8 Myths of Solo Travel and What Really Happened to Me

Written By: The Planet D

I was a good student in high school–I got perfect grades and never broke a rule or forgot my homework. I also spent my study halls pouring over brochures about study-abroad, drinking in the photos of sun-soaked travelers as they smiled into the camera, scaled the Great Wall of China, and shared stories over cafes con Leche in Buenos Aires. I wanted that, that sense of freedom and independence and adventure. It was time to travel, and I was going solo. 

8 Myths of Solo Travel and What Really Happened to Me

Things to do in Peru Sand Dunes Huacachina
Conquering deserts

I was eighteen years old and, except for a week in Toronto, I had never left the United States. However, most people in my small Southern Ohio town didn’t travel, at least not for long periods of time and definitely not by themselves.

When I announced my plans to defer college and go to Spain for four months to volunteer on a farm owned by people I had only communicated with over email, I discovered that I had unwittingly broken a lot of unspoken rules.

While my parents and close friends were supportive, many members of my community felt compelled to convince me to change my mind or tell me flat out that I was going to get myself killed.

Although I didn’t admit this at the time, as an impressionable 18-year-old, these comments affected me greatly — not because I was scared, exactly– but because I was, for the first time in my life, doing something that others didn’t approve of. I was used to being an excellent student and stand-out athlete–suddenly, I was a rule-breaker.

Five years (and three continents and many adventures) later, I feel compelled to address these concerns directly.

Here are some things my friends, relatives, teachers, and peers told me about solo travel as an 18-year-old female. And how they were wrong.

1. “It’s dangerous over there.

I love spending time by myself

“If you walk around by yourself you’ll get murdered for sure.”

I spent a lot of time walking around European cities by myself. Sometimes at night. I only once felt vaguely uncomfortable and then I followed my instincts and quickly went into a store where I was surrounded by people. Obviously, there are places in the world where one should not walk around at night by oneself.

Some of these places are in Spain. A whole lot of them are in the United States. In New York City, there are 5 homicides per 100,000 people. In Madrid, that number is 1. The world is a dangerous place, but not nearly as dangerous as we are led to believe.

2. Don’t Drink the Water

drinking water when traveling

“I heard that if you drink the water you’ll get sick and die.”

I drank a lot of tap water in Spain. It was delicious. The water that comes out of my tap in Southern Ohio is cloudy and tastes vaguely like rusty pipes. Sure there are places where you shouldn’t drink the water, but Spain is not one of them. In fact, as a whole, Spain has pretty nice infrastructure, as does the rest of Europe.

I think we Americans would travel more if we stopped thinking of the rest of the world as one, big, uncivilized ghetto. Spain has trains that can go 200 miles per hour (or maybe more, what do I know about trains?) and while you zoom through the countryside you can sip on a delicious, strong espresso with steamed milk. Now, who’s uncivilized? I rest my case.

3. Don’t talk to strangers

meeting the locals when traveling

“You will probably get kidnapped and sold into the sex trade.”

Newsflash, it’s really hard to travel by yourself and not talk to strangers. And that’s okay. Why? Because most people in the world are good people. Saying that in the US is like saying you hate puppies or that gluten is good for you, but it’s true. Most people are not out to kill you–you’re just not that important, sorry.

Once again, it’s crucial to trust your instincts whether you’re traveling by yourself or otherwise–if something about a situation or a person feels off, get out. But no need to treat every passerby like a potential sex trafficker. That’s just not a good way to make friends.

4. People are Dangerous

solo travel myths bridge
It’s important to trust people

“How do you know the people that you’re going to stay with aren’t ax murderers?”

Because 99.99% of people are not ax murderers. And if I were an ax murderer (or any other sort of murderer for that matter), I probably would have figured out that there are easier ways to lure in unsuspecting victims than a website dedicated to organic farming. Like, say, Craigslist.

Here’s what actually happened — I flew across the world to live with and work for strangers I had met on the Internet. They housed me, fed me four delicious meals a day, and treated me like family. The end.

5. Tours are Much Better

pelion shuttle service for tourists

“If you really have to do this, why don’t you just go on one of those tour things? It’d be so much safer.”

Well, for a lot of reasons. A, I don’t have 4,000 spare bucks lying around and B, being shepherded around to museums and famous cathedrals sounds exactly like how I’ve always imagined hell. Of course, that’s my personal hell. If it sounds good to you, go for it, but to me, especially at that point in my life, it would have been misery.

