They say that to really get to know someone, you need to travel with them. There’s something about 10 hour layovers and lost baggage that makes people reveal their true colours within minutes! So, it makes sense that if you really want to get to know yourself, you should travel alone. There’s a good reason people who have just returned from traveling solo seem so enlightened and inspired – and it’s not just all the peyote they smoked in Mexico! Being left alone with your thoughts forces you to do some serious soul searching. Plus, nothing leads to personal growth quite like traveling thousands of kms out of your comfort zone.
Unfortunately, us ladies are at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to traveling alone. While it’s all well and good for dudes to go on impromptu adventures, It’s not quite as simple for us. As unfair as it is, we have a lot more to consider in terms of safety. Even if the likelihood of something actually happening is low, we have to contend with concerned friends and relatives asking “is that really safe?” But despite our hesitation, we’re definitely all dreaming about solo travel. Recent Pinterest statistics show that since 2014, female users aged 18 to 34 have started pinning more about solo travel than weddings! The good news is, your life-changing adventure doesn’t have to just be pin on your Pinterest board. With a bit of preparation and a lot of saving, you can make it a reality.
One thing about traveling on your own is that without someone to share the cost with, hotel accommodation can be extremely expensive. Staying in a hostel is cheaper, but they tend to be party central: not always what you want on your soul-searching journey! Another alternative is couchsurfing. It’s where intrepid wanderers connect with willing hosts via websites like couchsurfing.com– and stay with them for free. Think of it like Facebook mixed with Airbnb. Yes, it sounds too good to be true and like a bit of a death trap, but hear us out. If you’re smart about it, couchsurfing solo can be not only safe, but downright life-changing.
One brave soul who’s actually done it is Carolina Are – the blogger behind Couchsurfer Reviews. The Italian Londoner couchsurfed around the US for two months and lived to tell the tale.
I left Europe having lost trust in the world. Yet, as soon as I landed on US soil, I was met only with hospitality and warmth. Couchsurfing hosts in over ten USA cities put me up and took me out, sharing their enthusiasm about their lives and their cities, determined to show me their neck of the woods.
Scroll through for Carolina’s top tips on staying safe and having the trip of a lifetime.
Legitimate couchsurfing websites always have a reference area for each host and traveler. It may sound obvious, but you need to pay close attention to these. Sometimes, even people with tons of references receive the odd negative ‘he tried to take pictures while I was asleep’ comment. I go through people’s profiles thoroughly and avoid these even if I’m desperate for a place to stay- you never know.
There are plenty of female Couchsurfing hosts and if it makes you feel more comfortable, you can try to just stick with them. Unfortunately though, it’s not always possible. Luckily, most men on there are fine, too. Sometimes you will find some profiles stating “Only hosts women” and “You will be sharing a bed”. Unless you’re up for really awkward situation or the chance to be kicked out if things don’t go their way, then avoid.
If you ever feel uncomfortable in a situation, trust your instincts and leave. Often, your gut feeling is correct and it’s never worth putting yourself in danger. I was once waiting for a host who wouldn’t arrive for an hour, so a lady from his apartment building let me in to wait in front of his door. I had a bad feeling about it, so I left and stayed with some other contacts I’d made in San Francisco. That said, that was the only bad experience I had the entire time I was traveling!
I can’t think of many other ways where you can live in someone else’s shoes and learn about another culture from outside the lens of tourism. Couchsurfing is the only social network that encourages you to actually get out of your comfort zone instead of sitting comfortably inside the four walls of your apartment.