This is a guest blog by Melica Bokaie from Iran who has been traveling solo and volunteering around Latin America for 2.5 years, starting at age 19. She enjoys writing and sharing her experiences, challenges and the new skills and lessons she learns everyday while traveling with other people.
You can learn more about her on Instagram: @melliiic
The first time I told my mum that I wanted to travel alone around Latin America, she thought I was joking! My friends thought I was out of my mind; some of them still had to ask for permission from their parents whenever they wanted to leave the house.
People started telling me about all the possible things that could happen; I could be raped, I could be robbed. They all told me Latin America is very dangerous and it’s not safe to travel alone as a woman. I remember one day one of my male friends told me I needed a man to travel with and that I was too young to travel alone. I was breaking cultural rules. I needed to go to University, and then probably get married and have kids. That’s what most people in Iran expect from women. Not to travel alone on another continent! The fact that someone who wasn’t me was putting limitations on my dreams was so unacceptable. So I ignored them and went to South America.
It has been 2.5 years since the day I started this long journey. I have definitely faced lots of challenges (we all face challenges as solo travelers regardless of our gender) but thanks to a lot of courage, that dream came true. I’m not telling you I wasn’t afraid at the beginning. I was afraid of feeling lonely. I was afraid of becoming sick and not having anybody around to take care of me. I was afraid of getting robbed, but I somehow managed to find a balance between fear and courage. Without fear we’ll do foolish things and without courage we’ll never step into the unknown. The balance of the two is where the magic lies and it’s a balance we all deal with in our lives.
I truly enjoy traveling alone. It gives me ultimate freedom. I do what I want, where I want and when I want. I have learned a lot about myself, about the things that I like and I don’t like. For example I have learned that I am not a night person. I enjoy going out at night and dancing some salsa with friends every once in a while but I prefer sleeping at 9 PM and waking up around 5 AM for my morning meditation! People make fun of me, telling me I am so young and have to enjoy the nightlife but this is just who I really am.
Apart from all the freedom, traveling alone also has some disadvantages:
I have met beautiful souls during this journey and I have fallen in love many times but I always preferred to continue alone. It’s not easy, I have gotten really lonely many times and I have learned sharing experience means enjoying them more.
In some countries they may put labels on you. As I travel with a low budget, I have been volunteering and couchsurfing most of the time. Almost always living with other people and there were times where men thought I am care-free and easy just because I don’t have a partner beside me.
And so many times people thought I am very selfish to leave my family and 60-year-old mum to live my dreams. Well not that I care about what other people think or say about me, but sometimes the labels can be heavy.
Traveling can affect your period. Long international journeys can cause periods to come late or early. I once got my period early around 11 PM on a 24-hour bus ride in Brazil. The bus had a bathroom but my menstrual cup (a sustainable, zero waste period product, also very comfortable while traveling) was in my backpack which was with all the other luggages in the luggage compartment of the bus! Everyone was sleeping and I was too shy to tell the driver to stop, so for 12 hours until we stopped the next day at a restaurant for lunch break I had to survive with some toilet paper. I was stressed and it caused me cramps which I normally don’t have. I have also gotten used to long hikes, walking with a heavy backpack for hours on my shoulders and taking cold, outdoor showers during my cycle cause there were no other options.
I know there are many stories out there about women being assaulted by men. But it actually can happen anywhere, even in your own city or country. According to the World Health Organization’s global and regional estimates, there is a lower chance of sexual violence abroad, as most of the time, the perpetrator knows the victim.
Fortunately, I’ve never been robbed or raped during these 2.5 years of traveling solo in Latin America. I have hitchhiked alone in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Canada, Panama and Costa Rica and many times I was alone in a car or truck for hours with another man or sometimes two. In my experience, your attitude plays a large role. If you know how to talk to a man in a polite way and at the same time keep your distance, there is a much lower chance of getting assaulted.
If it makes you feel safer, you can always carry a self-defense tool. I have to admit that I have never carried any. I have no knife, no pepper spray and no fake ring. I don’t recommend not having these in your backpack but I know they won’t work for me. I have a friend who was always afraid of getting robbed and when she finally dared to travel alone outside Tehran for a weekend she lost her phone! In my experience and opinion: much of it is in your mind. If you are afraid of something and you always think about it, you are sending energies towards that thought!
Don’t get me wrong, I am not careless and I always open my eyes and try to find a balance between my heart and my mind. That’s a big part of why nothing has ever happened to me. I have slept alone at a bus terminal and a supermarket in Argentina while hitchhiking for days but I never even thought of getting robbed. As a solo traveler I have learned to trust others and also trust my own intuition. And I have learned to choose love over fear.
Every person is different and other women who travel alone may have faced different challenges. Remember that you can always meet other travelers wherever you are. If you are alone in a foreign country and you want to visit a place, go to a bar, hitchhike to another town but you don’t want to do it all alone, you can find travel partners in different apps like couchsurfing or by staying at hostels.
I hope this article has helped you to face your fears. We have to stop telling women that it’s not safe for them to travel alone.
Thank you for reading! May you all be healthy and happy wherever you are.
If you have any questions or want to start a solo trip and need to talk to someone, don’t hesitate to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Also be sure to check out this blog post on traveler safety.