Friday, November 6, 2015

10 Reasons Why I'm Not Afraid to Travel Alone

I'm not afraid to travel alone - not in the least! 
I am pretty afraid of spiders any of my friends or students will tell you!
It's a very common idea that it is dangerous to travel alone, and even more so as a woman. There are differences of experiences when you compare men and women traveling alone, but it's 2015 and taking safety precautions has become a habit for almost everyone. I'm occasionally more worried about getting to my car safely on an early, quiet Sunday morning on deserted Frenchmen Street in New Orleans, than I am worried about trying to find a train station and get myself to an airport in a foreign country. Knowing about where you're going, the cultural differences, knowing how to dress appropriately in that culture, and being resourceful are all things that are vital to traveling alone. Being watchful of your surroundings and having an idea of where others are is good advice for anyone at any time.
Me in the amazing UNESCO site of Uplistsikhe, Georgia
I've written some about some of my travels here in former blog posts. Here are a few:
Chiusa, Italy
Mungeli, India and Mandwa Mahal, India
South Korea and Cheorwon
I usually get questions about my travels, ranging from "How can you afford that?" to "WHY are you going to X when you could go to Y or Z?!"
I'm expecting similar questions and a little more concern from folks regarding possible upcoming trips. I will surely blog about them, but in the meantime, wanted to write down some thoughts I have on solo travel.
                           The beautiful rolling hills and cattle of Azerbaijan. Photo by Caroline Carson
I mostly travel alone, not because I dislike people, but because I actually LIKE to have freedom to make my own choices about places to visit or activities and to be on my own schedule. Often, I am traveling with a group first, on mission work, a choral trip, or workshop, and then I want to explore another place alone. If I'm in one location for a week, there might be a day when all I really want to do is drink coffee in a park staring at flowers and petting dogs in Italy or to read a book along the banks of a gently wafting river in Scotland. I prefer visiting UNESCO sites, churches, and museums, but I love meandering through markets, strolling down picturesque streets, or finding myself a spot on the ground where I can lie down on greeny grass, and look up at the sky to ponder the meaning of life.
Handsome and sweet dog in Padova, Italy. Photo by Caroline Carson

