Whenever I talk about my travels to aspiring female travelers, the conversation usually tends to go a lot like this:
Them: “So you went to all of those countries on your own? All local travel, just your and your backpack?”
Me: “100% alone, however, almost never alone”
Them: ” Wow, I wish I could do something like that, however I am a woman, and it’s too dangerous for me to do something like that…” etc etc
Now I am not sure where this notion has come from, but this is 100% a myth.
Throughout my travels, I can firmly say that 40-50% of the backpackers and world travelers I meet are women, and of those women, about half of them are solo travelers. One thing people have to understand about solo traveling, for both men and women, is that you are almost never alone. You really have to TRY hard NOT to meet or talk to anyone in the hostel or guesthouse, and end up completely alone on a traveling route. Most travelers are completely open to a relationship and traveling/adventure companion, just like you.
I truly believe that a woman can do anything that a man can do on this planet, it just may take a little extra caution, a little more research and a little more having your wits about you. I know this because I have met hundreds of female travelers from around the world, in all different corners of the globe. Doing it, Living it, Killing it.
Instead of me telling you its possible, however, I thought it would be better to ask 5 of my best female backpacking friends to give you the advice and push you need to make that jump (all of which I met in rural countries like Guatemala, Panama, Myanmar, and India while on their own).
I asked them:
- Are there any crazy taboo stories about your travelers that you would like to share
- Tell me some experiences about traveling solo you could not have had otherwise
- What are some tips and advice you can offer other women afraid to travel solo
Here are their Stories:
From: AustraliaAge: 31Countries Visited: Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, Tanzania, Kenya, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Chile
“When I hitchhiked through Guatemala and Mexico, I was anxious at first. But I quickly realized that every person who gave me a ride was doing so to look after me. They would ask me ‘Aren’t you worried something will happen to you?’ and I would tell them ‘No, because the people that pick me up are just like you!’ Most of the time I would be picked up by people who had travelled before and wanted to share stories, or men who had daughters my age and wanted them to travel and see the world. There are way more good people in this world than bad ones!
For many women, the fear of abduction, rape, mugging or worse have kept them from leaving the country to explore what’s out there. I can tell you, I have been more afraid walking through the streets of San Francisco at night than I am doing the same where I live now in Guatemala. There are always risks no matter where you go, but assuming that less developed countries have more people that are looking to harm you is unfortunately a prejudice many people still have.
I am rarely on my own for more than a day as I have never found it easier to make friends than when I’m traveling. Everyone is in the same boat and we’re all looking for company and the women I have met are now my best friends. Traveling solo as a woman has also made me more of a feminist. Female travelers support each other, look out for each other, encourage each other. We’re never catty or bitchy. We go days without showering or putting on make up, we wear dirty clothes. And yet, we all embrace each other for our raw and beautiful selves. Females all over the world could learn how to build stronger female friendships by learning from the travel community.
One time, I traveled East Africa with a budget tour group. I usually prefer to travel independently but local transport and accommodation options in this area are expensive. The tour had us camping in safari parks, by beautiful lakes and in a tribal Masai village. There is no way I would have had such a raw and unique experience if I had done it any other way. Listening to lions, hyenas and elephants wandering just meters away from my tent at night was a terrifying and amazing experience. Knowing you’re just one animal in this vast world of the animal kingdom and feeling vulnerable but humbled by these powerful creatures was electrifying. I also got to sit around a campfire with a Masai warrior and share stories about our different lives. I have never met anyone whose world is so different from mine and we listened to each other with respect and without judgement. He talked with fondness about the polygamous family community he grew up in and I talked about not wanting to have children and a desire to travel alone. Realizing that there is good in all people, no matter what your moral values is a growing experience.
Some other cool experiences I’ve had traveling solo include:
- 2 years ago I stumbled upon a lakeside Mayan village in Guatemala with a cool expat scene. I fell in love with the place right away. If I had been traveling with a friend or a partner they may have wanted to move on and see new places, but because I was on my own, I stayed for 2 months… at first. Then came back several months later, than flew home to Australia only to realize that no where had ever felt like home to me as much as that one village. I’ve now lived here for a year and have a rewarding job, the best group of friends I could ever ask for and a view of a stunning lake that is the backdrop to each of my days. It might not have been right for anyone else I could have travelled with, but it was perfect for me. Traveling on my own changed my whole life, and I couldn’t be happier
- Having a friend arrested in Mexico and having to find where the police had taken him to bail him out.
