Thinking about traveling the world solo as a female traveler? Worried about the potential dangers lurking overseas? Nervous about doing things alone or feeling lonely and bored? I’m here to provide you with my perspective on the matter and to assure you that you’ve got this. In this post, I’ll share some of my own experiences, explain why I think the solo travel experience is so valuable, and provide you with useful tips on how to make the most out of your trip while staying safe.
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My Experience With Solo Travel
I’m no stranger to doing things alone. When I was 21, I began exploring parts of California alone, because other people were always busy. I didn’t let their schedules get in the way of what I wanted to do. I was single, so there was no “other me” to count on to do things with me. So I went hiking, explored new parks, hunted for secret beaches, studied at cafes, and dined at restaurants solo.
I quickly learned to appreciate the mental clarity I got from doing thing by myself. I was more aware of my surroundings, my thoughts, my feelings. I was able to not only pay attention to the smaller details in life (birds chirping in an otherwise silent forest, the pattern that waves took when they crashed on the shore, the behavioral patterns of two strangers on a first date, etc.) but to really appreciate them. I looked forward to moments like this– moments of introspection and moments of complete mindfulness.
And Then Abroad…
When I first traveled abroad alone, I only did four days in Paris. I had actually wanted to complete a whole 2 weeks in Europe solo, but some friends decided to join me after I had mentioned the trip. In Paris, I found that I wasn’t lonely, I wasn’t harassed, I didn’t get kidnapped, and I instantly fell in love with being by myself in a foreign place.
Solo travel provided me with so much flexibility and freedom, I knew it was going to be something that stuck with me. Less than a year later, I ended up quitting my job and going on a 3.5 month trip to Europe alone. It was the best decision of my life.
To be honest, I have very little fear when it comes to traveling the world solo.
How? Well, a few reasons for me, personally.
I’m actually an extrovert. Despite that, I enjoy being alone as much as I enjoy hanging out with friends. In addition, I am a sensation seeker, a real grab-life-by-the-horns-and-roll-with-it kind of girl. I love exploring, traveling, and being adventurous, there’s no way I can deny it. I’m all about continuous learning, experiencing new things, meeting new people, and being excited about life itself. There’s no way anyone could mistake me for anything else.
I operate with the mindset that life is meant to be experienced (real-life ‘YOLO’), and that life is too short to allow your decisions to be hindered by fear—fear of approval, fear of danger, fear of the unknown. (I’m an ESTJ and a Sagittarius, maybe this contributes to why I’m like this.)
Solo travel allows all of these traits of mine to thrive. I thrive as a human being when I travel alone.
I’m 5’8, and for a woman, this is relatively tall. I also have more of an athletic build since I workout 5-6x per week. Now I may be wrong, but I feel like my height and body composition gives me some advantage over the shorter, skinnier ladies out there. This idea is based on the assumption that bad people are looking for the easiest opportunity. I’m larger, and therefore harder to mess with (harder to grab, more difficult to toss into a van; if pickpocketed and caught, my long legs and I could catch up to you).
Take the example of encountering a mountain lion on a hike or in the wild. Mountain lions instinctually will go after the child or the shortest person in the group. (The trick with them is to make yourself look bigger than you are by waving your hands and/or sticks in the air.) Make sense?
Clearly, being taller doesn’t mean I’m not at risk, I’m not saying that at all. I remain as vigilant as any woman out there should be. But it does allow me to be more confident when I travel alone, and perhaps this confidence does something to steer creeps and thieves away. Which brings a great point up; being confident is key. More about that later.
Enough about me. What are the threats?
Why is the world so afraid of solo female travel?
Everyone watches the news, and I’m assuming a lot of us have also watched Taken. (*roll eyes*, its a movie.) Why would you chance getting robbed, scammed, pickpocketed, kidnapped, bombed, or run over by terrorist vans??? With all of this stuff in the media, it’s no surprise that women are often told that they should never travel alone.
