Why You Should Try It and And What People May Not Tell You...
Not long ago, i decided to stray away from the norm, open my life to adventure and become a solo female traveler. In the ever changing world of travel, more women are venturing out on their own. The stigma of "traveling alone while female" is gone and this unstoppable trend is on the rise with the help of social media, including the uptick in female travel companies, and the increase of women wanting to step out of their comfort zones.
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” -Eleanor Roosevelt
As with anything in life, there are good as well as bad aspects to traversing the world on your own, but don't let that discourage you. There are also so many things that no one tells you, but traveling alone as a female can be done as long as you do your homework and are open to new adventures. If you are thinking about taking a trip alone, i highly recommend it. It will change your life!
"As you move outside of your comfort zone, what was once the unknown and frightening becomes your new normal." — Robin S. Sharma
Choosing a Destination For Your First Solo Trip
To me, this is the most important part of your research because it will set the tone for your "openness" or "hesitance" to travel solo again. I strongly advise you to visit someplace easy on your first adventure. Maybe somewhere in North America or Europe as these countries have been declared safe by many other solo travelers. You can also choose someplace that speaks your native language so you will have less issues with language barriers. You DO NOT want to pick some place that is deemed unsafe for travel (you can check the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs for travel advisories https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages.html There are also countries that are a little difficult to travel alone as a female. It's better to save those countries until you are beginning to master the art of traveling independently.
My first solo adventure was to Iceland. I chose Iceland because i wanted to see the Northern Lights (not as simple as just going and seeing them, i later learned). Another reason I picked Iceland is the flight was short and direct (did i also mention i was NOT a fan of flying?). After some research, I discovered that Icelandic people are some of the most friendliest people, they spoke English and it was one of the safest countries in the world. All the boxes were checked, so off I went (and i keep going back. Four time so far, but who's counting?)!
This leads me to my next topic:
Research and Making Advance Bookings
Researching the country you plan to visit is a crucial part of your experience. When traveling someplace new, i always read blogs about the destination. I am also a big fan of booking excursions and shuttle buses in advance. Don't get me wrong, you do not have to book everything in advance, but certain things like hotels, airbnb's, rental car/shared shuttle services should be pre-arranged (at least for arrival). Let's say your flight arrives in the middle of the night. Depending on where you are going, shuttle/taxi service or Uber may not be available or your hotel may not have 24 hour reception (i have been to places where the hotels are padlocked after a certain hour and there is only a security guard on duty).
After you decide on your location, budget, time of year you want to visit, it is important to plan where you want to stay. I use Booking.com https://www.booking.com/ to search for hotels because you can select your proximity to city center, beach, etc., your requested amenities, and if a particular booking is good for solo travelers (reminder: always read reviews before booking your stay at any hotel or Airbnb). Airbnb's are fantastic for future travel, but for your first trip, i recommend a hotel or hotel type accommodation (unless the Airbnb offers concierge/guest services). If you choose to use Airbnb https://www.airbnb.com/ make sure the owner is always accessible and the accommodation is in a populated area. The last thing you want is to be roaming the street at night looking for an address that a taxi may not recognize.
If you're like me, you err on the side of adventure. When i travel, i visit countries to explore my surroundings, and immerse myself in the culture. This is where day trips come into play. Depending on where you are, booking a day trip upon arrival is just as easy as pre-booking (most hotels will arrange tours for you or assist you). I recommend if you are going on a tour that's popular, it's better to book in advance to secure your spot. A few websites that are great for booking activities are viator https://www.viator.com/, Tripadvisor https://www.tripadvisor.com/ and Get Your Guide https://www.getyourguide.com/, and ViaHero https://www.viahero.com/. Day trips are a great way to learn the culture of your destination, it is also a good way to meet new people.
Unless you're a professional photographer, most of us struggle with taking regular pictures, let alone a picture when traveling solo. Solo photography is often awkward and can be time consuming with a 90% chance you will not get that "perfect shot". In order to get that coveted photo, you can do yourself a favor and purchase a camera or cellphone tripod. A decent tripod can be purchased on Amazon or Ebay https://www.amazon.com/Fugetek-Integrated-Professional-Lightweight-Bluetooth/dp/B075WQYN3B/ref=sr_1_3?crid=1HLFV6LD9COJA&keywords=cell+phone+tripod+with+remote&qid=1579720575&sprefix=cell+phone+tri%2Caps%2C140&sr=8-3#customerReviews. Be sure to either look for a tripod with a remote or you can use the timer on your phone. Another way to assure you get a good pic is to ask someone. Ask your guide or group member if you are on a tour. When i travel, i either look for someone with a professional looking camera and ask them to take my picture or i find another solo traveler and offer to take their photo if they return the favor. But don't just give your camera/phone to anybody, there are less than honest people out there who look to take advantage of these situations, so be selective when looking for someone to take your picture. Also, be sure to explain (very quickly) your vision. If you want something specific in the background, let the person know. I prefer to (set up my phone) when having someone take my picture for me. You'd be surprised how many people zoom in to take a picture of you and miss that gorgeous background shot of the Eiffel Tower.
