A reader asked how I cope with the fear of traveling solo — especially since I’m going to India alone in less than a week! I’m not a single female traveler, nor am I widowed or divorced. On the contrary, I’m a happily married woman going on a spiritual pilgrimage into the second half of life.
“I’m getting your Echoes of Joy newsletters, thank you, I like them,” says Emily on How to Decide If You Should Go Without Him. “I saw you’re going to India. Aren’t you scared to go alone? I’ve never traveled alone, only with my husband. We’ve been married for 22 years and I can’t go on a trip without him. Not even to the other side of the country because what if something happened? I’m curious how you cope with fear of traveling alone…or if you even get scared! Thank you again, God bless your travels.”
Yes, traveling alone to India as a woman scares me. But I’m more scared of dying unfulfilled and unhappy! I’ve always wanted to go to India, and I’ll be turning 50 years old in a few months. I have a feeling that traveling to India won’t get easier as time passes — whether I’m traveling alone, with my husband, or in a group of like-minded tourists.
It’s not traveling alone that scares me. I’ve traveled as a solo woman to New York City, Nashville, Maui, Montreal and Quebec City, and even parts of Africa (Zanzibar and Lamu, Kenya). But those places aren’t India. India, I hear, is a world unto itself. I’ve also read that traveling alone as a woman isn’t as dangerous as people think.
7 Things to Remember When You’re Scared to Travel Alone
Here’s the quick list of seven tips for women — as well as kids, teens, men and dogs (but not cats because they love their independence) — who are scared to travel alone:
- You will feel alone, scared and lonely while you’re traveling
- Borrowing trouble is a useless waste of energy
- You’re as alone as you want to be
- When you can ask for help, traveling alone isn’t scary
- Make decisions slowly, mindfully, and spirit-fully
- Traveling alone can be more enjoyable than traveling with others
- You can trust in the Roar of Something Greater
The most important thing to remember is the last travel tip: you can trust in the Roar of Something Greater to walk you through this trip. That Roar, for me, is God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is who I am following to India…and beyond. If you have a relationship with God, then you are in good hands.
Of course, “being in good hands” doesn’t mean nothing bad will ever happen to you! In fact you may be scared to travel alone to India as a woman because the last time you went, you were hurt bad. Or maybe you know other women who traveled in India alone and hated every step of the way.
Believing in God — or even having a deep, close walk of faith with Jesus Christ — doesn’t guarantee a safe, predictable journey (or life!). God does, however, guarantee the presence of the Holy Spirit. And you can’t get anything better than that.
1. You’ll feel alone, scared and lonely while you’re traveling
If I were to rewrite my old article How to Stop Feeling Homesick When You’re Traveling Alone, I wouldn’t call it “How to Stop Feeling…” I’d call it “How to Cope With Homesickness When You’re Traveling Alone.
If you feel homesick and scared, don’t fight it or try to stop feeling your feelings. Instead, allow those feelings to well up inside you and flow out of you. Your feelings might express themselves with a stint (or three) of crying or even angry outbursts. You may withdraw and hide under the covers. Maybe you’ll bury yourself in a jar of Nutella and a baguette, like I did on an overnight train in France.
The healthiest way to cope with your fear of traveling alone — including your loneliness — is to talk and write about it. Keep a journal, or share in the comments section of active travel blogs. Better yet, talk to people. Be honest about how you feel. You may be surprised at the compassion and comfort you receive.
2. Borrowing trouble is a useless waste of energy
Are you so scared to travel alone to India as a woman that you can’t even book a plane ticket, much less research sightseeing tours or getting the proper vaccinations? That was me. I’d decided to go to India even though I was afraid…and then I listened to the fear of the people around me. Some of it was valid: yes, there are protests in Delhi and yes, I may get “Delhi belly” even in the finest hotels. Yes, traveling alone is scary and I won’t know how to find the New Delhi train station, much less get on the right train to Varanasi!
So I decided not to go to India. I decided to go to Greece instead, or perhaps Jordan. Maybe even Japan. But India kept calling me…the spices, the maharajas, the palaces and sights and smells and people and spiritual practices…and I couldn’t ignore my yearning to travel to that crazy country. I was also haunted by a blog post I wrote a couple years ago, called Volunteer Work in India – How to Make It Amazing. That’s when I decided to stop wasting my time and energy being scared to travel alone to India, and get back to planning my trip. Freedom! Praise be.
3. You’re as alone as you want to be
Here’s a timeless truth for most women: the more you travel alone, the easier it gets. When I was 18 I wanted to hitchhike through Europe alone, but I was scared. So I convinced my younger sister to go with me. She had no desire to go to Europe, no money, and no motivation. I basically twisted her arm and forced her to go. No surprise that we fought most of the time! A young Frenchman even chastised us for wasting our precious time in France fighting like children. I realized that traveling with the wrong person is even scarier and lonelier than traveling alone…even in India, or Africa, or Afghanistan.