A tour would have defeated the entire purpose of my trip. The people who made this comment tended to overlook the fact that I was trying very hard, possibly for the first time in my life, to NOT take the safe route.

6. You’ll be so homesick.

peru solo travel
Getting homesick is natural

“What if you decide to come home?”

I was homesick. In fact, on several occasions, I really wanted to come home. But I couldn’t, so I got up in the morning and practiced my Spanish and made friends and learned to enjoy spending time by myself. And before long, I was so glad I hadn’t been able to hop on a plane back to the States. Sometimes it’s good to not have an out. Sometimes it’s not supposed to be easy.

7. You’re jeopardizing your college career.

“You might decide you don’t want to go to college at all. Or you’ll be unmotivated when you get there.”

Okay, this is just wrong on all counts. I had already been accepted to college when I decided to go to Spain. My college was happy to allow me to start mid-year. In fact, they encouraged it. I think most colleges accept deferments. And while I had moments of less than stellar motivation (what college student doesn’t?), I graduated in December from one of the top liberal arts schools in the US (magna cum laude, if you must know).

I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, I’m trying to prove a point. Time-off, travel, and independence do not jeopardize education; they enhance it.

8. Get It Out of Your System

What is Black Friday

“Well, I guess it’s good that you’re getting this out of your system now. You have to do it while you’re young.”

Before I left for Spain, travel had never been a big part of my life. Ever since then, I have lived for it. I have lived on three continents and spent my summers tooling around the American West. Somewhere along the line, I decided to be a travel writer. Wanderlust breeds more wanderlust. If travel is something you “get out of your system,” you’re doing it wrong.

So what, exactly, am I trying to say with all this? It boils down to this: If you’re a young woman who wants to travel–by yourself or with friends or whatever–just do it. Be smart, trust your instincts, drink the water, and break the rules. You will make friends. You will get into college. You will learn to be strong and independent and fabulous. And if anyone tells you otherwise, make them read this post.

Syd Schulz is a recent graduate of Middlebury College (it’s okay if you’ve never heard of it). She is currently wandering the world looking for things to write about and good places to ride her bike down mountains.

Please feel free to connect with Syd here: Syd Schulz / Instagram

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Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

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53 thoughts on “8 Myths of Solo Travel and What Really Happened to Me”

  1. Like you, I am also warned about the consequences of traveling all by myself. Especially, my parents are too afraid to allow me travel solo. I know they are just concerned about my safety and don’t want me to face any problems. But their over-protective nature and selfless love for me is killing my passion. Now that you have wronged all who spread negativity about traveling solo, I will make my parents read this blog. I am sure they would change their opinion and give me space to spread my wings.

  2. Nice write-up but it’s quite apparent that you have only traveled to Spain or may be Europe at least at the time you wrote this. Spain itself is a first world country so you shouldn’t have expected the worse. Go to 3 world countries (South East Asia, Africa etc) and you’ll probably wanna re-write this. But of course traveling solo has a lot of beauty in it πŸ™‚

  3. Great post! I spent 16 weeks in Europe by myself and was a bit nervous about heading to the Balkans as a solo but I had such an amazing time. Going solo in Europe is so easy and I found it really safe. I totally agree with you when you say; “be smart and trust your instinct.” Do that and travelling solo will be one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll ever have.

  4. #8 is something I heard a lot (although I am a guy, not a girl solo traveler) as many people just assume you are going on a once-in-a-lifetime trip and then settling down. In today’s world, we can travel for years or forever.

  5. I absolutely agree with this post! I’ll be honest here – I was skeptical about going solo after a friend pulled out. Making the decision to go solo in Europe for 7 weeks solid was one of the best ones, and it’s definitely a character building experience and also gives you the opportunity to boost your self-confidence & esteem πŸ™‚ Here’s a post I wrote about going solo – http://www.isigniwander.com/itravel/one-human-one-world-multiple-plane-and-bus-tickets/

  6. Thank you for a great post! We are currently traveling our 8th country in 2 months and couldn’t agree more with you! Love, K&R

  7. It’s funny how some people view Europe as not safe, whiles I’m totally the opposite. I’m dreading travelling to the States on my own! πŸ˜€ Especially points 1 & 3 could be my concerns what comes to Northern America.

