Last year I spent six months travelling from Buenos Aires to Bogota on my lonesome. Here are some of the lessons I learnt while travelling South America alone…
1 – You’re not an anomaly
The way people speak, you’d think solo female travel were a new invention. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Everywhere I travelled in South America, whether that were to a remote camp in the Amazon Jungle, a Refugio on the side of a mountain, or the northernmost town in the Colombian desert, I’d barely have time to dump my bags before a lone female traveller would pop up to introduce herself. Everywhere you looked there were cool chicks, making their own decisions, navigating themselves from A to B, all whilst keeping themselves fed and watered…it’s almost as if these same females have been functioning adults capable of keeping themselves alive all this time…
2 – It’s relatively easy
Of course there are going to be moments when you just want to plonk yourself down, and let someone else deal with your plans. Then of course, you remember that you have places you want to see, and things you want to do, so you get up, and you do them. There are friendly folk, in hostels and tour companies, specifically there to help you plan your next move. Plus, you’re going to hang out with the best tour guides…fellow travellers who’ve already been where you’re headed. Listening to their tips will answer most questions about your next move.
3 – Being alone is nice
The first couple of times you do things solo, yes, it may feel weird. But soon, those moments you felt unsure of, arriving into a big city as the sun goes down, heading out for a meal alone, will become enjoyable parts of the experience – the promise of new friends in new destinations, the chance to sit and appreciate the view over dinner without needing to engage in idle chit-chat. This is your time to go where you want to go, eat where you want to eat, sit where you want to sit, sleep when you want to sleep. Being alone means you can please yourself – and there is nothing more liberating.
4 – Time to learn what you like
The beauty of travel is that it gives you the time to work out the things that make your heart sing. Back home, we’re coerced into attending concerts, dinners, and events that we enjoy, but that perhaps wouldn’t be our top choice if we were ‘No.1 decision maker’. Here, you’re wearing that hat! What you do each and every day only needs to be a reflection of what you want to do. This is your time to tap into those cravings, those moments of piqued interest, and to explore them. That’s what you’re here for – to work out what matters to you, and what makes you happy.
5 – No company is better than bad company
Maybe at first you’ll hang out with the first person you meet, purely to have someone to sip your caipirinha next to, but you’ll soon grow out of this. Travelling teaches you to identify who you click with, and fast. In fact, they’ll be so many kindred spirits knocking about that when you realise someone isn’t completely on your wavelength, you’ll be more than happy to politely decline an invitation in favour of a hammock, and a good book. You’ll be meeting so many people, you’ll soon discover it’s not necessary to befriend them all.
6 – The importance of sensible choices
It would be naïve to think that everywhere you go is 100% safe, but rather than letting this overwhelm you, you quickly learn to make a few simple choices that automatically make you feel safer. Actions like booking a hostel in advance, writing down the address, and scheduling a bus that arrives during the day, will help you to feel more relaxed. Plus, when you’re not operating on autopilot as you do back home, you’re instincts speak to you loud and clear – and you learn to listen, and trust them.
7 – You can only plan so much
Yes it pays to have a rough route mapped out, but stick to it too strictly and you may miss out on the best parts of your trip. You never know who you’ll meet that’ll suggest a road trip, a hike, or a party. You never know when you’ll stumble across a place that makes you want to stay put for a while. Be flexible to these unexpected places and events. If something feels right to you, you’re not going to regret changing your plans.
8 – The challenges end up being the highlights
There were a couple of times on my trip when I found myself thinking – ‘Amy, what on earth are you playing at being here?’. Whether that was as I huffed and puffed up the side of mountain, or as I stared into the multiple beady eyes of a tarantula, these were the moments that ended up having the biggest impact, and which I look back on most fondly. There is no better feeling than taking on a challenge you didn’t think yourself capable of, and emerging triumphant. It shows you what you’re made of, and once you’ve seen that, you don’t forget it.
Author, Amy Baker. Check out her website, like her Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter.