As I take this first solo trip since starting the blog, I find that I’m more reflective on the experience of women traveling alone than I ever was before.
Traveling solo just came naturally to me. From comments received on the blog and Twitter, I realize that it's not natural to every women. Traveling alone, while not really uncommon, is a bit unique.
Solo Travel: It Takes Time to Settle In
For those who are thinking of taking their first trip alone, I want you to know that at the beginning of every trip I’m a bit nervous. At home I rarely go to clubs, restaurants, museums, festivals… alone. I don’t need to. My friends are at hand. But solo travel demands that I break routines and do things differently.
Fortunately, I’m quite happy with my own company and content to sit back and people watch. But, when I want to chat, I am also capable of starting a conversation. A few nights ago is a case in point.
I went to dinner and forgot the typical eating alone prop – a book. But on my way in the door, scanning the restaurant for where I wanted to sit, I noticed a fellow using a Larousse dictionary to translate what he was reading. French, I wondered? This was an avenue in.
After observing him from the bar for a bit, I went to his table and asked if he was from France. He looked at me oddly. “No, I'm from Kansas.”
He was in town for a trade show and trying to dodge his co-workers for some quiet time. I excused myself explaining that when I’m in France I look for opportunities to practice French. I was going to offer him the chance to practice English. But, since he obviously didn’t need that…
But he quickly asked if I’d been to France. “Well yes.” He invited me to join him for dinner and we had a delightful evening chatting about everything from wine, to parenting to philosophy.
It was quite bold of me to ask but shaking off the nerves and doing so was really worthwhile. Success in this situation gave me confidence. I had really settled into my solo trip.
It Takes Time to Settle into Every New City
That was Chicago. Next was Memphis and I had to break the first night jitters yet again.
Memphis is very different from Chicago and the furthest south I’ve ever been in America. I got the lay of the land by going to two tourist destinations: Sun Studios and Graceland. That night, I headed to BB King’s on Beale St.
There were those nerves again. But when my taxi dropped me at the corner of Beale and 3rd they disappeared immediately. The street was closed off and full of tourists. Tourists! Though every local I spoke to assured me that Beale was where they went for the Blues. The upside was that I felt very safe. The downside was that I didn’t really feel that I had found the city. I didn’t yet feel settled.
It wasn’t until the next day that I managed to find more of the real Memphis. By wandering into an architectural firm on the way to the National Civil Rights Museum, I learned more about the city, it’s urban past and future, than anywhere else. I was directed to the areas of South Main and Cooper-Young with suggestions for some great restaurants.
Yes, it takes time to settle into every new city and, sometimes, an unusual strategy.
Following Solo Travel Safety Principles Helps with that Settled Feeling
The main reason I get nervous at the beginning of a trip or entering a new city is safety. When you break routines and navigate unfamiliar territory, staying safe can be a challenge. And, let’s face it, it’s a bigger challenge for women traveling alone than men.
While there are many safety tips for you to consider it is sometimes easier to follow principles of safety than rules. For example, when I arrived at the Memphis train station at 6:20 in the morning a man immediately came up to me and asked if I needed a cab – which I did. But, instead of saying yes right away, I said I had to go into the station.
What I really needed to do was orient myself. I said I would be out soon and asked the name of the cab company. I was taking my time because I wanted to ensure that he actually was a cab driver and that he was with a licensed company — and I preferred to learn these things from the safety of a public train station. As would be expected, he was legitimate and really very nice. I called him whenever I needed a cab for the rest of my stay in Memphis.
My decision to take pause and orient myself in the safety of the station would not be on any travel safety list. It was an instinctive response based on the belief that:
• Public is safer than private
• I should never rush a decision – especially when I’m tired.
This trip has given me an opportunity to really reflect on how I travel alone, feel safe and make it fun. Sometimes I boldly introduce myself to strangers. Sometimes I’m cautious and make my choices slowly. And sometimes I wing it and walk into an architect’s office.