When the night bus from Recife to Porto de Galinhas in Brazil turned onto a dirt road, I assumed we were taking a shortcut. When it stopped and the door opened to let in two armed men, whatever courage I possessed instantly vanished. In the end nothing happened; it was a misunderstanding. But I feel like I had a good reason to be scared.
And then in Cabo Verde I spent days running from one of my biggest terrors — cockroaches! The episode made me feel like the most ridiculously fearful woman in the universe. Bravery? Mine’s as good as anyone else’s when in a safe and comfortable place.
I’d just met Joanna in a hostel in Nice when she invited me to go with her on a helicopter tour over Côte d’Azur. A prize she’d won in some contest. I accepted her offer right away. In the helicopter, a famous actor took a seat right in front of us, and my travel companion spent the whole time attempting to seduce him. I couldn’t take my eyes from the window, totally ashamed, wishing I’d never met her.
The worst came after the helicopter landed. The actor approached me, offered me his business card, and invited me for a coffee. I blushed so hard Joanna — unaware of what had just happened — thought I wasn’t feeling well. I got out of there as fast as I could and never saw either of them again.
I always have a hard time dealing with embarrassing situations, and that’s something that hasn’t improved a bit over the years, regardless of how many solo travel experiences I’ve accumulated.
I was between jobs, with only enough money for two more months. It was the middle of winter in my hometown of Lisbon — cold and rainy. Bored and home in the middle of the day, I started surfing the internet, daydreaming about tropical beaches, craving sunny days. I stumbled on a special offer for a flight to Havana. I figured if I only had money for two more months, I might as well spend that time in a country with a lower cost of living than Portugal and make my budget last a little longer.
The week after I was in Cuba, and when I finally came home, I was happy, tan, and totally broke but fully motivated for the next phase of my life. Being short on money has never been an excuse to keep me home.
On the day before my flight from Los Angeles to London, I met a group of young people who invited me to join them on a trip to San Francisco. They’d leave in two days, so I had only 48 hours to make up my mind. I’d wanted to visit SF since forever, but I was missing home, and London was closer to Lisbon. On the other hand, London was easier for me to visit anytime, and it’d be much harder to get to SF in the future.
I couldn’t make a decision. I made lists of pros and cons, I restructured my budget, I tried to feel out my deepest desires. Still, I didn’t know what to do, and my potential travel companions ended up leaving without me. To this day, I’ve never been to San Francisco.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only time when doubts overwhelmed me. More than once, I’ve stayed home instead of traveling simply because I couldn’t decide where I wanted to go.
I once spent a few days camping and hiking in Portugal’s Lousã Mountains. It was springtime, the landscape was breathtaking, and the weather was perfect. But on the first morning, right after I woke up, a question popped into my mind: What was I doing there alone? Why wasn’t I back home with my friends, doing whatever they were doing?
I felt tempted to pack my things and leave. But I didn’t. I spent the next three days hiking, and crying at every footstep. I’d been smacked by a good case of loneliness. I never regretted my decision to stay, though.
Sometimes a sunset, a swim in the ocean, or the smell of a meal conjures that feeling of loneliness in me. But it’s never strong enough to make me give up on my way of traveling the world.
One of the travel bloggers I follow (Oneika Raymond) recently spoke about this topic on her Instagram. She mentioned how traveling as a female shouldn’t really be any different than traveling as anyone else. You have to think of the same things and take similar precautions, but in most places in the world female travelers are like any other travelers.
Her explanation got me thinking about what are the truths to “solo female travel.” What are some of the myths and truths we read and hear about and are they actually true? I solo backpacked through 25 different countries and found that predominantly, I wasn’t taking any extra precautions than my fellow travelers who were traveling with friends or in couples. However, there are some truths solo female travelers have to deal with that not every traveler does. Below are 5 myths and 5 truths I discovered while traveling alone.
5 Myths and 5 Truths of Solo Female Travel
Myth 1: You Must Always Have Your Guard Up. One of the most popular beliefs is that solo female travelers must always look out for the next person to take advantage or attack them. That in certain parts of the world where human trafficking and pick-pocketers are rampant women who are traveling alone are primary targets and it’s not safe to go outside at night by yourself.
