I guess it was a long time coming. I did really well. I have been on my solo female travel adventure for five months now, and I did pretty well (given my emotional structure LOL). I managed well the solitary moments, some flashes of anxiety and apart from those brief moments, I am having an amazing time!
I have seen places I never thought I would be able to see and met some very cool people. So far, this journey has been the biggest adventure and the most incredible thing that has ever happened to me!
Yet, it has been the longest ever to be far from what is familiar. Apart from those precious phone calls to family and friends (you are rock!), those sudden messages from friends that either want to make sure I’m safe or tell me how proud they are – I have mainly dealt with everything alone.
I was lucky to not only meet incredible people along the way but folks that are like minded and often as free spirited as me – this is what happens when you deliberately choose your path and allow your energy to attract people into your space!
I have experienced the magic! The natural wonders and landscapes that I have not only always dreamt of experiencing but also didn’t believe would ever become a reality. I took photographs that any photographer or traveller would dream of taking.
I slept in a hammock on the beach, hiked to the highest peak of Madeira while getting lost and being rescued by Cristiano Ronaldo. I rode a bicycle around Bogota while getting out of breath at 2600 m above sea level, got beaten by jejenes (Midge, also known as a black fly), walked along paradise-like beaches, seen the most profound poverty and experienced the greatest kindness.
I have seen the most magical sunsets in Portugal (Nazare, my love!) and Colombia. I danced salsa for the first time in 4 years, have been offered a ride on the craziest motorbike to see the waterfalls, have been attacked by a massive crab and lived under the same roof with the family of bats. I have drawn my phone in the sea, acquired a number of unexplained bruises, packed and unpacked around a hundred times and considered shaving my head equally around 100 times.
But full-time solo travel is not all a bed of roses. You don’t see bad moments on Insta. The famous travellers and influencers don’t share their challenging times. And they should.
Solo female travel is the greatest thing a woman could do. At last in my opinion. But I believe as a solo female traveller myself, I have an obligation to share the truth.
I promised many times on those pages that I will always be honest, never write about places I never been to nor describe experiences I didn’t live through.
Nor I will hide the truth about long term solo female travel cons and difficulties.
Al of us is different. It’s the universal truth – I didn’t discover Americas here. And every solo female travel has its own story to tell. Some women strive in solitary or challenging circumstances. Some cannot imagine travelling alone or sleeping in the hostel. Some need to feel they are grounded, rooted in the place; some prefer to travel and are able to feel at home wherever they are. As well as our preferences differ – so does our mental and emotional composition.
I specifically want to talk about it from a solo female travel perspective – as this is what I am familiar with. And the truth is that solo female traveller is often perceived differently than their male counterpart.
Are you alone? Wow! No one would react this way when a guy says he travels solo.
Also, to all my sensitive and empath sisters – we cry, and we have meltdowns. And we are receptive to other peoples energies.
Apart from being a female solo traveller, I am also a human with feelings and issues like anyone.
Managing your mental wellbeing is challenging as it is, and during solo travel, it can be tough as well.
I would definitely say that the constant state of awe and gratitude did wonders to my emotional well being. In the last five months, I have been simultaneously happy, excited, grateful and content – the majority of the time.
Things changed when I was put in the wrong company, in a confined space with no ways of expressing myself nor freedom of choice.
Disclaimer – I was spoiled since I arrived in Colombia. The kindness of people was overwhelming (only yesterday the whole bus got involved when I wasn’t sure where I need to get off). Everyone here is kind, polite (everyone on Tayrona trek said ‘Buenas Dias’ with a smile!), service in hostels and restaurants is excellent, and wherever I’m not sure – I deliberately look lost, and for sure someone will ask me if I need help! This is crazy!
I was really looking forward to my Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas 3 days and 2-night tour. A part of the country less travelled by foreign visitors, the poorest department of Colombia yet full of magnificent beauty.
When you travel solo, trips and tours can be a great way to meet other travellers. So I was looking forward to making new friends.
Little did I know that it was about to become the most lonely and alienating experience I have had so far.
Few days before the trip, I acquired a cough. A horror – in the Covid times, we are not supposed to be ill with anything else!
With the heat and humidity along the coast, travelling on buses and literally sticking my head over the window to get some fresh air, sleeping with the fan on, taking cold showers and getting covered in sweat seconds later – my body gave up. I got a little cold. I developed a sore throat. The cold went away after a couple of days (I hardly ever get sick, so it’s normal for me to recover quickly), but the cough persisted. I knew I’m fine. I know my body, and it wasn’t the first time I had this kind of cough (also, I am a smoker – yes, I know!).
I was concerned that people might take it the wrong way (the crazy times we live in), but I was hoping it won’t be so bad as it was slowly getting better, and I didn’t want to miss the tour.
I was sat in the car with a family of 3. Posh behaving parents and daughter from Manizales. Nothing against being posh – I just wanted to point out that the family looked well educated and pretty well off. So I sat next to the father and daughter – And what happened – 2 minutes into our ride, I coughed.
We stopped at the store so the family could buy some snacks. At this point, I was asked to move to the back seat. The explanation was – so the family can sit together. Mind you, it was a 4×4 Jeep, and we all know those seats are not exactly the most comfortable.
The next minute the driver is telling me that the family is concerned because of my cough. I explained that I feel well and have a sore throat due to the weather and air conditioning. Then I was questioned whether I take medications, if I was vaccinated, and so on.
I probably should have cancelled there and then. Not because I wasn’t fit for the trip – but because people in the car were scared of me, this wasn’t a good prediction for the trip. But I was in such a shock that I wasn’t thinking.