Why you shouldn’t be afraid.
These threats are all very possible. But if you think about it, these threats are all very possible at home too. So, if you know how to walk around safely and take care of yourself in your hometown, why wouldn’t you be able to do that in another country? It’s the same thing!
I would say being alone abroad is even less scary than being alone at home, because chances are you’re going to start out in populated areas where you’ll encounter people willing to help you, meet many other kind fellow travelers, make new friends, and have tons of eyewitnesses to prevent anything really bad from happening.
If you allow fear to dictate your life, you’ll never move forward. This applies to other aspects of life as well, but I won’t get into that. “Fear of missing out”, aka FOMO. It’s a real thing. Don’t be that person missing out because you chose the easy path of maintaining the status quo. No one goes on a solo adventure and looks back on their life when they’re 80 years old and thinks, “oh man I really regretted that”. What they’ll regret is not taking action and not going. What they’ll regret is not getting to experience the utmost independence, carefreeness, and freedom while traveling.
Benefits Of Solo Travel
People are kind and more willing to help.
Take Paris, for example. A lot of my friends don’t have a positive image of Paris because of “the people”. In my opinion, Paris had some of the nicer people I’d encountered during my 3.5 month trip in Europe (I found people to be more stoic and stern in Poland, haha). I think this has to do with the fact that I was a solo traveler. Not to mention I think people are generally nicer to women than men, so that works in our favor.
Instead of being loud or obnoxious, I was mindful and pleased to encounter people. Instead of being distracted by conversation (since I’m not having one), I paid more attention to my surroundings and smiled at the people I passed on the street. People take notice of how you project and carry yourself and in turn, will reciprocate. Be kind, and others will follow. Locals (shop owners, baristas, farmer’s market vendors, waiters, etc) will initiate friendly conversation with you, embrace it! You’re lucky to be able to experience this!
You get to enjoy experiences that parties of 2+ would never experience.
This is probably the number one reason why I love solo travel. It’s a completely different experience. I can’t emphasize that enough. You get richer, more immersive, and brand new experiences when you’re alone and not distracted by friends/family.
When I was in Rome during my summer in Europe, I sat down as a party of one at a cute little restaurant in the Trastevere neighborhood. Shortly after, the waiter asked if he could seat another solo person across from me since all other tables were occupied. We started chatting non-awkwardly, and the man ended up revealing that he lived 30 minutes away from my hometown. We were two strangers both from the Bay Area, California that ended up in the same restaurant alone in Rome on the same night. This immediately broke the ice. We ended up sharing wine, dinner, tiramisu, stories, laughs, and a bunch of life lessons together.
Had I not been alone that night, I would have never met such a kindhearted, wise person. To this day, that remains one of the best dinner conversations I think I’ve ever had. Experiences like this really make solo travel worthwhile for me.
Looking for more inspiration or solo travel guides? Here’s a great read: The Solo Travel Handbook by Lonely Planet
People are more open.
If you’re traveling solo and staying in hostels, chances are there are a ton of other people in the same boat as you. Everyone is new in town, everyone is likely lost and alone, so you guys share that in common. Why not chat someone up? Likely, they’ll welcome the social interaction. Hostels are perfect for this kind of thing. You’ll be surprised by how quickly travelers open up.
Getting to hear other people’s stories is really entertaining and you shouldn’t miss out on asking. You’ll be able to pick up travel tips and life lessons from them, while sharing some of your own experiences. The travel community is a really giving one and you’ll find the people to be extremely friendly and unique.
You meet a ton of people, some of which you’ll create strong ties with them.
The chances to meet people are plentiful. At guesthouses, on walking tours, at cafes, the list goes on and on. On occasion, you’ll find someone you really click with, find out that they’re also visiting for X number of days, and decide to team up on your adventures. This is the start of a blossoming friendship! Let me tell you, you can really get to know a person in just a few short days when traveling. Especially because solo travelers are more prone to opening up and being friendly. I can’t tell you how many memories I’ve made with complete strangers just by spending a lunch, a day or a weekend with them.
