Female solo travel, three words that are either taken with complete shock doused with fear or with complete and utter bravado. It is well known that we live in a very crazy world, one in which terrorist attacks have become the norm and many people fear for their safety on a regular basis. This fear not only keeps people from traveling, but it keeps young female travelers from traveling solo. However, in my opinion, we must keep traveling, especially as young female travelers. This is the attitude I decided to take on for my trip to Cork, Ireland and then later in Dublin, Ireland.
I didn’t want my fear of the unknown to stop me from pursuing my travel dreams. As I was unable to meet up with some friends in Dublin that I would be traveling with later on in the week, I decided to head to Cork first, meeting them there and then tackle Dublin all by myself at the end of the week.
So, I decided to get to Cork one day earlier than my friends and start to explore on my own. I was quite nervous, this being my first time really traveling by myself, especially with everything that has been happening in Europe lately. However, I know that I am smart enough to be vigilant and cautious, paying extreme attention to my surroundings 100% of the time, so I booked the tickets despite my fears and tackled my adventure with full force.
I took an Aer Lingus flight from Paris Charles de Gaulle to the Cork Airport. That was easy enough. I’m well versed in how airports and planes work, so there was no problem in that. Then, I took a bus from the airport to the city center after having kindly asked the woman at the information desk the best way to get to the city center. (Now, I will say that it did help that the first place that I decided to travel solo does speak my native language.) Then, having looked up directions to my hostel before leaving my apartment in France (which was thankfully only a 5-minute walk from the bus station), I proceeded to get to my hostel and to check in, still without any problems. Thankfully, by this point, I was starting to relax, feeling confident in myself and my abilities. I am an adult after all, an adult who has traveled a good amount of times to know at least a little bit how things work.
After having settled in my hostel (I must be honest that traveling solo does make carrying your bags up three flights of stairs rather difficult, however, it can still be done.), I took to the city. I had looked up directions from the hostel to the tourist information center to acquire a map. Having found the info center, I found it to be closed, though not surprisingly so as it was late Sunday afternoon, just as practically everything else was.
So, what did I do next? I just let my fears go and just started walking. I had a general idea of what the city center looked like, its size, and some of the different key sites and places, having done some research on the city before my travels. So, I just started walking, embracing this idea of female solo travel in an unknown city. No one looked at me funny. No one even talked to me. After all, for all they knew, I was probably just another local. Not only was it invigorating, but it was empowering. Here, I was accomplishing something that many people either frown upon, fear, or don’t understand. I didn’t want to let my fears control me. I wasn’t going to stay holed up in my hostel for almost an entire 24 hours before my friends arrived in the city. I was going to take the opportunity to do what I wanted, to explore the city in the way that I saw fit, without compromises, without having to give up seeing specific parts of the city because other travel companions didn’t want to. I felt free. I had my own schedule. I only saw the sites I wanted to see, and I only stayed certain places for as long as I was wanting to, for a short while or a long while.
Though I didn’t go into any museums or buildings or anything as it was Sunday, therefore basically everything being closed, and as I did know that my friends would want to explore those places with me, I just simply walked the length of the city center and outside of key sites just to get a feel for where everything was and a feel for the city itself.
Now, of course, a girl does have to eat at some point. This was the part I was most nervous about, mostly because I was unsure of the tipping practices in Ireland. I had done some research online before starting my adventure, but it was still unclear. So, I decided to play it by ear.
I found a small pub, because I really wanted to get some fish and chips, and when I walked in, I almost left, as it was almost completely empty, as I was the only female in there besides the bartender, and as I was the youngest person by at least 10 years. I felt as though I stuck out like a sore thumb, but I told myself no. I was not going to chicken out. I was not going to starve for the night because I was afraid of encountering an awkward situation. No, I was going to eat, by myself, in a foreign pub in a foreign country. So, I walked forward and asked the bartender if they were serving food, as it was only just after 6pm (in France, most places don’t start serving food until 7pm. That’s just how the French roll.) She smiled and gladly answered yes. Thank goodness. I didn’t want to have to awkwardly leave because they weren’t serving food.
