Traveling solo as a female can be exciting and cathartic as much as it is daunting and fearsome. Many women set out on a quest for solo travel for various reasons ranging from self discovery, to the inability to find a travel partner. Whatever the case may be, many female solo travelers all seem to agree that traveling alone is one of the best things you can do for yourself. This is not to say that your first time traveling alone does not come with its own list of difficulties. Still, the end result is usually nothing short of rewarding.
Frequently Asked Questions and Tips For Your First Time Traveling Alone
Why travel solo?
Because I’m selfish. Because traveling alone is part of self-care for me, and I don’t want to compromise my experience. Well, not all of the time. The benefits to traveling solo is that you get to do exactly what you want when you want, and we rarely give ourselves that kind of freedom in real life. Traveling with someone else can provide moments of more intimacy and connection with that person for sure; nevertheless, you have to think about the needs of the other person, wait for them to get ready, and sometimes compromise on conflicting itineraries. So, to be able to walk alone through the streets of a new place and let it present itself to you organically to me is extremely joyful. I love walking at my own pace and letting my curiosity and perspective dictate the experience vs. being distracted or slowed down by another person.
How do you stay safe while traveling?
Research, research, research and be aware.
It is important for you to research the culture you are about to experience, from the body language, hand gestures, history, clothing style, and current political system. For women especially, don’t go into a new place blind. Make sure that you are aware of the culture you are entering and how they tend to treat women. I did my research before traveling through Turkey and it made it a bit easier- but not less annoying- when I would get harassed on the streets. Since I did my research, I had a heads up.
Be aware of your surroundings. I fiercely believe that women can and should travel on their own, however, some parts of the world still don’t agree with me. After traveling on my own for years, there have only been a few instances where I needed to have my guard up more. Trust your instincts and keep your eyes open to those around you. So, in areas you don’t know, don’t put in earbuds, headphones, or texting because it could make you look more vulnerable.
Lastly, it’s a good idea to have travel insurance, in the rare case something does go wrong.
What do you do when you feel lonely?
Loneliness used to really drive my travels. I thought that the farther I traveled, the less lonely I would feel, which was a false promise I gave myself. However, with travel I found that I became more comfortable with being alone the more I was alone, which ironically abated my loneliness. Now I crave to travel alone because I have realized that it is a form of self-nourish, and I appreciate the freedom that traveling on my own gives you. I love being able to wander at my own pace, stop for however long when something intrigues me, and not have to compromise with the whims of others.
What is the best way to meet people and socialize when you don’t want to be alone anymore?
I personally love couchsurfing + volunteering in different sites. I would rather stay with a local who will show me areas not in a guide book or stay with a family and experience what it is like to live there. I get such a richer experience and create deeper connections when I am staying with locals because I’m able to familiarize myself with their perceptions of the world. Hostels are a great place to make new friends and meet other solo travelers too, even if you aren’t staying in one. Many hostels hold events and social gatherings which are a great way to meet and mingle with others.
What are some of the challenges you face as a solo female traveler?
If anything, solo travel is easier because it is all on my terms. However, there are plenty of challenges I still face because I am a solo female traveler; being harassed on the street, afraid of wearing the wrong clothes, or trusting the wrong people. Fortunately, my trips have been based around the benevolence of people and very few have tried to pull any tricks, but it is still a fear that gets on buses with me, whispers in my ear while I’m sleeping, and has me hesitate when I’m going out alone at night. It’s more than unfortunate that half of the global population doesn’t feel completely safe to travel on their own, and I would like to work harder at changing that.
What are the best places for solo travel?
I think there are risks to traveling anywhere- some places may seem more egregious because of the news. I can only speak from the places I have traveled to, but most places can be great for solo-travel. My travels have shown that the world is more protective than predatory.
And honestly, I think a good amount of traveling is based around luck. For example, I went to Barcelona for a week, partied at local spots, and had a phenomenal time without any issues. A friend went around the same time and got robbed and stranded outside of the city. Why were our experiences of the same place so vastly different? Chance is a large contributor. Unfortunate things happen regardless of where you are in the world, and the same goes for wonderful things as well.
That said, there are countries that solo travelers are drawn to more than others. Southeast Asia is a big one, particularly Indonesia, Thailand and the Phillippines for their relative safety and affordability.
Is there anywhere you wouldn’t travel solo or would not recommend?
