By Marie Menini
Two years ago, I experienced an amazing trip that I would not have dared to do on my own. For my 30-year-old birthday, my friends gave me a blind trip in Europe. I had already travelled alone, but never with any preparation either without knowing the destination I was going to!
The only thing I had to do was to book the days I wanted to travel, study a list of essentials in order to prepare my bag, and then wait… Only a few days before my departure, I received an envelope with the only instruction to open it when I would be at the airport Charles-de-Gaulle at the day and time I was asked to. Day D arrived and I opened the envelope. Surprise! I was sent to Ljubljana… Ljubljana! Slovenia!
I was so surprised that I immediately started daydreaming but also felt my heart pounding. I really liked to imagine me as an adventurer leaping into an unknown world. I had organised nothing for this trip and the only thing that remains for me to do was to connect to the present moment.
However, once I was landed at Ljubljana airport, I had to face the facts. I was in a country that I knew nothing about. I hadn’t read anything, I didn’t know how to say “hello” or “thank you”, and was unable to geolocate myself. I’m not sure if it’s about being a woman, but one of the first questions I asked myself was if I would be able to walk around or have a drink at night on my own safely.
I trusted myself
I had no other choice than to let it go, trust myself and use my intuition. What is wonderful is that I in fact applied the advices that any woman travelling alone can be provided with. What was good in this experience is that I didn’t intellectualize about my trip and didn’t anticipate my fears either my shyness.
I located myself in my new environment
One of my first impulses was to search Slovenia on Google maps. Once I arrived in Ljubljana town centre, a local guide was waiting for me for a one-hour meeting where he was going to give me tips and a map of the city (part of my friends gift). Honestly, I would have preferred to do without him as he was paid to make the conversation and it has nothing really natural and sincere.
But in any case, the first thing that a single woman can do when she travels on her own in an unknown city is to go to the tourism office, get a map and book a city guided tour.
Locating me helped me discovering the city, its history, arts and architecture and assimilating its streets and areas. I was reassured to recognize the location of my Airbnb apartment; the main streets and the areas where I was going have a coffee in an outdoor-café, listen to a concert or wander along the river.
I took the time, observed and could share some words with people
I instinctively wandered towards remote little streets. I sat in a café that has nothing pretty. Tall bearded men were drinking pints of beer at 4pm, which piqued my curiosity. Rock atmosphere. Punk music playing. I ordered two lattes even if it was going off topic and took time to scrutinize a city guide that I bought in a bookshop in the same street (in French!).
I observed the beer drinkers. I have to say that it was already culturally interesting. The waitress was thin with short height. I also observed her and I found her sweet and receptive with her customers which motivated me to engage a conversation when she came to cash my payment. She gave me information about concert places and a unique artistic place that I had to discover absolutely (read my article on my solo trip to Ljubljana).
I asked frankly: as a woman, can I walk around safely at night?
I frankly asked each person I met or shared some words with in Ljubljana if it was a safe city. Every time I was answered with a self-assured yes. And even if someone has already confirmed it, I kept asking the following person I met. As a woman, this is a very important question that we have to dare to ask. It definitely boosts self-confidence. But it is also something people care about and are concerned with. Each person you ask about it will spontaneously give you more information, itineraries to take, good spots and places to go, nice bars to have a drink, etc.
I let people come to me
To be honest: I am a shy woman. I am a woman who laughs out loud; I have many subjects of conversation when I’m with my friends. But when I’m in a new territory with no familiar faces, I am definitely shy.
After this blind trip, I think I can say that when people meet a solo female traveller they pay a great attention to her. And finally, when we think about it, a woman is not that much isolated when she travels on her own. We have dozens of opportunities to exchange with strangers and get tips or ideas of outings and tours.
During my trip, which lasted 3 days and a half, I met and chatted with seven people (excluding waiters and cashiers to whom I only said “hello” and “thanks bye!”). Really, I didn’t do anything special to engage the conversation. I never find any subject of conversation anyway; and I even think that I avoid raising attention on me as if going towards a stranger was making me vulnerable… “Hey! I’m a woman and I’m travelling on my own! Attack me!”
So, in the taxi that was driving me from the airport to my apartment, I decided that I should ignore my inner prevarications about my shyness and let people come to me. I would not go forward but I would not hide me either. If I had the opportunity to chat with a local person, I shall take advantage of it and open my mind to welcome it with serenity and curiosity.
I literally asked nothing to the people I met in Ljubljana (except to the waitress in the bar of the bearded men): the collective taxi driver, the second passenger of the collective taxi, Agustín, that I would meet again the day after during the guided tour and who would walk around the streets with me all the afternoon, the waitress, the city guide and Evil Eve, an artist who owns a shop of its self-made jewellery and leather accessories. They came to me, showed me some interest and asked me questions. As I was answering with curiosity and a smile, they gave me many good addresses and useful information.
Sincerely, this blind trip was one of my best solo travelling experiences. I discovered myself as much less shy and nervous than I was convinced to be. I trusted myself, and let things go. And therefore I gave me the chance to live something unique: spontaneous and gentleness encounters.
Several destinations are ideal for solo women and other are simply not recommended. But adopting a pragmatic vision, mobilising both my intuition and my self-assurance, helped me take full advantage of my trip and meet people like I never did before.
So girls: trust yourselves and be aware, ready to welcome the present moment!