Are you the undaunted female solo traveler? Or do you hesitate – or refuse – to travel alone? Think it may not be safe? Worried you’ll be bored?
Me too. At one time. But not anymore. Here’s what I’ve done to cure solo travel apprehension.
Why Travel Solo?
On my last two trips to Europe I traveled on my own, and as every solo traveller knows, there are advantages to this type of vacation: I set my own timetable each day, I am free to do as much – or as little – as my energy and inclination allows at any given moment, and I can change my plans at the last-minute hassle-free.
Although it can be enjoyable at times to have a travel companion to talk to about the new or bizarre, jarring or phenomenal experiences I stumble across, I find it can also be, ironically, more isolating.
With others, I’m distracted from the experience of total absorption in new surroundings.
Without filtering the experience through someone else’s opinions, positive or negative, my reflections are solely my own, my observations unadulterated. I am more a part of where I am, not dependent on the companionship of someone else (comforting as it is at times).
But we all need human connections, sometimes even more so in the midst of unfamiliar surroundings.
My #1 Solo Travel Resource
Women Welcome Women Worldwide
“I look upon every day to be lost, in which I do not make a new acquaintance.” – Samuel Johnson
Though I didn’t make a new acquaintance every day that I spent in Amsterdam and Barcelona, none of the connections I did make would have been possible without Women Welcome Women Worldwide (5W).
Jenny, a resident of Amsterdam, looks at the map, then at the canal. I look also, map and canal, but I’m totally lost, grateful for Jenny’s hospitable offer of tour guide around Amsterdam’s central core.
Four hours ago I didn’t know her, other than a few e-mail exchanges. Now, standing next to one of Amsterdam’s canals and getting our bearings, I’m having a wonderful time getting to know both Jenny and this remarkable city.
Six hours ago I didn’t know Magda, but I danced a Suriname-inspired merengue with her in her living room just before meeting up with Jenny.
For me, it is the close-to-ideal balance for solo travel.
The Goals of 5W
“Travel to far-flung places or enjoy having guests in your home.
Make new friends in foreign lands or just around the corner.
Travelling with 5W is a safer way.
Imagine having a network of friends wherever you go –
having another woman to meet you at the airport when you arrive in a new country,
for example, is reassuring in a land far from home.”
5W’s purpose is to encourage connections and friendships among women of different countries and cultures. It was founded in 1984 by Frances Alexander of the U.K.
In her words:
“Women have a gift for making friends,
and I know 5W has in its own way made the world a smaller place.
It pleases me that ordinary women travel the world,
discover the joy of befriending people
from very different cultures, and learn about themselves
at the same time in our web of international friendship.”
I spent as long as I wanted in front of Vermeer’s The Milkmaid unconcerned about a bored travel companion. The day I spent with Jenny we looped our way around canals, through Dam Square, to the Royal Palace and then to Rembrandthuis as we discussed everything from the history of the Dutch royal family, to the human cost for the women working the Red Light district.
How I’ve Benefitted
Barcelona had nearly slapped away all my preconceived positive ideas about her, but then a lovely expat Argentinian, Gloria, received me into her apartment for a chat over a glass of cava and a home-cooked meal. I felt so comfortable with her – as I would with other 5W members – that it seemed we had known each other for longer than a few short hours.
I left Barcelona with the memory of a congenial, human connection that helped dispel the gloom settling over my severely bruised optimism of the city.
I would have gone to Eindhoven on my own, of course, to see a town from my father’s days as an Allied soldier there during WWII. I’d have looked around, snapped a few photos, read some information about the city I had previously downloaded.
And missed so much.
5W member Cocky volunteered to be my personal tour guide for a day.
But walking through the city with Cocky, seeing things through the eyes of someone born shortly before the end of World War II, I had almost a visceral reaction that: “it was not in vain”.
Those soldiers who fought and/or died here, really did change the course of history, my father among them.
5W Has Enriched My Life
Here in Montreal, 5W has given me the chance to meet other like-minded Montrealers, as well as travel-happy tourists from Australia and New Zealand, and make new friends.
So for me, being a member of 5W is like being part of a crazy patchwork quilt, not all cut from the same linguistic or national cloth or pattern, yet when all sewn together, we often find warmth and connection, as well as the re-confirmation that the threads stitching women’s lives together bind us in a commonality irrespective of where we call home.
I think 5W is the best of several worlds: independent travel, new friends in new places, and an eclectic, charming and adventurous group of women right here in my home town.
(Note: some 5W members no longer live in the cities mentioned above)