    Thanks for posting anyway, sensibly thinking I’m sure it is just as safe in the US than EU.

    • I wouldn’t worry too much! Just like Europe, there are bad areas in the States, too. We DO have more guns, which is a bad thing for us in general, but most likely (99.99999%) won’t affect you as a traveler. I think you’ll find us Americans pretty friendly and generous! Even if some are totally aghast that you are traveling at all, much less alone….hahaha. You’ll just have to forgive us for that πŸ™‚

  8. Great post. Very inspiring. People should always do what they believe in. I had a similar ‘its all too dangerous out there’ when I was heading off but as you say nobody was out to get us and we had a great time.

  9. I agree with most of this and definitely encourage people to travel solo or with friends – just travel! But (and I guess this is where “use your instincts” come in) I have definitely travelled to places where, as a woman, I would not walk around by myself. Something may or may not happen to you, but to do things by yourself in some countries/cities is foolish.

  10. For anyone who is about to start planning own solo traveling this is some good advice. I have excellent traveling common sense but I have a lot to learn from your blog.This includes engaging them in new persons and making them learn about the place.

  11. Great post! Whenever you’re doing something contrary to the way people think life should go, they will come at you with all the craziest questions/ideas. Hoping to keep you stuck in the same mundane life they are in. Kudos for not listening to them and continuing on with your journey!

  12. Hi great post, you are right that some of the people will always discourage you but if we are really passionate about travelling than we must follow that.

  13. I think, it is all just a mind game, when you travel solo. Because of all those things you’re told, because of all those people, that tried to discourage you, you’re stressed at first. But I soon got used to it.
    And now it’s my way to travel as well. Maybe once a year I travel in a group. The rest is always on my own.
    For me these experiences were essential to further devlop my personality. I can recommend to anyone to get out of the beehive! πŸ™‚

    • I totally agree! It is a complete mind game…but one of the best things we can do is learn how to handle being alone and independent.

  14. I have gotten everything from people suggesting “why don’t you just take a cruise, it’s safer” to the people who will not accept any answer ever to “why are you going THERE?!?!” It’s frustrating and I think ever solo traveler can relate to this post.

  15. You are an inspiration, Syd! I’m just getting ready to begin traveling by myself at 55. The first trip doesn’t quite qualify since it will be a small group (less than 8) trip to Namibia. I will be going without anyone I know. After that, I’ll be off to some solo adventures. I can’t wait.

  16. Haha, love no. 2…I’m living in Bolivia, so could actually be true πŸ˜› In all seriousness, great post. When it comes to travel I always think, thousands of people have done this before me, thousands of people will do it after me, I might as well join the fun! Very rarely do you encounter a bad situation when on the road, and if you do, often it will just make you a stronger, wiser and more humble a person.

  17. YES!

    Though these aren’t just American fears – particularly the one about mad axe murderers. It’s why I’m always nervous about couch-surfing and hitch-hiking.

    But good on you for not listening to other people’s fears. Looking forward to following you on your blog πŸ™‚

  18. Love your blog. I’ve been a solo traveler in Asia for years and have never once had a problem or been in danger. Keep up the great writing.

  19. You are SO right!!
    I’ve never heard any of these comments luckily, as I’ve traveled the world with my parents since I was 2. The travel bug is very well cemented in my blood due to that!

    I’ve lived (for short or longer periods of time) in quite a few countries and have made so many great friends from all over the world.
    I have met this American girl ones in Sydney (both of us doing a Masters degree there) and she was so ‘travel-clueless and not at all worldly’, like (sorry to say so) many Americans I meet… She’s now a good friend and so much more open to other ideas, cultures etc!

    Travel will (mostly) change you for the better!! You will be more open to other cultures/people/places/interests etc…
    DO IT!!

    • So awesome that your parents traveled with you when you were a kid! That must have opened so many opportunities…Yes, us Americans can be pretty clueless about the outside world… it’s pretty sad, actually…

  20. I really wish I had done this when I was younger! I almost did but was talked out of it. I now live an amazing life that has brought me from the USA to Honduras with a wonderful family. However there is so much to see and experience in this world. I know that when my daughters are older my travels will go way beyond. The best gifts I can give my girls are family and the knowledge that there is more in this world then just our walls at home. I will love to do it with them, but as a mother I truly understand if they want to go it alone!

    • Well said Rikaine. It’s wonderful that you fell in love with travel and will be able to introduce your daughters to the amazing world out there.

    • Don’t worry that you didn’t travel when you were young—like I said, travel is for everyone. I’m glad you’ve found a love of travel and are encouraging the same in your daughters. That’s the most important thing!

  21. All of those phrases are so true of what people say when you tell them you're off travelling somewhere! Great post, it felt so close to home. It really clarifies how travellers feel when people ask them such things.

  22. All of those phrases are so true of what people say when you tell them you're off travelling somewhere! Great post, it felt so close to home. It really clarifies how travellers feel when people ask them such things.

  23. Terrific article, Syd. I agree with your assertion that “wanderlust breeds more wanderlust”. And anyone who argues that someone who takes time off before going to college will be “unmotivated” is dead wrong. I took 2 years off before college and had a chance to see what my future would look like without a college education. Believe me, I was VERY motivated when I finally went, far more so than traditional students who went right out of high school. By the way, I DO know where Middlebury College is–it’s just down the road from me! πŸ™‚

    • Great point Gray. I think that travel opens your mind to new possibilities. Travel is the best education and even at an older age, it inspired us to finally figure out what we wanted to do with our lives.

  24. Nicely done Syd. You are the kind of person we are looking to empower through our platform GoFarGoLocal. Congrats on your exploration and discoveries.

  25. Well expressed Syd, that was a very good read. I live in Europe and have to travelled to many parts of Europe. To date though I’ve never travelled to Spain. However I would never view it as “unsafe”. Who are these people back in the US who were advising you? The stats you make on murder in NYC v Spain are very telling and how I would perceive the situation.

    You justify each point well. Homesickness is probably the only one you can’t really do anything about.

    • Haha…mainly people who had never traveled anywhere (no surprises there). Yeah, homesickness can be rough, but what doesn’t kill you, right?

  26. Beautiful story in interesting way, in this young age Syed has come up with the best stuff but some really adventures in life. Keep it up and keep sharing

    • I would guess lots of people do….their choice….just annoying when they inflict that judgment on others! I’ll definitely check out your post πŸ™‚

  27. Syd you are a legend! To take all that in from people you know, who obviously care about you and have or should I say had an influence in your life and to believe in yourself is one of the most courages things a person could do. So congratulations!

    Its not that the world is a scary place, its that we are scared of the world. We are bounded by our comfort zone and are miss educated or lead to believe that bad things can happen to us if we take a risk. Now you realise unlike most that it is riskier to not go out there and live.

    Thanks for your awesome lessons

  28. Great post! As a fellow solo traveler I agree with all these tips Syd for sure "You have to do it while you’re young." So not true πŸ™‚

  29. LOVED this post! Spot on, Syd!

    When I dropped out of college and had no idea what to do, I spontaneously accepted an internship in San Francisco after a 20 minute Skype call and some emails.

    I jumped on a plane 36 hours later (I’m from Denmark) and I remember thinking “what the fuck am I actually doing!?”. But I was on my way – you don’t just turn a plane around. πŸ˜‰

    After being grilled in US Immigration, I finally made it out the airport. My new roomie was waiting for me and he gave me a huuuge hug! Way to be welcomed! I had the most amazing time! And learned so much. I thought I’d go to college again, but instead my boyfriend and I are now leading a nomadic lifestyle. So amazing.

    I so agree with you. You don’t just travel to “get it out of your system”. It just doesn’t work that way! You want more. Can’t have enough. πŸ˜€

    Will be sure to forward this post to everybody who’s even dreaming a little bit of travelling but let all these myths get in their way. πŸ™‚

    Safe travels! πŸ™‚

  30. You forgot a great one…Life is to short for regrets!! People let TV live life for them! I am so happy for people like yourself you break ground, tell the truth and get people motivated to do “more”!

  31. I totally agree with this! Somehow everyone in North America freaks out at the idea of solo travel. In many other parts of the world, they encourage it. I wish I had done a gap year before university. I feel like it would have changed what I studied and made me more passionate, like I was after I studied abroad. Thanks for sharing this Syd!

    • I agree–it would be awesome if North Americans made solo travel (or even any sort of travel) sound like more of an option to kids. Glad you got to study abroad, though, even if you didn’t do a gap year!