"Photography helps people to see." -Berenice Abbott
For some people, dining alone is an awful encounter. Like traveling solo, eating alone doesn't have to be a singular experience. If you made a friend at your hotel/hostel or on a tour, ask them if they would like to join you for dinner. If that's not the case, sitting at the bar isn't as bad as it seems. If the bar scene isn't your scene, as for a seat by a window so you can people watch or listen to music on your phone (for me, this is the perfect time to look through my pictures for the day or check my social media/e-mails). If you still feel restaurant anxiety, you can always get take out and go back to your room or sign up for a local cooking class (that way you get a meal and a chance to meet people).
Dealing With Loneliness
Feeling alone can, and probably will happen at some point on your trip, especially if you are in a country for a long stretch of time or some place where there are significant language barriers or cultural differences. Being outside of your comfort zone for the first time will magnify the feeling of being homesick and that's okay. During these times, i suggest taking a walking tour, or perhaps a language or cooking class. Maybe even going to a local museum, read a book, have a beach/spa day, visit a market, or just spend time getting lost. Also, be sure to download apps like WhatsApp so you can call your loved ones.
"To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world." Freya Stark
Making New Friends
We all love making new friends. I've been very fortunate in this area and have met many people all over the world. Having someone there to share your experience with is awesome! A great way to meet new friends is to stay at a hostel. Hostels are more casual then hotels offering shared accommodations (there are all female as well as mixed dorms or you can choose a private room if you are shy). https://www.hostelworld.com/ is a good website when searching for shared accommodations. Also, you can join a female travel group on Facebook (there are plenty like Girls Love Travel, Women Who Travel, etc), post the dates you will be in a certain country and ask if anyone is available to meet up.
“Traveling solo does not always mean you’re alone. Most often, you meet marvelous people along the way and make connections that last a lifetime.” – Jacqueline Boone
Which leads me to.... I Wasn't Looking For Trouble, but....
Let's face it, unfortunate things can unfortunately happen to anyone. It's worse when you're alone in a foreign country and may not even know the language. As a safety precaution, it's always wise to purchase travel insurance. A good company is Allianz https://www.allianztravelinsurance.com/ or World Nomads https://www.worldnomads.com/usa/travel-insurance. Another safety measure you can take is to register with STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) https://step.state.gov/. STEP registers your information and sends it to the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. The Embassy will contact you in the event of a natural disaster, civil unrest or a family emergency. Also, it's important to know the number and address of the nearest Embassy or Consulate of your home country https://www.usembassy.gov/. Your home Embassy can assist you with the following issues:
- replace a lost or stolen passport
- contact family, friends, or employers back home
- help locate lost, missing [or presumed missing] travelers
- help obtain medical care and recommend local medical facilities
- provide information on local English-speaking doctors, as well as their training and specialties
- help transfer funds or receive funds from home
- provide assistance for a death overseas, including notification to family and returning remains to the United States
- provide emergency assistance, if you're a victim of crime
- provide information about the local criminal justice process
- visit you in jail if you're arrested and advise you of your rights under local law
- provide sources for local English-speaking attorneys and their areas of legal expertise
- register overseas births to American parents
- notarize documents and supply governmental forms
Solo Female Travel Safety Measures
I know you're on this epic vacation, but you still have to take care of yourself when you're traveling alone as a woman. If you're in a situation and you feel uncomfortable, excuse yourself. Be cautious about walking alone at night. Have a good time, but not "too good" of a time. Be sure to keep your wits about you. If you take a taxi, make sure it's a registered taxi. If you plan on partying that night, maybe casually tell the reception at your hotel (or a friend) your whereabouts. "Oh i'm going to so and so club, is that any good?". Something so that someone else knows where you are. If you take Uber, make sure you are getting into the correct car. Many people may try to take advantage of you when they see you traveling alone, from the "pushy" seller who follows you (it's always polite to either not make eye contact to begin with, or to say no thank you and walk away with purpose). Never leave your belongings or your drinks unattended. If you think a place is dangerous to visit, don't go! Always trust your intuition. We have these feelings for a reason. Give your itinerary to a friend, significant other or family member so somebody knows where you are.
Solo Female Travel Gives You Confidence, Freedom and Empowerment!
It can be argued that solo travel pushes you out of your comfort zone in a way like no other. Language barriers, getting lost, or falling ill can initially be terrifying by yourself; however, it soon becomes apparent that you can be capable of far more than you ever imagined. Of course you can find a friend, family member or significant other to travel with, but nothing gives you more freedom than traveling alone. What you do or decide not to do is completely up to you. Traveling alone will also give you a confidence you may not have had before. If there is a problem, you have to figure it out. You will get to know more about yourself. You will push yourself more than you would if someone else was around because we tend to sometimes follow the choices of others instead of our own. In the end, traveling solo as a female one of the most empowering thing you can do.
"Don’t ever accept anyone else’s preconceived limitations. If there’s something you want to do, there isn’t any reason you can’t do it."-
My advice to all you ladies out there who are open to exploring the world, explore it! Everything is scary the first time, but the best things in life are on the opposite side of fear!
“A nomad I will remain for life, in love with distant and uncharted places.” Isabelle Eberhardt