Traveling as a Solo Woman: Common Questions, Tips and Why You Should Do It
Thank you to Morgan at Baby Got Balance for hosting my guest post!
We had discussed what would be a good topic for me to write about and it was mentioned to talk about solo traveling as a female.
I thought of it and decided to break down my post in three parts: Common Questions I was asked, Tips on How to Be Safe and Why Solo Traveling is Amazing.
I received these questions and comments from men as well as women and even though what I am saying can apply to men too, I am just focusing on women.
What is it like traveling alone?
Not going to lie, it can be lonely. When you are sitting in a bus for a few hours with no one to talk with or you just got done with a museum and would like to talk with someone about it over lunch…it is a bit lonely. But the freedom I get to do what I want and to talk with whoever offsets those few moments. And those few moments are rare because I am usually doing it with someone I have just befriended.
What is it like traveling as a woman?
Well, I haven’t traveled as a man before, but I know I have my guard up more often than my male travel friends. I am more wary of random individuals in bars or shops- men and women. There are some things that I have to take note of as well such as my monthly cycle. Many places don’t have tampons or very limited pad options, but to counter this I started using the Diva cup, please see my post here about it, and it is truly heavenly. I also don’t carry that much stuff. I rarely put on make-up and so I rarely bring it with me on travels. I don’t normally wear jewelry, so I also don’t bring much of it. At the end of the day, women can travel very efficiently and I recommend it.
Aren’t you afraid?
There is always an element of fear. Fear of being raped, fear of being kidnapped, fear of being alone…especially from all the Hollywood movies like Taken. But, at the end of the day, if I let fear control me, I wouldn’t leave my house. I would still be living at my parents’ house probably.
No one wanted to come with you?
I only received this question once, but it surprised me. Not the question itself, but more my response. It had never occurred to me to ask someone to come with me or for me to wait for someone to come with me. I just started traveling. As I told the young woman who asked me, one day on a bus in the Balkans, I didn’t ask anyone and if I had waited for anyone, I probably wouldn’t have gone anywhere. She just looked at me and said she can’t go unless she has someone. It is a valid feeling, but there is always an excuse NOT to do something. We have to find the excuse TO DO it. Most of the time when I have paired with someone or in a group it is because they have asked me to tag along- which is also awesome! I am happy to be the excuse for people to travel and explore!
You might meet someone while traveling!
This isn’t a question, but still a valid thought. This statement usually implies that the reason I am traveling or a cool bonus would be if I met some hunky man and he swept me off my feet (or woman). I mean, yeah, to have a Hollywood movie romance would be a lovely situation, but it isn’t my point of traveling and I wasn’t looking for it. For those who I have seen look for it, it never really happened anyways, so you might as well travel for the sake of traveling, for seeing the world and experiencing other cultures and if the right person comes along then it truly is a bonus. I have a post about it here.
How did you decide on the places you go?
I don’t really have a plan or idea. I go with my gut. I am a big believer in following your gut. If I felt like there is more to see in a city, I stay longer. If I feel like going to this particular country is the right choice, I do so. Or I have a goal and somehow, to reach it, I end up going another path. For example, I knew I wanted to get to Naples, Italy, but the cheapest option was to go to Bari, Italy first. I had no idea about Bari, but once I got there, I really fell for the city and I am so glad I went.
Another example, I knew I wanted to get out of the Schengen Zone in Europe (a specific zone that has the same immigration law for external visitors, it is different than the Euro Zone), but didn’t know where. I looked up Workaway, a program that lets you travel to a location, live with a host, and help them do whatever needs to be done. I worked at a hostel changing sheets and received free room and breakfast every day that I worked. I also didn’t know much about Serbia beforehand, but Belgrade is now one of my favorite cities! Read more about this experience here.
This goes along with being free solo. If I was traveling with someone, I wouldn’t necessarily have the flexibility to just go somewhere. I would have to talk and compromise over decisions. I have traveled in pairs and groups before, and I enjoyed that style as well, but there is something to be said about having complete control over your path.
Be aware of your surroundings & follow your gut
When I was traveling, I didn’t purposely go into dark alleys or places my gut was telling me were unsafe. In Buenos Aires, everyone told me that the neighborhood La Boca was not safe. After 6 months, I decided to fully explore the neighborhood besides the tourist part. A few blocks away from the tourists, everything was quiet and eerie. I immediately went back to the tourist area. My gut was telling me something and I listened. Maybe I would have been OK. Maybe my gut was telling me no only because I have heard too many things bad about it, but either way, it is better safe and sorry when it comes to following your gut.
