Growing up in Ohio, I fell in love with travel before I ever took a vacation. Travel allows me step out of my life and view point to experience something else entirely. In solo travel, I can take full ownership of that freedom from my every day routine. I’m beholden to no one on when I get up, on how many sites I see, on what kind of food I eat, and on how many or how few pictures I take. As I write this I realize I love solo travel for the same reason I love Turkish meze. There are so many great options that I can put on my plate; all of them are delicious.
My first solo trip was an accident. In college, I had planned to spend 5 days in Rome because I knew a friend there. I still didn’t have much experience traveling in general so I liked to go to places where I knew people. The day I arrived my friend had an emergency and was suddenly unavailable. I spent the next four days wandering around the eternal city by myself. In addition to hitting up all my art history sites spanning from the Roman Empire to the Baroque. I asked people that I started talking to for restaurant and night life recommendations. None of the recommendations disappointed. When I was invited to spend the day at a farmhouse outside of Modena, I accepted and extended my trip.
The second solo trip solidified my preference for travel solo above all else. I was staying with a friend in Morocco, and I had wanted to visit the famed Chefchaouen. None of my friends could come with me so I left on a bus and went by myself. The trip didn’t start out to well, I sat next to a woman who had intense motion sickness, I missed my bus stop and had to double back. Once I arrived I was taken by the villages laid back vibe. I ate with a group of French girls whose trip was ending. At that dinner, I met the restaurant owner, and then met one of his friends. The friend invited me on a family hike; we spent the rest of the day eating olives in the family vineyard followed by a traditional meal. My best meals in Morocco were, by far, when I was invited to people’s homes. I would kill to find handmade couscous somewhere in the United States, where I currently live.
After over a decade of solo trips it’s hard to pick one experience that tops everything. If I had to choose my favorites there are a couple that stick out in my mind. In Dakar, I paid a kid that followed me asking for money to give me a tour of the city. He took me to the roof top of the central market for views of the city, a great food stall for a delicious lunch, and to caves buit into cliffs at the edge of the city. At the end of my unofficial tour he told me which beaches I could explore outside of the city, even showing me where to catch the corresponding boat. In Cuba, I wanted to buy cigars directly from a farmer instead of a government owned store. I approached what looked like Cuba’s version of a cowboy and told him my predicament. He helped me on the back of his horse and off we rode. I spent the afternoon in a drying hut, smoking honey dipped cigars and drinking rum before buying a tobacco leaf wrapped package of cigars for my dad.
In Istanbul, one night at dinner, I started a conversation with the table next to me. We closed the place down drinking reki. The night ended with a quick tour of the city to have a photo shoot in front of the Bosphorus bridge lit up against the dark sky. I love all these experiences, however they didn’t come without their own risks. As a white woman with naturally blonde hair and blue eyes, I am incredibly privileged. Most people I encounter assume that I am safe to talk to. I can walk past security points for buildings and even some borders easily not speaking the local language or even knowing if I can be there or enter. While visiting a border between Haiti and Dominican Republic for work, I walked easily between the two countries marked by four heavily armed border guards, not once was I asked for my passport.
Some friends and family will say I am a target; people in other countries won’t be able to stop themselves from robbing me, harassing me, or insert your own nightmare. My vision of the world just isn’t as paranoid as theirs. I have been harassed, robbed, and over charged both abroad and in the U.S. The worst instances happened exactly in place where I felt the safest, on my home turf. I can’t say I am the best judge of others, however I have traveled enough that I feel comfortable taking calculated risks.
To the hesitant solo traveler, I would recommend start slow and safe. Opt for a country where you speak the language and has a low crime rate. Read other travelers’ reviews before you go. Always trust your gut. If you feel uncomfortable, get out of the situation immediately without worrying how you appear to others. The more you build your trust with the world the more you will see what the world truly offers. You will eventually see that we all have the same humanity, it might be expressed differently in ways that you don’t understand at first, but it’s there. It can be scary to step into the unknown; the unknown never disappoints.
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By Chizoba Anyaoha
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