Welcome to Episode 11 of the Hey Eleanor podcast. This week we're talking about the joys (and panic-attack inducing moments) of being a solo lady traveler with Sarah Von Bargen—the babe behind YesandYes.org.
Sarah writes about pretty much everything— how to stop wasting your likeability on the wrong people, great vegetarian recipes and interviews with all sorts of people-- for example, a 99-year-old woman living on her own, or a woman who’s dated on AshleyMadison.com. The Internet loves Sarah, especially people who travel (or want to travel) a lot. She spends three months of the year traveling—easy to do when you can take your business on the road. Since her job is way more flexible than most, Sarah often finds herself hitting the road solo. I talk to her about the biggest advantages to traveling alone, how to take most of the fear out of solo travel (hint: use your brain and plan ahead), plus her favorite travel gear.
Here's an excerpt of our conversation.
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Sarah, I already know all about you, but for those who don’t, tell me what you do?
My name is Sarah Von Bargen. I’m a full-time blogger, ghostwriter and Internet consultant.
I thought you’re going to Internet sensation.
Yes, correct. I’ve been writing at Yes & Yes for about eight years, and self-employed for almost five. I travel a lot, I lived abroad a couple times… I usually travel about three months out of the year. A lot of that is by myself.
Your business is structured so that means you can pretty much work from wherever. That’s intentional I’m assuming?
Yes, that’s very much intentional. Although one of the "problems" of being self-employed is that you can work from anywhere, but you can work from anywhere. You can get the Grand Canyon still be fielding client calls. Something to be aware of it you’re interested in a location-independent career. This is just a fair warning that it comes with its downfalls. It’s super awesome, but certainly has its drawbacks as well.
You write about a lot of stuff, but frequently about solo travel, especially solo lady travel. What was the first trip you ever took by yourself?
I don’t know if this really counts as going by myself, but when I was 18, I did a foreign exchange student program. I didn’t know anyone and I went to Germany by myself and stayed with a host family. When I was 22, I taught in Brazil and again was at the home host family. But I went by myself. And from there, I took a trip to Amazonia completely by myself… And I should also clarify when I say by myself, that often means that I do the actual transportation travel by myself. About half the time, I meet a friend or I’m doing a volunteer or work program. Often times, I’m under the umbrella of an organization. So there are some people looking out for me and people to hang out with. I’m not wondering around Kuala Lumpur by myself.
It’s not like an Into the Wild kind of experience?
No, it’s not like that.
When I was younger, I remember talking to my dad about traveling by myself. While he had no problem letting my younger brother go places alone, it was a really different situation. A lot of my family and friends expressed worry. Have you dealt with that?
Good question. I’m very fortunate in that my parents have always been travelers. They’re both schoolteachers, so every summer, we’d travel as a family. My mom traveled by herself and when was young, and my dad lived in Europe for several years. My mom was sort of intrepid, and so if there any concerns about my safety, they know better than to say anything about it, honestly. They didn’t raise me to be afraid of things.
I feel like a lot of people would say things like, aren’t you afraid? Aren’t you scared? Sarah: how many times have you been murdered?
That’s an excellent question! Next time, I’m going to say, well I have been murdered yet. Knock on wood!
To me when you travel by yourself, there are a lot more precautions you have to take. What’s the planning process like?
I try to walk the path between paranoia and preparedness. At the risk of sounding like a total hippie, I don’t want to spend my time thinking about all the bad things that could happen to me.
I don’t think that’s too hippie-dippy. Who wants to do that?
Yes, exactly. And I look back on certain precautions I could’ve taken but didn’t when I was 20. And now I just want to go back and shake myself for not traveling with a cell phone and travel insurance.
Oh sure, stranger, I’d love to take a ride with you.
Yeah, sure stranger, I don’t need a helmet and will ride with you on your motorcycle down that dirt road… Cool. Awesome.
I just got back from a six-week road trip. Before I left, I made a Google calendar that I shared my parents, my best friend and my partner. The Google calendar estimated where I would be each day, if I was staying with friends or had already made a reservation somewhere, and included the name and phone number of those places. I installed a tracker on my cell phone, which is just a free app, so my partner could see where I was. That may sound weird, but there was a five-day time period where I was completely by myself in between North Dakota and Portland.
That's pretty desolate part of the country.
The Bakken oil fields are no joke, in terms of female safety.
