If I could go back and tell my younger self one thing, it would be: “Stop crying every morning and just go”. A little tough love, followed up with: “It’ll be ok, you can figure it out”. See, I thought I had to have all of my ducks in a row before traveling solo – and I did when I went through the process of quitting my job to solo travel long term. But to take that first solo 14 day trip to Ireland, I didn’t need to wait as long as I did trapped in fear about traveling solo as a woman.I still vividly remember sitting on the couch in my Detroit apartment, my two cats wrestling on the floor in front of me. Fresh off of a breakup and realizing that if I kept waiting for someone to travel with me, I might be waiting for a long time.Checking and rechecking flights to Ireland against my vacation days from work. My mouse hovering expectantly over the “Book Now” button, just waiting for the click. I closed my eyes and sealed my fate with the click of that button. I wasn’t expecting the tears of joy, excitement, and fear to flow as fast as they did as I sent messages to anyone who would listen that “I’M GOING TO IRELAND.” Reflecting on this experience makes me smile now as I type this with 10 months of long term solo travel under my belt and countless other smaller solo trips. If I knew then what I know now after my experiences on the road, I wouldn’t have lived in fear of the what if for so long. Instead, I would trust myself and my capability to move throughout the world as a woman.
Here’s what I’ve learned about traveling solo as a woman:
You’ll Never Be 100% Ready
You won’t know the answer to the question you’re sitting there asking yourself: “do I have what it takes to travel alone?” until you just rip the bandaid off and do it. Until you find yourself alone in a foreign country, or even a new city in your home country, you won’t know if you can handle traveling alone. Sure, there are steps you can take to prepare for your first solo trip while you’re at home and you can plan your trip to the last detail, but until you’re on the road, surrounded by the unfamiliar, you won’t know how you’ll respond to the challenges travel presents. Even as a seasoned solo traveler, each new destination brings a moment of hesitation and questioning whether or not I can handle it. But I’ll never know until I try.
Bad Things Can Happen Anywhere
Is that even safe? The number one concern women who travel alone get is about our safety and it bothers the crap out of me. Excuse me, I lived alone in Detroit, Michigan for six years and you’re asking me if traveling to Ireland alone is safe? Insert eye roll. However, it’s naive to claim that traveling solo as a woman is safe because being a woman in this world is not safe. There are also some places in this world that have an inherently increased risk for solo female travelers compared to others due to long-standing cultural ideals surrounding the role women play in society. And even in those places that don’t, it doesn’t mean that we are 100% free from potential harm. Does this mean you shouldn’t go and see the world? Hell no! The fear around our safety when we are alone on the road is that we are more vulnerable because we are also out of our element. If something happens on the road we don’t know who we can readily call or even trust to help as we do at home. This is where doing pre-trip research on embassy locations, emergency numbers, and following solo travel safety rules becomes paramount.
People Want to Help Solo Female Travelers
I’m forever grateful to two women in Ecuador who I only met in passing, but had my back. One told me to put my phone away when I was on a street in Quito known by locals as a hotspot for theft. The other on the Galapagos who told me to exercise caution with the guy who was “helping” me find a hostel. Women look out for each other and will keep you safe!
There are Way More Solo Travel Ladies Out Here than You Can Imagine.
And we want to meet you! Purely anecdotally, the majority of solo travelers are women. When I was living in a hostel in Quito for two months, I was constantly surprised at how we solo travel ladies consistently outnumbered the solo travel gentleman.This is so ironic considering societal notions about how it’s dangerous for women to travel solo and that all of us are brave for doing so. Is that why there are more of us? Because we are trying to prove something? Or do we just realize what we want to do, get tired of waiting for someone to join, and go for it ourselves?I’m not entirely sure, why there are more of us, but I love that there are. How do you meet these other badass solo female travelers? It’s pretty easy. You’ll meet them on walking tours, in cafes, and over breakfast at the hostel. If you’re not on the road yet, all you have to do is go to Facebook and search for solo female travel groups and a whole host of communities will open to you. These ladies will become your community. You will feel less out of place with them than perhaps even your friends back home, because they just get it. They don’t even need to know you that well to understand why you’re out on the road alone. Which brings me to my next point.
Don’t Be Afraid to Be the First Person to Say Hi in a Hostel.
The majority of travelers staying in hostels want to meet people and make new friends. Don’t be afraid to break the ice and say hi!
Get Ready to Tell Your Story Over and Over Again
Once you say Hi you will engage in the traditional hostel get to know you conversation which is a series of questions that you’ll answer about:
- Where you’re from
- How long you’ve been traveling
- Where you’ve been
- Where you’re going
- What you did before this
And finally, what are you up to today? At which point you and your new travel bestie make plans to explore the city together. This conversation will be exciting in the beginning. I remember being a few weeks in and sitting in awe across from someone who told me they’d been on the road for four months. Then four months later, I was getting tired of telling my story so at times I’d invent a new one because I know I’d likely never see that person again.
