No one expected me– a small-town girl from Ohio– to be a solo woman traveler. I had never eaten a meal alone in a restaurant or traveled on my own except for business trips. I surprised everyone, including myself.
Shelving a lucrative career at the age of 29, I fulfilled a childhood dream and took off for two years to trek, cycle, climb, dive, and kayak my way through six continents and more than 70 countries around the world.
Why go alone?
Because the alternative was to stay home. Since no one shared my dream or wanted to interrupt their careers, I reluctantly headed out alone.
Today more travelers are going solo and and they’re not just the young and single. Many women are in committed relationships but their partner’s job or other interests prevent him from taking off.
One of the best things about traveling solo is that you call all the shots. Want to spend an afternoon smelling the roses? Go for it! (Photo: New Brunswick Tourism)
When you travel solo, your experiences are not influenced by the perspective or opinions of your travel companion. You have the freedom to create a journey of your own, be spontaneous, and not be accountable for anyone else’s feelings.
Recent statistics demonstrate that changing lifestyles and demographics are feeding an explosion in solo travel.
According to the 2015 Visa Global Travel Intentions Study, 24 percent of people traveled alone on their most recent overseas leisure trip, an increase from 15 percent two years ago. The AARP reports that of Americans 45 and older who have traveled alone, 53 percent are married, while some 39 percent are single or divorced.
What happens when you go alone?
The two years I traveled solo around the world boosted my confidence, expanded my world, helped me to be still, reflect, and to know myself. Traveling solo changed my life. In fact, I met my future husband, an American, in Kathmandu, Nepal. Between the covers of my book Gutsy Women: More Travel Tips and Wisdom for the Road, I created a “do” list for women itchy to go it alone.
Tips for Solo Women Travelers
Prepare: Read guidebooks and travel literature and talk to women who have traveled to the country of your destination. Be aware of cultural taboos and sensitivities to Western dress, and pack accordingly. It is better to dress conservatively and begin with modest, extremely polite behavior. The Lonely Planet guides have special sections for female travelers that explain cultural taboos, discuss hassles and precautions, and offer destination-specific tips for women traveling solo.
Pack lightly: This may be especially helpful if you are traveling to more than one destination or plan to change accommodations. For example, if you are rambling around the continent with a Eurail Pass, you’ll have to manage your own luggage, lifting it on and off the train and hauling it to taxis or buses. If you can’t carry your own bag from the train station to your hotel, you will be vulnerable to theft or assault and dependent upon anyone who can lend a hand.
Believe you won’t be lonely: Just because you are traveling alone doesn’t mean you’ll be more lonesome than at home. Like PMS, loneliness comes and goes. Take care of yourself. When you start to feel down, it’s often because you haven’t eaten or slept enough, or you are dehydrated.
As a woman traveling alone, you’re much more approachable to children and their mothers. Make a new friend, like this youngster in Burma. (Photo: Vera & Jean-Christophe)
Travel like the locals: In the Himalayas, trek on foot. In Europe, take the train or rent a bike. Consider going by horseback in the Wild West or by rickshaw in Asia.
Although you may start out alone, you won’t stay alone if you strike up a conversation with fellow travelers and locals. (Photo: Gunnar Hildonen)
Learn a couple of words in the local language: You may find the people appreciate your attempt to communicate in their language. Just a few words such as hello, goodbye, delicious, beautiful, boy, or girl can cause a local person to warm up to you.
Avoid being a target: Leave your expensive or expensive-looking jewelry at home. Wear a money belt or carry your valuables in an inner pocket.
Protect yourself: You may want to invest in a simple rubber doorstop. It can stop intruders in their tracks. It’s inexpensive, light to pack, and gives you the peace of mind to sleep well. The main door to your room usually has a pretty good lock and peephole and sometimes a bar chain. But if there is an adjoining room, that door usually has a fairly flimsy lock. The doorstop is especially useful in those situations. Don’t let fear keep you at home.
Trust your instincts: Take extra precautions not to end up alone on empty beaches, on dark streets, or in situations where help may not be available. Late at night, take taxis and sit in the back seat. If you feel something is off, wrong, or strange—get out and move on. Do it quickly. With preparation and caution, you can feel secure traveling alone. Don’t let fear stop you from traveling.
Do what the locals do—when they do it: Get up early and go to the market. Visit the pubs in Ireland and sing along. Plan your trip around festivals. Consider staying in a B&B or homestay to meet local people. As a single woman you are more approachable and you’ll meet people more easily than if you were with someone else.
Observe local life in early-morning markets. Pick up a fresh, cheap breakfast of local fruit or delicacies. (Photo: John Ragai)
Consider wearing a wedding ring if you don’t already: Some men will try their luck with single women and be annoyingly persistent. If you don’t want this kind of attention, ignore them, adapt an unfriendly attitude, and flaunt your ring. An imaginary husband can give you respectability and an excuse. Besides, he may arrive at any moment.
Nudge yourself to move out of your comfort zone: Smile, talk to people, and step out the door. Travel is great therapy, as well as one of the fastest ways to boost your self-confidence.
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