Chapter 2 of my book Don’t Go To Bruges In The Fall. If you like it, you can find it here!
I can only assume you’ve already answered the question of “Why you want to travel,” because you bought (or at least picked up) this book, and you’re planning for a trip.
But that’s not always the case. Sometimes you want to go traveling, but fears are holding you back. The world is dangerous, everyone is out to take something from you. Best to stay home, stay where it’s comfortable, and never leave. That’s the narrative that seems to be pushed across Facebook, Twitter, and your local 6 o’clock news.
If you were to ask Darcy how she feels, traveling as a woman, she would tell you, “I feel the least safe in the United States. Not that the United States is super unsafe, but I have always felt comfortable in other countries, received no catcalls or sexual advances in other countries, and no one has ever tried anything physical. Of course, that’s not the story for everyone, but when I talk with friends who travel, they have similar experiences.”
Some places in this world are unsafe. Those are places to be avoided. If you land in a country, and something feels off, nothing is keeping you there. Even if someone is waiting for you, your return flight isn’t for a week, whatever it is, it’s inconsequential to your safety. The most important thing to understand is: is the danger real, or are you perceiving something that isn’t there? Sometimes a dark alleyway is just a dark alleyway, and sometimes a group of friendly strangers on the beach aren’t so friendly. Trust in strangers is something that will come with time and practice, but until it does, you can trust your instincts. If something feels off, leave immediately. Doesn’t matter if you’re rude, or hurting someone’s feelings. If you’re traveling with friends or a partner, be sure and communicate any feelings of uneasiness as they happen so you’re both on the same page.
This isn’t just advice for women travelers or young travelers. It’s for everyone. Later in this book is a section devoted to Safety, but the main takeaway is staying alert, understanding your surroundings, and prioritizing your safety above the trip, the stories you want to tell, the people you think you will meet—everything.
You’re Not Alone
When I first went traveling, I felt like I was blazing a trail since I was the only person I knew of in my grade, and the only person I knew that was my age, to go traveling. I had a blog, I had an Instagram account, and I was ready to show my friends what the world looked like while they were stuck in college.
I found that I wasn’t the only traveler. Even though I was traveling in September, I was still spending the night in packed hostel rooms, fighting my way through throngs of people at museums, and speaking English with total strangers. I found that Europeans have a culture of taking a Gap Year (though it does seem to be on a downtrend, sadly, as the American culture of going straight from school to work is taking over. A few countries are going the other way and attempting to create more paths for youths to travel, with the EU considering the idea of offering a free Eurail pass to any EU citizen under a certain age to promote travel.) that doesn’t extend to America. We go straight from high school to college to work, and maybe you will take a month vacation with friends in college if you can afford it between $40,000 a year tuition payments and job-hunting.
While traveling, I met Europeans in their vacation months, and younger Europeans traveling before the college semester started. So instead of being alone, I was far from it. Traveling went from forging a path in some forgotten forest to following a well-traveled road in a wide-open plain. Hostels and restaurants were catering their business towards travelers. Discounts offered by public transportation and museums for travelers. Websites, apps, bars, and cafés designed exclusively for travelers.
I wasn’t on my own in a vast world; I was making myself at home. And you will, too. Traveling, especially alone, can seem like a lonely proposition (and it is at times, but I will get to that later), but it’s the perfect opportunity to meet people. In a hostel in Bruges (one of the few I stayed in, but more on that later) two women my age invited me to their table to have a beer in the bar downstairs. We spent the evening together (though I declined their invitation to the club since it was late and I was tired, still operating on a different timezone), bar-hopping and chatting, comparing histories. I kept in touch with them for months afterward until I ended up deleting my Facebook account.
Later, in Provence, France, I met two Irish siblings, both around my age and we all talked, probably without more than twenty seconds of silence, for eight hours. That was six years ago, and that eight-hour conversation has given me friends for life.
These aren’t just my experiences, but the experiences you will find with nearly every traveler. If you’re afraid that you won’t be able to meet anyone, fear not, you have chosen the one path where people are pretty determined to talk to each other.
And what about locals? Well, what about you? When a tourist comes up to you on the street where you live, are you rude, or looking to take advantage of them? Or do you try to help them as best you can, even sometimes physically bringing them to a restaurant you like, or a café you frequent simply because it’s easier than trying to tell them where it is? It’s like this across the world. People everywhere are just trying to live. There are very few people out there trying to take advantage of you and the ones who are can usually be recognized miles away.
I Can’t Go Because…
Once in a while, whether it be at work back in the States, or while traveling, we strike up a conversation with someone who will say, Better to do it while you’re young. There’s no way I could do what you’re doing now.’
Why not? Do you have kids? It’s not impossible to travel with kids, depending on your financial situation. Even if you can’t take them to Europe and put all of you up in a five-star hotel every night, there are other ways. Darcy used to work with a woman who took her kids on a one year RV trip across North America. They rented out their house, ensured their jobs would be waiting for them when they returned, checked to see what curriculum the children needed to learn, and took off. Naturally, there were hiccups along the way. Five people, even if three of them are small, take up a lot of space in a RV. But they managed by having ‘alone time,’ essentially saying, ‘if you need to be alone, say so, and the RV is yours while we go out for the day.’ There are other problems too because when your house is your car, car problems become very serious, very quick.
But you don’t need to travel for a year, or even a summer. Just a month in a rented RV, or a car trip and staying at campsites is possible.
And if your kids are gone, then what? Too old? Please! The hostels and pensione of Europe are, well, maybe not crowded with retirees, but retirees are certainly not hard to find. There are even hospitality exchanges that are nearly solely used by retirees.
Another reason we hear is, ‘health problems.’ Traveling with any kind of health problem, or physical problem can be difficult. But that doesn’t stop some people. It’s not uncommon to run across someone with a bag full of medication sleeping in a hostel.
Cost can also be one of the biggest issues for potential travelers. In part, because people think when they go traveling, they have to continue paying bills where they live, and partly because of the cost of traveling. Where I worked in the States, most of my friends were my age, in their early to late 20’s, and when I spoke of traveling, they wouldn’t see how it was possible to travel and pay all their bills. And it’s true. Only the most financially fortunate can pay their normal bills and the expenses accrued on the road. But, if you’re like us, then what responsibilities do you have that you absolutely cannot walk away from?
We rented an apartment, worked hourly jobs that weren’t going to give us that much-needed ‘career experience,’ could sell our car, end our cable, phone, utility bills, and walk away from our home with no strings attached. We still had our belongings, and with the stuff we wanted to keep we were able to store it in the attic of her grandmother’s house. For everything else, we sold it on Craigslist and eBay to make a little extra money. In the later section, ‘Creating an Income,’ I lay out several other options such as subletting your apartment while you’re gone if you don’t want to give up the place you’re at.
So what do you fear? Loneliness? For your safety? That you’re alone on this adventure? You’re too old, or you can’t go with kids? That it’s too expensive? I’m not going to say you’re wrong, because our fears can be well-founded. But you won’t know if it’s possible until you try.
~If you can’t afford it on Amazon, reach out to me and I will send you the ePub version!~