It’s 4 a.m. and my alarm is blaring.
The incessant beeping pounds through my headphone jack and reverberates against my eardrums. I half-climb, half-fall out of my top bunk and hit the floor with a thud. I cringe. Trying my best not to wake the sleeping backpackers in the dorm room, I grab my backpack and slip out the door.
The sun is just rising over Nice as I climb the hill to the train station. I have a full day of travel in front of me. I’ll be taking the TER, France’s slow trains, north through the countryside. I should arrive in Paris by late afternoon. “Should.”
We always prepare for our travels with the best intentions, but in my experience, things rarely go according to plan.
I doze all the way to Marseille. I disembark, board my next train, and promptly fall asleep once again. I wake up a few minutes before we reach Lyon, where I will switch trains yet again. I have a few hours to kill, so I grab a café au lait and a chocolate croissant at a café near the station. I pass the time eavesdropping on fashionably dressed women sharing the latest gossip, and top-hatted men hiding behind their black-and-white newspapers.
It’s nearly 11 a.m. when I stand up and shoulder my backpack, buckling it across my hips and chest. I leave the frothed-crested mug and crumb-filled plate behind.
“Madame!” A young man hollers after me. I turn around warily.
He is holding my purse.
My heart drops. I quickly snatch the precious bag that contains my phone, wallet, train tickets and passport—all of my most important items. “Merci,” I breathe, too frazzled to crack a smile.
I arrive at the platform and board the waiting train with five minutes to spare. I double-check the exterior; “Paris” is imprinted on the outside. I tuck into a compartment and swiftly fall back asleep, expecting that the next time my eyes flutter open I'll be greeted by Paris.
A few hours later, I'm roused from my slumber...in Marseille.
Alison Karlene Hodgins
Exhausted and confused, I stand on the platform, dumbly staring into space. In my foggy state, I numbly realize that my 7-hour journey has just become a 12-hour one. In Lyon, I boarded a train coming from Paris, instead of going to it.
By the time I finally arrive in the City of Lights, it's veiled in darkness and drizzling. Raindrops spit unevenly from the inky sky. I nervously shoulder my massive bag, all too aware of how loudly it screams “tourist!”
I hate arriving in a place after dark. Feeling exposed and vulnerable under the yellow streetlights, I check the directions to my hostel on my phone. I set off in one direction, trying to look like I know where I am going.
Paris during the day is an elegant, sophisticated place. At night, certain neighbourhoods exude an unruly, almost sinister feel. Prying eyes rack over my backpack, wondering what’s inside. I duck my head as whistles and cat-calls pervade the moist midnight air.
I find myself in Chinatown. Groups of men stand outside shops, arms crossed, sucking on cigarettes. They look me up and down.
I wander from alley to alley, earnestly searching for my hostel. I check my phone—but the battery is dead. My wet hair sticks to my forehead in tufts. I seriously contemplate folding up in a doorway to cry.
One more turn, and there it is. I'm flooded with warm relief. I close my eyes for a moment. The golden hues of Nice seem so much more distant than just this morning.
I check into my hostel, chuck my bag in a locker and stretch out on a lumpy mattress. I am too exhausted to notice the clanging noise beyond the thin walls or the train-like snoring of my new roommates. My last coherent thought before I am pulled down into a deep, peaceful sleep, is I made it; I’m okay.
Perceived and Real Thruthes
If you’ve ever travelled alone before, you’ve undoubtedly had a similar experience. On the road, there are inevitably going to be instances when things go horribly wrong. Even when things go just a little wrong, it can feel like the biggest disaster you’ve ever faced—because you’re facing it alone.
The truth about solo female travel is that it’s not nearly as glamorous as it looks on Instagram. Sometimes it’s scary. Sometimes it’s lonely. It is wildly unpredictable and almost always messy.
There are real threats in the world, and it's hard not to believe the majority of them target women. Cat-calling is uncomfortable. Being followed is terrifying. Physical aggression can be fatal.
Yes, men who travel solo have things to worry about too. But women have some more inherent vulnerabilities.
These dangers are heightened as soon as you are removed from your comfort zone. Or at least it can feel that way. When you are travelling, you are out of your element. The streets, the culture, the people and the language are all foreign to you. What is exhilarating during the day may become perilous at night.
When you find yourself in an unnerving predicament at home, you can call a friend or family member for help. When you’re travelling the world alone, you’re it. You have to learn to rely on yourself. You have to be enough for you.
Solo female travel will change you—for the better. Scary situations make you smart. Feeling lonely makes you more independent. Sticky situations teach you to laugh at yourself. Constantly changing plans forces you to be flexible and to go with the flow.
Even in overwhelming moments—no, especially in them—you are learning, changing and growing. Like the night I stumbled into Paris, alone and out-of-sorts, it’s these moments that reveal how you handle stress. It’s these challenges that test your character. It’s these unplanned solo travel experiences that show you who you are, and, in turn, let you decide who you want to be.
Are you a solo female traveller?
Can you relate to Alison?
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