Traveling Alone as a Woman with Lu Colmenares
Updated: Sep 8, 2022
Lu Colmenares, Host of The Solo Female Traveler Podcast, on overcoming fears and how to "just do it" when deciding to travel alone as a woman.
Ever since my return from Italy, I have been devouring as much knowledge & advice about traveling alone as a woman as I can. I stumbled across Lu Colmenares's podcast, The Solo Female Traveler and was immediately hooked. Each week, Lu provides meaningful and encouraging travel knowledge either through interviews with inspiring women or from her own life experiences. Originally from Venezuela, Lu came to the USA as an Au Pair at the age of 22. By that time, she was already a seasoned traveler. Lu has since become a US Citizen.
When I decided I wanted to write a series of articles on inspiring female travelers, I knew I needed to reach out to Lu. A week later, I was catching up with her over Zoom. Lu, from her home in Chicago, where she has lived for the last 4 years, and myself in my new home office in California. Although we come from different backgrounds, we share many common experiences and values. Both immigrants to the USA, both have gone through a divorce, and both have a desire to encourage women to find freedom and peace in traveling alone as a woman.
When I asked Lu what travel advice she would give to women on how to overcome fear or the stigma behind solo female travel, she said, "just go do it"!
Q&A with Lu Colmenares, the host of The Solo Female Traveler Podcast
HC: So, Lu, how did you get into your journey of traveling solo and then starting a podcast?
LC: Yeah, of course! I mean they are both connected but started at different times. Traveling solo started when I was in Venezuela and I just wanted to go out and travel but my family didn't have the same plans and my friends that I had at the time didn't have the same plans either, so I was just like, "Okay, I just have to make it happen", so I went on my own and it was even more interesting because I was a college student. I didn't have much money to do anything. Back then, this was over 10 years ago, but back then couch surfing was a thing, so I used to do couch surfing back in my Country, Venezuela.
HC: Wow! And I remember you mention in the first episode of season 4 of your podcast that your family didn't quite understand your desire to go to some of the places that you were going to and that they didn't quite understand why you were going alone. I have experienced that also with my family. What would be the advice you would give other solo female travelers about how to accept the fact that their families may not understand the lifestyle they have chosen?
LC: Yeah, just accept it! That's it. Easier said than done, right? I had that question in my mind for a long time. Why don't they understand? But there was a point in life, where I was just like, that's just the way they are and that's it. Like what am I going to do about it? Am I going to keep complaining or wasting energy on trying to understand their why? Do they have their whys, just as I have mine.
At the end of the day, it's your life and you are the only one responsible for your choices, not anyone else. Trust in yourself, do what you want, then deal with the consequences or rewards of those choices.
HC: Totally, I know that my family's concern about it is always going to be on safety. Which, safety is always a big topic of conversation when it comes to solo female travel. You mentioned in an episode about the taxi driver you met in Bali, that you just had a good vibe from him over other drivers, and you just knew you were going to be safe. Then he ended up taking you back to his home to meet his family and you had such an amazing experience. What advice would you give to women about following their intuition and gut feelings when it comes to safety?
LC: [laughs] Yes, that's a delicate topic. I don't know why almost everyone has this idea that where I am is safer than everywhere else. Of course, we have news and other people telling us stuff that give us the notion that everywhere else is more dangerous. But for example, I live in Chicago, there are a lot of things that happen in Chicago every day. I am from Venezuela, with one of the highest crime rates in the World, yet even my family that is in Venezuela says that somewhere else is more dangerous. Like with that taxi driver, I just felt it in my body that he had good intentions. I think one of the most important things about traveling solo is you get to that point where you connect so well with your body, with your "gut feeling", that your body can feel it instead of your mind. You just feel it in your body and go with it. I am just talking from experience, Hannah, your experience may be different, and someone else's may be different.
