"Expats are expats for a reason," I recently wrote in one of my original songs, "And there's a reason I travel alone."
I won't get into the reason expats are expats (but I will say that it's not racist to call expats expats and immigrants immigrants -- it's not about skin color, but passports). But here's the main reason I travel alone: I basically designed my life around being able to travel several months a year, and most people have not.
People often say it's brave and rare for a woman to travel alone, but, empirically, it's really not.
According to a 2014 Booking.com survey, 72% of American women like traveling alone. Research company Hitwise found that 55% of solo travel searches in the UK are made by women, especially women ages 25-34 living in London.
But it's not just women -- girls also travel more than boys. You'd never know by looking at the websites of teen travel companies (they try really hard to make the boy:girl ratio look even in their photos), but enrollment in programs like Experiment in International Living or Road Less Traveled is about 70-90% girls, 30-10% boys.
I asked some people who work for teen travel companies why they think this is. "Boys like video games" seemed to be the consensus. Which... is consistent with what Dr. Philip Zimbardo and Nikita Coulombe found in their research that led to their book, Man Interrupted: Why Young Men are Struggling and What We Can Do About It.
Basically, they argue, boys no longer need to leave their rooms to have fun (they can play video games), and they no longer need to leave their rooms for sexual gratification (they can watch porn). But, because they never leave their rooms, they never develop social skills or learn how to flirt, so the idea of interacting with a real girl or woman becomes increasingly daunting.
Meanwhile, their only sexual experience comes from watching porn. Their dicks and brains get desensitized from jerking it in just such a way to an endless variety of increasingly extreme stuff, so they have a hard time getting aroused with a real woman (today's young men, according to Man Interrupted, have a hugely increased incidence of erectile dysfunction problems). Meanwhile, they develop insecurities about their own bodies (because it's rare to see a smaller-than-7-inch penis in porn) and performance (because real women don't scream and stuff the way porn actors do).
This forms a self-perpetuating cycle of social and sexual issues. Flirting is scary, so they stay home and watch porn, so they never develop the social and emotional skills they're lacking. They apparently have no idea when and when not to kiss a girl. They don't know the difference between showing interest and "seeming desperate or too available" (hint: it's about reciprocity), and leaving their bedrooms gets scarier and scarier.
So it's really no wonder they're not as interested in travel as girls and women. (Because it's not like when boys turn into men, physically, they automatically develop skills they failed to develop during adolescence.)
Meanwhile, women have gained increasing spending power and freedom in their lives. The age at which women have their first child has been rising since the 1960s. The average age that an American woman has her first baby is 26, up five years from 1972. In New York and San Francisco, this number is closer to 31.
That means they have soooooo much more time and money than ever before, and fewer anchors.
Moreover, new technologies have made solo traveler safer and cheaper than ever before. From satellite communicators that allow two-way texting anywhere in the world, even the backcountry:
To apps like Grab, Uber, and GoJek, which allow you to book a taxi using your phone (meaning there is a record of who the driver was, and possibly background checks -- and meaning that the driver can't rip you off like the aggressive taxi drivers who harangue you in the streets). Seriously, these apps, combined with the fact that you can buy a new SIM card for like, $2, and get data for your whole trip for, like, $3, are a huge game changer.
I can only think of two times I was ever scared while traveling alone -- once while I was hitchhiking in Costa Rica, and I told the guy to stop and he didn't (it was a misunderstanding -- he was driving a truck, and need to keep driving another hundred meters before he could safely pull over), and once when I got off a bus in Jakarta and tried to order Grabs and GoJeks, but no one would pick me up because they were "too scared" to come there.
But that fear only lasted a few seconds, and nothing bad happened. The odds of something happening are extremely low, and I'm usually so immersed in what I'm doing that I don't notice "scary" things like catcalls.
Well, okay. I was also, like, 2% scared the time I held a pteropus at a turnout in Bali -- but that was because I was 2% scared I might get rabies. Luckily, I did not.
But some women are scared of things like walking alone at night or using public transportation, so these apps have the power to eliminate those risks from a trip.
Combine that with the ability to book ahead online with verified Airbnbs, hotels that have received positive reviews, and endless information available online... there are few unknowns. There's little to worry about.
You can just focus on the dugongs and the whale sharks.
Images: @TheHappyTalent on Instagram
Vox also wrote recently that
This... could be true? I guess? I won't pretend to know what "self-actualization" means (I was totally hitting it off with this guy once, and he asked me if I was "self-actualized," and my interest in the conversation immediately perished). I haven't bought into the "self-care" thing (I guess it can be productive, but it can also be a means of self-handicapping instead of self-improving).
But just because I completely don't understand and can't relate to it, doesn't necessarily mean it's wrong, right? (See also: If You 'Travel Shame,' You're Probably Not That Good at Traveling.)
Personally, I find climbing a volcano way more meditative and immersive and joy-sparking and stuff. Image: @TheHappyTalent on Instagram.
Last, but not least, there is the fact that men tend to be terrible planners, and basically don't even know how to wipe their own butts without a woman's help, so it makes sense they're less likely to travel alone. Planning travel can be hard -- hard enough that I really don't plan much, beyond booking flights and reserving my first night's hotel.
So, guys (and girls) who suck at planning, listen up: in my experience, you can spend hours trying to figure out a plan ahead of time, or you can just show up and ask someone, and have your answers in 15 minutes. Or stay at an Airbnb, and your host will hook you up with all the good intel.
What helped you feel comfortable traveling alone? Share your experiences and advice in the comments! And don't forget to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram!
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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