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Hey Adventurers! I’m back with another awesome solo female traveler for you to meet! I caught up with Carrie Mann of Trains, Planes and Tuk Tuks to talk about my favorite subject: solo travel, of course! Carrie is a woman after my own heart, as you’ll see when you read her account of befriending a group of villagers in Laos.
Where are you from, and where are you currently residing? I’m American — originally from New England, but I’ve lived in Washington, DC my entire adult life.
Where is your next destination? I’m deciding between Kyrgyzstan, Indonesia, Nepal, or Peru for an early September trip.
How long have you been traveling? I’ve been traveling my whole life, but I took my first solo trip — to China — 7 years ago.
What’s on your bucket list? Current top-three are: 1. See the mountain gorillas in Uganda, Rwanda or DRC. 2. The Annapurna Circuit trek in Nepal. 3. Iran — when I can get a visa to travel independently.
What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you while traveling? Good crazy or bad crazy? (I have plenty of travel-fail stories if you want the latter…)
Five years ago, I did a jungle trek in Laos. After two days in the jungle, my group and I swam across a river to get to a Khmu (hill tribe) village for a ride back to town.
Our guide was from the village, and one of the other people in my group spoke a little Lao. So they conversed a bit and apparently reached the conclusion that we were all invited to the chief’s house to drink some Lao Hai (local moonshine) and be initiated into the village life.
The next thing I knew, I was sitting on this bamboo porch, in a circle with all the men in the village. In the middle, there was a giant urn filled with concentrated Lao Hai and two bamboo straws. The chief had a metal cup. The idea was you fill the cup with water, pour it into the urn to dilute the liquor, and drink until the liquor level is back to where it was before you poured in the water. So we went around in a circle and everybody drank from the urn. We sat around chatting (or mostly hand-gesturing for communication) for about an hour.
It sounds like a little thing, but even in the moment, I was thinking “I can’t believe this is happening. This is the 21st century. People don’t spontaneously gather on porches in the middle of the afternoon to initiate a handful of strangers into their village.” But there I was — the only woman in the group — in this village with no cell phones, no computers, (probably no electricity), joking and laughing with these strange men who spoke no English. We didn’t even pull out our cameras. It was a travel experience I never could have dreamed of.
What’s your favorite place in the world and why is it so great? It may not sound that exciting, but I really love Mexico. I’ve been three times and still want to go back.
In terms of sights, it has everything — an ancient wonder of the world (Chichen Itza), amazing beaches, fascinating museums, jungles, volcanoes…you name it. I could spend months exploring Mexican history through Diego Rivera’s murals alone.
It’s also culturally fascinating and unique. The food is good. It’s cheap to travel in and easy to get around. And no two parts of the country are the same.
On top of that, the whole country just exudes a good-times vibe. When I step off the plane, I can feel the stress of travel bounce right off me. People are friendly, but more than that, it’s just a much more laid-back place than the U.S. — and only a three-hour flight!
What lessons have you learned from travel? The big one is “don’t panic; everything is going to be fine.”
When you travel alone on a tight budget, sometimes things don’t go your way. Hotels might be full. Restaurants might be closed. Buses could break down. You might have a hard time pulling together a good group of people to do an adventure tour with.
Travel helps put these minor annoyances into perspective. As long as my safety isn’t at risk (and it’s very, very rare for my safety to be at risk), I’ve learned to avoid freaking out, stay clear-headed and solve the problem, then laugh it off.
I’ve applied that lesson at work and in relationships with friends and family. A big project doesn’t go my way? While I might have once been tempted to hide in the bathroom and cry, now I use it as a learning experience and let it go.
On a less serious note, I used to be extremely shy. Travel taught me to not worry so much what other people think of me and just dive in and talk to strangers.
How do you combat loneliness when traveling solo? I actually feel like I spend less time alone when I travel solo than when I travel with friends or family. I meet more people. I think when you’re alone, you look more approachable to strangers.
I’m often an object of locals’ curiosity — especially local women. They’ll chat with me, show me around, or invite me to spend time with them and their families. I also usually stay in hostels instead of hotels, since it’s easier to meet other backpackers. Finally, public transportation — trains and buses — are great places to make new friends. I just look for anyone else with a beat-up backpack or suitcase and ask where they’re headed!
What advice would you give a woman who wants to start traveling but is struggling with doubts and uncertainties? I have doubts and uncertainties every time I get on a plane, so I know how you feel. But the hard parts are deciding to go and getting there. Everything kind of falls into place after that. After all, walking around, visiting museums, eating great food, going to the beach, and enjoying nature are not exactly hardships. You may never feel fully prepared — but that’s okay, you don’t have to be. People will help you. So just go!
Also, recruit an encouraging friend to watch you buy your plane ticket. When the doubts creep in, they’ll put you back on track!
Here are all the places you can follow Carrie and her adventures:
There you have it- Don’t panic; everything is going to be fine! Definitely words to live by. Now I think I’ll go find some friendly villagers myself. Or at least some moonshine… Happy adventuring, Carrie!
PS, definitely go see those gorgeous Ugandan gorillas. Standing face to face with one of these incredible creatures was the absolute highlight of my entire life. You can read about it here.