. There is nothing I'm doing that you couldn't do yourself... if you wanted to.
And the one truth?
The truth is solo travel isn't just something you do when you can't find anyone else to come along. It's an incredibly rewarding and enlightening experience in its own right. You will learn about resources you never knew you had, and discover amazing things. You may even make some big life decisions. But one thing is certain – you’ll definitely have fun.
If you’re female and about to set on your own just remember this - it's okay to be nervous. Even now, after five years of travelling, I still get a bit jittery before I set off on my own. These worries usually disappear as soon as you arrive in a marvellous, new place. I've never regretted it, and neither will you.