You know that kind of excitement that literally fizzes through your body? Travelling on your own gives you an instant injection of it. In terms of solo female travel, it’s often the very challenge of it that provides the adrenaline boost.
My first trip overseas was to Japan where I lived for a couple of months, straight out of high school in suburban Australia. Zipping from the airport along elevated highways through a jungle of neon signs, I might as well have landed on Mars. To say my 17-year-old mind was freaking out is an understatement. I was with a friend though, so I had a hand to grip through the culture shock.
Taking the first steps as a solo female traveller can be just as daunting as a first trip overseas, no matter your age. You’re nervous about the little things, like eating out on your own, let alone grappling with safety issues. Friends and family express concerns and unsavoury media stories seem to pop up just as you decide to go.
It’s all too easy to talk yourself out of it. Instead, why not make travelling alone easy? Once you’ve dipped your toes in, you’ll find you can’t wait to venture further out.
Pack your confidence
As a solo female traveller, I’ve rarely encountered any danger – other than my own occasional recklessness. Chalk that up to luck if you will, however, what I’ve learnt is that the world is not a big, scary place – though that’s often the media’s version of it, all condensed into daily doses of fear. When you choose your destination wisely, you’ll find people are simply going about their everyday routines, just like you are at home.
Meaning, if you can keep yourself safe at home, you can confidently do so while travelling solo. Just because you’re a woman on your own, doesn’t mean there’s an automatic target on your back. What can make you a target, is forgetting common sense or giving in to confusion, worry or anxiety – whether you’re a guy or a girl.
For example, I was writing at an outdoor cafe in Prague one day and a crowd of tourists gathered to watch the Astronomical Clock chime on the hour. Within the space of a few seconds, a pickpocket dashed through the jostling bodies and lifted a camera from a wide-open pack on a man’s back. A couple next to me stood up to yell, but the pickpocket was gone in the blink of an eye.
The man with the backpack was, understandably, outraged. However, he’d put the target on his own back by making it so easy for the pickpocket. In the ensuing chaos and confusion, I’m quite sure other anxious tourists lost a few valuables too.
As life goes, bad stuff can and will happen to good people, whether you’re travelling or not. However, you can certainly avoid making yourself a target and decrease the odds dramatically. Here’s how:
- Walk with confidence.
- Plan ahead so you know where you’re going.
- Don’t wear valuables.
- Carry your backpack or your bag on your front where you can see it, in crowded places.
- Don’t leave your bag, camera or phone on chairs or tables out of reach.
- Don’t engage with people on the street trying to sell you anything, shine your shoes, show you a trick…you get the picture.
- Learn how to say, “no thanks,” assertively.
- Dress conservatively if it fits with local custom.
- At night, walk close to groups or families if you feel concerned.
- Don’t let courtesy override your intuition – if a place or a person doesn’t feel right, leave.
- Ask for help in a shop, restaurant or hotel, before nerves visibly take over, if you’re lost or feel concerned.
These tips are all common sense and, I’ve found, even easier to stick to when you’re travelling solo. Your instincts are sharper and you’re more aware of your surroundings. You start feeling very empowered when you know you don’t have to be a target, so packing your confidence is just as important as taking spare undies.
Know that solo female travel doesn’t mean you’re alone
Many solo female travellers will tell you that the best thing about it, is getting to do exactly what YOU want to do, at all times. This sense of complete freedom is, ultimately, addictive and sees many of us traversing the world alone for a lifetime. The thing is though, you’re never alone if you don’t want to be.
There’s a universal sense of camaraderie among solo travellers and you tend to recognise each other instantly. Even if it’s just for a quick chat at a cafe, you quickly learn that you’re not the only one doing it and new friends are sprinkled across the globe just waiting to meet you.
Sparking up a conversation with locals, especially other women, also leads to interesting insights, a sense of safety about a place and useful knowledge. If talking to strangers is something you struggle with join a local yoga, dance or cooking class. If you feel strange eating on your own, take a book. Make the experience as easy, or as challenging for yourself, as you wish.
After a while, you discover that being by yourself is just as special as being with others, as well as a valuable opportunity to expand beyond self-limitation. Just knowing you’re not alone, is enough to truly appreciate being on your own.
Best destinations for solo female travel
When you first set out as a solo female traveller, the journey is as much about personal development as it is about the travel. To make the transition really easy, go on a cruise, take a guided tour or join a study course. Or, visit cities known for safety, with great tourist infrastructure and few language barriers, like Copenhagen, Melbourne, Queenstown and Montreal.
If you want to dive right into different cultures, here are my top two picks for ease of travel, overall safety and incredible solo travel experiences.
Luang Prabang, Laos
The motto for life in Luang Prabang is ‘boh pen yang’, otherwise known as ‘no worries’. From booking a cosy homestay to landing at the airport and navigating around town on a pushbike, stress literally melts away here, on a backdrop of lush mountains and lazy rivers.
I’ve rarely felt so relaxed, or at home in a place on my first day. The town is UNESCO-listed, so it’s tourist-friendly. However, authentic local culture is observed within elaborate Buddhist temples, in laneway markets filled with succulent produce and on the smiling faces of saffron-robed monks.
Along with peace, a sense of safety permeates the air. You simply won’t feel nervous exploring on your own. You’ll make friends, if you choose, in friendly restaurants and quirky bars. Adventures range from swimming at Kuang Si waterfalls to jungle hiking, river cruising and roaming with elephants at MandaLao.
Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An’s lantern-lit Ancient Town is a real-life fairyland you can explore on your own in total safety. Except for the fact that you’ll be joined by thousands of tourists. That’s not a bad thing for first-time solo travel as you’ll enjoy shops, restaurants and magical scenes without feeling out of place. Best of all, it’s easy to escape the splendid chaos and merge into local life here.
Stay on the banks of the river, in the midst of rice fields or by the ocean at An Bang Beach. You’ll walk or cycle through charming villages, catch ridiculously cheap taxis across town and make friends with families running exquisite homestays and hotels. There’s also quite a large expat community in Hoi An and you’ll find writer’s groups, cooking classes, trivia and movie nights in abundance, if you feel like being social.
Still feeling a twinge of fear?
It’s likely just fear of the ‘unknown’. You’ll conquer that quickly, with planning. Book a hotel in advance for the first couple of nights at least and book a transfer to the hotel from the airport. That eliminates having to worry about anything at first. Once you’ve checked in and rejoiced in the fact that you can fling your stuff all over the place if you want, step outside and walk those first few unfamiliar steps.
Soon, the steps will become familiar. Someone will smile at you. Something will captivate you. You’ll be travelling solo and that fear will disappear beneath the excitement fizzing through your body.