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. Since no one shared my dream or wanted to interrupt their careers, I reluctantly headed out alone. These two years of solo travel enriched and 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.
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.
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.
Travel like the locals: In the Himalayas, trek on foot. Consider going by horseback in the Wild West, by rickshaw in the Orient, or bicycle in Holland.
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.
Trust your instincts: They are well-honed from living in the USA. 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.
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 uppity attitude, and flaunt your ring. An imaginary husband can give you respectability, and 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.