You Will Tell Your Deepest Desires to Someone You Barely Know and Will Likely Never See Again
You will be shocked at the ease with which you tell a perfect stranger exactly what you want out of your life when you couldn’t even tell the guy you were dating for 6 months. Not only will your desires be easy to say, but you’ll speak them with 100% conviction that you’ll realize just how true it is for you.And that’s how travel helps you realize what you want out of life.
Every Decision is Yours, Which is Empowering
You’ll wake up in the morning and ask yourself what you want to do that day. And you get to go do it. No running the itinerary by your travel partner or asking permission to go check out that cafe for a few hours instead of the museum.You can eat where and what you want to eat. You can sleep in late, get up early for that tour, or stay out dancing past midnight. Each decision gets you closer to discovering what lights you up and makes you come alive.
Every Decision is Yours, Which is Overwhelming
When I returned from the first half of my 10 months abroad I did not want to make any decision. I was tired of making decisions and wanted someone else to take the reigns for a few days. Because on the road, you have to decide what bus you’ll take and figure out if it’s the right one. Is that tour going to give you the experience you want at the best price or should you keep looking? There are so many delicious looking restaurants on this street, where should I eat?!It’s overwhelming at times, but a decision must be made and there really is no right or wrong one. So just decide and move on with your day.
You Will Have Days When You Don’t Want to Do Anything
There is serious FOMO when you’re traveling, fueled only further by social media. In each new destination you’ll have a bucket list so long there’s no way you could possibly see it all in the allotted time, and enjoy it.Then you’ll wake up one morning, exhausted from seeing and doing all of the things that you’ll just cuddle up in your hostel bed with Friends reruns on Netflix and call it a day. We do this at home so why shouldn’t you do it on the road! We need to recover and rest so we can enjoy the experience we’ve given ourselves. That gothic church that’s been around for centuries will still be there tomorrow and you’ll be rested and ready to ohh and ahh over it!
You’ll Rediscover Boredom
I stayed in Budapest for a week prior to teaching English in the Hungarian countryside. I loved Budapest and planned to stay there for another week after teaching. On my second night back in the city I discovered a feeling I still can’t remember the last time I had: boredom. I was bored in Budapest.What a jerk! Enter guilt and shame about being bored in what is still one of my favorite places. I’d already been to a thermal spa, I’d been to Buda castle, witnessed sunset from Fisherman’s bastion, checked out a number of cafes, taken a food tour, and finished reading my book.In the privacy of my top bunk hostel bed as my bunk mates got ready to go party in a ruin bar (already done), I admitted to myself that I was bored in such a way that couldn’t be distracted with a Netflix binge or another cafe. Cobblestone streets, castles, and churches were beginning to blend together after three months of traipsing through Europe’s medieval city centers. My boredom showed me it was time for a change of scenery, to get away from the tourist track and take a break somewhere. That ended up being in a hostel on the Adriatic Sea in Croatia where I didn’t go to Split, I didn’t island hop, and Dubrovnik was the furthest thing from my mind. Instead, I re-centered with morning yoga, swam in the sea, and engaged in honest conversations with myself and other travelers at the hostel. From that point on I changed my approach to my travel plans.
Slow it down, Less is More
I realized the importance of slowing down, seeing less, and enjoying more.If you are lucky enough to get two weeks off of work, instead of trying to cram in three countries pick one and get to know it. You’ll have a much richer experience and deeper connection to that one country than a surface level interaction with three.
Some Experiences Will Change the Way You Approach the World
You will undoubtedly have experiences and conversations on the road that will challenge your belief system and make you change the way you show up in the world.Be open to the change that travel brings within you.
And Others Won’t
Ok, not every experience is going to be life-altering. That would be exhausting. You still have to do laundry, stock up on toiletries, and make sure your bills are paid.That’s life.
Things Will Go Wrong
Even the best-laid plans will have pitfalls. The bus doesn’t show up on time or you booked the flight for the right day, just a month later. One day it’ll be a funny story you tell, like getting pulled over by the cops in Mexico and bribing your way out of it. But at the moment it’s confusing, chaotic, and a bit scary. These moments will test you, but you will come out of them a stronger, more confident you.
Eating Alone is Liberating, not Weird
Pros of eating alone: you can eat anything and everything you want.
Cons of eating alone: you can eat anything and everything you want.
So many people told me that eating alone is sad and lonely because you don’t have any stimulating dinner conversation about your shared experiences that day and you can’t try more than one thing on the menu. I call bullshit. Having a dinner companion does not guarantee stimulating conversation. Instead write in your journal about the epic day you just had while enjoying your appetizer, two main courses, and dessert with a side of local wine.
