Any time I told friends, family or strangers I would solo-travel anywhere, the main response often revolves around the lines of ‘By yourself?’, ‘Isn’t that dangerous?’, ‘Shouldn’t you ask a friend, preferably a man, to join you?’. At the age of 19, I was a solo-traveler in Kenya to do volunteer work in Kisumu. When I came up with this idea, my parents supported me from the start. However, many family members and friends doubted if this was smart to do alone. Especially the fact that I would be living with a host family in the slums didn’t rest their concerns.
Regardless, my host family welcomed me warmly and explained that it’s simply a matter of learning to understand the social “rules” of the society. 1. don’t walk on the streets in shorts. 2. don’t wander around town when it’s dark and… 3. use motorbike-taxis you are familiar with. The same way we tell our kids not to take candy from strangers. I followed the rules, learned some more on the way and never felt unsafe in those 6 months. Especially the collective responsibility for my and everyone’s safety I experienced has proven the judgements of my friends and family wrong. Let me explain what I mean by this in an example.
One time at night, I wanted to go to the club with my friends. But the motorbike-taxi I was familiar with wasn’t picking my calls. Stubborn as I am, I decided to walk to the main street to find a taxi there, which meant a 10 minutes walk through the poorest slums of the city, by myself. I knew this wasn’t smart, but the young, stubborn me didn’t want to miss out on the party, so decided to go.
Half way, I saw three grown up men walking towards me. I held in my breath till they passed me. Right after they passed me, I heard one of them say “Hey lady”. I had no clue what was smarter to do; turn around or keep walking… Afraid to draw more attention to myself by being rude, I stopped walking and turned around. The three men also stopped and looked at me. I greeted them and one of them asked. “Don’t you know that it is not safe for you to be out here alone at this time?”. I told him I knew this, but that I wanted to get to the road to find a motor-taxi. The three men looked at each other and started walking towards me.
I did not know what to do, but knew running would be useless. So I decided to stand still till they were very near. The man that spoke before now said “Let us walk you to the road, to make sure you arrive safely”. Together with the three men, I walked to the road and they started talking to a taxi-driver. They asked me where I wanted to go exactly and even paid for the ride. I thanked them many times and took off. On the motor-taxi, I could not get the massive smile they caused off my face and realised I felt blessed to be part of this amazing society.
Take a leap as a solo-traveler
The example above is only one of the many times I experienced a communal responsibility for the safety of tourists, women, kids and any member of the community. Whenever anyone would bother me or people would see me struggle, there was always somebody helping me out. Not only in Kenya, but also in other East African and Asian countries did I experience this form of safety.
Besides, being a girl, did I actually experience more support and safety from the community. Of course, there are horror stories of people experiencing horrible things during their holidays and trips, especially when traveling alone, and I don’t believe this is always a matter of this person not being responsible or following the social rules. But this can truly happen in any country and is also emphasized more in the news than all the millions of successful solo-traveler stories. It is always important to keep in mind that you are a visitor, you don’t know all the social “rules” and you possibly stand out in a crowd, but with that in mind and with an open heart and mind, the world is ready for you to explore it. So don’t let all the horror stories or the warnings of others hold you back; take a leap and follow your dreams!
I am Sharon Oudejans and I have traveled to 35 countries so far, of which sixteen as a solo-traveler. In my opinion, you experience so much more when you are a solo-traveler, since you rely way more on the social connections you make on the way. I have backpacked, hitchhiked, slept in train stations or airports, tried all the food that was offered to me and I never book or plan anything but my outbound flight in advance. Being open minded and spontaneous, but cautious and socially aware at the same time, has brought me some amazing, crazy experiences and stories, but not once did I feel in danger. To me, the key is your guts. I hope I inspired you to take a leap and dare yourself to discover the world, by yourself.