So, I sat by myself at the bar, drinking my Guinness and eating my fish and chips. I started relaxing again. No one asked me why I was by myself. No one even asked me at first sound of my accent where I was from and what I was doing in Cork. It was so freeing, and it made all of my fears just fade away. The bartender was quite lovely as well. She eventually asked me where I was from and what I was doing in Cork. The fantastic thing about this was that when I told her I was from the Indianapolis area, she not only knew where it was but will be attending one of Indianapolis’ most well-known and busiest events of the year, Comic-Con, in August this upcoming summer. This absolutely blew my mind and made me realize how small this world really is. This is the beauty of travel to me. You never know just how truly close you are to the other people on this planet until you start to learn their stories. It’s amazing, and it makes my longing for travel even stronger.
After having eaten, I retired back to my hostel early, as I was exhausted and felt like hunkering down with a book.
The next morning, after having checked out of my hostel and stored my luggage until I checked back into the hostel with my friends, I went in search of a coffee shop. Again, I was nervous of standing out. However, I found the most amazing coffee shop, called Three Fools Coffee, in the middle of the main shopping street in the center of Cork City. Being a small square building in the middle of the main middle walking median, I decided why not. It was open, and I saw mustaches everywhere! Apparently, this is basically a mustached themed coffee shop. I had to enter.
I was the only one in there (due to the fact that I was still running on France time, aka an hour ahead of Cork and the rest of Ireland, without realizing it. So, as I thought it was almost 9am, it was actually almost 8am. oh well…) But again, the guy working was really nice, answering my questions about the coffee and not even commenting on my accent. It was so lovely! I’m always pegged as a tourist/expatriate anywhere else because apparently my accent is considered heavy, so everyone can always tell. So, needless to say, it was heaven not to be constantly asked very first thing where I am from and what I am doing there.
So, I grabbed a coffee (which was normal sized, not like the little espresso shots France and most of the rest of Europe calls coffee in lieu of espresso like we do back home in the States. To clarify, in France, and most of Europe really, espresso = coffee, coffee like back home in the States = Americano). So, yes even though there is almost the same amount of coffee, technically, in an Americano as there is in an espresso, I just like to enjoy my coffee. Coffee is like a hug in a cup to me. I love enjoying it slowly while I read or write, which is exactly what I did here, once again enjoying this whole idea of solo travel. I had plenty of time before I had to meet my friends at the train station, so I could stay there to read, to write, and to drink my coffee as long as I pleased. It was, again, invigorating, being on my own schedule without the pressure of having to constantly be somewhere. I was, after all, on vacation.
After having stayed there, doing the above-mentioned things and seeing many locals in action as they came and left the coffee shop, for about two hours, I went on my way to explore the city some more before meeting my friends at the train station. At this point, the sun starting coming out a bit, and I just soaked it in, having found a small park to sit in for about twenty minutes or so. It was here that I did some reflection.
Why are we so afraid of traveling alone, as females? Yes, I am sure there are some places that would just be extremely dangerous, even traveling in groups. Yes, I am sure I would avoid this places. However, in my opinion, as long as you stay away from sketchy areas and don’t put yourself in questionable situations, what is the big deal? Female solo travel gets a lot of flack because females are seen as fragile and more likely to be taken advantage of. Though this can be true in some situations, I feel this is even more of a reason to travel alone as a female.
In my experience, traveling alone strengthens you. You get to see the world through your own eyes without the influence of fellow travel companions. You take more precautions because you are alone, which in turn makes you even more stronger and more adept at taking in your surroundings. I felt as though I really saw part of Irish culture because I wasn’t shielded by the perceptions and ideas of fellow travel companions. I just saw what was put in front of me. Of course, I would have to dig much deeper to really get a feel of the Irish culture. One day of solo travel is definitely not enough, but being able to take in my own observations privately, at my own pace in my own way really felt so powerful and really made me feel like I was in the country I was visiting.
I was forced to interact with the man at the coffee shop and the woman at the pub because I didn’t have travel companions to talk to, thus I was more able to get to know the local culture through them.
I have really embraced solo travel, and I think I’d like to do it more often. I felt more aware of the local culture in Ireland, having to take it all in by myself, than I have been with other places that I’ve experienced in the past. I also learned how to deal with fatigue and discomfort more and in better ways because I only had myself to rely on. It also made my self-perception and my sense of confidence more clear and higher because I had accomplished traveling by myself in a foreign country. Thankfully, Ireland speaks my native language, so I should try a country where they don’t to really challenge myself, but I did it.
So, why is it that we are so afraid, as women, to travel alone, or why is it there is such a negative stigma around female solo travel?
Travel is about strengthening yourself as a person, getting to know the world we live in, and using that knowledge to better ourselves, so why not do so on an individual basis, where the results are so much higher and better?