Portions are smaller in almost every country compared to the US so two main courses aren’t too ridiculous. And hello leftovers!
Go eat your heart out girl!
Alone Doesn’t Equal Lonely
And while we are on the lonely aspect of travel, being alone does not mean that you’re lonely.I have felt incredibly lonely in a room full of people and completely unlonelyby myself.I know unlonely isn’t a word (but it is a Jason Mraz song). When I Googled the opposite of lonely I discovered there really isn’t a good term to describe that feeling of contentment, gentle happiness, and ease that traveling alone brings.That being said loneliness happens for all of us at some point on the road. And it’s ok. Embrace the emotion, lean in to discover its root cause.Have you not called home in a few days? Does it seem people are moving along in life while you’re out in the world? My loneliness came on the heels of the boredom I discovered in Europe. I realized I hadn’t truly connected to any of the places I visited because I was moving too fast through them. Another reason to slow down and do less.
Most Days You Likely Won’t Be Alone At All
I can count the number of days I spent alone over three months in Ecuador, Peru and Argentina on two hands. There was always someone around to explore the city with or even go on a date! So much so that you may actually find yourself craving alone time! Side note: dating in a foreign country is eye-opening. Some traditions are the same and others are wildly different. I highly recommend giving it a shot if the opportunity presents itself.
Say Yes as Much as You Can
You might have an itinerary or general idea for what you want to do in a particular destination. And while you should most definitely have the experiences you want to have, it’s important to be open to plans changing last minute, that’s where the adventure is. Maybe someone knows a great restaurant not in your guidebook or you decide to welcome two new friends on your trip out to the ruins in Mexico that you were planning on seeing solo. In our everyday lives back home it’s not as easy to be spontaneous, so embrace it on the road!
You’ll Embrace the Role the Solo Female Traveler Plays in Breaking Stereotypes
Through your interactions with people across the globe you’ll demonstrate that women are strong, capable, and independent. We need more badass solo female travelers in the world. So, are you ready to hit click and book your ticket?
2 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned About Traveling Solo as a Woman”
This is so true!! I’ve travelled alone all over Thailand and Europe, including riding my bicycle solo from Regensburg, Germany to Budapest (and crashing that bicycle and breaking my arm in Vienna). I’ve never felt unsafe or lonely, and I’ve also never been approached by con artists who slap a bracelet on your wrist or insist on payment for a photo you didn’t want.
It’s liberating to go where I want when I want; to eat wherever and whatever I want; and to change plans to stay an extra day in a certain location. I find it absolutely exhausting trying to compromise with others about where to eat, especially if we wait till we’re already hungry–navigating all those food quirks and different dietary limitations, and then figuring out how to split the check when half the ppl don’t have cash. I LOVE eating out alone and choosing my own restaurant each time! I use the time to catch up on emails, daily news, finishing a novel, or writing in my travel journal.
I agree with your travel safety rules–situational awareness, trusting your gut, and common sense go a long way in staying safe. I don’t tell strangers where I’m staying, or that I’m traveling alone. I try to exude confidence as I walk, and try not to look lost or needy. I don’t walk around distracted by my phone or wearing headphones/earbuds. I don’t wear nice jewelry or “flashy” clothes–I try to call no extra attention to myself. Walking back to my room in the evening, no matter how tired I am, is not the time to zone out or walk on autopilot, so I’m always aware of my surroundings and who is nearby. And strangely, none of this takes much effort; it becomes second nature.
I also agree there’s a difference between being alone and being lonely. So many times I’ve found myself in a room full of people feeling lonely as ever, but I’ve never felt lonely when I travel alone. There have been times I wished for a travel partner just to share a moment of sheer joy at something I’ve newly discovered, but I learned to transfer those feelings into my travel journal where I can cherish the moment forever.
A few tips: DO keep a travel journal! Sometimes the travels are so momentous you think you’ll always remember, but you’ll be surprised at how quickly the memories fade (especially the fine details, which are so important). Also (not specific to solo female travelers), send yourself a postcard from each place you visit! It’s such a wonderful, inexpensive souvenir. I have 25 years of travel postcards and I cherish that album more than any social media post. I cherish the stamps and postmarks, and also the stories I wrote to myself. If there are major current events happening during your travels, include that in your postcard; you’ll be amazed at how well that helps place your trip in time over the years.
Thanks for a great, well-researched post!
Thank you so much for taking the time to leave such an amazing comment. I am 100% with you on keeping a travel journal. I wish I did more of that in the beginning. Especially jotting down the moments that seem insignificant but actually turn out to be a great memory. Like what it’s like to ride the trams in Budapest! Love the idea of sending yourself a postcard, that’s so simple and what a fun thing to come home to after the trip. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences moving throughout this world and not letting anything hold you back. Enjoy your next adventure!