Once a month, Kristin Addis from Be My Travel Muse writes a guest column featuring tips and advice on solo female travel. It’s an important topic I can’t adequately cover, so I brought in an expert to share her advice. This month’s column is about dealing with unsupportive friends and family who think you’ll end up like the movie Taken.
I swallowed hard as I sat across from her, hoping the news would go over smoothly. I’d been sitting on the information for months and had finally worked up the courage to tell her.
“Mom,” I began, “I’m quitting my job to travel the world.” I held my breath and wished I could hide behind something while she considered the news.
“How fun!” she replied.
I was stunned.
There was no questioning, no criticism, and no attempt to talk me out of it. I had her support. Plain and simple. It was a huge relief and, now that she knew, I could tell the rest of the world too.
Have you found yourself in the same position? You’re dying to travel the world. You’ve decided not to wait until a friend, family member, or significant other can join you, because if you did, you might be waiting forever. You’re pumped up for the road ahead, but just one thing looms in your way — telling everyone else in your life that you’re going to be gone for a while, all by yourself, on the other side of the world.
One of the biggest sources of worry people have is breaking the news to friends and family. They may ask you, “What about your career? What about your boyfriend/lease/cat/garage band? Should you really be out in this big scary world alone? It’s not safe for women to travel. Aren’t you worried about ending up like in that movie ‘Taken’?”
Their concerns are only natural, and it’s best to plan on a mix of reactions, just in case they’re not all completely positive and encouraging like my mother was.
So, when you get negative feedback, how do you deal with their criticisms and concerns?
Try to gain some experience
It’s easier to prove your abilities if it’s not the first time you’ll be out there traveling by yourself. Have you ever done anything brave completely on your own, such as moving to a new town where you didn’t know anyone, studying abroad, or a taking trip by yourself? Point to those past successes as proof that you’re capable of doing it again.
If you never have done something like that, then take a baby trip first. It doesn’t have to be anything big. It can just be a long weekend away in a new city. Navigate it on your own, start conversations with strangers, or eat a meal by yourself. It’s a great way to build up your experience and confidence, and also the confidence of those in your inner circle.
Be secure in your decision
If you’re not entirely sure about your decision to travel solo, it’ll be easier for concerned friends and family to talk you out of it. Don’t just come up with a half-baked idea and tell everyone that you might be considering traveling alone.
On the other hand, does the dream of traveling keep you awake at night (in a good way)? Are you more excited about exploring the world than anything else in your life right now? Can you afford to put your life on hold, and are you dedicated enough to save up the required funds? If so….
Have a solid plan
Sit down and plan out every detail so that when you encounter doubters you can come back with information to address their concerns. Show your friends and family how much time and thought you’ve put into your trip. It’s easier to put your parents and friends at ease if you have a well-thought-out plan and are totally prepared.
Hopefully also your passion will be infectious, and once they see how much it means to you, they’ll be more supportive.
When I asked my mother what made her support my decision so quickly, she responded that she saw how well I had planned my trip and knew from that alone how much it meant to me and how serious I was about it.
I had shown her examples of other solo travelers out doing the same thing, given her a rough itinerary, and talked to her at length about what the trip would entail. I had told her the countries I planned to visit, pointed her to the blogs I had been reading, and shared my budget plan. She got to feel like she was part of it rather than just an afterthought. That put her more at ease.
Be ready for any questions they might throw at you!
You’re just a phone call away
Part of the negative reactions will most likely have to do with your friends and family fearing that they won’t be able to get in touch with you. They may be envisioning jungles and remote places where only old-fashioned snail mail is available. That may have been true 20-30 years ago, but these days Wi-Fi is everywhere. Even when it’s not, local SIM cards are easy to find.
It’s also easier than ever to stay connected with chat apps like Facebook (which also allows free calls); Skype, which is good for video calls; Viber, a smartphone app that allows free calls; KakaoTalk, an app routed through South Korea (home of the world’s fastest Internet) and which works for free calls even on a bad connection; and WhatsApp for sending voice and text messages.
International phone plans are also available from T-Mobile without the hefty price tag. This means that anywhere that you can at least get cell reception, you’ll be reachable. You’ll truly be just a phone call away during the majority of your trip.
Ask for their trust and support
“A girl shouldn’t be out traveling alone; it’s a scary world out there” is a response you’re likely to hear. Parents naturally want their child to be safe and sometimes fear that foreign countries will be more dangerous than it is here at home. In reality it’s not that scary and dangerous abroad — in some cases, it’s safer than home.
Most major U.S. cities, for example, have higher violent crime rates than do countries in Southeast Asia and even South Africa. Whatever you’ve done so far in life to stay alive is relevant abroad as well.
If all else fails, turn it around. Your parents raised a child with a good head on her shoulders, didn’t they? Ask them, “Don’t you think I’m capable?” If the answer is “yes,” then end of conversation. If the answer is “no,” then ask for the reason behind the no. Chances are they won’t really come up with one – no parent wants to tell their child they don’t think they can succeed.
Males and females both have to look after their safety, and your gender doesn’t inhibit your ability to travel. Do they not trust you, love you, and want you to live a life that is fulfilling? Should they prevent you from living your own life?
Chances are, when put this way, your loved ones will realize that you’re a capable adult and know not to intentionally do stupid things to put yourself in harm’s way.
Remember: It’s your decision
It can be pretty disappointing when you’re so excited about the prospect of your big trip, and the most important people around you aren’t supportive of it.
When I quit my job to travel by myself, a lot of people were left scratching their heads, worried I was going through a quarter-life crisis and burning bridges behind me. They just didn’t understand a life outside of the one they were living, and they weren’t comfortable with that kind of risk in their own lives. I’ve come to realize that when people express a negative viewpoint about the decisions made by others, it’s generally their own insecurities talking.
Worried friends and family are not necessarily a bad thing, though. It means that there are people out there who love and care about you, and who want you around. It’s only natural and probably inevitable. In time, as they see you blossom on your trip, having adventures and beautiful experiences to last a lifetime, they’ll become more comfortable with the idea.
There are always naysayers, but they don’t have to hold you back from living out your own life. You only get one, and it’s yours to do what you wish. You might as well spend it chasing a dream rather than letting the fears of others hold you back.
When it comes down to it, with or without cheers from everyone in your corner, you just have to take the first step, and go.
In the words of Dr. Seuss, “You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so… get on your way!”
Kristin Addis is a solo female travel expert who inspires women to travel the world in an authentic and adventurous way. A former investment banker who sold all of her belongings and left California in 2012, Kristin has solo traveled the world for over four years, covering every continent (except for Antarctica, but it’s on her list). There’s almost nothing she won’t try and almost nowhere she won’t explore. You can find more of her musings at Be My Travel Muse or on Instagram and Facebook.
Conquering Mountains: The Guide to Solo Female Travel
For a complete A to Z guide on solo female travel, check out Kristin’s new book, Conquering Mountains. Besides discussing many of the practical tips of preparing and planning your trip, the book addresses the fears, safety, and emotional concerns women have about traveling alone. It features over twenty interviews with other female travel writers and travelers. Click here to learn more about the book, how it can help you, and you can start reading it today!