I have also been told how dangerous Italy is because one of my woman friends was in a group and was still almost pick pocketed. But yet, my experience in Italy was completely pleasant and I had no trouble. I had traveled solo as well as in group through Italy and both were fine.
I have also had no problems in Asia or South America. One might say it is because I physically fit in, but I also think I was a bit smarter with how I traveled.
For example, I wasn’t rearranging my bag in taxis. One woman I knew in Buenos Aires decided to rearrange her purse in the taxi resulting in her leaving her iPad by accident. Even though she called the company, her iPad was never seen again.
Don’t call attention to yourself
This is easier as a solo traveler than in groups as groups often talk in the native language and might be a bit louder than normal as they are having a good time talking and laughing.
As a solo traveler, I wore neutral clothes with no words and no fanciful colors or designs. This also helps with packing. If all colors are neutral, matching is easier.
The only time I felt harassed for my gender, I mean in a sexual way, was in Malaysia. I was wearing a normal tank top, but for this heavily Muslim country, one man openly glared at my breasts. It made me uncomfortable and unsafe.
I learned from this experience, rather be hot and safe with a long sleeves then cool and unsure. I don’t agree with this from a feminist stand point, but as another phrase goes: when in Rome, do what the Romans do. Don’t stand out, don’t wear clothing that isn’t truly “normal” for that country or culture.
Travel light and wear your purse/backpack in front
For traveling light, this can be your actual luggage. As a solo traveler, I have one backpack for everything and a smaller one for day trips. While walking the streets, I have a small purse that just carries the essentials (wallet, passport, phone, water, etc.) This purse always remains in front and I usually walk around with my hand still on the main part with all the pockets (not the strap). I wear a purse with long straps and make sure it crosses my body rather than on one shoulder. If I wear a backpack, I keep it in the front of me especially if I have my valuables (wallet, passport, etc.) inside and especially if it is a crowded area.
Why Solo Traveling is Amazing
You can do what you want
There is no compromise. There is no negotiating. If you want to see that museum or eat at that restaurant, you do it!
You are more open to meeting people
You might not believe it, but when I travel alone, I would talk with so many different people. When I had a partner, I tended to stick to that person. It is easier to stick to someone you know than try and make new friends. Or, if you and your partner are interested in meeting new people, it is intimidating for other travelers to approach the pair because it is obvious there is already history. It is like jumping into a conversation halfway through- you don’t really know what is going on and it is more effort to understand the other part of the conversation. I say this as being someone who has tried entering groups or pairs while traveling. Sometimes the pair or group is open to me, but sometimes they are not. It is hard to tell at the very beginning.
Many of my close friends, I feel, come from traveling. When you meet other solo travelers, you both are in the same space of: we need to make friends, we want to have these social interactions. But on top of that, they have two similar interest to you- love of travel, and the courage to go alone! Read more about the different types of travelers I met on the road here.
You earn a lot of courage and confidence
Traveling solo definitely builds your confidence in yourself and, therefore, encourages more courage later. Once you do something, the next big thing won’t look so big and you realize that you did something similar so this will be fine as well. Traveling solo has given me different perspectives in life in terms of different cultures, but also on myself. It showed me who I really was since I was away from family and long-term friends. I was away from per-conceived ideas of what I was supposed to do and act. I could become anyone I wanted and I could act anyway I pleased, but most importantly I could just be who I really was: I could just be me.
For example, I traveled with two friends on two separate occasions. They had known me through a school context and had this idea and role for me in their mind, like a mentor role. When we started traveling together, I assumed that role once again, even though my travel self, or rather, my normal self, wasn’t necessarily this. Versus, those I have met while traveling have seen a different side of me that my friends couldn’t really grasp.
I am not saying I was fake with my friends, but they only saw one side of me while traveling enabled all aspects of who I am to come out and flourish.
I hope this gives you more insight into why I travel solo and why I think it should be tried at least once. One of my friends that I mentioned earlier who has placed that mentor role on me, visited me in Europe and traveled backpacker style. It was her first time and she shared with me her thoughts, you can see it here. She was glad she tried it, even if it wasn’t solo, but she prefers the travel style of groups and well-organized tours. That’s totally fair and I am proud she gave it a try.
This article was contributed by Marinella Yule of www.myopenpassport.net travel blog. She has traveled throughout North America and to over 40 countries. She is currently working on improving her third language (French) and sometimes writes blogs in Spanish as well. You can learn more about her work through her website: marinellayule.com.