Here it is, the most talked about topic for us lady backpackers. I got all sorts of different reactions when people heard that I was travelling by myself. Some people were completely nonchalant about it, others looked at me with sad eyes, and still others applauded me. So here are some truths about my solo female travels in Portugal:
I never felt unsafe.
I came to Portugal fully prepared and aware of the areas that I was staying, and the safety concerns I should know (not that there were many). I’ve travelled to enough countries to know a lot of different safety tricks and there are plenty of safety habits I do constantly without thinking twice about.
My purse is always in front of me, and I always have my hand casually on top of it.
I know who is walking around me at all times. I’m not looking wide eyed constantly checking behind me, but I am aware if someone is getting “too” close to me from all directions.
Normally, I’m the queen of making eye contact. I love looking at people, I should really add people watching to my resume because I do it so damn often. But, when I’m travelling- especially in an unfamiliar place, I keep that eye contact to a minimum. You never know what it means in a different country, sometimes it could be mistaken for something that it is not.
I don’t normally wander at night. This definitely depends on the country and the neighbourhood you are staying in, but typically when it gets dark I head back to the hostel. I also would never get drunk by myself, but that’s kind of irrelevant because I would never get drunk by myself in my home country either. Not to say that I haven’t been out in the wee hours of the night when backpacking solo but I only do that if I’ve met some trusting friends along the way and I know that I’m in a safe environment.
There are a million and one other things I do to keep myself and my possessions safe while travelling and there are an infinite number of resources online to learn all about them.
Travelling alone doesn’t mean you are alone. You actually meet so many people while travelling by yourself, and you’d be surprised by the amount of conversation you’ll find yourself having with strangers on buses, in coffee shops, hostels, etc. Over this past week, I’ve met a 60 year old solo female backpacker from Sweden, 4 different Australians, 3 different Portuguese men, 4 different English men, 5 different Germans (mostly solo backpackers), One American, 3 Canadians, 2 guys from Belarus, 3 different people from France, and I’ve had lunch with a Portuguese family who didn’t speak English. So sure, I was travelling alone, but I definitely wasn’t lonely.
If you pick a good hostel (and even if you don’t) you’ll most likely make friends at your hostel. There are normally other people travelling by themselves, and even when there aren’t, people in groups are looking to make new friends too!! At my hostel in Lagos I think 95% of the people there were travelling by themselves. We sort of became a little family there. We’d go on our own adventures during the day, and then in the evening when everyone returned we would eat dinner, or have drinks together and talk about how our days went.
This is a biggie and in my opinion the most important: there are good people EVERYWHERE. I will say this over and over and over again. If you have a bad day or experience or you need something or someone to talk too, there will always be someone nearby to hep you out. All you have to do is reach out to people. No matter what country you are in, no matter what tiny corner of the world, no matter what language they speak- there are good people everywhere.
When I told my mom that I would be travelling alone she was not thrilled. Naturally, I mean what parent really would be? Her concerns stemmed from “not knowing what a young lady does when she travels by herself” – the answer? The same thing as most other travellers, regardless of age or gender. She explores, learns, laughs, drinks, eats, and enjoys.
There are so many reasons why I think everyone should venture off into this world by themselves. You get to learn different cultures, different languages, and different life lessons. You learn how to be patient, and positive. You learn how to socialize better, how to be more confident and independent, how to take better care of yourself and how to be street smart. You don’t have anyone to rely on but yourself. You learn about who you are and where you fit into the world.
So my fellow adventurers: travel long and travel far, and do it by yourself. It’s terrifying and exhilarating and stressful and wonderful and liberating and you need to do it because it will change you and your life for the better.