Yeah it’s a bunch of horny dudes living up there in dorms.
I went up there specifically to look at it because I was curious. But that’s another story. So I put the tracker on my phone. I have a self defense keychain. Encourage all you ladies to Google cat self-defense keychain. It looks like a cat, but it's actually basically brass knuckles... [Also], I actually decided to rent a car instead of taking my car, because my car has 130,000 miles on it a rental car doesn’t. Plus you're not putting the wear and tear on your own car. I had AAA and an roadside emergency kit.
Do you have a paper map?
Yeah, I had a paper map. I also wrote down all of the important phone numbers onto a piece of paper in my glove compartment. Then, when I dropped my phone in the water and it broke, I had all the numbers because I’m a stupid person from 2015 who doesn’t know anyone’s number.
I only know my grandma’s phone number. And she’s dead!
Yeah exactly! I don’t know my partner’s phone number! So I had it all written down on the piece of paper for when my phone crapped out.
Honestly, the most important thing to do is just trust your intuition. We’ve all got it. When you get the fear stomach, just leave, even if it’s awkward. Who cares if you make the scary killer feel awkward?
You know, the sad thing about being a woman traveling by yourself is that you know you shouldn’t probably go to a bar by yourself. It’s just not a great idea to Say, “Oh, I’m in downtown Detroit on a Saturday night and I want to go to a show.“ You can do that, but I personally didn’t. I don't feel like it was worth the risk. The amount of fun I could potentially have versus the amount of anxiety I would have made it not worth it for.
No, I totally agree. Sort of frustrating. Guys will have to think about that.
No, guys never have to think about that. There was a situation when I was checking in into a La Quinta Inn. It's a decent hotel. It’s not like a stabber hotel. In the south, instead of having hallways and the hotel they have these sort of balcony walkways. As I was opening my car door, I could feel that I was being stared at. I looked up and there are these two drunk dudes leaning over the balcony, staring at me. And they were like two doors down from the hotel room I was checking-in to. As I was bringing my stuff to the room, they were staring at me the whole time. I was going to put on cute tight running gear and go for a run, and now I don’t want to. Because there are two drunk dudes staring at me, literally in the room next to me. So I locked myself in my hotel room, which is so stupid that this is reality. And that totally sucks, but I would not not travel because of that situation.
Right. That’s one day of a million good ones. On this most recent trip, you road tripped for six weeks by yourself. What experiences did you have that you don’t think you would’ve if you'd been traveling with your partner or friend?
It’s really a good question. A drove through the Rockies and definitely had some moments where I stopped and sat by a stream and ate lunch, which is obviously great to do with your partner, but it’s also a special experience to do that on your own... I had a lot of really lovely and pleasant interactions with people that I think happened because I was by myself. Not like men hitting on me or anything, but I'd meet other women we talk for a half an hour. I would sit next to somebody on the subway and strike up a conversation. When you’re by yourself, you’re more interested in the people around you. With a friend friend, partner or family member, you're looking at them, talking to them about what we should do now, or what do you think about this? Are you hungry?
Certainly... I think it's interesting to see the types of activities and stuff I want to do when I’m by myself. When I'm with someone else, I fall into my people-pleasing tendencies. I’ll say things to myself like, I'm not sure what I want to, but you seem like you want to do that, so let's do what you want to do. What were some activities you did that surprised you?
Having traveled enough, I know there are certain things I am patently not interested in. Generaly speaking, I’m not interested in art museums, anything historical. This makes me sound so unintelligent! I don't care about history or art, you guys! But I love factory tours, I love creepy weird things… A specific socioeconomic cultural experiences. For example, I drove to northern North Dakota because I wanted to see what's up with the Bakken oilfields. They are 100 percent not a tourist destination. They are actively dangerous and kind of unpleasant, but I've been reading about them for the past five years. They've dramatically affected the socioeconomic climate in the town I’m from. So I drove four hours in the rain to look at oil derricks and fire coming out of the ground. Which is a very much something most people would not be interested in.
Yeah, but now you know!
Yeah, it was fascinating.
For the rest of our conversation, listen to the entire Hey Eleanor podcast episode here.
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Sarah Von Bargen is awesome on the Internet! Check out Yes & Yes, follower her on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram. And for all you travel geeks: here's her Wanderlust workbook & Adventures in Lady Travel ebook.
Other stuff I talked about on this week's show:
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