The perk of traveling solo is getting invitations to join other tourists, groups, and women traveling alone. I’ve often spent the day with people I just met — and I’ll never forget their faces or our experiences. Mary Jane in Egypt; two Canadians in Spain; a Dutch woman in Israel. Their names escape me, but their spirits are still traveling with me. And perhaps my spirit is still traveling with them. When you’re traveling alone, remember that you’re only as alone as you choose to be.
4. If you can ask a stranger for the time, traveling alone isn’t scary
I practice talking to strangers and asking for help all the time. “Can you tell me what time it is?” I’ll ask, slipping my sleeve down over my watch. And, “I’m sorry to bother you, but can you reach that bottle of Diet Pepsi off the top shelf?” The more I learn how to ask strangers for help — even with little requests — the easier it gets. Strangers are a lot nicer than you think.
My most valuable experience was getting from the Dallas airport to Plano, Texas. It was a long, long way and I didn’t want to pay for a cab. I hadn’t tried Uber yet because I was too scared and we don’t have it in Canada. So, I took a bus, then a train, and then two more buses to my Comfort Inn in Plano. It took almost 4 hours and lots and lots of talking to strangers…and it was the biggest, most conscious walk of faith I’ve ever taken. In hindsight it doesn’t seem scary at all. I just walked around Texas and asked people for help. And they were so helpful! People were so nice.
A guy on the subway in New York City was even nicer; he actually gave me his subway pass when I asked for directions. He even apologized because it only had 3 rides left on it! See the gifts and blessings that come when you ask for help? Don’t just ask people. Talk to God. Don’t just ask for help. Invite the Holy Spirit to guide every step you take.
Are you traveling solo somewhere in Southeast Asia? Read 10 Things You Need to Know About Traveling in Vietnam.
5. You have permission to make decisions slowly, mindfully, and spirit-fully
It’s important to know how to ask for help when you’re traveling alone as a woman — whether you’re in India or visiting a new-to-you neighborhood. But it’s just as important to know who to ask. I don’t go to the first person I see when I need help; often, I’ll approach them slowly and trust my intuition before speaking. Sometimes I’ll even cut the conversation short if I sense anything off. I’m not looking for obvious warning signs or danger signals; those are easy to read and run away from! I’m trusting my spirit and soul to tell me if I should continue the conversation or move along.
The more experience you have sensing and following your intuition, the safer you’ll be and the more confident you’ll feel.
Give yourself time to think, feel and sense before you make a decision. This is especially important if you’re scared to travel alone as a woman because predators can smell fear. They’ll pounce if they know you’re weak, desperate, or foolish. Never allow yourself to be pushed into a quick decision, regardless of who invites you on a tour, or gives you directions, or offers to help you.
6. Traveling alone can be more enjoyable than traveling with others
When I travel alone, I’m rarely scared. Sometimes I’m lonely; often I’m energized, almost elated. Everything is brighter and more vivid. The food, the people, the sounds and smells and sights and scenes. I’m focused and aware. I can watch people without having to make conversation, wander down streets and into shops, eat street food, hop a train and go to the next village. It can be helpful to focus on the benefits of traveling solo if you’re scared to travel alone.
Here’s an example of a perk of a writer traveling alone: I discovered a real-life Spectacular Spectacular in India, from January 23-27! And I’m officially registered. It’s more formally known as the annual Jaipur Literary Festival — also dubbed “The Greatest Literary Show on Earth” and a “sumptuous feast of ideas.” My travel guidebook says it’s the “world’s biggest free literary festival.” I wouldn’t drag my husband to this festival because he’s not a writer, but I can’t wait to go.
It helps to know the purpose of your journey. I’m going on a spiritual pilgrimage to India, which means I have to go alone. I need to be able to wander and daydream and pray and listen to the Holy Spirit. I need to follow that still small voice as I walk into the second half of my life. And to follow the voice of God, I need to be quiet. Present. Alone.
7. You can trust in the Roar of Something Greater
How’s your relationship with God? I’m not encouraging you to start believing or praying as ways to cope with your fear of traveling alone. I’m just asking how your heart is with God. Do you trust the Holy Spirit to lead, counsel and comfort you? Have you experienced Jesus in your life…and how are do you relate to him now?
I’m traveling alone to India as woman, and I’m a little scared. But I feel more curious than reckless, more energized than anxious, and more faithful than fearful. I trust the Holy Spirit to journey with me through India, to lead me beside the still waters even if I walk through the shadow of death, and to grow me through every experience.
Above all, I trust the Spirit to bring me home safely. And by “home” I don’t mean back to Vancouver, Canada. I mean to His arms…where my journey first began.
How do you feel about traveling alone? It’s okay to be scared. It’s not okay, however, to allow your fearful thoughts to control your yearning heart. My new motto, by the way, is “Wander. Witness. Write.” What’s yours?
If you have a health condition, read 7 Tips for Traveling Alone with Pericarditis for Women 50+.
In peace and passion,