People have different priorities in life, and that determines what you do with your time. My priority has been to travel; in fact, my push for travel is and always has been unyielding. I am ready and willing to drop everything and go. Often it is referred to as the “travel bug” or as they say in my country, “You have gypsy dust in your ass.” I suppose I am infested with the travel bug which forces me to forge ahead as a solo traveler most of the time because I just can’t wait for others to get their life together and live their dream of traveling – I’m going with or without them.
This particular trip was one of those “spin the globe and drop your finger” type of trips. At this time I worked in a bar where I was making good money from tips and was also exploring the idea of the law of attraction, and I play the movie The Secret as background noise in my house every day.
So one day I decided to challenge the Universe, and I promised myself that if I could make a certain amount of money in a specific time frame, I would go on a trip. In return, I promised the Universe that I would take a day to clean-up Blacks Beach.
I was excited about it already; I was telling everyone at work about my idea and people loved it. Jokingly or not, everyone was buying into it and even left me larger tips to support my idea. This is precisely what the law of attraction is all about: specify your dream, talk about it, get excited about it, feel and imagine it, and get people to back you up in it. Well, at least those are the first steps. Bring that intention into your life. Of course, it worked.
I worked very hard and now was time for the second phase – action! I spanned the globe and bought a ticket to Jamaica. Ja-jamaica! Awesome! When you buy your ticket, it’s a sealed deal, and there’s no turning back even though it’s a little scary that moment when you complete your transaction, and it says, “Thank you for your order, your flight is now booked.” I was going on an adventure, with or without my friends.
If you are going to be a good traveler, you must be good at doing your research, not only that but you just have to enjoy doing it. There is also another method of bringing your idea to fruition: visualization. When you visualize what you want your outcome to be, and begin to plan, you are already seeing each step in your journey and that gets me pumped up! And of course, daydreaming without action is just wishful thinking. After I had done my research, I decided on a little town on the south coast of Jamaica, called Negril. I booked five nights at the Negril Yoga Center which was right on the beach, offered inexpensive yoga classes and very affordable healthy food. My kind of place! I also booked my transportation from the airport in Montego Bay to Negril. I contacted the yoga center and asked them for advice; they recommended a taxi driver who picked me up at the airport. The taxi ride was $70 one way, which I wasn’t expecting but I thought it was reasonable since I was not staying at a fancy resort and there was no shuttle service offered. Later on, I discovered that I could get a taxi back for only $10-$20, but that was because I asked around when I arrived and got the “insider tip.” Oh well! (I ended up spending the $50 I saved on a river tour!)
Next, I researched all my activities and tours. The focus of my travel is always scuba, ski, camping, hiking, beaches, and sightseeing. I booked a couple of dives with a local dive shop, and since I was doing this on a budget, I decided to spend the rest of my time on the beach, drinking sodas and baking in the Jamaican sun.
Pretty soon on a hot, muggy day, I found myself riding in a small cab on a very bumpy and windy road to Negril. My taxi driver was very pleasant – he pulled over to a little store and bought me a beer for the road right after we left the airport. He also offered to get me weed, to my surprise – I guess that’s what you call a warm Jamaican welcome! Traffic is crazy in Jamaica; everyone looks like they are in a race and honking their horns to say hello to people.
I got lucky with my choice of my accommodation. It was a very charming property with rustic, colorful bungalows, a lush tropical garden and numerous land crabs of all sizes walking around like pets. My room was very basic but clean and cozy, so I was happy with my $25 per night purchase. My favorite amenity was the shower which was outdoors, had no roof, and it was romantic to take showers during the warm tropical rainstorms that swept through the island every day at precisely 4:00 p.m.
The beach was directly across the street, and as soon as I stepped out and walked around a bit, I was overtaken by this feeling of what it’s like to be a minority, as I was the only white person around. It’s a bit intimidating to stick out like a sore thumb. I brushed that feeling aside quickly and completely immersed myself in the environment and started learning phrases in the local patois (the dialect of the common people of the region). I immersed myself into the Jamaican way of life while I enjoyed the sun, the long white sandy beaches, the coconuts straight from the trees, the weird-looking exotic fruits, and the beach volleyball and snorkeling with colorful fish and octopi! The island was Heaven on Earth.
You must always account for unexpected expenses; every trip has at least one. Mine was to get all of my hair braided into little corn rolls, which I was very opposed to, but this lovely old lady cornered me at the beach one day, sharing her stories about her children and her life in Jamaica. I was a tad buzzed from the Mai Tai’s I had been enjoying and just couldn’t say no to her. So I let her begin her work, even though all I initially wanted was two little braids and to take photos of this ancient-looking man with dreads who was quietly sitting underneath a tree, smoking a spliff and hanging out with a homeless dog (which was a truly picturesque site).
Don’t miss out on scuba diving in Jamaica – it’s worth it. The reef is right off the coast, and the reef heads are big, healthy and plentiful of small colorful fish. There is a lot of marine life and crystal blue waters. And here is where I met my partners in crime, my soul sisters – these beautiful free-spirited creatures who came to the rescue when I was starting to feel lonely. Aurora and Liz were visiting from Arizona and had come to Negril because Liz was a photographer for a destination wedding. They were taking a scuba diving course in the pool when I met them, and I must tell you, I recognized right away that these girls were brave and wild because they had the craziest scuba diving experience for first timers that I have ever seen and they loved it. My type of peeps!
The afternoon rain storm was rolling in, and the tide was rising. The waves were getting bigger, and the ocean was rumbling when our instructor prompted us to make the five-foot giant stride entry into the water. I am an experienced diver, and I was even worried, but these girls didn’t know better. How fun and how exciting that was! As we were descending into the warm, calm, and peaceful depths of the Caribbean with the storm raging above us, I thought to myself that this is my type of action. I knew I had made good friends.