Truth1: While yes, there are people in this world that prey upon those who are alone, I often found that I was just as equally bugged or pestered when I was walking with another backpacker. When you are traveling by yourself you should be aware of the situation you are in and don’t put yourself in a place that may be unsafe. Overdrinking or taking drugs can lead to uncertain situations in places you don’t know with people you may not trust.
Myth 2: Females Have to Dress Conservatively in Certain Places. Another big topic is that in the Middle East or certain parts of Asia women must always dress modestly and cover themselves up.
Truth2: This myth does have some truth to it. There are places like northern India or Jordan where out of respect of the culture women should cover their legs and shoulders. However, this can be said for men as well. It’s always best to take cues from locals and dress how they dress to respect the local customs. For example, I dressed more conservatively in northern India but wore shorts and a tank top in Goa as it was a beach area and was an accepted practice.
Myth 3: Do Not Travel Between Destinations By Yourself. Female travelers should always find a fellow traveler they can go travel with between destinations.
Truth 3: Not necessarily. I know many female travelers who have traversed Egypt, Vietnam, and Peru all by themselves. For much of my travels, I have gone from destination to destination by myself, even at night! I know some travelers would recommend not traveling by bus or train at night as a safety precaution, but I felt comfortable when I did it. It all depends on your comfort level. If you’re nervous about traveling by train at night, spend a few more dollars to book a private room on the train instead of sitting in open seating.
Myth 4: You will always be lonely. Traveling by yourself means you will constantly be looking to hang out with other travelers and will get homesick.
Truth 4: Well, sure you may get lonely. I know I did a few times. However, those lasted only a day and I was ready to get out exploring and meet other people right away. Traveling solo isn’t for everyone, even though I highly recommend doing it once in your life. I found those few and far between lonely spells were greatly outweighed by the lessons and benefits I gained from traveling by myself.
Myth 5: Traveling By Yourself is Expensive. Since you are a solo traveler you have to pay for everything, and some tour companies charge extra for solo travelers.
Truth 5: This is a myth I am happy to debunk. When you do travel with others there is more sharing of the expenses, but when you are traveling solo you get to dictate where and what you do. When you are the one who is footing the bill, you become conscious of what you are spending your money on and where you really want to spend your money. I found that when I went out with other travelers I spent more than I normally would because we were in a group and aren’t always able to decide on where to eat or what to see.
Guest Author: Chris Slack
Ever the subject of romanticized movies and books, solo female travel will strike hard in 2021. Introducing the voices of women who will tell you why (and how) to go, brought to you by leading women’s travel community, Wanderful.
We’ve seen all the movies–woman ventures out into the world by herself, has a life-changing experience, meets some ruggedly handsome gentleman, and is forever changed.
In reality, solo travel isn’t nearly as glamorous. For women, there’s a lot that we must consider both before, during, and even after venturing out on the road, from the reality of cultural attitudes and norms abroad to safety and security to the social pressure we receive to take our friends, our partners, or our kids along with us.
That doesn’t mean, however, that we’re not getting out there anyway–and before COVID-19 struck, we were doing it more than ever before. Google Trends reported that searches for the term “solo women travel” increased a whopping 230% in 2019, up from 59% the year prior.
And contrary to what we may see on mainstream media, these women traveling solo are not just white, Western, thin, and straight.
The average solo traveler in the U.K. is 57 years old. Disabled travelers are spending $58.7 billion on their trips. Black Americans are contributing a whopping $109.4 billion to the leisure travel space. Women are equally as likely to be twenty-somethings preparing to study abroad as we are to be empty nesters rediscovering ourselves after our kids leave home.
While travel has suffered on a whole in 2020, if nothing else, this past year has given us the motivation to not delay our dream trips another moment once it’s safe to get out there again. Whether you’re contemplating a first solo trip due to the loss of your travel partner, to indulge in a little self-care, or because you’re simply done waiting for another person to sign up for your plans, there are some key things you can start doing (yes, even now) to get you ready to travel in our new world.
Updated: 8/26/2018 | August 26th, 2018
Kristin Addis from Be My Travel Muse writes our regular column on solo female travel. It’s an important topic I can’t adequately cover, so I brought in an expert to share her advice for other women travelers to help cover the topics important and specific to them! She’s amazing and knowledgable. This month, we are starting the year off with some of the common myths people have about solo female travel!
Your partner thinks it would be selfish of you to travel without him/her. Your parents are worried for your safety. Your friends want to go with you but they are all busy working on their careers. The mainstream media tells you the world is a scary place for women. The little voice in your head whispers worries about loneliness to you. Does any of this sound familiar?
