Chelsey Perron is the founder of Taproot Travel, an eco-friendly travel guide for Central America, and lives in Costa Rica. In this week’s Women Who Travel Solo, Chelsey talks solo travel in Chile, Argentina and more.
How did you get started traveling?
My entire life has been spent making different houses, hotels, even countries feel like “home.” As a navy brat and later, a study abroad student I got used to minimizing my belongings and strategically packing storage containers and carry-ons. I would say it was a natural transition if my first solo trip abroad hadn’t been so hectic! I was supposed to be to studying abroad in a small coastal town in Chile and after a tearful goodbye and eight hours in the air, a massive earthquake hit the country and my plane circled back to the US. I was forced to pick a new study abroad destination upon arrival, had a short layover at home and attempted to re-pack my bags for the much warmer and urban life I would be living in Buenos Aires, Argentina… A place I knew nothing about!
What’s your favorite destination you’ve been to and why?
My favorite food destination was France – Paris to be specific, but not for the reason you might think. I was on a severe backpacker budget and couldn’t afford the delicious restaurants and cafés the city is known for but I found a little fromagerie and stuffed myself on perfectly ripe goat cheese, fruity fig jam and the best baguette of my life the entire week. The fruit markets and little bakeries were special treats.
For culture, it was Nottingham, England. I went to reunite with an old friend and ended up drinking beer with black currents in a traditional pub, hiking through Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest, watching a traditional fox hunt (red coats and all!) and cooking partridge stew in a hundreds-of-years old house. The milk man even showed up in a horse drawn cart.
For scenery, it was Patagonia, Chile without a doubt. I was insanely lucky to live there for several months and not a single day passed that I didn’t wake up in awe of the mountains around me. It brought me to tears more than once. The stars were incredible and the absolute silence except for wind and the occasional wild llama topped it all off.
Tell us about your first solo trip.
I’ll stick to the international theme here since I’ve always really enjoyed exploring at home, solo or otherwise. The very first trip was to Buenos Aires, Argentina to study abroad for a semester. (Just a warning: this was NOT a typical solo trip or start to an education abroad experience.) It was right after the Chilean earthquake and I felt like I had been riding an incredibly emotional roller coaster (without sleep) for the last 48 hours.
I was on the plane with Chileans whose families – in a matter of hours – had suffered incredible loss and who were frantic to find flights that would get them home as soon as possible. As we all stood in line waiting for answers on where we should go, what flights were running, etc. A young couple next to me began sobbing –the woman’s little sister had died in the earthquake. All of the televisions in the Atlanta airport were showing footage of the quake –the country I had researched for months out of excitement was suddenly crumbling in front of me. The same young couple had asked me before the flight what my plans were and through their tears they asked me if I needed help trying to find a connecting flight. I said not to worry and decided then and there that I would visit the miraculous country that produced such generous people. To be honest, it all feels like a movie now – between a lost carry on, a dead phone (the charger was in the carry-on), a mini breakdown and somehow ending up on a first class flight to Buenos Aires (thanks to an anonymous airport fairy godmother I still think of every time I fly) – I “officially” began my first ever solo trip.
In the five months that ensued I learned to speak Spanish with an Argentinean flair, I took polo lessons with the extra bonus that my instructors happened to be handsome men, I ate some of the best steak of my life and I drank Malbec wine in the park. I drank mate out of a gourd while cramming for finals and watched tango shows. I learned to deal with loss from far away when my aunt passed away and experienced the loneliest, saddest week of my life despite being surrounded by beauty.
To say that trip was life changing would be an understatement, and I stuck with my vow. I took a last-minute flight to Chile and spent my last two weeks of the semester backpacking in the country that started it all.
Tell us about your most interesting solo trip.
The one that gets the most laughs when I reminisce is probably my first time in Costa Rica. After a month of Studying Spanish with my younger sister (another travel highlight) I took another few weeks to work on organic farms with a guy I had met briefly in a hostel in France. We eventually found each other and worked our way through several farms.
