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 women travellers share their stories of what solo travel teaches you. Get ready to be inspired…
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…
My Seven Travel Lessons
You’ll no doubt learn a lifetime of lessons when you travel alone, but I’d like to share seven travel lessons that I learned when wandering in Italy.
Taking books or buying books when travelling was one of the most enriching experiences, whether it was a light read from back home that transported me to an albeit slightly predictable love story whilst sitting alone in the sun, or a book of Italian poems gifted to me by an elderly man in a coffee shop (yes, this happened).
Those lonely train journeys, rainy afternoons or nights in a single hotel room were quickly transformed by a paperback in my lap. My Bible got me through a lot. The provocative words of a travel novel often fuelled my desire to see more, to do more, to learn more. In sum, a book is a must for a lone-traveller’s backpack.
It was really rather daunting, the prospect of jetting off into the unknown alone. So, I made sure it wasn’t entirely unknown beforehand. I must stress that I love surprises, discovering hidden corners and uncovering the unimaginable. However, some things I did need to know in advance.
Making sure I looked up the basic cultural norms, the transport links, the best routes upon arrival and, of course, those essential phrases (although having studied Italian for two years meant that this was somewhat easier!) enabled me to hold my head that little bit higher when arriving in Puglia, feeling smugly savvy when turning down offers of extortionate taxi lifts in favour of my pre-booked airport shuttles.
3. Escape The Hustle and Bustle of The Centre
This was quite straightforward when living in the midst of the Pugliese countryside, out of sight and out of mind of the general tourist trends. However, even here it was when I escaped the town in which I worked, for desolate olive groves and chilly cathedrals that I was truly able to soak up Italy. The region has such an expansive countryside and such ancient remains and I am all the more in love for the few I managed to visit.
4. Accept Help
Solo travel does not have to mean stubborn travel. I love the sea and was determined from the offset to dip my toes in Puglia’s crystalline waters, something that had existed only in my dreams until then. However, without a licence and too young to rent a car overseas anyway, those waters seemed slightly out of reach at first. I wanted to do it all myself, to be that fully autonomous explorer.
Still, when offered a lift on a local family’s beach trip, I blurted “Si’ without a moment’s hesitation. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with taking advice, holding a helping hand and taking people up on their offers of help when you’re travelling alone. Not only can it make things far simpler, it can also be the beginning of new relationships with those you meet along the way.
Or, perhaps more prominent in Italy; coffee. Though really any hot beverage that facilitates an afternoon spent people-watching and, hopefully, some friendship-making is a wonderful thing. Italians in Puglia were serious about their coffee. Tip: do not ask for an Americano – and bonding over a quality roast was a pretty special way to meet the locals and climb under the surface of tourist traps into the depths of real Italy.
Get to know your barista, ask them about the area and take full advantage of their local expertise. They’re often the coolest people you’ll meet when travelling. I ended up becoming dear friends with my barista and his wife, joining them for festive dinners and taking road-trips together to those insider hideouts.
6. Have Confidence
Have confidence in yourself. This is so important when you’re travelling alone. The minute you doubt what you’re doing and whether you’re really even capable of making it until the end, it can quickly turn from Eat Pray Love to Sleep Cry Fear. Of course, solo travel as a woman brings with it risks, and it is important to avoid putting yourself in dangerous situations.
But I trusted that my decision to take that flight was the right one – my decision to decline familiarity for freshness was one I thought long and hard about. Sometimes that meant faking it a little. Disguising my initial nerves when arriving in Rome for the first time with a smile that said, “I’m home”. The disguise soon became an identity and I was soon losing myself in Rome’s beauty.
7. Expect The Unexpected
Sometimes Southern Italy was cold. Really cold. Even the eternal summers of the Mediterranean have their exceptions. And boy, did I feel silly for not having considered this when packing my optimistic suitcase full of SPF 20 and hopeful light dresses. But it taught me to loosen my grip on preconceptions, which can only be a good thing.
So, BREATHE in. Go. And maybe come back.
About The Author
Connie Hogg is a French and Italian student at the University of Bath and keen traveler writer. Images credited to rhiannamay – a wedding and lifestyle photographer based in Milan.