A Fulbright Scholar, Veronica Beaver is currently in her second year of teaching in Madrid. In this week’s Women Who Travel Solo, Veronica Beaver talks solo travel in Turkey, WWOOF in France and shares her love of Spain.
How did you get started traveling?
My first big trip was when I was 13-years-old. I was invited to participate in a People to People Student Ambassadors trip to France, Italy, Monaco and Malta. Although I don’t remember everything from the trip, I guess you could say I was bit by the travel bug quite early on in life.
What’s your favorite destination you’ve been to and why?
I have several favorite destinations. One of them is Galicia, the Autonomous Community of Spain located in the northwest corner of the Iberian Peninsula. I love the combination of nature, urban areas, and historical ruins you can see throughout the region. Also, the affordable food and wine doesn’t hurt!
One of my other favorite destinations is Cappadocia, Turkey. The natural landscape is one-of-a-kind and there is so much to explore in the region.
Tell us about your first solo trip.
My first big solo trip took place last summer while I was working at an English immersion summer camp in Istanbul. I had planned on going to Cappadocia, Turkey, during my 10-day holiday and I couldn’t find a travel buddy at work. I knew I would regret not going, so I decided to go at it alone.
I was really scared at the start of my trip to travel solo in Turkey, especially since I was traveling by night bus. I was afraid that I would feel uncomfortable or have trouble communicating. Luckily, Turkish buses are extremely comfortable and safe and my survival Turkish language skills helped me get around. Another thing that made me feel a little more comfortable is that on Turkish buses, men, bay, sit on one side of the bus and women, bayan, sit on the other. When I saw that there were solo female Turkish travelers on the bus, I felt a lot more at ease.
Once I got to Göreme, Cappadocia in the morning, I found my hostel, settled in and signed up for the first group tour. I was a little nervous since I didn’t know anyone, but I figured a group tour would be the best thing for me to do as a solo traveler. I ended up meeting other solo travelers and having a blast.They inspired me to see other parts of Turkey during my week-long holiday, so I decided to check out Pamukkale, a city in the Denizli province that is famous for its hot springs. After that, I decided to stay in Izmir for a few days so I could visit the famous ancient Greek city of Ephesus.
Since Izmir is a big city and I wanted to meet people, I decided to couch surf. I contacted my host the day before and we talked for a little bit on WhatsApp. I was still kind of new to Couchsurfing at the time, so I was a little worried. I was afraid that the girl would not be who she said she was. As a back-up plan, I had written down contact information for a hostel in the city center. Luckily, I did not have to resort to staying in a hostel. I met my host for dinner and she was very outgoing, polite and welcoming. I decided it was okay to stay with her.
I did not get to spend much time with my host on the first day, but I didn’t mind because it gave me more time to visit Ephesus. That evening, we went out for dinner again and she gave me a mini-tour of her city. The next day was a Saturday and my host didn’t have to work, so we spent the day together. Instead of staying in Izmir, we took advantage of our proximity to the Greek isles and went to Chios for the day. Overall, my first real solo trip was a huge success!
Tell us about your experience with WWOOF in France.
I think my most interesting trip was in the Alsace region of France where I WWOOF-ed. WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is a network of national organizations that connect volunteers with organic farms. To get involved in WWOOF-ing, you must first choose a country and then pay the membership fee for their WWOOF website. After you pay the fee, you have access to all of the contacts in that country.
I knew I wanted to go to France since I recently started studying French, but I wasn’t sure where to go, so I got in touch with farmers from all over the country. When I heard back from a couple living in Alsace, the region of France where my dad’s family is originally from, I jumped at the chance to discover my roots.
I spent a week in a gîte, or a furnished holiday house, with a French-German couple and two other WWOOF-ers in the Vosges Mountains between Colmar and Mulhouse. The couple lived in the spirit of permaculture, a permanent and sustainable lifestyle, and even generated their own electricity. During the day, we worked for three or four hours together in the garden. We cooked and ate all of our meals together. In our free time, we visited the town of Colmar, went hiking in the mountains and one day we visited a nearby dairy farm.
