I’ve been traveling alone my whole adult life, over a decade now (wow that makes me feel old). I get a lot of questions from women about my experiences in solo female travel. Many would love to travel alone but find the prospect a little daunting.
I completely understand that! I was a little hesitant at first as well, traveling to a foreign country by yourself is a big step. But I can truthfully say that it is the most empowering and rewarding experience ever. That feeling of freedom is pretty addictive. Traveling by yourself doesn’t have to be scary or hard. In fact, it’s mostly just a lot of fun. If you’re willing to step outside your comfort zone, traveling by yourself can be an incredible adventure.
Most tips for traveling alone focus on safety and preparation. But I think the trick to a successful solo trip is your mindset. Solo travel requires a little bravery and above all a positive attitude. Follow my tips for getting in the solo travel mindset and you too can learn how to travel alone.
Be open minded
Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer
The best thing about traveling is how it changes your perspective on the world. I know it sounds cliché but I can honestly say that I am not the same person now that I was before I started traveling solo.
There’s nothing like being confronted with different cultures, ideas and people to make you look differently on your home. It’s helped me realize that “normal” doesn’t exist and there are many ways to do things. None of them necessarily better or worse. It also made me more appreciative of some things in my life and home country. Travel also opened my eyes to the intense privilege I grew up with as a white European. While traveling the world is pretty easy for me, it isn’t for most people.
I try not to research too much when I go on a trip, because I want to enter with as much of a blank slate as possible. No preconceived notions, no prejudices and without thinking that I “know” a country before I’ve ever even been there. Even reading about other peoples experiences will influence your own.
There are many lessons you can learn through travel, about yourself and about the world. But the only way to do that is by being open-minded. Keep your eyes and your mind open. Don’t just look, but see. Listen, don’t speak. Question, but don’t judge. Learn and assume you don’t know anything. Be prepared to change your mind, again and again. And you’ll come back richer in knowledge, understanding and experience.
You can learn about a place or a culture by reading about it, watching documentaries, visiting museums. But the only way to really learn is by interacting with people. Which is much easier when you’re traveling alone.
It might sounds counterintuitive, but solo travel fosters social interaction. As a traveler alone, people are more likely to approach you and open up to you. And you’re more likely to do the same. When you’re traveling with a partner its easy to stay in your own little bubble and you have little incentive to meet new people. As a solo traveler, you don’t have a choice.
Whether it’s locals or other travelers, there is nothing more interesting than meeting people from a different country or culture. They can provide a personal insight into a place that you have only heard of or visited. It can be a bit awkward at first, but it is worth stepping out of your comfort zone. In my experience, everyone loved to meet new people. As long as you are kind and polite, people will love have a chat and hang out with you.
But if you need a few tips, here’s how to make friends while traveling alone
I’ve met some amazingly interesting people while traveling. People I never otherwise would have met. I’ve partied with strangers, cried with strangers, had adventures with strangers and made friends for life. In all my travels and with all the people I’ve met I’ve learned one thing: we are more similar than we are different.
In order to enjoy any trip, especially a solo trip, you have to be able to go with the flow. Things might not work out exactly as you planned and that’s okay. Some of my favorite travel memories are from things that happened unplanned. The best adventures happen spontaneously!
When you’re traveling solo, you have full control over your itinerary. You decide where you go, what you do and when you do it. No endless discussions or compromises. It’s what makes traveling alone so fun. You’ll meet people along the way that you can hang out with and join their plans. Or you might find that you want to spend less or more time somewhere than you anticipated.
If time allows, I prefer to plan as little as possible. On long trips (several months) I won’t book anything other than my transportation there and back and a hostel for the first couple of nights. That way, I’m free to build my trip as I go. For shorter trips (two weeks or under) I’ll sort all my accommodation in advance.
Locals and fellow travelers have the best tips, so don’t just blindly book everything your guidebook or a blog (yes, even mine) suggests. That’s why I also don’t go on organized trips, I hate to be tied to an itinerary. I do look up a few things that I really want to do, but rarely book them in advance, unless it’s something that books out quickly. Leaving your itinerary open allows you to take full advantage of surprise deals and offers as well.
So, you don’t need to worry. Solo travel is perfectly safe, even as a woman alone. Statistically speaking, women are most likely to be harmed by a partner or someone they know. So technically, traveling alone is the safest thing you can do.
But, unfortunately, we live in a world where bad things happen. So while solo travel is safe, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful. As a solo traveler, no one else is responsible for you so your safety and well-being should always be your first priority.
Here are the main problems you may encounter while traveling:
- Food poisoning
- Getting lost
- Tourist scams and rip-offs
- Pick pocketing
- Viruses, bacteria and parasites
- Accidents (traffic, surfing, hiking, etc.)
- Sexual harassment and assault
Many women fear that by traveling alone they’ll be more of a target for predatory men or even sex trafficking. Thankfully, those odds are in your favor. As scary as “Taken” is, it is far from realistic. As long as you practice the same caution as you would at home, you’ll most likely be fine.
Safety while traveling is a lot like safety in your day-to-day life, with a few minor exceptions. Whereas you may know your home quite well, your unfamiliarity with wherever you are traveling makes you more vulnerable. Stay vigilant and pay attention to the things around you. The more confident you look, the less of a target you are.
That being said, there is a big difference between being careful and being fearful. Don’t let your fears or those of others (especially concerned friends and family members) hold you back. Embrace your sense of adventure and don’t be afraid to try new things. Most people are good and instincts are better than you think. Travel will teach you that.
Trust that things will work out
Something will go wrong on your trip. That’s a guarantee. I have never been on a trip where everything went off without a hitch. That’s just not how travel, or life, works.
But to be honest, while they may be stressful in the moment, those mishaps often make for the best stories. You may be close to tears as you watch your plane take off without you, but once you’ve rebooked and had a coffee you’ll be ready to laugh at it.
It’s one of the things that scared me most about solo traveling: “What if something happens and I’m all alone?” But I quickly realized that you are never truly alone. Everywhere I’ve been, there have always been people eager to lend a hand or help me out. From friendly locals in Laos helping me find my bus to a fellow backpacker who brought me my passport when I left it at a hostel. Or the picture above, taken right after I climbed up a 100-meter rock slide while having a panic attack. It was hard and scary, but I got through it.
I love the quote:
“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”John Lennon
And it applies so perfectly to solo travel. In my experience, there is no hurdle too big to overcome, nothing that can’t be solved or fixed. Whatever happens, you will figure it out and find a way. And often, things work themselves out. Especially when you trust in the good of people and are willing to ask for help.
What fears are holding you back from traveling alone? Or what tips do you have for solo travelers? Let’s talk about it in the comments.
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