Confessions of a Female Solo Traveler

Confessions of a Female Solo Traveler

I’m in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia by myself and I was just attacked. I followed all the “do’s” that I was supposed to…walked in a well lit area with plenty of pedestrians and cars and kept my eye out for anything strange. I saw him walking towards me and could tell he was inebriated beyond sense…but instead of choosing to cross the street (which I couldn’t have done given the traffic), I chose to walk cautiously pass him.

My gut was right. In the blink of an eye, he grabbed me by my shirt and tried to pull my sling bag off…jibberish came rushing out of my lungs and thankfully strangers came to my rescue. I was left with a bruise on my side, his spit on my face and a couple of cops to console me. This is now the second time I’ve been attacked abroad…and I was much luckier this time around.

Now, safely back at my hotel and a fifth of tequila, I’m wondering…what the hell am I doing here? Traveling solo was never something that I aspired to do.

But after years and years of dreaming about traveling, I finally had the resources – specifically money – to do it but couldn’t get calendars to work with my partner or friends that wanted to travel with me. I had to make a decision: continue to wait until someone could travel with me or do it on my own. I chose the latter because life is just too short to wait.

As an acknowledged introvert, I was pretty anxious about this decision and decided to start small. In 2009, I booked a trip to Seattle where I met up with friends then went solo to Vancouver for a few days. I pumped up the bass in my PT Cruiser rent-a-car and drove across the border, checked into my hotel and did exactly what I wanted to do each day. Whether it was sleeping in or walking in circles through Stanley Park in search of a mysterious totem pole…my agenda was 100% me.

I learned that it didn’t kill me to go to a club alone and I was not the wallflower I had feared I would be. I learned that asking strangers for help was okay and not a sign of incompetence. I learned that it wasn’t the end of the world if I was lost because I was capable of figuring things out on my own. And I think the most important realization I had was that it was indeed, okay for me to be selfish and focus strictly on me.

Since then, I’ve traveled solo all over Latin America, Europe, Asia, Australia, North America and most recently booked a trip to Antarctica. It is liberating. Self-fulfilling. Intoxicating. Extraordinary. It’s pulled the extrovert out from inside of me. It has made me realize my limits and allowed me to meet amazing people across the globe. I’m still addicted even with this incident. And considering that I’ve traveled to more than 300 cities…twice attacked is actually less than the incidents that have occurred to me in my own home city.

But in moments like this, it does get fucking lonely.  I’m in unfamiliar territory and don’t speak the native language. And I could use a hug. Thank goodness for free apps like Whatsapp (A free messaging app that allows you to stay in touch with friends and family over wifi) and now that it’s been a few conversations with familiar people and a couple of drinks later…I know this will not be my last solo venture. As much as I love traveling with my partner or friends…traveling solo continues to open new facets within myself and I’m in love with the experience. So I’m starting to reminisce about other ways I’ve combated loneliness during previous trips…

  • Pretending I’m straight. Ok, I’m not proud of this but when you’re a solo female in a country that is primarily homophobic (and has laws against it), you’re not going to want to emit any rainbow rays. And if I can score a free drink and an ego boost, what’s the harm? But I only do this when I want to experience some night life and there’s no gay options…and I never get drunk because flirting with a guy or two at the bar is one thing…but you have to make sure you stay safe and guarded.
  • But, if I’m in a country where there are gay options and I’m single, one nighters can certainly keep a gal occupied for a night or two. It’s especially fun when you don’t speak the same language so you immediately don’t have to deal with any conversational miscues or having to pretend to care about what they do for a living etc…it’s just pure adulterated enjoyment.
  • Sitting at the bar at a restaurant is the best way to dine alone and if you’re lucky you can get some custom cocktails from the bartender and chat with your fellow solo diners…maybe even make a new friend.
  • Booking a tour at the beginning of the trip. Since I’m a foodie, I gravitate towards the food tours but general city tours will also work. In almost every tour I’ve booked, there’s always another solo traveler and it’s a great way to meet someone who may want to do other things in the city with you…and at the very least, share some encouraging stories to each other.
  • Always keeping a book handy. I love reading, but especially enjoy it when I travel. I’ll find a coffee shop or a good people watching venue…order a drink and sit back and relax. It’s great to overhear conversations too which sometimes leads to meeting new people.

Ok, enough reminiscing. I’m realizing that I don’t have to do these things that often because frankly, it’s rare that I feel lonely when traveling solo. The destination is my friend and the experiences are my connection…and it’s an endless parade of variety to keep me occupied. Because of this, every trip makes me feel like I’m getting closer to understanding who I really am…who I really want to be…and despite this blunder tonight, I know I’ll be okay. Sounds like a pretty damn good relationship to me. Now, I have the rest of this city to explore tomorrow because it’ll be a new and wonderful day. Good night.

Top 4 of My Favorite “Dumb American” Language Blunders

A polyglot, I am not.

I’ve definitely been exposed to various languages, including the kind that my Grandmother would tell me NOT to use in her presence. Whatever the f*&$ that meant…I dunno. I have definitely not mastered any yet and have made many language blunders.

My fascination with foreign languages started early in life when my brain was in a much more malleable state than present day.

