It's been more than 24 years since I took my first solo travel trip. Flying to Miami when I was twenty-one years old I felt a sense of empowerment, of doing something completely out of my comfort zone. Over the last two decades I’ve learned how to adapt to solo travel, learning many valuable lessons along the way. But there are always more lessons to learn.
Seven other women travellers share their stories and the lessons that they learned from solo travel:
Maureen from Life on the Mediterranean
My first solo travel experience was when I studied abroad in my 20’s. We are talking 30 years ago when most students didn’t spend a year abroad. Yes, there would be other students, but none that I knew. It was the biggest eye-opening experience that still impacts me today.
I had to learn how to communicate in a language not my own, to be open and accepting of customs and traditions of a country that had nothing to do with my own family heritage. I had to be open to let chance take its course, as well as deal with the attention a blonde drew living in a brunette/black-haired environment. I became more assertive and intuitive. When you can’t fully understand what someone is saying, you have to rely on your intuition, people’s body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. Your senses are much more alive.
I discovered I enjoy my own company and can easily say yes or no to any idea or plan that does not suit my interests. Nor do I feel guilty when I do so. Now, I pick up and go when I want, realising I’m the only one to approve my own plans. I trust my instincts, and do not wait for someone to point out the good from the bad, and I happily let chance come my way.
Today, I am a role model to my young niece who previously would never consider traveling alone. In her words, “Why would I do that? That would be so boring.” The more she and I spend time together, the more she realises there’s a big world out there to discover, and that perhaps the idea of hitting the road alone is not such a bad idea.
Claudia Tavani from My Adventures Across The World
The biggest lesson I’ve learned while traveling alone is that I have to be my own priority and take care of myself, my needs and my happiness before even attempting to please others. A trip to South America, when I crossed Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay has been Illuminating in this sense.
After a disastrous trip with my then boyfriend a year before, I was finally able to do whatever I wanted. Did I feel lazy on a particular day? Nobody would force me to go out! Did my guts tell me that a more expensive guided tour would be better than a cheaper one? I wouldn’t have to worry about someone else’s budget. Did I feel like eating street food every day? Finally nobody was there to bug me about the possible danger of doing that. Was I ever lonely? Actually not! I was only alone if I truly needed some me-time.
Otherwise I’d meet people all the time, and I’d have company whenever I wanted a sunset drink, a companion while eating or just someone to rant about the public transportation. It was such an incredible, empowering experience that I’ve been traveling pretty much solo ever since. In fact, I’m on my way to a 5-week solo trip to Africa!
Sharon Gourlay from Dive Into Malaysia
I have travelled often by myself and with other people and, honestly, I don’t think anything beats the freedom I have found when travelling alone. However, not every experience has been fantastic and I have had to learn a few lessons along the way.
Firstly, I have learned that if I feel sick, I need to upgrade my accommodation if staying somewhere basic. There is nothing worse than being really ill and have to go out and walk a long way to get water and basic supplies. This is the time to treat yourself to great accommodation with room service and try not to think about the cost. I have stayed in loud hostels when ill and it’s been some of my worst experiences and I don’t think any of us travel to feel miserable.
Secondly, I have learned that if I feel at all unsafe or in danger to get a taxi and not just think I’ll be ok. I knew I was being followed when travelling alone in Turkey. I tried to lose him and thought I had succeeded and then BAM! The second I was in a spot alone, he appeared and it was one of the scariest experiences in my life. I don’t take risks like that anymore.
Thirdly, don’t let worries about bad experiences like that affect you to the point of avoiding new experiences in case something happens. Be educated and aware and don’t do anything unsafe (of course) but don’t just sit in your hotel room either.
Travelling alone has been incredibly rewarding for me and is not something I ever plan to stop doing. Don’t be too scared to give it a go.
Violeta Matei from Violeta Matei
My most important lesson from travelling solo is that most of the people you encounter are genuinely willing to help you, so there’s no reason to be afraid of anything. Always ask for advice and directions, but double check all information you receive. Don’t go for the cheapest accommodation or transport option, if this means to compromise on your safety. Travel light, because you’ll need to take your luggage with you to the restroom in airports.
