Solo Female Travel: 15 Essential Tips to Ensure an Epic Journey Alone
Solo travel is a transformational experience that everyone should try at least once. Why? Whether you are a single student, married mom, or happy retiree, you deserve time to yourself to do whatever you want, discover new passions, and explore the world.
Oh the Postcard Academy podcast, fellow podcaster and travel writer Gemma Thompson joins me to answer all your questions about solo travel. Gemma wrote A Girl’s Guide to Travelling Alone and has a blog and a new podcast of the same name. Check it out!
Subscribe to the Postcard Academy to hear our whole conversation (it’s free). Here are the highlights.
What is solo travel?
Solo travel is just that — you’re traveling by yourself. But this doesn’t mean you have to take a vow of silence. You’ll meet loads of other travelers to hang out with on your journey. Of course, if you do want to meditate on a mountain by yourself, that’s totally cool.
Why would someone want to travel alone?
To start, you have the freedom to do whatever you want. Spend all day at one museum. Leave a city earlier than planned because someone invites you to a festival somewhere else. With solo traveling, you discover more about who you are and what you like, and you take part in experiences that wouldn’t be as available to you otherwise.
Relying on just yourself pushes you out of your comfort zone, tests your beliefs, and strengthens you as a person. When you travel with a friend or partner, chances are you’ll only talk to them. When you’re on your own, you open yourself up to conversations with different people around the world.
I want to travel alone, but I’m scared. How do I get over this?
“I advise people who are a little bit apprehensive about going on a solo trip to just break it down into stages,” Gemma says. “Don’t look at it as a big thing that you can’t comprehend. Don’t worry about a million things at once.”
Here’s what else you can do:
Figure out what kind of trip you want to take: Sightseeing in London? Backpacking through Asia? Sipping cocktails on a beach? What kind of experiences do you want to have: Cooking in Mexico? Trekking in Thailand? What have you always wanted to try? Then pick a location and start researching.
Talk to a travel agent to help you sort the logistics, from flights to accommodation. Gemma and I have both used STA in the past and recommend them. Once you start traveling more, you might not need or want a travel agent, but for first timers, this handholding can alleviate a lot of stress.
Book that ticket! Gemma says that once you make the leap, you can stop worrying about whether you should take this trip and start getting excited. Focus on the positive and don’t panic about what could go wrong.
Buy travel insurance. Accidents happen on vacation and you want to make sure you’re covered. I get my travel insurance through World Nomads, who offer advice when you need it and also coverage for damage or theft of expensive items like laptops.
Print hard copies of your itinerary and all your tickets. You might need this to show at border control and, heaven forbid, if you lose your phone with all your info, you could be screwed.
I’m afraid I’ll be lonely if I travel by myself
This is completely normal! And you might have bouts of loneliness on a solo trip. But if you want to meet new people you will.
Stay at a hostel. I know this might sound crazy if you haven’t been a student for awhile, but these days, some hostels operate like boutique hotels with private rooms. This is an easy way to meet people because there are common areas. Sites like hostelworld.com can tell you the vibe of a place. Booking your accommodation might be cheaper on booking.com and they have hostels, too.
Go on a walking tour. Not only is this a great way to learn the layout of a city and get tips on what else to see, you’ll also meet other travelers new to the area.
Take a class. Check out TripAdvisor or AirBnB Experiences to find something you’re interested in. Chances are, you’ll make a new friend while surfing or salsa dancing.
Sit at the bar. Going to breakfast or lunch by yourself is easy. Dinner on your own can feel a bit lonely. Sit at the bar where you can chat to the bartender and other people flying solo.
Ask a local for tips — and then invite them to hang out. This can feel like a bold move, but solo travel will bring this out of you. This past summer I spent a few weeks in Sarajevo on my own and got to know so many amazing shop owners because I chatted to them about how I was so excited about being in their hometown. I think this amused them, and who doesn’t like hearing that where they’re from is great? They showed me some of the best places to eat and drink in Bosnia.
Volunteer. When she lived in New York, Gemma volunteered to walk dogs, which attracted people to her and made striking up conversations easy.
Is solo travel safe for a woman?
Yes, solo travel is safe for a woman. However, women should research the cultural nuances, dress codes, and crime statistics of a country before they go. It’s never your fault if someone commits a crime against you. To minimize the chance of this happening, however, female travelers have to take extra precautions and avoid things like walking in parks alone at night and getting too drunk. It’s not fair, but it’s reality.
How much research should I do for my solo trip?
This depends on your personality and how much time you have, I don’t do a ton of research — I mostly get my insider tips from people on my podcast! Gemma, on the other hand, researches every last detail of her trip. If you’re nervous about traveling solo, it’s a good idea to plan ahead.
Here are some top tips:
Pack appropriately. Research culture and climate and bring the right clothes — and don’t overpack. You do not need that much stuff and can always buy more clothes if you need to. Are you trekking through the desert? Bring clothes suitable for that activity rather than ‘going out’ attire. Pack tampons or other feminine hygiene products that might not be available where you go. Bring any medicine you need. Here’s the travel packing list that I use.
Make sure your hotel is in a good location. Read hotel reviews on a site like booking.com Is the hotel as close to the city center as they claim? Are there rooms to avoid? Then Gemma uses this smart trick: She zooms in on the location via Google Maps’ street view. This lets her see if the hotel is in a dodgy area or not, and also gives her a visual that will help her recognize the place as soon as she arrives.
Plan to visit specific restaurants. Perhaps you’re a vegetarian or want a cafe that has wifi. Having a few places in mind can prevent aimless wanders (though these are fun, too).
Learn the language. You don’t need to become fluent, but learn some basic phrases if you’re going to a non-English speaking country. “And if you only learn one phrase,” Gemma says, “make that ‘thank you.’”
What are some places to avoid if I’m a woman traveling alone for the first time?
Stay out of war zones, obviously, and stick to locations where women are less likely to be discriminated against. You might say, ‘That’s everywhere!’ But realistically, the equality of women varies greatly around the globe. Research is key here.
What are some good destinations for first-time solo travelers?
Make life easy for yourself and start out in a place where there’s a lot going on and where communicating in English is not a problem. Gemma’s top recommendations: New York, Ireland, Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand. I will throw in London because it’s the best city in the world and you can come and say hi to me.
If you found this article useful, please share it, and subscribe to the Postcard Academy podcast. Each week, expats and adventurers share their insider travel tips on the best food, nightlife, and cultural experiences in the most interesting places around the globe. I’m your host, Sarah Mikutel, an American who's spent the last 7 years living in, and traveling around, Europe.