HC: Yes, right on point with what you are saying. You have those gut feelings in your hometown. A dark alley is a dark alley, whether it's here or there. You have that gut feeling like, maybe I shouldn't go down that dark alley in my hometown, I am not going to do it somewhere else. That gut feeling is going to transfer over no matter where you go. You just need to follow it.
LC: Yes, you just need to use some common sense! I think all this can come from ignorance, ignorance meaning a lack of acknowledgment of certain places and situations.
HC: I think more than the fear of being in a different country alone and my safety, my hesitations come from going somewhere that I don't speak the language so there is a language barrier. You came to America as an Au Pair, and you had to learn English to do that, but you have been to other Countries now where you don't speak the language, and English and Spanish is not the first language. So how do you overcome the fear of the language barrier? Do you pick up some keywords and phrases?
LC: Not really, when I did the long-term travel in 2018, I didn't really have a plan. I just knew that I would be landing in Vietnam but I didn't know where I was going to go after and I ended up going to other Countries. But first, you will be surprised at how many people speak English abroad. In the Philippines, the second language is English, in Thailand; they all speak English. Indonesia: a lot of the people speak English. Especially in tourist areas, almost everyone speaks English. Second, like Vietnam. Vietnam is a new Country in terms of tourism, so not a lot of English speakers there, but they are so advanced in technology. So, you have Wi-Fi everywhere and you can buy a SIM card for your phone at the airport to give you all these gigabytes.
HC: Yes, I have my international SIM card here for my next trip! I get them in advance so that I can switch the SIM in my phone the minute the plane touches down.
LC: That is smart to plan ahead like that. I have not done that, but I need to. Once you have the internet, you have Google Translate. You can speak into your phone, it translates it, they talk back, it translates it. I was able to have full conversations through Google Translate. I get the fear though, it's fear of the unknown. And when there is fear, we make up all the excuses in our heads as to why we shouldn't do something.
But you have to just do it! Once you are in the airplane all the fears start to disappear. It's always worse in your head.
HC: Yes, always worse in your head, exactly! I take one little fear, like a language barrier, and turn that into I am going to get lost because I can't read the signs, even though I know I have a SIM card that will give me access 24/7 to Google Maps. But like you said, we just have to figure it out and JUST GO DO IT!
LC: That's it, that's it! We are the ones that get in our own way. Do you know that speaker Gray Vee? He's just like, "just go out and do it". So I think, Oh Gary Vee told me to just go do it! What he says is so simple! Just do it!
HC: [laughing] Isn't that Nike? Yes, Nike is telling us to go! Just get out and go do it! The last thing I wanted to touch on is, that all my friends are married or have partners, I am the only single gal. I was married and divorced now.
LC: We are in the same club.
HC: Yes, you said you traveled by yourself even when you were married.
HC: This kind of leads into this, a lot of my friends that I talk to about my solo trips will say, "I wish I could do that but I'm married, that life is just for single girls". And I think to myself, I don't think it is. Do you have any words of advice or wisdom for women in relationships who feel a sense of responsibility or feed into the stigma around "only single women, can be Solo Female Travelers" when it is not true?
LC: I know many travel influencers that are married, and they are fine. From my own experience, it is all about really wanting it. For example. it's like fitness, if you are really into fitness and you want to go to the gym, but your partner isn't into it, you would have a talk with your partner and say "can we be apart for an hour while I go to the gym?" It's kinda the same thing to a different degree. If travel is something you want to do and it is going to help you stay grounded by yourself, then having that talk with your partner is really important. Again, it all comes back to really wanting it. You share that with your partner in an assertive manner and they should be understanding. If there are concerns, like safety, then maybe you travel to that destination first together. Also, the way you approach it is very important. Understanding any concerns that your partner might have as well. Then try to work with them so you both are comfortable.
HC: And check-in, when you are away, checking in with your partner or family, let them know you are okay. Send a photo, and maybe say, "Hey just checking in, I miss you, maybe we can come back here together."
LC: Yeah, of course! When you are there, constant communication.
And of course, trust is very important as well. You've gotta feel that trust.
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