Travel brings wisdom only to the wise. It renders the ignorant more ignorant than ever. - Joe Abercrombie
When I first mentioned that I would be teaching abroad, I faced a lot of concerns from family and friends. Even people I didn’t know that well expressed their concerns over my safety and my ability to live alone in a foreign country. As for me, I couldn’t stop smiling from how excited I was! I had sought after travel opportunities for quite a while. However, before my first teaching job, I struggled with gathering the courage to travel alone because I was buying into everyone else’s anxiety. I did manage to study abroad in Jordan my junior year of university, but I knew I would be with fellow students. Even if I didn’t know them that well, the thought of having people I identified with (young American students) helped ease my own anxiety. At the time, I couldn’t fathom the thought of moving abroad as a single woman.
You’re the only one standing in your way
As I neared my university graduation, I began to realize that, for me, travel was incredibly important. I couldn’t wait for my schedule to align with my friends or family just to be able to travel. That was always my excuse – I had no one to go with, so I had to wait. The truth was that I was just too afraid to make a trip by myself. I wasn’t accepting responsibilities for my thoughts and I shifted the blame to something else. It took some time, but eventually I managed to calm myself down and focus on what I wanted. I wasn’t going to prevent myself from accomplishing my dreams any longer.
So I did it. I moved. Shortly after receiving the job, I moved to Saudi Arabia all by myself. Did I pick the easiest country to move to? Probably not, honestly. But I had fun! I enjoyed myself and I learned so much about myself while I was there. I couldn’t be more of an advocate for solo female travel after that experience because you grow in such a way that is incomparable to anything else you will ever experience.
Travel isn’t for everyone, and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. However, if you know that this is important to you and it’s something you want to do, you’re going to do it no matter what. Just like I did. If you’ve never traveled solo, don’t worry. In this post, I’ve compiled some of the things I learned as a single woman who’s lived abroad.
Be Honest With Yourself
Before you embark on your journey, I consider it a must to sit with yourself and really go over what your expectations are. The truth is, as I mentioned before, that traveling solo isn’t for everyone. That’s absolutely okay. Don’t force yourself into something you’re not ready for. Think about it. Can you survive being independent for an extended period of time? Will you be alright knowing your friends and family aren’t nearby? If something goes wrong, can you honestly handle it on your own?
Ask yourself these hard questions. It’s alright to not be ready yet. If you aren’t ready, then take the journey slowly. Ease your way out of your comfort zone. If you’ve never been outside of your small town home living with your parents, maybe jumping on a plane to Indonesia or Thailand isn’t something you can handle just yet. Try going on your own to a neighboring town for a day, or book a hotel for a weekend on your own in the closest major city. Eventually, you will work yourself up to it.
I moved out at 18 for university and lived across the country from my family. This was the first time I was on my own. Thanks to this experience, I learned that I could handle being on my own. Had I not gone through this, I’m not sure I would have been able to move abroad later on. So, as I said, be honest with yourself. Knowing your limits isn’t giving up; it allows you to work on pushing those boundaries so that you can achieve what you never thought you could before.
Everyone Will Have Their Opinions
Prepare yourself for a barrage of safety concerns, your ability to stand on your own, and other comments from people who will doubt your ability to do this. If you’ve been honest with yourself and you’re confident you can do it, then don’t let these comments stop you from your pursuit. When I first announced my study abroad trip, my family was really concerned about me. I’m known as the clumsy, accident-prone one in my family, so they did have justifiable reasons for their worry; but I still didn’t let those comments stop me. Neither did I let them, or anyone else’s comments, stop me from teaching in Saudi Arabia.
There will be people you know that have never traveled and will give you advice as though they’ve seen the whole world. I’m not at all saying you shouldn’t heed their advice or be naive enough to believe that the world is a utopia full of rainbows and unicorns; what I am saying is just to be mindful that you need to be realistic, but also not let people try to scare you into staying with their unfounded opinions.
If you know a well-traveled person that warns you or offers advice based on their personal experience, I would say you should take it, but also be mindful that your experience could be different. Someone could tell you that it’s perfectly safe to walk down the streets of Paris or Beirut or [insert random city here] alone in the middle of the night because nothing ever happened to them. Others would tell you something very different from that. All in all, what I’m saying is: Don’t let the bad prevent you from going, but don’t let the good be your downfall. Everyone will try to put in their two cents. No matter what the opinion is or who it belongs to, you’re free to take it or leave it. That is your choice and your choice alone.
