In this article, guest blogger Danielle Robidoux shares her experience of being a solo female traveler in South America. Read about the challenges and rewards you can expect to encounter on your own journey abroad.
I was raised by my off-the-boat Italian grandmother. Let’s just say if she could have kept me in a bubble, she would have opted to do so. Naturally, as human beings, when our freedom is restricted, we seek freedom, exploration– discovery. As many are, I was also afraid to take the leap, buy the ticket, or take the risk of solo travel. Then one day I decided I was going to Costa Rica, I was going alone, and I was going on the cheap.
I listened to endless stories from all walks of life telling me that I was stupid and that it was dangerous to travel alone as a female in Central America. I cannot tell you how many people asked me if I have seen the movie hostel. The answer is yes, I have seen it. I have stayed in countless hostels and they are nothing like the movie—worry not, my Achilles tendons are fully intact.
I went against all advice from all of the people I loved and I sat alone, quietly in a café and bought my ticket… with absolutely 0 idea what I was doing. It was the first step. After buying the ticket, the rest just falls into place. No plan can begin to prepare you for the feeling of stepping out of that plane into a foreign airport and having no idea what to expect.
Sure, you can read articles, but the beauty and adrenaline rush in travel is that you do not know what is in store for you. You do not know who you will meet, the strange animal parts you may consume, the diarrhea you might incur, the mountains you will climb, the warm beer you will swig at a bar in the middle of nowhere, or the waves you will surf and wipe out on leaving you gasping for air— all hypothetical, of course.
Point being, the magic of travel is that you are going where you have never been before; seeing the world around you with totally new eyes and without expectation. It is truly the way we should try and live our everyday lives. It is a perspective that we take back with us when we return home. We remain forever changed, and with that, we can take a little bit of everywhere we have been with us.
Does this mean walking into a dark alley way intoxicated on the streets of Lima at 1am? No. No it does not. It means life is about risk. It’s about exploration, discovery, and diversifying our perspectives. You cannot do that in your hometown, face-deep in your smartphone.
Travel is about stepping into the unknown, to realize uncertainty, and to trust it will all work out as it should. So I buy the ticket, I research, I do everything I am supposed to do. My credit card points are stacked, I have all the 5-star hostels booked (yes, it’s a thing), safety tips researched, Skype and Viber downloaded; I am ready to embrace pura vida.
I finally arrive at the airport to meet my host from Airbnb. I walk reluctantly over to a man holding a sign with my name scribbled onto it in a poorly executed scrawl. Part of me wants to run back onto the plane where I belong, but I stand there. I forced a smile while having this internal battle of fight or flight in my mind.
I sat with my fear until it became uncomfortable, all the while trying to make small talk as I mentally reviewed all the Spanish lessons I had ever learned in my life. Then I saw and felt the genuine kindness of the man holding this sign and I trusted my gut. My Airbnb family ended up being the nicest, grooviest family who had traveled the Pan-American Highway in a VW bus; couchsurfing their way along to eventually settle in Costa Rica. Sort of like the Oregon Trail, but different.
The next morning as I awoke after a peaceful slumber, I prepared for battle. I was told by most that I would be bludgeoned to death and left for dead as someone would inevitably attempt to steal all the money I do not have. I had hidden all my important documents, the credit card that was funding this trip, and my ID in secret pockets.
My hosts had offered to drive me to the bus, and along the way, we stopped to pick cashew fruit. As I am too short to reach said cashew fruit, I proceed to jump to get high enough to knock it out of the tree and catch a few. Unbeknownst to me, I had dropped, oh you know, the only real thing that I actually needed—my passport. Yup, I lost my passport picking cashew fruit. #priorities
I enroll my host family in a frantic search, but to no avail. Then, a sudden calmness comes over me. “Fuck it”, I thought. The worst thing that happens is I am stuck in beautiful Costa Rica. From this point forward, all of my “planning” (of which there was little of anyway) went out the window. It turned into a go with the flow, ride the wave kind of experience.
I surfed the red tide, danced salsa until sunrise, jumped off of waterfalls, taught yoga, learned Spanish, got incredibly lost basically everywhere I went, ran from a creepy who tried to drag me into the park, met amazing people from all around the world, volunteered on an organic farm, made friends that breathed fire, oh—and eventually made my way back to the US Embassy and got a new passport, which it turns out really is not that big of a deal.
Basically, I did what everyone told me not to do, had a few minor and a few major mishaps, but still lived to tell the tale. Truth be told, you cannot stop bad things from happening. In fact, I might even call it a prerequisite of Latin American travel. No one is on time, nothing goes smoothly or works in an organized way, but it always works out okay and ends with a funny story.
The one piece of advice that I would offer travelers is to be aware. To always listen to your gut. You cannot afford not to. If it feels like someone is creepy, you are being ripped off, you are going the wrong way, or you are in the wrong neighborhood; listen to that. You probably are.
Don’t listen to the people who have barely left their driveway and yet tell you that you will be robbed and killed while traveling. That is not to say that you should ignore the existent dangers; because there are many and these will vary from country to country, but to have a healthy amount of fear and to obtain a balance between being informed, prepared, but also going with the flow. Don’t be attached to outcomes. There are a lot of moving parts in travel and your trip may not be what you envisioned or imagined. But if you let it be what it is, I bet you will find something cooler than even you thought possible.
In this human life, we only have so much time on this planet and so many opportunities. So allow for flexibility in your travel and do something spontaneous or something you have never done before. Explore. Discover. Step out of your comfort zone. Bring yourself to your edge not just physically, but mentally as well. You will never realize your potential if you do not take the first step.
Danielle Robidoux embodies the word “authenticity”, and believes we should be unapologetically ourselves. She approaches the world with an open heart and sees a world without boundaries or borders. Follow along on her journeys at her blog, The Meandering Yogi.