I was recently asked for advice by someone who was considering solo traveling as a female. I don’t have a lot of female-specific advice, but here’s a nugget or two that applies to all of us.
Take a picture of where you are staying. Write down the address. Make sure you can pronounce the name. Then, go get lost. All the best places are down little side streets. They’re bars populated with locals who know the lesser traveled corridors, or local food stands. Nobody has a great story from the major tourist attractions. They all come at the end of authentically surrendering to the environment.
Don’t drink anything you didn’t watch them pour.
Take pictures, but don’t make it about the pictures. I do think it’s important to bring back stories so you can show other people how amazing this big blue marble really is, but it’s also vital to put it down and let your sense do their work. I try to exercise the same rules as I do at a concert: it’s okay to snap at the beginning, but then you have to put the camera up and leave it up, unless the guitarist gets naked or something. You do want the special moments.
Let go of what you think is right, or normal, or even acceptable. The world isn’t for the soft-skinned or the easily-queasy. Concepts of sex and violence swing wildly from one end to the other, from puritanical to tyrannical. People eat weird things. They dress weird ways, if they dress at all. Language is different. You take your shoes off in some places. You sleep differently. It’s not about how you do it back home, and if that’s what you want, stay home.
As far as suggestions go, listen to people with some dirt on them. You don’t want advice from the couple that never leaves the safety of a cruise ship, so when someone like that tells you that Carlos and Charlie’s in Cozumel is the most amazing experience ever, you can brush that off. When the sun-bronzed captain of a barnacle-encrusted single-mast tells you that Dolphin’s Den in Roatan is his favorite dive site in the world, you write that shit down.
And more than anything, don’t be scared. Ask people who’ve really been where you’re going what they think. Be smart, but don’t say no to an experience just because your sheltered Aunt Sally can’t seem to turn the news off. This world is beautiful.
Go see it.