It’s a common question: As a woman, should I even consider traveling on my own?
After a lifetime of solo female travel, all I can say is yes, yes, yes!
Solo travel has huge benefits, the most obvious of which is social: it’s a great way to meet people, because the sad truth is, in many countries solo women are pitied because they are “alone,” something that’s always made me giggle.
Isn’t meeting new people one of the reasons we travel in the first place? Solo travel can easily open doors that would have stayed closed if you were a couple or group. People will approach a single woman more easily, and you may get invited to family gatherings or weddings just because you’re alone.
There’s a wedding in Bali and a women’s family dinner in the Sahara Desert I would have missed had I not been a solo woman traveler. The only real downside of solo travel is the occasional bout of loneliness. At times you might miss friends and family, especially if you’ve been on the road for any length of time. You can always team up with other travelers for a few days or weeks, or settle down for a bit and become familiar with your new surroundings. And if you feel like company for the evening, most hostel lobbies are filled with backpackers arriving from all over. Hang around in the late afternoon, walk up, introduce yourself, and make friends. It’s that easy on the road.
But these days, home is only a Skype call or email away, and with Internet cafes on nearly every street corner (and Wi-Fi), staying in touch isn’t an issue anymore. Just don’t abuse or you might get homesick and jump on the first flight home! Solo travel probably requires a little more structure than traveling with others.
A little routine helps you feel connected, whether it’s doing things in a certain order when you get up or taking a few familiar keepsakes along with you. It also means you’re on your own when it comes to keeping track: no one will remind you to take all your belongings or that your bus is about to leave. And no one will help you carry your gear if it gets too heavy, so travel light.
One concern that sets women apart from men when we travel solo is safety. Not that men shouldn’t worry about it as well, but as women we may at times be more vulnerable — and possibly more trusting.
Some Solo Female Travel Safety Tips for Backpackers
- Choose destinations in which a woman on her own would feel comfortable such as most of Europe and North America, Australia and New Zealand, and a large portion of Asia.
- Do research before you leave. Find out about customs. Is it all right for a woman to look a man in the eye or to walk uncovered? Don’t get me wrong — you can do what you like. Just know that if you fly in the face of custom, there may be consequences.
- Wear culturally appropriate clothing which won’t draw too much attention in conservative societies. At a minimum, keep your shoulders and knees covered, and save the cleavage for date night. What is perfectly adequate in Chicago or Sydney may be wildly offensive in North Africa or the Middle East.
- Avoid unwanted male attention by staying close to other women, dressing locally, and simply ignoring approaches. In countries where the going gets rough, a wedding ring and reference to a husband nearby will do wonders.
- Solo or not, always be careful at night, just as you would in a major city back home. Keep your eye on your drink if you’re among new company, and don’t do drugs when you’re on the road. In some countries, there’s a death penalty involved. And at the very least, get stoned and you’ll find yourself in a position of helplessness.
- Keep your money and possessions low-key and out of sight. Let your backpack get dirty. Keep the bulk of your money in a money belt. Don’t tempt thieves by flashing expensive gear or money around.
- Don’t give out unnecessary information to people you don’t know or newfound friends. No one needs to know you’re traveling solo, that no one at home is expecting to hear from you anytime soon, or that you happen to be carrying your life’s savings with you.
Solo travel opens the doors of the world to you… you’ll find the freedom to hop off the bus when you spy something attractive… or change your mind en route without having to negotiate… or meet up with new people, and move on when you’re ready… It’ll build your self-confidence and remind you that anytime, anywhere, you can cope. My longest bout of solo travel was supposed to last six months across Africa. I got home three years and four continents later, filled with memories and experiences that I couldn’t have invented if I’d tried. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
About the Author: Leyla Giray is a development professional and former journalist. She publishes the imaginative and offbeat website, Women on the Road http://www.women-on-the-road.com, for women who love to travel on their own.