“Destination: Grabovac” read the crumpled 8×10 bus ticket in my hand. The driver yanked it from me and pointed at the open door to the bus.
I drifted between podcasts and music looking out the window of the winding roads of Croatia. Every 30 miles or so we would drive through a small town, but, for the most part, it was just fields, forests, and mountains in the distance.
When my podcast ended, I checked my phone to see where I was on a map. My heart sank. I was an hour walk from my original destination. I ran to the front of the bus and frantically yelled “Grabovac!” Apparently, each passenger was supposed to remind the driver to stop.
The bus driver swerved to the side of the road. He yelled something in Croatian, perhaps something along the lines of, “stupid American,” opened the door, and let me out. The bus sped away before the door was even fully closed. I looked around. I was completely alone.
My heart sank as my phone gave me the notification I only had 20 % battery left. And then sank even further when I realized I had left my charger at the last hostel. And this was definitely not a place I was going to find one. I started to walk in the opposite direction of the bus. While there were hotels and general stores everything was closed as it was December, off season. I cursed at myself. All I could think was, “traveling alone was a stupid idea, everyone was right.”
There was barely any room to walk along the road so I spent an hour walking on the side of a hill to not be hit by the cars. They would come flying past me every 15 minutes or so. The sun was starting to set behind me so I walked a little faster. My chest grew tighter as every hotel and store I passed was closed. All I could think was, “will my hostel be open?”
Thankfully, I had walked in the correct direction and made it to the hostel. While I was walking up the driveway, an elderly woman came down to meet me and started speaking in Croatian. I kept saying I did not understand; I began to panic. It was just about dark and perhaps there was a mistake. Perhaps the hostel was closed for the season. She grew more and more agitated and started to yell. Still in a language I did not understand. When I thought, I was going to cry a man came out of the house and said, ” do you have a reservation?”
“Yes,” I managed to squeak out.
He showed me to my room, I locked the door, checked my phone for the time but the screen was black. There were no other travelers staying there. And I could not be more elated. I was a solo female traveler and I had figured out the Croatian countryside all alone.
I spent five days in Croatia. And I wanted to spend two days in Grabovac to see the Plitvice Lakes National Park. Croatia can be difficult to navigate during off season. Buses run on their own schedule and taxis do not exist out in the country when tourists are scarce. I was nervous to take a bus out to the lakes because if the bus did not show up that night, I would be walking four hours in the snow, through the woods, back to the apartment. But the next day I took the chance and went anyway.
There is a beauty in being alone in another country. It is a type of solace one cannot find in one’s home environment. I spent the day hiking in the woods, completely absorbed in the mighty waterfalls and the serenity of the trails alongside the lakes. Toward the end of the day, I watched snow fall and softly strike the roaring thunderous waterfalls. And the best part? I did not have to worry whether anyone else was cold. I could sit an enjoy the sites for as long as I pleased. And as I sat on the bus headed toward the capital city I could not help but feel a sense of pride. I have never been very confident person or good at directions. However, I navigated through problems and the streets. I saw what I had come there to see.
Too many times as women we are told we cannot do something. We are told we should never be alone; we are told there is nothing but danger in the world, and we are simply told, “do not do that,” too often. To me, that means we have a lot of women growing up believing they are incapable, that the world is a bad place, and to put ourselves out in it is simply asking for trouble. So, we don’t risk it.
I had never been described as a confident person. When I told people, I would be traveling alone, the general reaction was shock and discouragement. But when I found myself alone in Croatia I only had myself to rely on. Triumphantly, I survived to tell the tale to some newly made friends at a bar in the capital city Zagreb afterward.
I am not delusional I understand the world can be a cruel place. I understand that unspeakable atrocities happen to people every single day. I am not advocating throwing all caution to the wind and putting oneself in harm’s way.
However, I am arguing we cannot expect the world to change and be a safer place if we are feeding unfounded fears. We cannot expect to raise a generation of women who are constantly being told the world just wants to hurt them to parade forward with their dreams confidently. While telling women, they should not do something comes from a place of caring it is doing women a great disservice. It is a disservice because there is a lot of beauty in the world. Women have as much right as anyone to see it. People need to stop shaming women for wanting to step outside their comfort zones.
I went on to see Spain and Iceland by myself as well. And after a little over four months of traveling, I flew back to the United States. When I landed, I did not feel the sense of relief and confidence I expected to feel when I returned home to an environment I knew. I had already found that somewhere along the road. I found it because I had traveled alone even though I was terrified. I found it because I did not listen to other voices and did what I wanted to do. I am a much stronger person because of it.