There are women who really do ruck-up. One such woman I know lived in West Africa for a year in a tent while dealing with the threats of rape and dysentery. There is a ruggedness to these gals, most of whom are usually engaged in some humanitarian effort; often forgoing comforts and safeties to do so. For the single female traveler my advice is to contemplate what I said about two women traveling together in the last travel piece—that and take it 100x more serious if traveling solo—Oh, and find one of these female road warriors who do humanitarian work and pick their brain. They’ll know way more than I do.
As for you single men—you lone wolves without god or master—this last installment in our Traveling in Numbers miniseries is especially for you. To wit:
My own first trip to the Dark Continent, a South African of the lighter shade told me how he’d taken a ten-speed across South Sudan. A day or two after having literally dodged a spear, he wheeled into a cluster of friendly huts. There he had the honor of being the only person who hadn’t been born within a kilometer of the center most goat corral.
“They thought I was an exile,” he said in that bizarre accent many Americans initially mistake for a sort of rural Australian. “They all thought I’d been disowned by my own family or something.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because,” he said, “being by yer-self is something those people just don’t understand.”
And that’s really it. Nice and neat. Back in Travel Tip #1 we talked a bit about Dutch social psychologist, Geert Hofstede, and his cultural dimensions. Individualism vs. Collectivism comes back into play here. The ways foreign lands view a loner versus a crowd are important for the genuine adventurer to have at least some familiarity with.
You venture out far enough on your own, do so with the knowledge that you will be viewed, and probably more than once, in leper fashion. This doesn’t mean you’ll be shunned permanently, however. Starting out in someone’s eyes as a dangerous outcast—a pariah with no home or tribe—is actually a great way to begin. Socially speaking, things can only go up from here. Whether it’s a family in the Cuban farmlands playing paid host or a goat herder in South Sudan, skittish and apprehensive locals tend to warm up to you fast.*And if you are a true scumbag you’ll know how to capitalize off of being pitied. Either way, felt-sorry-for or feared, these are great initial perceptions when operating abroad and aiming to balance risk mitigation with unadulterated fun. If you find you’re being seen as either; use to thy advantage.
Also, traveling by yourself can be the easiest because there’s no one challenging your ideas (or ideals—cue underground cockfights, all-night bordellos, or those secret meetups that require a password and for you to check your phone at the door).
But traveling by yourself can be the hardest way to go for all the exact same reasons. You lose that second set of eyes. You no longer have the ability to ask “what [insert crucial piece of information here] did the cab driver say?”
Taking into consideration these pros and cons, we see that going it alone will give us more enlightening moments than any other travel-option out there. When it’s just you, all you have is your abilities. A week or two completely relying on them will leave you with a more accurate self-evaluation.
Make no mistake about it. If you have any doubts as to your prowess in navigation, negotiation, self-defense, getting your hedonism on without grandma’s Sunday school classes tugging at your guilt-meter, or just plain sucking-it-up and surmounting delays, last minute changes, and a little pain. . . rocketing off the launch pad by yourself is the OAF Nation official recommendation.