Traveling solo was something of a recent revelation to me; the go anywhere do anything you want feeling I got was just the kind of liberation I needed. I wasn’t bound by any predetermined timeline or sat around waiting for others to wake up after a long night’s partying. I could go anywhere I wanted, make changes to my trip on the fly, in real-time. I had no one to answer to, no back and forth of should we do this, that or the other thing? Decisions were quick, locations were new, and experiences plentiful!
Above all else, I always felt safe when I was abroad. Very few times did I ever felt my safety was in jeopardy and there were even fewer moments of ‘what did I get myself into?’ For male travelers this has always been the case – we fall into a sense of security we build around ourselves of nothing can happen to us for we are men. But for the female soloist on the move, the unfortunate reality can sometimes be far from it.
I have always written my travel stories from my point of view, a male, and seldom considered how a female solo traveler in my position would feel. It was my luck and pleasure to have met so many solo female travelers during my last trip. After listening to all their stories I wanted to take time to thank them for what they shared with me and shine a light on their own experiences. I spent an afternoon talking to a good friend of mine about how her first solo trip in hopes to do just that, shed light.
Jason: Before we start can you tell us a little about yourself?
Rosa Blankestijn: My name is Rosa and I currently am studying and living in Holland, my home country.
Jason: Can you tell the readers how our paths crossed that now you have the misfortune of answering my questions, ha.
Rosa Blankestijn: For all the readers out there I met Jason at a homestay in Da Lat during our solo adventures. He ended up tagging along with my group during a day of scootering around mountains and ever since then we have been great friends. I still talk to him to this day, unfortunately.
Jason: HAHAHAHAHA your jokes are so HILARIOUS. What made you want to take time out of life and travel solo?
Rosa Blankestijn: My heart had always been filled with a big portion of wanderlust and me thank my parents for taking me to places outside of Europe to ease it while growing up. After all these years of traveling together, I decided it would be time to discover new places on my own. This decision was already made when I was still in high school, but I was too young to travel alone and had to finish school before I could go.
J: Did you get to go on any solo trips in Europe before taking the deep dive?
RB: Three years ago I finally had my first taste of what solo travel feels like when I went inter-railing for two weeks through Germany and France. After this first I realized it just wasn’t enough for me, my appetite grew and I had to quell it by any means. I was and still am very curious about all the wonders around our world.
J: The world is a big place, if only we had more time on our hands! Speaking of time how long did you plan your trip for?
RB: Somehow I never really needed a lot of time to prepare and plan my trip. I’m someone who just goes with the flow so that’s kind of how I went with it. I booked my main flight three months in advance, that’s also the time I ordered the necessary medicine and took my vaccination shots. When I finally started packing it was two weeks before I left, the rest I kind of winged it. For example, I booked my flights from one country to the next literally two days beforehand.
I’m someone who just goes with the flow so that’s kind of how I went with it
J: That’s the beauty of it; going wherever on a whim. Where did you end up going during your trip?
RB: Sadly for me, I didn’t have enough time or money to travel till my heart was content so I figured that two countries in two and a half months were enough for now. First I started in Vietnam and went from the south to the north. After being there for a total of five weeks I decided to fly to South Korea to finish out the rest of my time.
J: How did you go about preparing for your safety while you were abroad in those two countries?
RB: My safety wasn’t really something I thought through really. I had been taking self-defense lessons for about two years so I could easily defend myself if needed. I also had important phone numbers on speed dial for emergencies, but that was it for precautions. Of course I talked with my parents about what I should and shouldn’t do to keep myself safe, for instance not traveling alone when dark etc.
J: I can’t stress enough to travelers that any country can be safe if you just don’t put yourself in hairy situations. Glad you and your parents had this talk beforehand. Were there any moments during your trip you felt unsafe or uneasy?
RB: There were a few moments in Vietnam when I felt both actually. Funny enough it started the moment I left the airport. I arrived late in the evening in Ho Chi Minh and was looking for a Vinasun taxi (those were the safest out there), but got put in a different one instead. The driver drove me around for almost an hour instead of the 20 minutes that GoogleMaps showed me. He insisted that I had to pay him way more than was logical. Right, when I thought he had driven me to the outskirts of the city, he dropped me off at an alley and told me the hostel was there, but I couldn’t get out of the car before I paid the 800K dong ($34.52).
J: Yikes! I guess being able to speak the local language put me at an advantage to get not ripped off, but still, that is kind of ridiculous. What did you do in that situation?
RB: At this moment there wasn’t a lot I could do, I just tried to stay calm and think rationally, panicking was in no way useful. I told the man that I was going to give him only 200K dong ($8.63) and that was it. When he wouldn’t give in I decided to put the said money down, I grabbed my backpack and got out of the car as fast as possible. There I ran across to a Vinasun taxi who showed me where the hostel was.
There were other moments as well where I felt a bit uneasy but it was in no way near as bad as the first night. I didn’t really have such moments in Korea. The only times were when I was partying with new-made friends and the guys were being creepy, and even then it didn’t happen a lot.