I’m really glad I did this trip alone because traveling with a friend could have limited me in some ways. Being on my own allowed me to interact with people-in both English and French-on a more personal level. Having someone else alongside me could have changed the outcome significantly.
What has solo travel taught you?
I’ve learned so many travel skills from traveling solo — everything from how to book hostels and transportation to how to navigate a foreign country with minimal language skills. Some of the most important things I’ve learned, however, have to do with myself and my travel style.
After a few trips with friends in which we went to new cities and rushed around to make it to every single tourist attraction, I felt tired and worn out. I enjoyed the trips, but they went by too fast and I did not get a good feel for the destinations. I’ve since traveled solo many times and I realized that I prefer doing things at my own pace and taking my time to enjoy myself and take in my surroundings.
Another thing the fast-paced trips with my friends made me miss out on was meeting locals. When you travel with large groups of people, it is very unlikely that you will meet others. However, once I started traveling alone, I’ve met more people and enjoyed my trips more. Also, thanks to Couchsurfing, I’ve been able to meet other solo travelers and even stay with locals.
Should women be afraid to travel alone?
No, I don’t think women should be fearful of traveling alone. That being said, of course, you have to keep in mind that in some ways, as a woman, you can be more vulnerable than a man and you could even be seen as a target. The important thing is that you research your destination thoroughly and prepare yourself for cultural differences and different situations you may find yourself in. For example, if you are traveling in the Middle East, you need to dress modestly. If someone bothers you or makes you feel uncomfortable, trust your gut and get away from that person immediately. You must always be aware of your surroundings. Use street smarts and common sense and you have nothing to fear.
What advice do you have for women who are traveling alone?
Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. Try new things. Even if you are not usually an outgoing person, make an effort to reach out. It is the chances we take while we are traveling that make our trip memorable.
What makes for the best travel memories?
When I think back to my best travel memories, they all have one thing in common: people. Whether they have been locals or other travelers, the people I’ve met in my journeys have inspired me and made me a better person. They’ve encouraged me to step outside of my comfort zone and conquer my fear of heights. They’ve taught me about the history of their cities and offered me a couch to sleep on. They’ve been there for me when I needed help and support in my travels. Some of them have only been in my life for one day and others have become good friends, but they have all touched me in some way.
Although I’m sure you have repeatedly been told not to talk to strangers, I encourage you to take a chance and talk to strangers while you’re traveling. Talk to the quiet girl cooking lunch in your hostel’s kitchen. Strike up a conversation with the Australian couple on your city tour. Ask a local for a restaurant recommendation. If you’re a bit shy, look for events on Couchsurfing or MeetUp.com in your destination. You never know who you might end up making travel memories with.
Do you have anything else to add to inspire women travelers?
Go out and travel the world while you are young. Seize every opportunity you have because travel is the best education and there is no better time to do it than in your youth. Don’t worry about paying off your student loans or debt right this minute. You will have plenty of time to pay these things off and there are ways to lower your payments. Don’t fret over buying the newest iPhone or a fancy car. Invest your money in experiences and the rewards are far better because your memories will last a lifetime.
About Veronica Beaver
Veronica Beaver grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania near Scranton, a city which is best known for its portrayal on NBC’s, “The Office.” After living and studying in Philadelphia for a few years, she moved to Washington, D.C. to finish her degree. In her third year of college, she took advantage of an opportunity to study abroad in Spain and live with a host family. She enjoyed her time in Spain so much that she went back after college with a Fulbright grant to teach English in Madrid. Now in her second year teaching English in Madrid, Veronica plans to stay in Spain indefinitely. In her free time, you can find her enjoying wine and tapas with friends in Madrid, traveling around Europe and reading Spanish novels.
About Women Who Travel Solo
Women Who Travel Solo is a weekly column that shares the stories of women’s solo travel adventures in hopes of spreading the message that travelling alone is not only safe, but wildly rewarding. Inspire other women to travel solo by sharing your story with Something In Her Ramblings. Email Lauren at firstname.lastname@example.org.