Angelica Cardenas: Lessons From a Seasoned Solo Woman Traveler
By Vanessa Palencia
Traveling to exotic and unfamiliar places can be such an intoxicating experience. But traveling alone? That idea can seem both thrilling and intimidating. Especially if you’re a woman, because it’s a common perception that women traveling alone in a foreign country is an extremely dangerous enterprise.
Aren’t you scared?
What if something happens like in that one movie?
You won’t know anyone.
You’re going to be so far away.
These were only a few of the remarks Angelica heard when she told people of her intention to travel alone. But unlike most young women, Angelica has extraordinary levels of confidence, stamina, and zeal that propelled her to travel to many different countries alone within the span of two years! Growing up, she relished the idea of stepping foot onto unfamiliar territory and has always craved the adventure and excitement that comes with traveling abroad. So, in 2016, when she found out that she had friends going to Italy for the summer, she gathered all of the money she had and bought herself a one-way ticket. She didn’t plan on returning back home for awhile.
On a quest to figure out what motivated her to purchase a one-way ticket and how she overcame many of the typical myths and concerns that many women face as solo travelers, I sat down with her via Zoom and chatted about her thoughts, feelings, and tips for all other women who want to venture out into the unknown alone.
Surprisingly, when she first bought her one-way ticket to Italy, she didn’t have much of a plan. This worried her parents a little bit. Where are you going to stay? What about money? What about a job? These were just some of the huge questions they threw at her. She said, “I told them, ‘I don’t know right now, but this is what I’m going to do and I’m going to plan for it, do research, and go through with it.’”
All Angelica knew was that she wanted to stay there long-term, “I was planning to move to Europe,” she confessed. “But, you know, life happens, and I came back here,” she said. But in the year that she spent as an au pair in Italy, she was able to travel to various countries and learn many incredible lessons that not many of us can share first-hand. And while many of us might fret a bit at traveling in a foreign country alone, Angelica wasn’t. “I was excited!” she laughed. “I’m up for an adventure! And [I knew] going to a completely different continent would be a learning experience,” she explained.
Prior to traveling abroad, Angelica had only visited Canada and Mexico as well as parts of the United States with her family, but she was determined to not let fear get in the way of enjoying her time abroad. “The fact that I’m not going to know anyone out there and I’m going to be so far away from everyone I know and love. I was a little uneasy about that,” she admitted. “But I felt like with my personality and my mindset, I was always positive over traveling,” she smiled. But, like most solo travelers, Angelica went through a few scary experiences.
She recounted a very interesting and terrifying encounter she had with a man while she was on a train back home from Rome to Latina, Italy. “...There was no one else really on the train. It was just me and the entire cabin, and it’s empty,” she explained, “and this man boards on, and he starts talking to me.” Angelica admitted that in that moment she knew that this guy wanted to do something, but she wasn’t going to sit around and wait to see what happened. “He’s looking at me, and so I go on my phone and start typing in ‘What to do if someone tries to harm you or rob you on a train,’” she explained. “There are surprisingly a lot of videos and articles covering this stuff,” she exclaimed. She said that she immediately started searching for something that could act as a weapon, like her keys. “He starts asking me if he can sit right next to me, and I said, ‘you know what? No, thank you, I’m going to move,’” she revealed. Thankfully, the man didn’t follow her as she reseated herself in the cabin. “Nothing really happened,” she confessed, “but it was still really scary, you know? Because nobody else was there [in the cabin].”
While it may have seemed strange that the man wanted to sit right next to her when the whole passenger car was empty, Angelica realized that due to Italian men’s nature to be very forward in asking women out on dates and such, the man’s intentions could have been well-meant, but she still decided to take precautions. “He could have wanted other things as well,” she pointed out. “I was hoping for the best, that he would leave me alone, but he didn’t,” she went on. As a solo woman traveler, Angelica believes that it’s vital to be on your toes wherever you go.
