Being a solo female traveler, I often get surprised and worried reactions from my network back home (wherever that is at the moment). People think I am crazy, brave, a nutcase, and everything in between.
But traveling solo as a woman does not necessarily mean “brave.” Sure it means stepping out of my comfort zone, but who wants to spend their entire life in their comfort zone? And crazy? Sure, maybe a little, but not certifiably insane.
Traveling the world alone has taught me more about myself than anything else. I have learned complete self-reliance, the art of trusting my gut, and knowing how to follow my instincts. And of course, travel has educated me about the world much more than sitting in any classroom of any school ever could.
I have a few rules. There are places that I won’t travel alone out of safety and/or lack of reliable transportation. For example, there is no way I would have logistically been able to do my dream overland African trek on my own. Transportation would have been a nightmare as these countries do not have great networks of long-distance buses for travelers (and air travel is expensive). And there was no way in hell I wanted to camp and set up a tent on my own. So for my big multi-country Africa trip, I turned to my beloved G Adventures. And although I joined my trip as a solo traveler, somewhere between Nairobi and Victoria Falls, I made eight new friends. Luckily, on that trip, we were all solo travelers.
Now on to some of the doubts (and how to smash them) that I often hear.
“But isn’t there a language barrier?”
Here’s the thing. No one speaks Khmer Cambodian except for Cambodians. Same goes for so many other languages. (Spanish is an exception; it is really helpful to speak the language in Latin America, but again, not necessary). And no one expects travelers to speak the language perfectly. Learning a few key words goes a long way. Not to lessen the language barrier, but to show respect to the people. This is the same with any country. Of course, there are some places where I can and do speak the language. But I do not limit my travels to those countries. English is really the universal language of travelers. There are very few places on this planet where you won’t find someone who can understand you. Worldwide, young people are learning English. And guess what? You do not need to be able to communicate perfectly to make your way around. Hand gestures, speaking slowly (but not loudly), and having a bit of patience is key to getting around.
“Don’t you get lonely?”
Sure. Once in a while. But I am a huge introvert and really like being alone. Even for non-introverts, there are always plenty of other solo travelers. Hostels, guesthouses, and day tours are great ways to connect with other travelers. Online forums, such as Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree offer travelers a great way to connect with other travelers in the same place. New friends are just a smile away. And since so many people travel solo, solo travelers are generally the friendly types. You are never truly alone unless you want to be.
“Ok, but what about dining out alone?”
Personally, I do not give three fucks about this. I do it at “home” all the time too, so traveling is not any different. But I do understand this is a big fear for some. True, you might get stares in fancier restaurants (but don’t let that stop you from treating yourself to a five-star meal), but you have the choice to eat what you want and when you want. Tip: ask for a seat at the bar if dining out alone is something that scares you. Another tip: Spain’s tapas bars are perfect for the solo diner. Final tip: street food is perfect for solo travelers who don’t want to sit down at a restaurant alone. It’s cheap, and in many parts of the world, it’s truly the best option.
“Isn’t it expensive to have no one to split the costs?”
Sometimes. And travel companies that charge single supplements are the devil. But with the invention of the likes of Airbnb, you can usually get a cheap private room in someone’s home or apartment. Sure, you might share a bathroom and common living space, but private rooms are usually cheaper than hotel rooms or entire flats. And of course, in Southeast Asia and Latin America, guesthouse rooms can be as cheap as $10 a night. There are always hostels with dorm beds, but at this point in my life, I am too old for those. Still, they are perfect for first-time travelers and younger travelers.
“Don’t people in other parts of the world have unsavory views of solo female travelers?”
Maybe in really conservative countries. But I’ve learned that people are more curious and intrigued than anything. In some parts of the world, a woman would not dream of going at it alone, and the presence of solo female travelers bring these women a new light. I am not saying that out of ego, but after thinking about my own travels, and talking with other solo women travelers, it is clear that we have the power to inspire change in this realm. Yay feminism!
A few words of caution:
Always, always always always get travel insurance. It will save your ass in the event of the unexpected. For this purpose, I prefer World Nomads as they’ve come to my rescue when I was in Spain and had to fly back to the US immediately due to a broken foot and a dying mother. Not only did they cover the hefty change fees, but they covered all of my cancellations including another G Adventures trip to Morocco I had booked.
Always trust your gut. While the vast majority of the people of the world are honest and harmless, there are uncanny people out there. If you feel unsafe as a solo traveler at your guesthouse, change guesthouses. If the taxi or tuk-tuk driver makes you feel uncomfortable, find a new one. If walking alone at night (or anytime) just doesn’t feel right, find a buddy or take a taxi.
Don’t get sloshed. While it’s fun to have a drink (or two) in a new place, it is never a good idea to get drunk if you are traveling alone. When you are drunk, your instincts are not on par. And if you do go out for a drink, always keep your eye on that drink. Although it is rare, you can get roofied.
Ready to take the plunge and travel alone? Reach out to me for more tips and for any help in planning your first solo adventure abroad. Trust me, it will be unforgettable.
My name is Karen & travel is not only my passion but also my profession.