J: Did these experiences change your mind on traveling solo?
RB: Although it was scary, it didn’t change my mind on traveling solo. I already knew that it couldn’t be only rainbows and sunshine and accepted it as part of the solo traveling experience. It was actually a good thing that it happened right at the beginning because now I knew that if I didn’t pay good attention things like this could happen in a heartbeat. The experience made me more aware of my surroundings for the entirety of my trip.
I already knew that it couldn’t be only rainbows and sunshine…
J: I am happy to hear that you were safe for the rest of your trip! How were the people you encountered on your trip? In hostels, on treks and other interactions?
RB: The people I’ve encountered on my trip were absolutely wonderful and amazing. It was so easy to meet new people, not only in hostels but also when I traveled from place to place. I remember when I came to Da Lat and my hostel owner invited me to join a scooter tour with other guests. On the way, we met another group with more people and they joined us on our adventure. We spent the whole day with them and even went to karaoke together!
J: Yea I remember that day! A picnic in the mountains with some homemade moonshine, you can’t make this stuff up. Was the atmosphere inviting or was it toxic?
RB: Same goes with the atmosphere; traveling was anything but toxic. The hospitality, the good food, the cozy homes and the smiling faces from all the other travelers was just perfect. People were so friendly and helpful, I just had to start with “excuse me” and I already had people trying to help me.
Korea was a bit different though, the people were more reserved and didn’t really pay attention to you. That doesn’t mean they weren’t helpful when I needed help I could just ask someone and they tried their best to explain. I practiced a bit of Korean so that really helped with starting conversations. In rare cases, the locals came up to me and bombarded me with questions that were really fun to do. There I also met lots of great people in hostels whom I spend time with sightseeing.
J: Did you find getting around in Asia on your own a challenge or did you welcome the unknown?
RB: Getting around was both a challenge and a big welcome to the unknown. For the most part, I tried to use maps or advice as less as possible and just wanted to go with the flow and decide on the spot. But other times I discussed with new friends where we were off to the same location so I didn’t have to travel alone.
When I did travel alone in some places I tried to use maps as much as possible. There were times when the locals couldn’t speak a word of English so it was almost impossible to communicate. I had to try my best to explain where I had to go and see if they could point me in the direction. More often though I welcomed the unknown and was excited for every new thing that came on my path.
J: Did you try to ask for help from locals?
RB: I already mentioned this, but help from the locals was a very easy thing to do. Of course, it all depended on where I was, in some places locals didn’t know much English, but with a picture or if it was written down, the people tried to explain where to go.
J: Yea I had to find that you had to get creative with the locals when there is a language barrier, but it seems you got the hang of it alright!
J: How did these experiences change you from when you started out in Ho Chi Minh?
RB: I’m not sure if I changed a lot while traveling, in a way yes. I don’t depend on others anymore, before traveling I already was pretty independent, but now I somehow realize how great it is to not be so dependent on others. My taste in people also changed, before traveling I hung out with everyone, but now I just feel more at ease when I’m with others who traveled or are more independent.
I don’t depend on others anymore
J: Given everything you learned from your first trip solo the big question is WILL YOU DO IT AGAIN?
RB: 110% YES! To this day I still think about my travels and wished I took more than just two and a half months. I even thought about quitting my studies and just travel again, but I decided it would be better to study first and maybe take a gap year or just travel in the holidays. But I am DEFINITELY not done traveling yet!
J: I am happy to hear that! Any words of advice for would-be solo female travelers out there?
RB: Just do it. I have talked with lots of girls who said they thought I was crazy for going alone. They wouldn’t dare dream to do it because the thought itself is scary. Well let me tell you, it really isn’t that scary as you may think. You’re going to have moments when you miss home, you’re going have uncomfortable/uneasy moments, but trust me when I tell you that this was the best thing I have ever done in my life up until now.
When something bad happens you learn from it and are prepared for what comes next. You pack your bags and go to your next destination with new friends, new experiences and lots of excitement.
this was the best thing I have ever done in my life until now.
J: I don’t think I could have said it better myself! Where are we off to next?
RB: Everywhere! Honestly, there are still so many places I still want to see. If I were to make a list of places I want to go I might end up with five pages. To start out I might go back to Asia though, I really miss the food and culture. After that, I don’t know, wherever that moment brings me. Who knows, maybe one day I might end up in America and surprise you.
J: If you end up coming here it would indeed be a great surprise! Thank you for taking the time to share all your experience of your travels, Rosa!
I hope this piece sheds some light on what it really is like for solo female travelers out there. Rosa is right that it isn’t always rainbows and sunshine, but this shouldn’t deter you from getting out there and experiencing these amazing moments. Take with you enough precaution, be wary of situations you put yourself into, stay calm, think with a level head and more often than not you’re going to be just fine!
What are you possibly waiting for? Get out there!