Solo travel gives one a chance to challenge their comfort zone, to experience a different form of freedom, and to learn new things about oneself. The same can be said for group travel, or travelling as a couple. Travel in itself is an opportunity for one to learn, and hopefully grow.
Over the years I have written a couple of posts about being a solo female traveller, and in the past I have even gone as far as defining myself as a solo female traveller, but the truth is that there are not many differences between being a female or male solo traveller — both sexes face challenges, and both experience rewards. The biggest difference between the two is gender inequality.
In recent years there has been an influx of articles stating that solo female travel is too dangerous, particularly after the death of Sarai Sierra, an American woman who was murdered in Turkey in 2013. While her death was indeed tragic, it is not something that occurs on a regular basis. Solo female travellers are not the sole target in crimes, there have been heinous crimes committed against couples, solo males, families, and groups of friends.
The problem with solo female travel is the misconception that it is simply too dangerous. Mainstream media runs stories that imply all solo female travellers are in danger of being raped or murdered, when the truth is that women face those risks at home just as much, if not more so. Violence against women is a global issue, and not something that only happens to women who travel alone.
The act of being a solo female traveller is not necessarily hardcore, solo male travellers have their own set of challenges on the road, the difference between the two is the public’s opinion of safety and what they deem to be ‘normal‘. This is is what makes solo female travel seem hardcore, taboo.
Using the label ‘solo female traveller’ does not make a woman special, it’s just a label, and as more women travel around the world solo, that label will lose it’s sparkle — which is probably a good thing as that will signify that being a solo female traveller is widely accepted, and considered normal.
- The Realities Women Face When Traveling Alone, And How To Stay Safe via Forbes – This is an excellent piece written by Elisa Doucette about why women need to continue to travel despite what happened to Sarai Sierra, and how to travel safely.
- Revisiting the solo female travel experience via Legal Nomads – In this article Jodi Ettenberg writes about the contrast between the idea that solo female travel is too dangerous, and the reality the issue is violence against women.
- A Little Honesty… On Safety and Solo Female Travel via A Little Adrift – This article by Shannon offers some excellent insight into safety as a solo female travellers, as well as a personal experience that happened not when she was travelling alone, but when she was with other people.
Safety is something every traveller should be concerned with, whether they are planning solo travel or family travel. As this page is focused on solo travel, I am going to stick to safety concerns and tips for solo travellers — although some of the things I talk about could be applied to everyone.
Safety, in a way, is subjective. Each of us have different comfort levels and fears, while one person has no problem travelling solo in the Middle East, another maybe be riddled with anxiety and prefer to travel solo in Europe or Asia.
I have travelled solo since 1998, and while there have been instances where I felt uncomfortable, those experiences have been rare. I exercise the same amount of caution on the road as I do in Canada. My comfort levels are high, which means I am willing to travel to places that many people think are too dangerous. I’m not being foolish, I give a great deal of thought into my travel choices. I know what I can handle, and I strive to stay away from situations that make me uncomfortable and edgy. It doesn’t mean I’m immune, and during a short trip to Colombo, Sri Lanka I experienced a sense of unease that I had not experienced before, nor have I experienced it since. Thankfully the incident (you can read about it here) happened during the day and I had the wits to change hotels (and neighbourhoods) before things escalated further.
Here are some tips on safety as a solo traveller:
- When planning your trip, take time to read travel advisories for the countries you plan to visit. Review warnings for women and areas that are experiencing turmoil, then evaluate whether you’re comfortable with the risk.
- Know where your country’s embassies or consulates are located. It’s always a good idea to know where the embassies or consulates are located in each country you visit, not just in case of terrorism or natural disasters, but also if you lose your passport or run into trouble abroad. Print a list off to carry with your travel documents and save a list on your digital device as well.
- Listen to your inner voice, if something feels ‘off‘, change plans!
- Have an emergency fund while travelling, you never know when you’ll need it, and hopefully you never will, but if you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation and you need to get away, fast, you’ll be glad you have an emergency fund.