Living in California at a young age, I learned Spanish quickly through semi-immersion meaning every Wednesday, Ms. Luna would visit my class and translate what my teacher was saying. He only spoke Spanish and getting a B in class was not acceptable whether I was being taught in my native language or not.

Later when I thought I was the shit at speaking Spanish, I was placing post-it notes of Spanish words all over household objects to help teach my grandmother the difference between “la sal” and “el sol”.

Then came French.

While spending a summer in Phoenix, my Uncle Steve had picked me up from my grandparents’ home (where the post-it notes were everywhere including the “piso”) to bring me along for a ride to go pick up an olive tree from an elderly lady’s home.
While I waited for him to load up the tree into his truck, I sat with this lovely lady in her small, dusty room that had floor to ceiling bookshelves jammed with all kinds of books shoved in at various angles just so they could fit. I am pretty sure that her wobbly end table was supported by a stack of books.

We didn’t say much for a while. Through the yellowish film on the window, I could see blur of my Uncle Steve struggle with the olive tree while fidgeting with his face mask. He’s allergic to olive trees.

“You can pick any book you would like as long as you promise to read it.”

Do I hear a challenge in the old woman’s voice?

Suddenly, the books seem to have tripled in quantity and began to hover over me.

Bellowing in deep baritones, I hear…. “PICK MEEEEEeeeeeeee….”.

You know this didn’t really happen, but in a kid’s mind if someone tells you that you can have something; a gift, it’s like – suddenly….so overwhelming that everything suddenly appears to be massive and weird shit happens.

So there goes my little nerdy-ass 9-year-old finger…. tracing along the books, leaving a clean, dustless trail until it finally rested on one.


Falling towards me was some more dust and a book that had a faded yellow cover that sort of matched the film on the window.

“Lex Jeux Sont Faits” by Jean-Paul Satre written in a bold, black letters like an important headline.

Girls Gone Abroad - Le Jeux Sont Faits
Girls Gone Abroad – Le Jeux Sont Faits

“I’ll take this one, please.”
She mumbled something, but not sure which language. I think I was too proud of my choice to notice what she said anyways.

Yeah. I read it.
With the help of a French-English dictionary compliments of the local library, because back “then” we didn’t have keyboards readily available under our fingers.
It took me awhile, but I did it.
I’m not even sure I still have that old book, but from time to time, I wonder what ever happened to the old lady and her books.
Years later, Uncle Freddie brings me a stash of things that someone was giving away and among the bounty of gifts was a German language learning book.
No, I didn’t read that one entirely, but I did learn that nouns are capitalized and I know what a der Ofen is.
Reading Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace was much more enjoyable than trying to learn German.

No offense, but French was less of an assault to my ears.
I went on to study French, Spanish and Italian.
And now Portuguese since I will soon have a Brazilian Son-in-Law and I want to know all the bad things he says about me. I dabble with Arabic.
A polyglot I certainly am not, but knowing enough of those languages has earned me the title of the “linguistics one” from the Girls Gone Abroad team.
However, earning such a title does come at a cost of embarrassing language blunders. Allow me to share.

Here are my top 4 favorite dumb American language blunders:

Girls Gone Abroad - Francobolli
Girls Gone Abroad – Francobolli

1. Francobolli vs Franco Belli , Rome, Italy

Confidently walking into a store, I asked a man, “Hai Franco Belli?”. He moves his glasses down his nose to “eye” scold me.

Yep. That look.

Whatever book he was reading, (which I am pretty sure was not “Les Jeux Sont Faits”), he slammed shut and walked away from me.
I asked if he had beautiful French (or Frank) when I meant to ask for stamps.

My grandfather did not get a postcard during this trip.

Girls Gone Abroad - Knives
Girls Gone Abroad – Knives

2. Cuchillos vs Llaves , Bogota, Colombia

Know the difference between these two. Including how to say “Peanuts”.

For whatever reason, I often confuse these two which is not a good thing when trying to tell a security guard that I have the keys to the apartment we are renting which should serve as proof that we are indeed authorized to enter the unit.

Security guards don’t really like knives as they don’t hold the llaves to their hearts, they can only cut them out.

Girls Gone Abroad - Line in London
Girls Gone Abroad – Line in London

3. Line vs Queue, London, UK
While in London. I arrived to the club where I was meeting a friend who was already inside.

“Hey, I am here! I’m out front! The line is really long!”

“Then cross it.”

Shoving my finger further into my right ear so I could hear her better through my left ear pressed against the phone, “Huh?”
“CROSS it!”

“I can’t! It’s LONG!”

A few moments later, my annoyed friend appears at the door of the club, asking me what the bloody hell is wrong with me that I can’t cross a line.
I swear I looked down at the ground and stared at it thinking…” What the f*&$!” (sorry, grandmother!)
You wait in a queue, not a line. How was I supposed to know this??

Girls Gone Abroad - Morto
Girls Gone Abroad – Morto

4. Marito vs Morto, Sicily

An Italian taxi cab driver insisted we were going to be married. I learned of my future all the way from Cefalu to Palermo.
I told him several times he was not going to be my dead.

When we arrived to Palermo, he cried.

Marito is much more romantic than morto.

You better believe that because of these mistakes and others I haven’t mentioned, I’ll never mess up those words again!

Now that I have told you four of mine, please share some of your language learning blunders so that I know that I am not alone.

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