I attended a storytelling event in Lisbon this week, hosted by Storytelling Lisboa, and the theme of the evening was lies. The event is made up of 10 storytellers, all of who got up on stage and told a personal, true story for 10 minutes, and lying was the common theme. The performers told stories of lovers who lied, lies they told to their family members, and lies they believed and told themselves. It made me think if I were to go up on stage and tell a story, what would my story have been? And that’s when I thought… I would tell a story about the lies I’ve told as a female solo traveler. I didn’t get up on stage, but I wanted to share here the story I would have told if I did.
In the past 10 years, I’ve traveled to over 30 countries, mostly alone, and one of the main skills I developed was listening to my gut and observing my surroundings. I did not take for granted that I am a 5 foot 2 inch, brown-haired female that was a target of certain men’s attention when I was venturing into the different cities and villages alone. I’m happy to say that I’ve had very positive experiences in my travels and have avoided any dangerous situations, but I believe that is the case because I made good choices, didn’t get into situations where I couldn’t control myself, and if I didn’t feel safe, I stayed in my hostel or hotel.
The most effective lie you need to learn as a solo traveling female is “oh I’m not alone. My boyfriend/husband is just sleeping at the hotel”. Almost every time I would get into a cab in Latin America, I would need to use this phrase and use it confidently. I would make up a backstory of how we met, what they do for work, what their name is, and how long we’ve been dating. In some ways, it was a perfect way to practice my storytelling abilities when I was learning Spanish. Sometimes, it would be met with “oh, he’s very trusting to let you explore on your own” or “okay, well I can be your boyfriend in the meantime”. I would laugh off these phrases and say that he wouldn’t be too pleased with that situation and change the topic to something about them. Some women bring rings to pretend they are married, which I haven’t resorted to, but the lie is engrained in my vocabulary in English and Spanish. As a single female traveler, if you need to lie to get out of a dangerous situation or keep yourself safe, lie, lie, and lie some more.
Then, there were the lies I told my family. These are less direct lies and more like omissions of the detailed truth. When I explained to my dad that I wanted to go to Colombia to learn Spanish, he was not a fan. We were just finishing season 1 of Narcos so you can imagine the thoughts and feelings he had of his eldest daughter wanting to travel alone to Colombia. I told my dad that I found a great surf school in Jaco, Costa Rica, and would start there and if I happened to move south through to Colombia, so be it. I may go, I may not… we’ll see how my travel plans pan out. It’s been 5 years now since I had this conversation with my dad but I did get on a plane to Costa Rica and eventually end up in Colombia, via a boat tour from Panama, and it was a wonderful experience that I think back on to this day.
In a more subtle fashion, there are the lies I’ve told myself. When traveling alone, I used to push myself when I was tired or hungry to just keep going to see as much as I could. “You’re not tired, Amanda”, “Don’t waste your time, Amanda”, “Keep going or you’ll regret it.” When I look back on my backpacking days, I would push and put a lot of pressure on myself to see as much as I could, experience everything, and not take the time to rest. Especially when traveling, I would be taking in so many new things, new buildings, new languages, new foods with tastes and smells, that my body would be more tired than when I was at home. Before I would have a hard time giving myself the time and space to stop, relax, and just take things in. These lies I told myself did more harm than good. What I’ve learned now is when I am hungry or tired, to stop, take a break, enjoy a snack, or just sitting down before venturing out again to experience more. I have the luxury of traveling slowly, and the slowness is making me enjoy the places I am in even more than I already did.
The true definition of a lie is to make an untrue statement with the intent to deceive. In my experience, I’ve had to lie to keep myself safe, to get to places I’ve wanted to explore and to push myself to get outside my comfort zone. We lie to ourselves sometimes, which makes us feel safe when really it can be doing us more harm than good. But overall, what I can say is I am learning from the lies and slowly becoming a better version of myself with every trip I take.