When Traveling Solo Gets Weird

As I’ve written in past posts, I love traveling solo. Doing it as a single female is so liberating and invigorating and it reminds me just how capable I am. FeministSuperFemGirlPower and all that junk. But, I’m also notoriously a complete and total space case. Which means I find myself in all sorts of wacky situations just because I don’t think it through.

From one solo traveler to another (or not), I want to share with you some of the toughest parts of being a solo traveler, particularly of the feminine persuasion, and some of the hilarious things that have happened to me along the way. Either this will prepare you for the craziness or you’ll totally and terribly relate.

Let’s get to it!

It starts in the airport when I have to pee. You know how it is, even if you barely brought anything with you, it’s still going to be super cramped in the restroom. So, like, people with a healthy level of social abilities can ask someone who looks normal to watch their stuff, Other people aren’t alone in the first place, so they can ask a trusted comrade to watch their things. However, I am the person who has to bring her backpack into the restroom with me.

Two things can happen now: If I am lucky, the handicap stall is available. In which case, I’m living the good life! Spacious, cushy, waterfalls, and fairies. Of course, I can’t even do this right. Often, there’s a sink in the handicap stall. It has perfectly good water and soap and a blow dryer. All of which I use. But, my name is Ariel and I am insecure, so I wash my hands again when I leave the stall, just so everyone knows I washed. Motivational posters tell me not to worry about what other people think, but motivational posters don’t have to deal with judgmental stares.

If I am not blessed with the luxurious handicapped stall, I am left to battle the bulge. Thus, I will likely walk away with a wound or a bruise, and I may pee on myself a little. They tell me this is normal after a certain age, I don’t believe them.

I once tried to leave my luggage right outside the stall door and keep an eye on it, it seemed safe. That is, until the police were called in to investigate. Here I was, dealing with some post-airplane peanut issues (I always overindulge), pants down, and I hear someone saying, “Whose bag is this? Please claim your luggage or it will be destroyed.” And now I’m tripping over my pee-soaked pants, disengaging the sticky metal lock on the door, and screaming at a cop, “That’s mine! It won’t blow up!”
Yet, it’s the 94-year-old Holocaust survivor who gets strip searched by the TSA.

After escaping this madness I should be going straight to my housing, I should be staying on track, I should be entering a secure, private restroom where I can pee on anything I want… if I want. Instead, I decide that looking at that weird statue is more important, or following that funny smell, or chasing after that flea-infested kitty. With everything I own on my back, completely depleted of food, energy, and anything resembling a brain, I immediately am off the beaten trail.

I’m an hour into my trip, my adventure, my cat-chasing, when I realize how tired and hungry and lost I am. I could have sworn I put an extra pack of peanuts in my bag… those are gone.

People are awful, but having someone with you who knows the area or knows the language or just knows how to use a map is something for which we should all aim. Being completely lost right off the bat is exhausting. Then again, meeting someone along the way who can guide you and teach you is pretty amazing, too. That feeling when you see the place you’re supposed to be going is something very special. Then my host comes out, smiles, and gives me a free meal! It’s the best.

Hosts can get weird, unfortunately. I’ve never felt like I was in danger or being threatened, but there have been many uncomfortable situations. The thing with Couchsurfing is, men always offer to host women. Women don’t often offer to host women (is that just me?) Either way, that means some of these guys decide it’s time to put the moves on you. Don’t ever feel obligated to accept their advances because of the accommodations thing. There are other hosts, there are other services, and there are hostels, if necessary.

Maybe I’ve matured… or gotten uglier… whatever it is, my last two Couchsurfing experiences, my host didn’t try anything creepy or sneaky. However, before that, every single person I stayed with would hit on me. Hard. If he’s telling me his brother or aunt or cousin is suddenly making plans to visit, so I need to share his bed, I’m abandoning camp! Thing is, it’s not a dating site! If it were, I’d expect dinner, drinks, and at least 6 months of commitment before we share your sleeping quarters. There’s just something so NOT romantic about you creepin’ on me, bro. Stop.

Enjoying the nightlife is a little tougher when you’re doing it alone. There seems to be a memo going around that I need to look like a drag queen on a catwalk in a Porsche if I am even going to attempt to check out bars and clubs. I’m not very competitive or envious of pretty people, but I also know I’ll never get my seltzer with lime if I’m in line with Angelina Jolie’s better looking cousin. But, I remain optimistic. Maybe I’ll stick around and make famous friends. Maybe I’ll learn to stop doing the Robot. Maybe I’ll even know the music they’re playing!

Sorry, I forgot, that will never happen. Which way is home, again?

I’m not sure if having a party buddy would help me in this case, but at least at the end of the night, we could go home and drink seltzer with lime on our own.

Staying motivated to keep exploring is a challenge. Once you’ve seen the locals sights and sounds, met some people, and got comfy and settled in, it can be hard to push yourself to do more. I go out and try something new every day, but during a long-term trip, I can lose my oomph. This is particularly true if there’s no subway or late night train and you don’t have a car. Remembering how much time, money, and effort will be involved in venturing further out may keep you close to home base, I hear this concern/complaint often. This is where the interwebs come in handy. Whether it’s volunteering, picking one particular area to explore, or making a friend with a car, try to keep things lively.

Admittedly, I take off a day or two from exploring quite often. Sometimes I just want to face my jet lag and allow it to swallow my day. And then there are days when you have to do work or laundry or buy food, so maybe those days aren’t the best for going out. Plus, if you prefer nightlife, you may be too tired and/or hungover to accomplish much during the day. Like that time I tried Absinthe. Ahh, good times. I puked so, so much. My host didn’t understand why I didn’t want to party the next night. How do you say “hangover” in Cantonese?

I’m sure there are a million and one more reasons traveling solo is a huge hassle and no one should ever do it – but that won’t stop us! I’d love to hear from you about your most embarrassing, exhausting, impossible solo travel moments!

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