The trip was spectacular. I returned with over a thousand pictures. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscapes but also deeply saddened by the extreme poverty of children and families living on this rough land. My experience of Colombia was unimaginably enriched, thanks to this tour. And I will never regret going.
But while inside of the jeep – I was miserable.
The family wouldn’t talk to me much. They assumed my Spanish is poor, so no one made much effort. The mother was sitting at the front talking to the driver/guide, and as he was telling the stories about the land and people, I could hardly hear or understand anything.
I understand a fair amount of Spanish (definitely more than I can speak), but when I sat at the back of the jeep with the music blasting from the speaker- no way I could understand anything. Sometimes at the stop, the guide would tell me where we are and how long do we have to explore, but often I had to ask myself. He spoke to me as if I was deaf. Loud and clear – which totally annoyed me.
The family wouldn’t bother at all. The mother, at times, would give me puzzled or concerned looks. They all put two masks on and stayed away from me.
I have never felt this alienated by others. And the fact that I felt frustrated with the level of my Spanish made it even worse. Even now, as I’m writing about it a few days after – I am tearing out.
The further out on the coast you are, the more difficult the Spanish gets – it’s the case everywhere. I used to live in Andalusia, and I know Spanish in coastal regions is much harder to understand than in Madrid, for example. Colombia is no different. Coastal Spanish is full of slung, and words get cut a lot.
But I tried, and luckily I met a lovely couple with who I had a cool conversation. And as I sat talking with them, the ‘family’ looked at me in even bigger puzzlement. I am not sure who did they imagine I am. But they never asked me my name, not anything really.
I became used to Colombians asking me how long I’m in Colombia for, asking what I have seen and where I’m going and giving me all the recommendations and being happy for me and my travels. The more I was shocked by this family’s behaviour.
At lunchtime, I would sit at a separate table – no one would ever ask me if I wanted to join. I decided to keep myself to myself and not let them spoil this experience for me. In my head, I was writing an article about La Guajira already and was focusing on taking photos and enjoying the incredible landscapes.
At times, however – it was hard. The back seat was uncomfortable. It was an off-road ride, so given seat was higher than others and with much less legroom – I have tumbled around like a bag of potatoes.
I sucked it up. I knew I couldn’t change it. I was stuck with those obnoxious people – I needed to enjoy as much as I can.
It was on day 3, on our way back – I had enough. We left early and didn’t have any sightseeing stops (I overheard that the ‘family’ wanted to go to Palomino as early as possible – so I guess this was a favour for them).
When the car jumped, and I hit my head. And I broke. Not that it hurt much. But it hurt me inside. I had enough. I broke into tears. I had a full-on meltdown. Behind the sunglasses and a mask, I was trying to hide my tears, but they just kept rolling.
We returned to Riohacha and went for lunch. I was pointed to a separate table and ate alone. At this point, I ate as quickly as I could and just left. I said a brief goodby and got dropped off at the hostel.
I hid inside of my dorm and cried.
I am not even sure why I reacted so emotionally. I think it could have been a build-up. I am often frustrated with my inability to express myself fully in Spanish (I am a very chatty and expressive person – being limited can get very frustrating). I think on this trip, I felt my inabilities more profoundly. In the week leading to this event, I was dealing with some insecurity issues, which suddenly crept in for no apparent reason. So being completely alienated, treated like a nuisance and unable to defend or explain myself adequately – has built up the frustration, and it had to find an outlet.
I cried. Partly I felt ungrateful. I have just experienced incredible adventure while seeing people living well below the poverty level. I had a bed, a fan, food and clean clothes. Yet, I just wanted my own room, with air conditioning. I wanted to take a shower and not sweat a second later and wanted to speak to someone in English! I wanted to talk to someone without struggling!
There was no one. Some people just checked into the room, so I had to put myself together. So I went for a walk. It started raining. And it rained bad. And as I was walking out in the rain, everyone looked at me in puzzlement, but I felt that this rain was washing away the sorrows. I suddenly knew what I needed to do.
I needed some self-care. I needed to recenter and come back to myself. Do things that make me feel good. Make decisions that are right for me, not for my ego or unfulfilled promises. I knew I have to stay put in place for a little bit. Meditate, come back to my yoga practice and write. Just so I feel I’m back on track. Like I’m back to being me.
So I am back in Santa Marta. I feel good. I again feel good in my own skin, and people compliment my Spanish. A few seconds later, someone says something, and I have no idea. But as I relax, I speak better, and I stopped being hard on myself. It’s a process – no one can perfect a language in 6 weeks.
I love Santa Marta. I really like the hostel I’m in right now, and I am about to work on a project that I was postponing for long enough.
What’s most important – I don’t want this to end. I don’t regret a second of this journey. I feel like I’m more at home than I have ever been. Although I don’t have a home.
I am learning something new about myself every day. I am aware of how far I went and the healing and self-acceptance that still is to come. I appreciate the person I am becoming and cherish every moment that is granted to me.
Solo female travel is not always a bed of roses. And if you are going outside of your comfort zone, learn a new way of living, change the bed every few days and don’t always understand the way around you – it can get both stressful and emotional.
But I love it! Travel solo will change your life forever. It will definitely change mine!
If you are a solo female traveller that struggles with emotions or meltdowns sometimes – I would like to hear from you! Leave a comment, and we can have a chat. If you are a guy – I would also like to hear from you! Does it get hard as well? Do you get emotional? Let’s have a conversation and break the media image of the perfect solo traveller – be it female or male.
Until then – happy travelling, and I will see you on the road!
Are you interested to read more about my Colombian adventure?