Flying Solo

Don’t listen to the fearmongers— the rewards of traveling alone are bigger than the risks.

author : Krystin Arneson

art : Simone Noronha

“But aren’t you afraid?”

I hear this over and over when I travel alone. From cabbies in Vietnam who carve out lanes where none exist. From Romanian women my mother’s age whose worried voices wring my heart like a dishcloth. From groups of friends traveling in packs to explore a new country.

I am not—at least most of the time. When I read articles about horrific traumas inflicted on solo female travelers, I am furious that we still have to even think about our security and safety as we experience the world. That we have to camouflage our facial expressions to avoid looking lost, dress with caution, and splurge on cabs at night to avoid walking or sketchy transit.

But these precautions are not so different from the low-grade anxiety with which most women move through their own neighborhoods. Like many other seasoned female travelers, I get frustrated with headlines that seem to suggest danger is graver simply because it’s in an unfamiliar place. Staying put does not guarantee safety—and rarely brings the profound change traveling can.

Striking out solo in another place reintroduces me to the best version of myself. The small successes of each day—making change in foreign coins, stringing together phrases of a local language—culminate in the validation that I’ve got this, I can do this, I can do even more than this.

But I’m only ever as alone as I want to be, because travelers are a friendly group. I’ve danced until dawn with Frenchmen in a Kraków disco, meeting with one months later to motorcycle through the Pyrenees. Shared chipped bowls of cheap noodles in Hanoi with a German man and French woman. Spent a long, starlit night in Malaysia with a group of Australian students, talking the talk you have when your lives might cross paths just once. These experiences linger on to make my life feel richer, more fleshed out in its potential; they’re the stories that keep my days from blurring together.

On my own, I challenge myself to say yes to whatever I’m comfortable with—barring that which would land me in prison, the hospital, or the morgue—and I haven’t regretted it once. If my travels have taught me anything, it’s not to fear the “what ifs,” just to stay aware of them and respond accordingly.

The only thing standing between you and the world is that first movement beyond your comfort zone. And you don’t have to start full-on. Work your connections to ease yourself into a new place with local help. I did that for my first solo trip, to Europe, staying with a friend in Edinburgh before moving on to Paris, Naples, and Kraków. I’ll likely do it again in India later this year.

Sharing a few steps with others doesn’t take away from what you’re doing: allowing your perspective to shift, yourself to be changed, and the world to see the strength of a woman alone venturing far from home.

The only thing standing between you and the world is that first movement beyond your comfort zone.