With the prevalence of social media these days, it’s so easy to keep in touch with new connections even after your travels. Not to mention, making new relationships with people means you’ll have a new network of friends spanning across the globe. Maybe they live in a country you want to visit. Perfect, you should definitely see them again and catch up! Double whammy. Maybe you can even stay with them while they show you around their hometown. More of an excuse to travel! Creating and maintaining relationships–it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Conversations with the people you meet are more meaningful.
Let’s say you’re traveling with a friend and you guys found a group of strangers to hang out with. Someone in the group asks you, “Why are you here?”. You’ll likely keep it very high level and not initiate a 10-minute conversation on the backstory to your life. Well, you don’t have to worry about that when you’re traveling alone. Go as in-depth as you want, be as insightful as you want. No one knows who you are and your personal story is special.
What about one-on-one conversations? One-on-one conversations mean not having to entertain surface-level conversations in order to include everyone. You can get really sincere, engaging in conversations related to life aspirations, worries, and goals. Dive deep and discuss the paths that each led you to where you guys are now.
Some of my most memorable conversations were with people I met during my solo travels. To be able to see someone else’s life perspective when they come from way across the globe, and then to share yours with them is a true blessing.
Your travel decisions and experiences are more spontaneous.
With no one to depend on or consider, you’re free to do whatever you please, whenever you please. There are no worries about whether or not your friend is bored, if they want to see this instead of that, or if you guys agree on the same restaurant for lunch. If you aren’t into museums, don’t waste your time and skip it. Do you. The world is your oyster, so you go out there and you enjoy it.
Tips For Solo Travel
Choose a solo traveler-friendly destination
Let’s not sugarcoat it, some world destinations are safer than others. Choose a destination you’re comfortable with. There are lots of resources out there to help you determine which cities are the safest and friendliest.
Be vigilant and trust thy instinct
When you’re in tight spaces such as on a train or in a line to a major attraction, or even walking past crowds of people in the streets, make it a habit of tightening your grip slightly on your belongings. Conceal your valuables. Put your phone in your pocket where no one can snatch it out of your hand and run, and take it out only when you need to. Don’t be preoccupied with social media so much so that you’re not noticing who or what is around you. If you feel something isn’t right, then make the appropriate moves to get yourself out of that situation. There’s no shame in walking away or saying no.
Get advice from locals
Waiters, hotel employees, tour guide leaders, and coffee shop baristas are all great resources when you’re looking for a little more insight on customs, things to do, and safety. Find out not only what you should see during your visit, but also which areas to avoid. Who better to ask than people who actually live there? If you have time to do research, take advantage of the online communities out there such as TripAdvisor, Couchsurfing, or Facebook. The travel forums are good for getting your questions answered and will provide you with people’s real accounts and personal experiences so you don’t arrive utterly lost, confused, and susceptible to be taken advantage of.
You can only rely on yourself when traveling solo, so you should be mentally strong. Don’t spend too much time second-guessing yourself, ostracizing yourself, or depreciating yourself. Instead, embrace your adventure headfirst and be proud of your decisions wherever you go! Try new things, get out of your comfort zone. This is your time to shine.
Looking for more inspiration or solo travel guides? Here’s a great read: How to Travel the World on $50 a Day: Third Edition: Travel Cheaper, Longer, Smarter by Matt Kepnes (Nomadic Matt)
Interact with others
Solo travel doesn’t mean you have to be alone the whole time. Meeting new people is one of the best things about traveling alone! Open up those around you, give them the time of day. Not only will this improve your self-esteem and interaction with others, but it will also ultimately make your trip that much better.