Make contacts everywhere you go. Take photos of locals, and ask them for an email address where you can send them these pictures. If you like hiking, find and join a local group, rather than doing it solo. The last thing you want is to twist an ankle on the top of a mountain and have nobody to ask for help. Last but not least, learn how to say thank you in the local language, and make use of it a lot. It does wonders in opening you a lot of doors!
Kristal from Adventure Dawgs
I’ve done a lot of travelling on my own, mostly with my three dogs but also without them. The biggest lesson that I had to learn, and this is something that so many people have trouble with, was to stop waiting for other people to go on an adventure. If I did, I’d never go anywhere. Even if it’s just another city a few hours down the road, it’s still not home.
After that, it’s just a matter of getting out and talking to people. It doesn’t matter how many websites you visit or how many books you read or the gear you have or don’t have, nothing beats actually smelling the air and feeling the ground under your shoes. I’m naturally very shy so talking to strangers can be quite difficult for me, even when I know that we’ll never see each other again.
I’ve learned that you cannot underestimate the value of a smile along with a “please” and “thank you”. You get a smile back and next thing you know it’s so much easier to ask about places that they recommend visiting or areas to stay away from. Travelling on your own forces you to interact with others instead of just sticking with travel companions and it’s helped me when dealing with other people when I go back home.
Lastly, I don’t take plans too seriously. Sometimes getting lost is the best thing that can happen and I have had some of the most memorable experiences from things that I just happened to stumble into. This is a lot easier when you don’t have to plan around other people and is one of the best parts of solo travel.
Kate Comer from Rolling Along With Kids
Traveling solo is a great way to really experience a destination. I traveled solo to Bali a couple of years ago leaving the family at home. For me this time away was just what I needed and highly recommend Mum's to do this. One thing that I did learn about my trip away was to think carefully about what you want to do and where you want to stay?
The first 4 nights were spent in Ubud wandering the streets and rice paddies, enjoying the laid back lifestyle and the many other solo travellers I met. The accommodation I stayed in was perfect, cheap but with beautiful gardens and pool.
I then ventured to Seminyak for the last 3 nights and wish I had stayed in Ubud. I love Seminyak with family and friends with the amazing cafes, shops and beaches. I however found it quite different traveling to Seminyak solo. I found it harder to meet people and everywhere you looked there was people dining together in groups. I felt out of place and craved the laid back lifestyle of Ubud.
My number 1 tip when choosing a location for your solo travel is don't rely on what you have enjoyed in the past when you were traveling with a group. The experience is so different for many reasons including your own mindset on what your expectations are of the trip.
LeAnna from Well Traveled Nebraskan
I've never been one of those women who set off on solo journeys for months with just myself and a backpack of clothes. However, that is not to say that I am not an empowered traveler. Instead, I've been fortunate to do almost all of my backpacking and traveling the world with my soul mate, best friend and husband by my side just about every step of the way.
But after almost 40 countries explored, I was given an opportunity to travel solo in the Swiss Alps one summer for a month and going from an unstoppable duo to just a gal who can't read a map for the life of me, was one of the most life-changing summers of my life!
I spent the summer months hiking the alps all by myself, navigating trains that normally I let my hubby figure out and wandered cities, sure that I'd never find my way back to my starting point! And yet, I did…all by myself.
For someone who had always traveled WITH someone, I never knew the power of solo travel until I was in the thicket of it. Having to do EVERYTHING for myself was empowering, scary, challenging, intimidating, eye opening and incredibly rewarding! I came home to my husband a completely new and independent woman!
Now, years later, my husband (and now son, added to the gang) and I still explore the world together, hand in hand.
And thanks to this experience, I still step away from my family for a solo trip, even today. Not only for some much needed self-care, but as a reminder that even with a powerful support system, I am still an incredibly fierce woman on my own as well! I am a huge advocate for any person who is typically used to traveling with a family, spouse or significant other to step outside their comfort zone to learn a bit about themselves via a powerful solo trip!
Need more inspiration to travel solo? Read these stories of other women who took the plunge and went solo. Read here…