While it wasn’t necessarily a solo trip, we did our own things at each place – mostly relying in one another for the logistics of getting from one farm to another. On one farm I was in charge of “training” a young a very feisty stallion named Diablo… That’s devil in Spanish. I learned how to wield a machete, helped slaughter rabbits, and worked in pineapple fields in exchange for bug-net covered bunk beds. I’m sure it was the dirtiest, wackiest and strangely educational trip I’ve taken. It was also the inspiration for my website about meaningful travel in Central America!
What have you been able to learn from traveling solo that you wouldn’t have by traveling with a companion or in a group?
I’ve learned more than I could ever write – good and bad but more than anything, practical. I’ve learned to always double check your bus tickets, to say “yes” more often than to say no, that people will always surprise you (always), that food is better when shared, to depend on myself but never say no to a others advice, that beautiful places aren’t always in the tourist book, that hostels are equal parts inspiring and depressing, that travel doesn’t mean the same for everyone, that emotions and situations don’t always agree, and that there will never, ever, ever be a better teacher than experience. That’s just the tip of the iceberg!
Should women be fearful of traveling alone?
They shouldn’t be fearful, but they should be smart. No, not every dark corner should be your worst nightmare but then again, you should try to avoid being out too late. Not every person of the opposite sex (or the same one for that matter) is trying to seduce you, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t trust your gut if something feels off. When it comes to partying, big cities and new friends I operate on the better safe than sorry rule. I still need to work on applying that to adventures…
What advice do you have for women who are traveling alone?
Research a bit and don’t psyche yourself out. You’ll never really be alone because there are so many friendly travelers and locals out there. Be smart, be safe, be confident (even when you aren’t) and more than anything, be open – to people, emotions, experiences… The whole lot. Oh, and don’t wear flashy jewelry, clothes, or whip out your fancy camera/iPhone in places where locals wouldn’t do the same.
What destinations do you recommend for solo travel?
I think this just depends on the traveler. I tend to pick offbeat places like farm stays or anywhere I can ride a horse and go on a hike but I know plenty of women who prefer the city. Wherever you go, I always recommend finding a group – it could be through a work exchange, couch surfing, or professional meet-ups. Whatever it is, having like-minded (and local) people around will help you settle in and encourage you to get out there and explore.
What makes for the best travel memories?
To me, it’s meeting people whose stories blow you away, and discovering some amazing sight or fact that you didn’t know about before. It’s anything that fills you with enough emotions that you feel alive – for me that has been anything from galloping a horse through sand dunes to ringing in the New Year surrounded by British accents. Really, the thing that makes for great travel memories is simple – just getting out there and doing it. It doesn’t matter how much you plan, the simple act of moving outside your comfort zone will create memories that will stick with you for a lifetime
Do you have anything else to add to inspire women travelers?
Don’t put yourself in a box – even one labeled as a “solo” traveler. Enjoy your solitude, but don’t let that keep you from pairing up with someone. You can be a backpacker but stay in a nice hotel once in a while. Stuck to your diet, but have an empanada every once in a while. Enjoy your room service and massage but do it somewhere locally-owned where your dollars are going back to the local economy, not some chain resort. When you stop learning to live and travel under one definition or stereotype, you’ll stop doing the same for the people and cultures around you too. Travel will change you, challenge you, and probably rough you up just as often as it inspires and enlightens you, but it’s worth every second.
About Chelsey Perron
Chelsey grew up traveling and ever since her first trip abroad in college, she hasn’t been able to stop. She prefers slow travel, and doesn’t mind working in whatever country she’s in to afford travel to the next. She has taught English, worked as the Marketing manager at an adventure school in Costa Rica, and even weeded pineapple plants for a place to stay. Currently, she freelances and is the founder of www.TaprootTravel.com where she seeks out the most unique accommodations and experiences, promotes deep travel, and explores how to make sustainability sexy.
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 traveling 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.