No one expected me 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.
You too can travel alone. I discovered it’s not lonely, it’s empowering. You’ll learn to talk to people: from taxi drivers, who know the best places to eat and the in’s and out’s of a city, to the person sitting next to you on a train.
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.
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.
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 traveler you are more approachable and you’ll meet people more easily than if you were with someone else.
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.
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.
Travel like the locals: In the Himalayas, trek on foot. In Europe, take the train. Consider going by horseback in the Wild West, or by rickshaw in Asia. Traveling like the locals gives you insight into what daily life is like in your destination, and is often the cheapest way to travel. But this tip comes with a warning: if it doesn’t feel safe, don’t do it. If the taxi driver looks 12 years old, he probably is.
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.
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 planning out all your days. Allow free time for spontaneity. I met a Swiss woman when our flights were delayed in New Delhi. We were both going to Kashmir and as we waited for our flight together, we hit it off and ended up sharing accommodations and traveling together for the next three weeks. I changed my plans and made a life-long friend.
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. 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.