Just like you, I had a lot of misconceptions about traveling alone before I went overseas. I thought it might be dangerous, lonely, too much work, or make people think that I didn’t have any friends.
Plus, who wants to see all these amazing places completely alone? It sounded like a non-option, at least at first.
Then I realized nobody had the time to go with me, and I couldn’t wait any longer. I just had to go, or else I might never go.
So I went alone and found out that all of my assumptions about traveling solo were dead wrong. I wasn’t lonely, I didn’t end up kidnapped, and, in a lot of ways, it was actually way better to travel by myself. The freedom it afforded me, the way it grew my confidence, and all of the new friends I made were huge benefits that wouldn’t have happened it I went with a group of friends.
So for everyone who thinks that solo travel is lonely, dangerous, or boring, I am here to debunk a few common solo female travel myths to help give you the courage to get over your fears and go on an epic solo adventure
The scariest thing about traveling by yourself is the thought that you might be alone for your entire vacation, right? Who wants to travel to the other side of the world only to have to be by herself while looking at the majestic red sunrise over Angkor Wat?
I was really worried about this before I started traveling solo. Thankfully, I came to find that I made more friends in one week on the road than I had in a whole year back at home.
The best thing about traveling solo is that you’re not the only one doing it. More and more women are considering the concept of solo traveling to be realistic these days, and I couldn’t believe how it’s encouraging to see so many other solo female travelers out there traveling by themselves! Thanks to the power of social media, you can easily join online communities that are created specifically for solo female travelers, where you can gain and give support, share your travel plans, and connect with other like-minded solo female travelers. I also find that it’s easy to talk to and meet other travelers – they’re friendly people! I rarely felt alone during my years of traveling thanks to this.
Before I started traveling and meeting people with all kinds of different stories and backgrounds, I figured that if you’re traveling by yourself, it must be because you don’t have a significant other. People who have commitments like a family or partner don’t just go traveling on their own. It must mean there’s a problem in the relationship or that they’re escaping their commitments, right?
Wrong. I came to learn that plenty of people who are in relationships travel alone, and for all kinds of reasons.
It could just be that they have different interests, something many relationship experts say is totally healthy. Maybe their partner can’t get time off from work, or maybe both parties made a conscious decision to do some soul-searching on a solo adventure, even just for a portion of the trip, and meet back up again.
Many solo travelers are single, but there are many more who are in relationships too. Just because you’re not single doesn’t mean you can’t have an awesome trip by yourself.
A lot of my friends thought I was ultra brave and independent because I was going to travel alone. The honest truth is that I was incredibly scared and overwhelmed with the idea of traveling solo until I finally just got on the plane and went. To fear what you don’t know is just to be human. It’s in our nature.
Despite being terrified, I went anyway. Later I laughed at how scared I had been, after I realized that getting around, meeting new people, and finding things to eat was all way easier than I had ever thought it could be.
You don’t have to be sure of everything and incredibly courageous to go traveling on your own. Those things may come as a nice benefit of traveling solo, but they don’t have to be prerequisites. The hardest part is getting on the plane. After that, it’s surprisingly easy to get around language barriers, figure out timetables, and have an adventure. Plenty of locals speak at least some English, and Google Maps, translation apps, and cellphone connectivity have all made traveling so much easier than it used to be.
I used to quietly watch the TV in bars or wear my headphones in public places so that I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. I used to feel pretty paralyzed in a room with someone with a strong personality. Basically, I was kind of awkward.
But an incredible benefit of traveling by myself is that it has made me outgoing. Even if you have trouble starting a conversation, in a hostel common room, chances are really good that eventually someone will reach out to you and bring you into a conversation. I recall that in the Philippines, a girl tapped me and asked where I’m from, and after chatting for a while, we became friends and hung out all week.
You will probably also find that after a few times approaching new people — which will be incredibly nerve-racking at first — they will be so much more open than you feared that it will be an encouraging surprise. It’s so easy to start a conversation by simply asking somebody where they’re from or where they just came from. I know those are cliché, but they also work, and before you know it, you have something to talk about.
It’s easy to build up confidence around travelers — they’re just really friendly people!
