What does it take to be a lone female traveller?

I am not a flirt, at least not consciously. However, I am a woman who enjoys travelling by herself and will demonstrate her enjoyment of a moment with a confident smile. In some countries, this, in itself, is flirting. As I learned in Brussels when I asked a late night store owner where a coffee shop was, things do not always translate well from one tongue to the next. With a raised eyebrow he asked me So you do drugs? and he would not believe my feeble attempts to backtrack.

I never saw myself as the travelling type. I was ambitious, I was in a committed relationship, and the idea of going into unkempt hostels without the option of blow-drying my hair seemed, well, stupid. And then number two on my list of things fell apart, as did my youthful vanity. As life had proved itself to be surprising, I thought I might continue on the trend, go with the flow and surprise myself. So the day after I graduated, I jumped on a plane headed for London from Toronto, with a massive backpack and an excitement so marked that even the clouds from the plane looked different.

In the month following, I went through England and France, normally with a Canadian companion beside me. However, the transfer of buddies was not smooth, and I realized I had to navigate Paris and Lyon tout de seule. I was terrified as I caught the Eurostar two minutes before it departed. This terror led me to babble to my engaging seatmate, who calmed me with some wine as the train stalled. Suddenly, the trip was my trip. It was an adventure. I was one of those girls I never thought I could be! Entranced with Paris, I stayed out all night on a gastronomic and romantic introduction to the world of the sole female traveller. I soon learned that lone is not an adjective that can cling long to my name.

After being offered a job at a hostel I had stayed at in Canterbury, I returned home with a goal: Work, Sleep and Get Visa. I secured two jobs fairly quickly, and fortunately, one was at a coffee shop (oops Mr. Brussels I mean caf), which allowed me to fuel my exhausting days. With some sadly newly acquired romance and just enough money in the bank, I boarded the plane once again several months later. I found myself in Canterbury with only the expectation that I could meet great people. Indeed that did happen, but the idyllic picture in my head of Oh, you're Courtney? How exciting! Lets show you the town! did not fit the low-key, standoffish English sensibility that I immediately encountered. I was shocked, and quite frankly, left second-guessing myself. Why did I travel so far just to be by myself?

I soon realized that travelling alone, and starting over alone, means dropping preconceptions of other people, places and most of all, myself. After I had settled in awhile I felt comfortable to take trips to places like Barcelona. And I met fantastic people on each solo trip just because I was open to meeting them. However, for one who has lived in a city and was accustomed to a fairly social environment, the in-between moments were the scariest. I was confronted by silence and all that came with it, which is heavy stuff and not what I had signed up for. However, in those moments, I found out what I loved and hated. I also changed to occasionally prefer moments of thought, rather than constant social engagement.

The other day a work colleague at my new University job hung up her phone in frustration. Her husband had cancelled on her they were supposed to go to dinner and a movie. My response? Go anyway. It is always great to have a companion, but it can be just as nice to experience something without the worry of another's enjoyment. Travel is the best education, this I have found as I have personal memories of different countries, but more importantly, defined ideas about myself.