From her experience, Angelica maintains that it can be dangerous out there for women traveling alone, including the United States. “Being a woman in Italy, specifically in the Rome area, if I’m walking around the city by myself, I do get targeted more because I am a young woman and I am by myself. And probably because I didn’t look Italian, so [I’m] an easy target,” she explained. Despite her various travels in other countries, she’s had a fairly pleasant travel experience. “As far as anyone threatening me or pick-pocketing me, I haven’t experienced that...but just because it hasn’t happened, doesn’t mean it can’t, right?” she said. Because of that, she continues to educate herself on self-defense and travel-safety procedures.
“[Traveling] can be dangerous for a man or a woman. It definitely helps to travel in groups if you ever do so,” she advises. She also informed me that some hostels offer free tours of the surrounding area, which can help you travel in a safer environment. “Especially at night because walking alone at night, man or woman, probably more so a woman, you can get targeted pretty easily,” she admitted.
Aside from the possible perils of traveling alone, Angelica experienced many wonderful experiences during her time abroad. She acknowledged that, “You can really learn something new about yourself in each location.” In fact, while she had a delay between Amsterdam and Iphofen, she utilized CouchSurfing and met a “totally cool guy” who showed her around. “He introduced me to the international students who were staying there for the university,” she explained, “there was someone from Spain, a few people from France. There were a lot of people from Italy as well. There was someone from Russia, and it was just such an experience because all these people were connecting through the English language.”
While she believes that it helps to be a bit of an extrovert to really get the cultural experience of the country you’re visiting, Angelica admits that it isn’t a requirement. But if you consider yourself an introvert or someone on the shy side, then there’s definitely a way to learn how to get comfortable with talking to strangers, because you never know when you’ll need to converse with a native.
“Explore your local city for, like, a day,” she advises. “Act like it’s your first time there, and don’t use your phone for a map,” she instructs. If you’re too familiar with your local town, then travel to a nearby city or somewhere else within your state to help you ease into traveling in a foreign place without the consistent help and reliability of your phone. Angelica strongly advises to try public transportation within your city as well to familiarize yourself with the way the system works so that it can be a little easier when you go abroad.
But most importantly, the one thing that can help women overcome their fear of traveling alone is through research. “Research, research, research. I can’t stress that enough,” she laughed. She encourages you to research the place and get as much information as you can. “[Research] like it’s a final, like you’re studying for a final, but...it’s not a pass or fail, you live it,” she stated. Angelica claims that all of the research you do really helps you plan for everything; the best and worst case scenarios. She also recommends researching self-defense so that you can travel more confidently and help ease the fear of someone trying to steal from you or harm you. “There’s a video I watched where the trick is, if someone was running off with your purse, all you have to do is hold on to it and sit down,” she smiled. “By doing that, you’re pulling all your weight so that this person who’s taking your purse has no other choice but to fall back to wherever your bodyweight is taking you,” she explained as she lifted her hands to demonstrate.
Overall, aside from researching the area you plan on traveling to and learning top travel-safety procedures, just enjoy your experience. “Be hopeful, be very positive, don’t assume bad things are going to happen, and it’s totally normal to be nervous,” Angelica listed. “It’s kinda scary but...just go into this experience with that knowledge and put those vibes out into the universe. Don’t assume the bad,” she emphasized. It’s important to understand the difference between preparing yourself and assuming the worst and educating yourself as much as possible so that you can enjoy your time traveling to the max.
And if it’s your first-time traveling abroad on your own, here are a few things Angelica recommends bringing. Sandals, if your staying in a hostel, because the floor can get grimy; hand sanitizer because you never know if a public restroom will have soap; a portable charger for your phone; and most importantly, extra money in the local currency kept somewhere safe on your person. She also strongly recommends that you don’t carry your passport, or any other vital documents with you because if someone steals your bag, your documents go with it. “The main thing is to be prepared for anything, but without overdoing it” she declared.
You can follow Angelica on Instagram at @angelcaaaa and join her as she embarks on another solo traveling experience this summer to many exciting and new countries! Meanwhile, check out these amazing solo women traveling Instagram pages that Angelica recommended where you can find helpful tips, info, and inspiration.