Risk vs. reward: traveling solo

Emma Tembreull

My first draft of this piece came fresh off a red-eye flight from Los Angeles after a wedding I worked in Malibu, California. The day prior, I was photographing in Sedona and eating acai bowls in Chandler, Arizona. I’m a 22-year-old female college student, and I travel alone and far very often.

re-solotravel-etI grew up with stellar parents that never failed to provide the proper family vacation experience, complete with grueling road trips across the Great Plains in a GMC suburban with no air conditioning. However, by the time I hit college, the farthest I’d ever ventured alone was my birthplace: Kalamazoo, Michigan.

A couple winters ago however, I decided to take a leap and purchased a plane ticket to Phoenix and Las Vegas for unaccompanied business endeavors. My grandma called, huffing anxiously to warn me against the various brands of lunatics I may encounter, or how I’d probably be abducted and sold as a sex slave in the black market.

My dad began nonchalantly dropping off-beat macabre stories, dealing with interesting things such as passing out and having your kidney stolen off the street in New Orleans. They both had incredibly legitimate concerns about very real issues, but I also feel others tend to weigh in very easily when it comes to solo travel, especially as a young female.

All of the things that could go wrong should scare everyone at least a little bit, but what in life does not have an associated risk? Then there’s the financial side. How the heck can a college kid manage to afford plane tickets alone when ramen noodles are their lifeline?

The good news is my kidneys are still perfectly intact, I haven’t been sold as a prostitute and my bank account doesn’t hate me. Even better, my recent adventures have tremendously enriched my understanding of humanity beyond “da north woods” we all know, and have fastened loose ends in regards to my personal identity.

Solo travel is simply beautiful and is almost guaranteed to help one adapt greater levels of empathy and smooth out internal issues one may have. When you pack up your car for a week for the mountains or fly to a foreign city, you’re deliberately immersing yourself in exhilarating new cultures and opening your mind in ways you couldn’t have ever fully imagined before.

Keeping safety in the front of my mind, my rule of thumb is to explore most during the day and find somewhere to cozy down by dark. Traveling smart and informed is essential. Research the rough areas of a city, ask locals via wise discretion for extra direction and understand the potential threats of the creatures of the woods you may be wandering in.

While I’m also a destination-wedding photographer and owe a lot of my traveling possibilities to my incredible clients, budgeting travel isn’t as expensive as people make it out to be.

Yes, our nearest airport has a single gate with limited flights, but sometimes a little extra research is all it takes to knock a few hundred dollars off a ticket. Sign up for price change notifications online, look for flights on less busy days of the week and check out other nearby terminal prices.

Hotel rates can also be financially stressful, but chances are there are hostels or AirBnB’s nearby if you’re in a city, and you can always opt to camp if you’re prepared and closer to the sticks.

There are certainly times I’m jabbed with a pricier rental car with the young renter fee attached, and occasionally I spend a little too much on a sushi dinner, but in the end, I never find myself regretting the experiences I’ve gained.

No money amount could ever equate to lightness in one’s soul when swimming under heat lightning on Coney Island after dark or warming up in a hot spring in the Sawtooth Mountains the morning after camping.