Gathering The Courage
Sometimes it’s not others thoughts and opinions that scare us, but our own. This can often be the hardest battle to face when preparing to move abroad. This ties back to being honest with yourself. If you’ve had that conversation with yourself and you know you’re capable of moving abroad, then don’t worry about what thoughts run through your mind. This was my problem for the longest time.
The truth is, you will have some problems when you move abroad. Living and traveling abroad doesn’t mean you’re living a perfect life, whether you’re going solo or in a group. Problems will arise and you won’t be able to stop it. Some things will seem disastrous, but you will make it through whatever problems you face. That seems easier said than done, and perhaps it is, but I promise that you will make it.
Maybe you lose your passport, or maybe something happens back home, or maybe you get scammed and are short on cash. Whatever the problem is, you will make it through. There are resources for you at the embassies that can help you. There are expats in that country that have gone what you’re going through. Most importantly, your family and friends will be there to help you. Near or far, they will always help you if you truly need the help.
Don’t be afraid of what might happen. Calm yourself and tell yourself that you can do this. Don’t doubt yourself and don’t put yourself down. If you’re strong enough to know you can make it, then be strong enough to never let yourself forget that.
Make Things Easier and Live With Expats
If it’s your first time traveling abroad, it’s a good idea to live in an area with other expats that share your values and traditions. This way, you’re more likely to make friends and you won’t feel so alone. Moving straight away into an area with little to no expats could make your time in that country seem more difficult and lonelier. Make things easier for yourself by moving in with a roommate of the same or similar nationality that shares your language. You can also join groups in the area meant for expatriates. I used InterNations to find hiking groups in Saudi Arabia. If you’re still scared of exploring certain places alone, having a friend or group will make the trip seem easier.
One thing I learned is that, if you’re single, try your best to make single friends, too. I had a couple of friends that I made while in Saudi Arabia. One was in a relationship and the other was single, like me. It was easier to explore and go out with my single friend because her schedule was more open. The friend in the relationship had obligations to her significant other, therefore making spontaneous trips downtown less likely to happen. It’s not to say that you should avoid making friends that are in relationships – while abroad, making any kind of friend is great (if they’re a good friend, of course!) Although, having single friends will allow you more time to explore, especially when you don’t want to go at it alone.
You Won’t Have Fun If You’re Not Open-Minded
While I was in Saudi Arabia, there were a group of women I knew who complained about everything. They were only in Saudi for the money and free boarding, but didn’t care to learn about the culture, learn the language, or experience any of what the country had to offer unless it was on a Western compound. All they did was complain about how they missed their own countries. These women, frankly, were unbearably annoying. Why come to a country if you have no interest in it? If you’re not open-minded, if you’re not up for the challenge of something new and different, you’re absolutely not going to enjoy yourself.
It’s important to realize that, unless you move to a country similar to your own, the culture may be incredibly different. You will experience culture shock – that’s normal – but regarding your own culture or country as superior isn’t going to make your experience worthwhile. In fact, you’re just going to end up miserable. That’s what happened with those women I mentioned. They believed Saudi culture was inferior to their own and constantly ridiculed the people and traditions – the same people who were paying them and allowing them to live there.
Don’t be like these women. Being open-minded and being accepting of daily challenges in your new home is the key to enjoying your time there. You’ll have more fun when you’re genuinely interested in learning about the culture, traditions, and languages of your new country.
Your Self-Confidence Will Grow
At some point in your journey, you will make a great discovery about yourself. One day you’ll look at yourself and realize that you are amazing. Self-confidence grows in situations where you learn more about yourself. How could it not grow when you’re displaying such strength and courage? Moving abroad as a single woman teaches you things about yourself that you never knew you were capable of. You learned what you can handle. You learned that you’re capable of taking care of yourself, and that all the doubt people had in you and you had in yourself had no basis.
What you’ll gain is a recognition of your abilities. When the going got rough, you went out and tackled it head on. You will go through some lows, maybe even the lowest you’ve ever gone through. I can’t even begin to explain some of the problems I went through. I honestly thought that I would never get out of it. But I did, and you will, too. No problem that we will ever go through in life will be more than we can bear. Whatever you face, you’re going to get through it. As such, the confidence you will have in yourself, and in your ability to take care of yourself, will grow exponentially.
One last thought…
Always remember that what you’re doing isn’t new. Women before you have traveled solo, survived, and returned to their home country. They return with not only cherished memories and experiences, but also with a substantial amount of personal growth. What you’re doing isn’t groundbreaking, so don’t be afraid to go out and do it yourself. If you do, you’ll end up with an invaluable set of experiences.
Are you moving abroad as a single woman? What are some of your experiences? Did you go through, or are you currently going through, self-doubt or hesitations? Leave your comments below! Don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter for more updates!