If anything I would recommend to avoid the “traditional” places to travel and really try to go somewhere off the beaten path. Yes there are reasons why Paris, London, and Tokyo are great to explore, but what about the small towns or up and coming big cities in Africa, Southeast Asia, or Latin America? I think everyone should attempt to travel to the unconventional spots to see how the world spins differently there.
Have you ever found yourself in a difficult situation as a solo traveler? What did you do?
Difficult like almost being trapped in a tannery in Fez? Or emotionally difficult like I didn’t know what I was doing with my life and was looking for an escape from the horrifying idea that I was wasting my time not perusing a career? In both situations, I reminded myself to breathe and found a way out by talking to strangers.
What are some items you always bring with you when you travel alone?
A notebook + inky pen.
A good pair of sensible walking shoes.
An iphone with plenty of downloaded podcasts.
My favorite pair of leggings that has a hidden pocket where I stash all of my credit cards+cash.
Thinx period underwear.
Napkins because toilet paper is not always guaranteed.
Where do you usually stay when you travel solo?
Couchsurfing, all the way. Even if I had enough money to stay at lavish places, I would rather couchsurf. Why would I isolate myself in a hotel when I came to hangout with the people who make the place? I crave a locals perspective. I want to know what it feels like to wake up in a home in the morning there. What are the daily routines that are different? I want to walk on the streets most tourists wouldn’t stumble into. Even if they are uneventful, at least it is different, and I see how people decorate and take pride in their homes.
Many women dream of the idea of traveling solo but are nervous about it. How do you calm your anxiety and take the leap?
I think that women, specifically, are socialized to believe that they can’t travel alone, and I call bullshit. I believe that it is unfair that half of the population is discouraged to travel freely, and that the world isn’t organized to make travel comfortable for women. From my travels, those are just stories and have I have spoken and interviewed numerous women of different origin who are traveling alone and have dealt with limited issues. These are just from my experiences and that’s not to say that the world can’t be dangerous, which it is. But the world is dangerous for women whether you are at home or abroad. So, my advice would be to travel so you can show the world an example of what it is like for women to travel freely. We need debunk this notion and give a real-life representation of women traveling safely through the world. Your travels aren’t only for you but can help future generations of females from dealing with this nonsense. We need to be bold.
How do you deal with parents/friends/peoples’ negative opinions toward solo female travel?
My family has always been incredibly supportive, and I have never had any pushback from my immediate family or friends. They know my determination all too well to attempt to contradict it.
However, I have received the occasional macroaggression from acquaintances or people on the road. It kind of baffles me that I get questioned on my ability to travel solo from people who I am meeting while doing the thing they think I can’t do. It might be because not many women travel alone and aren’t socialized to be alone. Why would we want to travel alone when we could be raising a family? The women who walk alone are enigmas to the rest of the world. I want more of them.
If your family isn’t supportive, you have to weigh the cost/benefit of doing it. This is your time, your money, and your life, so why have it be dictated by the ideas of what someone else believes you should do? The world will sometimes call to us- like a horn at the beginning of a fox hunt- telling us it is time to go. Listen to it. You will always be rewarded.
Lastly, how does solo travel affect you before, during, and after your trip?
Every time I go, the same anxieties plague me on the plane: what if I can’t do it? What if I don’t make any friends? What if I’m bored? It’s weird that those feelings still haven’t left me after they are disproven every time. But I know I’m living the life I should be living, especially because it’s scary.
It changes once I’m there. Travel really brings out the multitudes within me. Sometimes I’m lonely and other times I never want to return. Sometimes I’m smiling so hard it hurts and others I’m crying in the middle of the street because the world is too big for me to fathom. I’m a walking contradiction, so I just ride whatever feeling I’m feeling and know that it is fleeting, and I should be appreciative of where I am because that is just as temporary.
When I return, I feel like a big fish returning to a small pond. If you take a fish out of a little pond and put it in a bigger one, it will naturally grow. I feel like I’m put back in that small pond and there isn’t enough room to move around. My brain is filled with too much new knowledge, ideas, and revelations, and it is sometimes hard to come back to a small town where not many people are challenged or seek being challenged. But the best I can do is bring back stories of the world, the kindness of strangers, and plant a seed for them to someday have their own adventures.
Photos courtesy of Adrien Behn.