Make your belongings hard to steal
I always carry a running belt with me when I travel if I know I’m going to be reaching for my phone, cash, or passport frequently. This belt hugs your waist tightly and flips inside out, therefore making it nearly impossible for anyone to steal from you without you noticing. Plus it allows for super easy access to your things.
Other items you can trust are anti-theft luggage and bags. Here’s a very stylish mini travel backpack by PacSafe that can do the trick. Simply put, don’t leave valuables in any outermost pockets, even if they’re enclosed by a zipper, clasp, or zippers. You have to assume that pickpocketers know all the tricks on how to take your stuff without you realizing. It is their job, after all.
Don’t walk alone at night
This is obvious and true where ever you go. In some countries, it’s perfectly safe to walk alone at night. In others, it could be quite dangerous. Going out at night in groups, asking to be accompanied by someone in your guesthouse, or calling an Uber from where you’re leaving from is always a good idea.
However, sometimes, it’s inevitable. Be extra careful. Whenever I find myself in a situation where I have to walk alone, I walk at a very brisk pace with keys in between my knuckles, and I remain very, very aware of my surroundings.
Don’t get too drunk
Also related to the previous tip, don’t get too drunk when traveling alone. Especially if you’re with people who are not staying at the same accommodation as you. Drinking can often lead to impaired judgment. Sober you will probably tell drunk you that you’re not okay to walk through dark alleyways to get back to your hotel because it’s “only a few blocks away”. Maintain your common sense!
Even if you think you’ve made a good group of friends on your travels, stay vigilant. Don’t get blackout drunk and put your life in their hands just yet.
If you feel lonely, do something about it
If you begin to feel lonely, book a tour, take a free walking tour, or hang out in the common area at the hostel or guesthouse you’re staying at. Instant friends, if you give it a little nudge. Like-minded travelers are very friendly and open.
Let your friends and family know where you are at all times
Make sure someone (a friend, family member, or fellow traveler) knows your itinerary and where you are at any given time. Try not to go off the grid completely or for long periods of time, especially if you have worried parents back home. If you do have to, give them a heads up and check in with them when you can. Remember to check in frequently! You may be busy having fun, but they are probably sitting at home twiddling their thumbs idly just worrying about you. Don’t make them hate you for giving them all that worry, reassure them.
Make copies of your important documents
You are your only resource for this kind of stuff. Make sure you print out your itinerary, tickets, and travel documents because if you forget it, you won’t have a friend with an extra copy to bail you out. Make copies of your essential documents, including your passport, identity card, and insurance cards. If that information is stored on your phone, bring an external battery to make sure you’ll be able to access that information at all times. Take photos of all of your important documents and store them on your phone, laptop, as well as a secure cloud server.
Be mindful and present
You’ve come this far, so get the most out of your experience by really being present in the moment. When you’re bored on a train, take in the people living their everyday lives instead of burying your head in your phone. Dine-in at a restaurant instead of taking it to go and holing up at your hostel. Embrace the differences in culture/lifestyle, and really live and breathe where you are. Keep an open mind and don’t let these small moments pass you by.
Go For It
There are so many benefits to solo travel, so many learnings to be revealed, and limitless experiences to be had. Solo travel, male or female, promotes personal growth, mindfulness, and independence. It’s an experience that I think every individual should grant themselves if they’re even slightly interested. My closing remarks to you here are: if after reading this post you are still/more inclined to go solo, then go for it! Trust me, you really won’t regret it.
Looking for more inspiration or solo travel guides? Check out these great and informative reads:
- A full guide on how to travel solo: The Solo Travel Handbook by Lonely Planet
- Another full guide on how to travel solo: The Solo Traveler’s Handbook by Janice Leith Waugh
- An in-depth guide on how to travel cheap and smart: How to Travel the World on $50 a Day: Third Edition: Travel Cheaper, Longer, Smarter by Matt Kepnes (Nomadic Matt)
- Don’t forget to stay mindful and bring a travel journal: You Are Here: A Mindful Travel Journal