Oberlin Blogs

Thoughts on solo travel

January 4, 2016

Esther Espeland ’17

My classes in Argentina ended three weeks before my return to the States, meaning with just enough money left, I could do some traveling. Many of my friends were doing big trips to Patagonia, but I wanted to travel, by myself, to northwest Argentina, close to the Bolivian and Chilean borders, where there were large indigenous populations and a culture very different from Buenos Aires.

In planning my trip, I was particularly inspired by the books I was reading. Inés del alma mía by Isabel Allende and the Diaries of Anaïs Nin both feature powerful, independent women and their fierce introspection into womanhood and femininity. This sounds silly, but I also wanted the opportunity to focus inward, and a solo trip to the northern Andes would be the right opportunity. Because of some previous bad experiences, I spent a lot of my semester in Argentina reflecting on sexism and rape culture, and wanted to push myself beyond the limitations placed on my gender. Traveling solo is much more dangerous for women than men, and while I understood that I was putting myself at risk by being alone, I wanted to prove to myself that I could have meaningful experiences as a woman by herself.

Field with mountains behind it
View from a hostel.

Of course, after I had attached so much personal meaning to my trip and was blissfully alone, experimenting with self-fulfillment in the Argentine mountains, did I get crippling food poisoning for the first time in my life. I will spare the details, but I spent at least half of my six-day trip, not reflecting on my womanhood while hiking through the Andes as I had planned, but violently vomiting in my hostel. Is this a metaphor? The gloriously independent young woman suddenly reduced to her most primal need of finding a trashcan to barf into? I prefer not to think so. Just a darkly humorous coincidence, I hope.

Covers pulled up to her chin, Esther's eyes are closed but she has an unexpected grin.
Delirious in my sick bed.

Despite this (major) setback, I loved traveling alone. I had the luxury of only doing what I wanted to do and indulging my every impulse. No one to tell me that the religious artifacts museum is boring. No one to be annoyed with me for accidentally sleeping past checkout time. I'm Very Type B and loved not having a preplanned itinerary for every day of my trip.

An ornate church front with columns, arches, and latin words
Gorgeous Franciscan church.

Additionally, traveling alone opened doors to making new friends. A shy-ish gal, I'm not so good at talking to new people, but going solo forced me to be. At my hostel in Salta I had the amusing experience of being the only female guest, and ended up smoking cigars and drinking beers with a bunch of 40-year-old Dutch men late into the night.

In another city, San Salvador de Jujuy, I was waiting in line for the ATM when a small old man as wrinkly as a raisin asked me about my day. After a conversation about food poisoning and altitude sickness (the only thing on my mind at that point), he invited me back to his house for tea. I ended up staying for three hours, talking about everything from his great-grandchildren (he's 92) to the 2001 Argentine economic crash. I'm always amazed at the kindness of strangers and will not forget how lovely this man was.

On a mountain with a town behind her, Esther eats a grape popsicle.
Powerful independent women eat popsicles when they reach the top.

In addition to the adventures I had, I also discovered that I really like being by myself: my main girl Esther, she is a fun one to travel with! It was reassuring to know I could take care of myself both in times of joy (hiking!) and times of hardship (barfing!) and was able to find fulfillment in being alone. Even though I still have three semesters left, I'll have a lot more experiences by myself after graduating, and that's become a lot less scary for me after my solo adventure.

Stunning red and orange clouds over a mountain


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