You’ve seen the movie, Taken, right? The one where Liam Neeson’s daughter gets kidnapped in Europe and he kicks major butt and rescues her? Or what about Brokedown Palace, where Claire Danes gets thrown in Thai jail when a handsome stranger plants drugs on her? This is our image of girls traveling the world (thanks, Hollywood!). It’s no surprises that time and again, women are told that they should never travel solo!
First of all, neither of the protagonists in those movies actually was traveling solo. Maybe if they had been, they would have paused and listened to their voices of reason and stayed out of trouble.
Staying safe on the road is all about trusting your intuition, behaving abroad like you would at home. Would you get super drunk alone at a bar at home? Would you walk around alone at night? Talk to the locals at your guesthouse about what you should watch out for, and practice common sense. What kept you alive at home and keeps you alive on the road, too.
For more check out this post all about solo female travel safety.
And take a look at these blogs for inspiration and proof women can travel alone:
Every day millions of women travel the world alone. It’s safe and doable, and you won’t end up in a ditch!
It happened from car windows when I was walking home from school at age 14, it happened when I was getting into my car at a random gas station in the middle of nowhere in Nevada, and it happens when I walk down the streets of New York City. Sometimes a boyfriend was only a few steps away — it didn’t matter. Catcalls happen abroad and at home. They’re annoying, yes, but don’t let them keep you from having the awesome solo trip you deserve.
The best way to deal with that kind of attention is to make sure you understand the modesty requirements in the countries that you visit and dress accordingly. Some women suggest wearing a wedding band, but I find that being very confident, looking people in the eye, and being respectfully assertive are all good ways to stand my ground as well.
While simply being a female does open you up for catcalls and unwanted advances in some parts of the world, in many cases, though, it’s quite the opposite, and I’m treated with respect and kindness, particularly because I’m a woman traveling on her own.
If you travel on your own, you will be making all of the decisions.
This is also the biggest benefit of traveling solo. It means that you don’t have to plan ahead if you don’t want to, and have more serendipitous fun, the novelty of which we are hardwired to crave. You don’t have to worry about whether the other person is having fun or not, or stress about doing everything for two or more people.
In fact, the more I travel solo, the more I find that planning a trip for one is often much easier than planning for a group. I get to do only exactly what I want to do, see places that others may not be interested in, and even have a “day off” in my travels without the guilt!
The benefit of complete freedom while traveling solo absolutely outweighed the extra legwork that I had to do. I also found it easy to just ask a friend which restaurant or activity they liked, or the person working at the hostel counter. It’s not that hard.
A lot of people sell off everything they have and take off to the other side of the world with a one-way ticket in hand ( I’m talking about myself here ), but that doesn’t mean that everyone who travels solo has turned her life upside down in order to do it.
It can be as simple as a weekend trip alone to another city, a two-week jaunt to a warm and tropical place you’ve never been, or a monthlong solo backpacking trip in Europe between semesters. It doesn’t have to be a huge deal, and you could come right back to life as you know it before, with a few new adventures and a bit more confidence.
****It turned out that, contrary to what everyone (including me) thought, solo traveling wasn’t dangerous, boring, or lonely at all. It actually was one of the most social activities I’ve ever tried.
I ended up finding that, instead of solo traveling being a disadvantage in any way, it was actually advantageous to be free when I traveled. It endeared me more to locals, and I got to have unique experiences because I could say yes to everything, and that’s something that only solo travelers can say. It’s a big benefit to be able to go where you want when you want, without having to answer to anyone else. There must be a reason why it keeps growing in popularity year after year, right?
If traveling is about the benefits, the time spent in a new reality, and a departure from your normal, everyday life, then to traveling solo is to put those benefits on steroids. Give it a try, and you too may find that your misconceptions about it are all wrong.
Kristin Addis is a solo female travel expert who inspires women to travel the world in an authentic and adventurous way. A former investment banker who sold all of her belongings and left California in 2012, Kristin has solo traveled the world for over four years, covering every continent (except for Antarctica, but it’s on her list). There’s almost nothing she won’t try and almost nowhere she won’t explore. You can find more of her musings at Be My Travel Muse or on Instagram and Facebook.
For a complete A-to-Z guide on solo female travel, check out Kristin’s new book, Conquering Mountains. Besides discussing many of the practical tips of preparing and planning your trip, the book addresses the fears, safety, and emotional concerns women have about traveling alone. It features over 20 interviews with other female travel writers and travelers. Click here to learn more about the book and start reading it today!