My biggest concern in deciding to travel solo was not whether I was going to be lonely, but whether I was going to be safe. It is an unfortunate thing that one worry can bring so much hesitance.
Considering the state of the world at the moment, and the terrorist attacks that threaten it, one might think that that could be the larger concern. To some degree, it was. I had two narrow misses in London on the bookends of my trip where a day or two before I had been walking past the spot where something had happened.
However, I think my lessened fear there was because terrorist attacks seem removed; they seem like something that is not going to happen to you. My fear of being targeted by everyday people for being a solo female traveller was much higher on the list of possibilities.
I cannot travel the streets in the dark at home without apprehension that something may happen, let alone on the other side of the world.
It made me a more tentative traveller, and less likely to take advantage of the companionship of locals. I got approached by men countless times when I was exploring. Many of whom were perhaps just being friendly, but who still made me wary. I had to tell one man at least five times to leave me alone, and he only finally did so when I pulled out my phone and resolutely ignored him.
These are not experiences limited to travel. It is something that happens back at home in Melbourne too, but there is a vulnerability in being alone in a foreign country, separated from anyone you know.
Perhaps talking to those people could have left me with interesting stories, an insight into the country I was in, and the culture they experienced. In one case I know it would have.
I was in Tirana, Albania. Looking particularly bewildered, I got approached by a tour guide. It was not the first time this had happened, and I had learnt interesting things the last time I had allowed a tour guide to rope me into a small tour of the area, so I decided to go with it.
However, he made me rather uncomfortable. I learnt interesting history, and I saw a beautiful mosaic of Mother Theresa made from shells that I otherwise might not have found, but I got asked awkward personal questions about my relationship status and touched— not inappropriately, but still enough to put me on guard.
I could have learnt a lot more about Albania from that interaction, but I did not feel safe enough to stay, so I walked away.
Some websites, in giving tips about how to travel on a budget, recommend things like couch surfing or hitchhiking. Things that I could never properly consider an option because of the risk they presented.
Nevertheless, I discovered that despite my apprehensions, most of the time I felt as safe as I would back home. I had a similar level of wariness of strangers, of needing to pay attention to surroundings, and of making sure I was not walking the streets in a dark and quiet area — a shame given how much I love being outside in the dark.
Knowing I was alone, that I did not have anyone nearby that I could call in an emergency, heightened the fear. It is a shame that I have to be like that; that I had to spend a holiday being on that next level of careful and wary, where it could negatively impact the experience I had.
I would not say that being female would be a reason not to travel solo. It is not as scary as it can be made out to be. It requires different considerations than I imagine travelling as a male would, and the need to be a bit more careful. However, it is a shame that we have to be; that a holiday needs to be spent with that wariness. If it is something that you want to do, do not let it get in your way, just be mindful.