- Bring a doorstop! While this tip is mostly for female travellers, a doorstop can be handy for everyone. Wedging a doorstop against a closed hotel door is a great way to add a layer of security, without spending extra money to change hotels.
- Pay attention to your surroundings. It’s easy to get caught up in the wonder of wandering in a new place, but if you’re not paying attention you can sometimes wander into dangerous areas or situations. Pay attention, but don’t walk in fear either.
- Be confident. Walking around looking like a lost puppy can sometimes (not always) attract trouble, as some people may perceive you to be weak and therefore ripe for the picking. The trick is to be confident without becoming arrogant or snobbish.
One of the major benefits to solo travel is the ability to connect with locals a little more freely than when you travel with another person or a group of people. In many ways travelling solo places you in a state of vulnerability, and that it not necessarily a bad thing.
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness. If it doesn’t feel vulnerable, the sharing is probably not constructive.” – Brene Brown
Some of my more memorable travel experiences occurred during time when I allowed myself to be vulnerable. There is no weakness in allowing yourself to be vulnerable, in fact, it takes a great deal of strength and confidence. And if you can be strong enough to take on solo travel, you can be strong enough to be vulnerable.
When I started travelling long-term in 2010 my first stop was Bangkok. My flight arrived in the evening and in an effort to save as much money as possible I decided to take a bus from the airport to my hostel near Khao San road. I remember the instructions saying to get off near a 7-eleven. I had no idea there were so many 7-elevens in Bangkok and I got off the bus too soon, so with a guidebook map in hand I walked towards my hostel, eventually getting lost. It was dark, I was alone and jetlagged, and when I spotted an older Thai man I decided to ask for help. Instead of telling me where to go, he walked me to the hotel’s door, then left. I had felt comfortable enough to place myself in a state of vulnerability and it paid off.
I’ve had similar experiences in Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Sri Lanka.
As a solo traveller you become more approachable, which means there are more opportunities to connect with locals and make friends.
**If you want to learn more about vulnerability, check out Brene’s book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (Amazon affiliate link).
Solo travel can be one of the best things you do in life, it’s a chance to spend time with yourself, to learn, to have fun, to relax, to cry; travelling alone is one of the best ways to learn about who you are as a person, and who you would like to grow up to be in the future. You’ll spend many hours alone, and if you’re travelling in countries where you don’t speak the language, you may find yourself speaking to yourself just to hear your own language. And in time you may feel a little lonely; finding a community is one of the best ways to battle loneliness.
Checking into a hostel is one way to find a community of like-minded people, but not everyone enjoys sleeping in a hostel, many travellers prefer airbnb or renting an apartment. Thankfully there are other ways to find a community while you’re on the road:
- Search for communities on facebook – if you’re planning to stay in one place for a month or so, search for expat or traveller communities on facebook to join. Many of these groups will have activities and events. It’s a good way to meet people.
- Download Meet-Up – the Meet-Up app is great for those with specific interests. As an example, when I was recently in Bangkok I found a photo walk event through Meet-Up and joined their group for future events.
- Work from cafés or co-working spaces – if you’re a freelancer or blogger, think about working from a cafe or co-working space. While the focus is obviously work, you’ll eventually get to know the other freelancers and digital nomads who work from the same space.
- Use online forums to ask questions and meeting fellow travellers on the road – There are a few online forums you can use, some of the more popular ones are through sites like Nomadic Matt and Travelfish.
Taking the plunge into the world of solo travel can be scary, and you probably have a lot of questions. Visiting the forums listed above is a great way to talk to fellow travellers and get their opinions and advice about going solo. Another option is to read travel blogs.
When I started blogging in 2008 (this blog started in 2009 under a different name), there were not nearly as many travel blogs as there are today. Travel blogs have evolved, and they will continue to do so. They are no longer online diaries, now they are filled with personal stories, how to guides, tips and tricks, destination guides, food guides, and so on.
While I would love to list all of the solo travel blogs on the web, I’m not going to do that, it’s way too daunting. I am however going to suggest some blogs to read that produce quality content, and also talk about travelling solo — it’s a helpful way to squash your fears.
Here are some of my favourite solo travel bloggers (male and female):