The truth about being a solo female traveller
A few decades ago the idea of a young female travelling the world alone might've set off alarm bells, but after doing just that, I'm convinced it's something every woman should do at least once in her life! Solo travel hasn’t seemed like too much of a big deal for me personally because I’ve been inspired by so many other solo female travellers who I've read about, watched videos of and followed on social media. But also, I’ve been itching to travel for so long and didn’t have anyone to travel with, it ended up being the path I’ve taken.
The truth is, being a solo female traveller is badass and an incredible experience, but it isn't all sunsets and waterfalls. As with anything in life, it has its pros and cons. I've made a list of a few of the most important ones that I've discovered on my trip so far.
You can see things your own way.
I think everyone should travel solo at least once, men and women alike. You might find it’s not for you, but you might also surprise yourself with how much you can see, who you meet along the way and what you’ll learn about yourself. You have the freedom to do whatever you wish, the world is your oyster, carpe diem…so many cliches to pick from! When you travel alone there's no compromising with someone else and I think that's great for women as we still have to make a lot of compromises in our lives, no matter how progressive our society gets. If you want to spend 9 hours strolling through an art gallery? Sure thing. Stay up all night to see the Aurora Borealis? Go crazy. Feel like drinking sangria all night with new friends you made at the hostel and dancing on tables? Ain't nobody gonna stop you!
Oh, the places you'll go! - Dr Seuss
It can get lonely.
I would be lying if I said that my whole trip has been a whirlwind of crazy moments surrounded by amazing new people whom I now consider friends and I haven't had a moment to myself to feel lonely. Of course you will meet amazing new people from around the world and make unforgettable memories, but that's only if you put yourself in situations where that can happen, and doing so 24/7 is hard work. Some days I arrive at a hostel and just feel like a hot shower and an early night, or on a long bus ride I will choose to plug in my headphones and watch Netflix rather than try chat to the person next to me. Don't mix up being alone and feeling lonely though, often when I'm alone, I'm loving it. But there are plenty of times where I wish I had someone to share the moment with. It can even happen when I'm surrounded by people, so the two are definitely not mutually exclusive.
I did have one mini meltdown after leaving the hostel I was volunteering in for three weeks in Denmark. Once I'd left Aarhus I spent one night in an AirBnb in Copenhagen and had a big cry about being alone. Luckily I had a friend to call in a similar time zone (thanks Aliesha) and after a bit of a chat I felt much better. I think it was hard leaving behind a whole bunch of new friends and a city that I’d fallen in love with, and I had gotten some Snapchats from my friends back home which made me miss them as well. Luckily that's been the loneliest moment for me and I haven't felt as lonely since that.
The internet brings us closer together.
Although sometimes I hate it, thank goodness for the internet! I’m so grateful for being able to easily make calls with apps like SnapChat, WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger to friends and family when I need it. It also means I can easily keep most of them in the loop at the same time about my trip. The picture on the right is from a drunk night out in Santorini when I thought it was very important to let some of my fellow nugget-loving friends back home know that I love them and miss them. What a time to be alive!
There’s a really cool community online for solo female travellers so I hope that during my trips I’ll get a chance to meet some! I came close once but it fell through, but I know that there are plenty of ladies who have met up in real life after becoming friends online, or just travelling together because it was convenient. I’ve also found people to ride share with online too, which brought down the cost of my Golden Circle and south coast road trip in Iceland, so resources like this are really helping make the lives of solo travellers much easier.
There will come a time when your own arm just doesn't cut it anymore. When you've had a million helpful strangers take your photo only to come away hating every single one of them (the photos, not the helpful strangers). You're sick of all the nice scenery shots of isolated places being empty and missing the key ingredient - you. The minutes spent setting up a good self-timer shot are starting to tally up. At this low point in your travels, you have a tough choice to make - keep trying the above, or bite the bullet and by a selfie stick. I am at that point, I feel a little defeated but I think it's time to join the hordes and purchase a selfie stick.
You're only responsible for yourself
I have travelled with other people in the past and it's always when I'm with someone else that something I've booked has gone wrong. Or maybe it's just a matter of perspective, because when I screw up something for myself I just deal with the fall out and make a new plan, but I hate the stress of potentially ruining someone else's day or their whole trip. Ok...I haven't stuffed up that badly! But in the past when I've travelled with others and something has gone wrong, I've been 10x more stressed than when something has gone wrong and I'm alone. It's also easy knowing that you only have yourself to excite or disappoint, so the pressure is off in that regard.
You need to be more cautious.
Sometimes people brush off the added danger of being female when you travel but I don't think it should be ignored just because society is becoming more progressive and female-friendly. I’m always cautious when I travel anyway, but even more so when I’m alone and especially because I’m a woman. So far I haven’t travelled anywhere where I’ve felt very unsafe being solo, but there’s always a bit of anxiety that I could be seen as a more easy target than a man. And there’s always the looks that men give women, that’s present everywhere you travel to some extent and it will always make me feel uneasy. When men ask me if I'm travelling alone, I usually say that I am but am meeting up with friends soon, or something similar, and I never give away my whereabouts just in case.
Make sure you have travel insurance too. You never know what could go wrong and if you don't have someone else there with you, you'll really be grateful that you found yourself a good insurer to sort out the problem. I was so surprised at what my travel insurance covered (gifted to me by Worldcare Travel Insurance, thanks again!); things like strikes and emergency dental care. They're things that hadn't even crossed my mind as scenarios that could happen while I've been away, so it definitely pays to look into it properly so you don't get caught out.
It's easier to meet people.
This one is definitely true for me at least. Even though I can be antisocial at times, I know that I won't make new friends if I don't put myself out there, and making new friends is awesome! When I've travelled with others in the past it's been easy to just talk to them the whole time and not bother striking conversations with strangers. If you're in a group situation, you're much less likely to be approached by someone alone, but if you're alone too they'll find it easier to come over and say hello. You never know what could happen when you talk to a stranger on the plane, or start a conversation over breakfast at the hostel.
The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me. - Ayn Rand
A sense of camaraderie, from both genders.
I’ve had a lot of really nice responses from people when I tell them I’m travelling solo. It’s a wicked feeling when someone is impressed that I’m travelling alone but I’m quick to tell them that it’s actually easier than they might assume. When I meet other solo travellers we have that instant bond over common ground, we’ll share our stories and travel advice, as well our gripes and complaints. When I meet other ladies out there doing it like a pro I just want to give them a high five, but don't because I assume they're just too cool for that!
No worrying about awkward money chats.
Maybe a small win, but I hate the conversations you have when you're travelling with people on a different budget to you and they want to split the bill. I always seem to be the one on the tightest budget who just drinks water and orders the cheapest item on the menu. There's no worrying about keeping a running tab of who owes who how much either.
You'll never have so much freedom.
Travelling alone gives you a wonderful sense of freedom. As mentioned previously, you don't have to compromise on your trip, but there's also the freedom of not having to answer to anyone. Of course, if you're a solo female traveller who has left her partner/family at home it's slightly different, but I'm just relating this to my experience. I have the freedom of going off the grid and finding myself a small little island hut and not worry about explaining why I'm being a weird hermit. I don't have to consult anyone about my next step because I'm the only one it affects. In saying that, do let your mother know you're still alive from time to time, they tend to worry ;)
To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the most pleasant sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure. - Freya Stark