After our diving adventures, we enjoyed a lobster dinner and night out at Rick’s Café, which is a popular bar and restaurant that sits high above the cliffs with breathtaking views of the ocean and famous for its cliff-diving performances by local enthusiasts. It was at this café where I met my next new friend, Amy (I refer to my newfound friends as the “Arizonian Nymphs”). I had one of the best nights of my life with the three of them! A lot of beer, Jamaican rum, dancing to the Reggae beats at sunset and cliff diving (which I had seen myself doing in a dream a couple of years ago). Oh, I love jumping from the rocks! We also went skinny dipping and jumped from a lighthouse! I splurged that night, but all worth it. The secret to budget traveling is to know where you can save money so you can let loose on the fun stuff and the things you love to do. It’s best to collect memories and experiences instead of souvenirs.
Here is my next gem of advice I have based on my experience. If you want to do a local tour, ditch the tour desk in your hotel. Go out, emerge yourself, make friends, talk to your bartender, talk to your cab driver, get tips from the locals. Even though this might be a hit or miss tactic, if you get lucky as we did, you will end up with a unique and genuine adventure. We befriended one of the employees at the dive shop who was a Canadian transplant who had been living in Jamaica for a few years. He offered to drive us to the Black River where we took a tour on a fishing boat. I ended up spending about $60 for a day trip that included lunch, and a boat tour along the river where we ended up at a tiny, but apparently famous crab shack. We also jumped into the river and swam around in the clear, crocodile infested waters.
I managed to fit all of that into my budget pretty well, and I felt like I had done and saw a lot in five days. I will admit something here: I always travel with a credit card, but refuse to use it and rarely ever do, but hey, who knows what will come your way! I know that if I do use it, I’ll have to pay it later with interest, but you only live once, right (at least, that’s what they say)?
So how badly do you want to go? Do not give in to excuses, and don’t fall to the norm. There is no template or a right way of doing this, just put some passion into it. If you want to go, just go! Believe in your dreams, dare to jump when you are scared, get out of your comfort zone. Do something new and different and don’t follow the railroad tracks. Throw yourself into life; you will see that you will encounter the most amazing and awe-inspiring experiences you’ve ever had.
Cheers and happy travels to all!
Travel Tips for the Solo Female Traveler
- Travel Plan: Write out a game plan, calculate your estimated expenses. Keep adding to the list as you go. A good travel plan includes your budget, accommodations, transportation, tours, and activities.
- Flight: Cheapoair.com, Hipmunk.com, and Skyscanner.com. Flights are cheaper when you book on a Tuesday and when you fly on a weekday. Book either ahead of time, last minute or sign up for travel alerts. If you don’t like the price, don’t jump on it! Flight prices are like the stock market, be patient and smart, like a lion stalking its prey.
- Packing: Check your airline baggage policies. Then check them again. There is nothing more annoying than having to pay extra for a carry-on bag! Invest in a travel backpack, travel light with only the necessities. You can buy travel-size everything: shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothpaste, and toothbrush – but go ahead and bring your favorite razor and shaving cream, so you are always feeling your best and ready to wear your bikini. My favorite razor is the Angel I buy from the Angel Shave Club, and I love their Sugar & Fig Whipped Shaving Soufflé. And don’t forget to weigh your luggage! Clothes fold more efficiently when you roll them up, and you don’t need four pairs of high heels!
- Accommodations: Hostelworld.com and Airbnb.com. I always look for the best deals at Bed & Breakfasts, hostels, and vacation rentals. Bed & Breakfasts are usually small, private and very charming. I also love staying in hostels, mainly for the price but you will also find a lot of travelers and like-minded people who are most likely easy to make friends with and hear some interesting stories and tips. And then is an Airbnb, which is pretty much self-explanatory. Do not forget to do your research here too! Go to Tripadvisor to read the reviews, and take a virtual walk around the neighborhood on Google Earth or Google Maps. Know your surroundings before you get there – there is no time to waste getting lost, while you could be zip-lining or something.
- Tours and Activities: As I already mentioned you would save a lot of money if you book your tours in advance, don’t buy them on the street, and if you do, make sure you know how to bargain with people. Make friends and talk to the locals, get the insider tip, go behind the curtains and off-the-beaten path.
- Dining: Unless you are a foodie and want to immerse yourself in the local cuisine, you will have to spend your money on food wisely. You don’t always have to eat at a restaurant. Go to the local market; buy some of those weird-looking fruits and vegetables. I always bring a bunch of my favorite fruit and nut bars and snack on those with fruit, or I make a good breakfast with some juice or oatmeal. If it doesn’t look too scary for your palette, try some street food. If there is a line or even a few people eating it, most likely it’s not life-threatening. When it comes to food, know where you can save and where you can splurge. I like to experience the local cuisine, and I just love to eat, so I do a little bit of both of saving and splurging.
- Safety: This is more for the solo female traveler, but it goes for anyone – don’t go in that alley (especially in the dark)! I give a short version of my travel plans to a couple of friends, and family to make sure that someone knows where I am approximately at all times. I carry a tiny can of mace with me. Make friends or just acquaintances even if it’s just to get from one point to another when you don’t feel safe. Put your passport away in a safe place. Make sure you have a good amount of small bills or change and don’t flash your wallet or a stack of money. Beware of pickpocketers and how you carry your purse and camera. I don’t wear a lot of jewelry when I travel (plus I like to dive with sharks and sharks are attracted to shiny objects). I don’t walk around at night alone too much and never go skinny dipping in the dark. All of what I have mentioned is common sense, so just be smart, but don’t fall into fear, because you will never leave your hotel room. But I know you are pretty brave ladies otherwise you wouldn’t be a solo female traveler, right?
By: Iva Gancheva