On the second Wednesday of the month, Kristin Addis from Be My Travel Muse writes a column featuring tips and advice on solo female travel. It’s not a topic I can cover and, since there’s a lot of female travelers out there, I felt it was important to bring in an expert. Traveling solo can be scary, but traveling solo as a woman comes with its own particular set of concerns. This is Kristin’s column this month.
If you had asked me five years ago if I would ever travel alone, I would have immediately said, “No way. That can’t be safe, it must be lonely, and I’d get so bored.” Before I started traveling, I was scared of even the idea of eating dinner alone!
Then I started to realize that solo travel is not something people do just because they can’t find a friend to go with — it’s because they got tired of waiting for the perfect companion and just went. Then, as they find out there are many personal benefits to it, it typically becomes the preferred mode of travel.
However, before that happens, the biggest hurdle is getting over the fear: fear of being alone, unsafe, bored, and scared. I’ve experienced all those fears and talked to many potential travelers who have, too. Fear can hold a lot of people back. The following 10 fears are common reasons female travelers tend to stay at home and why those fears are unfounded.
Is solo traveling even safe?
Yes, absolutely. Safety should always be at the top of your mind, but the ways to combat this fear are to be prepared, to be aware, and to be smart. You have survived on the earth this long because you have figured out how to keep yourself out of deadly situations. Keep doing that when you travel.
Traveling is just like being at home: you have to understand your surroundings and act accordingly. Adapt as much as possible by doing research on what to wear, how to carry yourself, and what is acceptable behavior. You already know the obvious stuff like not being flashy and not getting too intoxicated. There’s no magic formula apart from being aware of and respecting your surroundings.
Really? It can be safe even for a single female?
Yes, with the right preparation and understanding of the culture and your surroundings, even traveling in India as a solo female can be safe. As female travelers, we have to be aware of more issues and concerns, but we have to do the same anywhere in the world. Keep your head about you, follow cultural norms, and be alert. Every day millions of women travel the world alone. You’re just as capable as they are.
What if my friends and family don’t approve?
Your loved ones might worry about you. It would be completely understandable if one or a few weren’t entirely supportive, but they do this because they love you, and given this fact, they want you to be happy.
I didn’t tell anyone about my desire to travel for almost a year. It ate me up inside because I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to handle it without the approval of people whose opinions meant a lot to me. It turns out I could have told them from the beginning, because they were surprisingly all very supportive.
Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly, suggests keeping a physical list of a small handful of people whose opinions really matter. These people should be those who love you unconditionally, like family and best friends.
Ask them to trust your intelligence and ability to strike out on your own, and assure them that you’ve done your research and you are able to keep yourself out of obvious harm.
As for the rest, there are always naysayers. Everyone else with a negative opinion doesn’t need to be considered.
Won’t I be lonely?
This was my biggest fear. After asking my friends, cousin, mere acquaintances, and just about anyone, really, to join me, I realized that nobody else was at a stage in their lives to travel long-term. If I waited for someone to join me, I might end up waiting forever.
Then my first night in Bangkok, I ate dinner with people I met at a hostel. Five days later I was biking around Angkor Wat in Cambodia with five new friends.
The fact is that you will meet people — a great many people — on the road. It will happen all the time. Promise!
But I’m kind of the shy type.
I used to be kind of shy and awkward, but I’m happy to say solo traveling has really helped that. The first time I really tried to be outgoing was when I walked up to a the only table with an empty chair in Laos and asked if I could join. Everyone eagerly welcomed me and it made me realize that making friends really is that easy on the road.
Most people have some element of shyness to overcome. Even if you think you’re shy and awkward, you’ll learn to lose it over time because travelers are friendly. Often, you won’t even have to be the one to start the conversation.
Many of us are also solo, and for this reason are typically very easy to meet and are open to interactions with new people. Traveling is a great way to get over shyness, even if taking baby steps.
As Matt has written, it’s do or die on the road, and because you want to make friends and not be alone, you’ll find yourself making small talk to people and that can lead to great friendships and new travel partners.
Won’t I get bored?
If you’re traveling you will suffer from very little boredom. Even a long bus journey will be stimulating because of random things like stopping for emergency jackfruit, on-bus buskers, and a chicken or two, from time to time.
You won’t be starved for adventure if you’re really putting yourself out there, trying new foods, going new places, and taking local transport. In fact, you may schedule in days specifically meant for lounging inside just because you’ve been having so much fun that you need a break.
But isn’t it preferable not to travel alone, if possible?
No way! Would you believe me if I told you that I far prefer solo traveling to group or tour travel? It’s something absolutely everyone should do in life. For the first time you have complete freedom and can do anything and everything you feel like doing, and nobody is around to say no.
It also increases your problem solving ability because you can’t pass off responsibility when things go wrong. It creates independence because you figure nearly everything out on your own, and it cultivates fearlessness because you realize what you’re capable of. I could go on for hours on this topic alone.
Traveling solo also allows you to be who you really are, without the judgment and outside influences of friends or family. As famed travel writer William Least Heat-Moon said, “When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.”
Besides, you’ll find travel buddies along the way as well.
What if I’m not brave enough for all of that?
You can still travel solo. Ease into it with a tour if you want, so that you can get used to your new surroundings before breaking off from the pack, or start off with a group of friends. Plenty of people do that and eventually decide to travel solo once they realize how much freedom it will give them.
People are adaptable, we really are. You can do it. At least trust your abilities enough to try.
What if I get homesick?
Homesickness is unavoidable, and you will have down days on the road just like you did at home. Traveling is not a magic pill that fixes everything. That doesn’t exist. There’s nothing wrong with going home but everyone gets a little homesick. Have regular Skype calls with your friends and family and take photos with you to help ease the homesickness.
However, don’t forget why you went traveling in the first place. You wanted to see new places, try new things, and meet new people. It was meant to be different and far away.
Being homesick is just a temporary bump in the road. You’ll go back home eventually, and everything will still be there more or less as it was. Sometimes, traveling helps us appreciate home all that much more.
What if I come home early because I run out of money/miss someone/(insert reason here)?
You can avoid running out of money by planning ahead and earning on the road. Matt’s gone into great detail on how to save, how to budget, and what kind of jobs travelers can get abroad.
As for missing people, give yourself a chance to be independent. Naturally, you’ll miss people, but deciding to be present and appreciating what you’re experiencing goes a long way toward making it through these tough periods.
Lastly, if you do come home earlier than planned, at least you made it out there and got a taste of how the traveling lifestyle can be. You can then more intelligently begin again if you want to return to it, or conversely feel confident that you already did all that you wanted.
Making a big life change is almost always scary, but it’s also exciting because of the new beginnings that await you. Traveling, particularly solo, is one of the most incredible gifts we can give ourselves in life. Solo female travel isn’t anything to be scared of. Don’t let fear hold you back from living your dreams.