10 Reasons Why I'm Not Afraid to Travel Alone

1. I have a sense of adventure that I refuse to limit simply because I live alone
I'm not going to wait until someone comes along and says it's ok to go to a certain place or decides to join me. Planning can often be easier when preparing a trip for yourself. I like having adventurous "me time". 
Paragliding outside of Ljubliana, Slovenia. Selfie by Caroline Carson :-)
2. I Do My Research
I enjoy spending time carefully crafting a unique trip! I spend hours online looking for deals and looking into the distances between cities. I was able to see the oldest musical instrument in the world and go paragliding for the first time while in Slovenia after I discovered that balloon rides were temporarily banned in the country. If I had not looked into this, I would have missed out on some history AND some fun. This is not to say that one should not be spontaneous while traveling - that has its own awesomeness to it! 
Throwing paint on a Buddhist stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo by Caroline Carson
3. I Trust My Gut
Regarding safety, I try not to do anything abroad that I wouldn't do at home. I stay aware of my surroundings, decently aware of the time and how much daylight I have left. I don't flash money or my cell phone around. I ALWAYS let people know if I am hiking or climbing somewhere. If any hikes include forested areas, I have a walking stick as well as a knife with me. I take enough water and some food for energy. I always carry Benadryl with me. Yes, sometimes it's possible to forget something (like sunscreen) or do dumb things (like the time I was on a mountain when clouds & lightning came up too quickly), but less over time and with experience! If something feels unsafe, it very well may be so I will avoid it.
Sunlit reeds and tree outside of the UNESCO Bulguska temple site in North Gyeongsang province. 
Photo by Caroline Carson
4. The real world isn't always what we see on TV...even in the news
The media can display much more violence than nonviolence. Some assume that all people of a certain culture are what they have associated with a negative person, group, or incident. On the ground where the real folks are, people around the world eat dinner, they dress and go to work or school or about their days, and they laugh and cry JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE. 
We are HUMANS on ONE planet.
We need to make an effort to get to know one another!
Dancer of Columbian origin at a Rafain show near Iguazu, Argentina. Photo by Caroline Carson
5. People are people
With solo travel, I feel that I become a better observer of people and places around me. I'm much more compassionate as a result. I also occasionally realize what it feels like to be an outsider, however minor or major the situation may be. It can be uncomfortable sometimes, when you stand out based on your looks, gender, religion, language, etc. It can be an especially strong difference when you spend time with some people who have been born into certain conditions which prevent them from having a healthy or free life and/or future. These are very important feelings that can change your life and open your mind to what goes on in the world.
I'll repeat what I said for # 4 here! 
We are HUMANS on ONE planet.
We need to make an effort to get to know one another!
Kids playing in the mud and water. There is something universal in having a great time.
Outside Bilaspur, India. Photo by Caroline Carson
6. I can stay within my budget. 
I have been EXTREMELY lucky to have traveled internationally on choir tours, mission trips, conducting workshops, partially or fully funded trips, and getting paid for teaching in various international programs. When I make trips like these, I try to go somewhere nearby afterwards - on the cheap. After a conducting workshop in Bulgaria when I was a student, I created a proposal to return the following year and teach about music and American music education. It was accepted and partially sponsored! I did this three times. Each time, after I left Bulgaria, I had saved up for a ticket and few days in a hostel, a friend of a friend, or a bed and breakfast in a nearby country. Buying tickets when and where I want them saves me time and money. Sometimes, I spend hours online, plugging in different cities within a specific distance from my original destination. I love Travelocity, SkyScanner,,, and I read reviews ad nauseum.
Mask in Venice, Italy. Photo by Caroline Carson
7. You'll make plenty of friends if you want to
Sometimes, it's a kid sitting next to you in a train and he also has a big ice cream cone. Sometimes, it's a person you meet while asking directions. 
Whether it's a person, dog, elephant, butterfly, or capybara, you will have opportunities to make friends. 
You might even make friends with yourself.
My friend Bernardo, a Capybara from Brasil. Photo by Caroline Carson
8. Scenes like this:
Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain. Photo by Caroline Carson                  
When traveling alone, I have often have time to ponder and document my journey. Personally, I love photography and having several hours to photograph an area, building, or event makes me happy. My father was a photographer and sometimes when I'm deeply transfixed by the beauty of afternoon light (as above) or a scenic view in a particular country, I feel closer to him when I'm photographing it.
Paprika at a market outside of Sighisoara, Romania

9. Personal Growth and Confidence
You have to follow directions, find your way around, problem solve on the spur of the moment, figure out where to eat, learn who to trust, etc. Once, due to a series of train delays, I arrived in my destination in Slovenia at 11:00 PM. The station was closed, everyone disembarked and went about their merry ways, and I had NO idea in which direction to go from the station to find the street where my hotel was. In fact, it was quite scary. I had no cell service and my battery was dying. I ended up walking eight blocks and popping into a bar or two before I found someone who spoke enough English to point me in the right direction! I learned from this: to check out not only the map on my phone before I went, but the street view as well so that I'd know how it looked on the ground. I also learned that sometimes you just have to start walking.
No matter how much personal growth one experiences, being able to have gelato
any time you want it is still cool.
10. Life is Bigger Than Me
You might find yourself in the back of a truck with eight Chinese tourists at midnight, about to climb over the locked fence to get back INSIDE the nature reserve where your hotel is in the jungle of Nepal only to find the power is out, it's 100 degrees, and the mosquitoes aren't deterred by your netting. It happens. Or, you might explore a cemetery at the top of a mountain in Sighisoara, Romania and climb down the wrong part, to find yourself, and your students, lost. You didn't expect that and now have to figure out how to get everyone back to the city safely before dark and you can't go back UP the mountain because the cemetery is walled on the other side and now locked. You might even end up being the only hotel guest in a gigantic and creepy mansion on the edge of a massive loch in northern Scotland which provides you with nightmares, but also homemade whiskey pecan pie, stories from the barkeep, and two hours of throwing stones into the loch and pondering life as the dreary sun sets around midnight. 
Whatever it is, it makes you grow. It doesn't just enrich your life, it GIVES you life.
Hiking to the Obergurgl glacier, Austria. Photo by Caroline Carson
Dunnottar Castle, Scotland. Photo by Caroline Carson

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