- Living in the wilderness for 3 months and showering about once every 2 weeks.
- Getting to a point where you have no idea what you’re doing, where you’re going and knowing no one. But realizing it only takes a few days to feel like you’re exactly where you were supposed to be.
My top advice for any woman is:
DITCH THE MYTH! It’s not as hard to travel alone as a woman as a lot of people believe. Like anything, you get better with practice. So save a trip to India or the Middle East until you’re well versed in solo travel. But Europe, South East Asia and Latin America are great places to start.
Of all the solo travelers I meet, about half are female. We’re smart, we cautious, but we’re not these brave, noble pioneers a lot of travel blogs make us out to be. We’re everywhere. We’re like Starbucks. And we’re always looking to make new friends with people who are just like us.”
Countries Visited: Mexico, Germany, England, Netherlands, Austria, Italy, Croatia, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Thailand
“I spent a month backpacking through Europe in 2016 like the typical college tourist and I had an amazing time, but nothing compares to the two months I spent traveling through Asia. The most magical time I had was in the Gili Islands off the coast of Bali, Indonesia. I hopped on to a ferry with less than $30 in my pocket and stayed there for four days. I had absolutely no plan and only one night paid for in a tiny hostel with barely any electricity. I spent the first day alone, and the most beautiful memory I have was sitting there on the beach by myself, sobbing at this stunning sunset. I was overwhelmed with joy because I could have never imagined I would be sitting somewhere off the coast of Bali. The next day I met a Spanish ex-pat scuba diver instructor and he hosted me the rest of the trip. It’s so cliché, but in four short days I fell in love with that perfect stranger and perfect island. Traveling solo is amazing because when you’re alone you’re free to follow your own path without worrying about having to please anyone but yourself.
Honestly the fear of abduction or male assault doesn’t even phase me because that could literally happen here in Atlanta or any city in the US. I don’t know why the media has perpetuated this irrational fear of abduction because at no point in any of my travels have I ever felt afraid – definitely not in Europe, nor Asia. Although I’m not saying it’s impossible, I do believe it’s not as likely as people think it is. A good role of thumb though, is to stay sober if you’re out solo and to make other female friends along the path! Avoid traveling with lots of valuables on your person and stay alert at all times – but that’s literally the same mentality you have to have as a female even when you go to your local college bar.
It’s so much easier to make friends when you’re traveling alone because you’re forced to get out of your comfort zone. I’ve been solo throughout most of my travels and that basically pushed me to literally say hi to any friendly face. It’s so easy to join a group when you’re by yourself. When I was traveling on a ferry from Croatia to Italy I met three other American tourists, and they invited me to come to Venice with them, so I did! I had originally planned on going straight to Rome, but since I was by myself with no concrete plan, I happily joined their group and we had a great time.
Traveling solo gives you the freedom to be in charge of your own journey. Have you ever been with a group of friends who couldn’t decided on where to go eat and you ended up somewhere shitty? That’s kindof what happens when you travel in a group. I love going somewhere by myself because I wake up somewhere new knowing I get to do whatever I want with whoever I want. Traveling solo is the best gift you can give to yourself.”
From: CanadaAge: 27Countries: Nicaragua, Peru, Bolivia, Guatemala, Thailand, Europe (France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, England), United States (many places but top favorites : Hawaii / New Orleans).
“The one thing I would say all my travels (especially solo) have in common is the importance of keeping your wits about you. Do your homework on an area if you can, (can be as easy as some light googling the night before you catch a bus). It’s not much different than avoiding certain areas of a city at night or being mindful of the people around you when you get a weird feeling. Pay attention to your gut. Respect cultures and traditions. Remember, you are a visitor. Soak it up and try to be a part of it, not disrespect it. Even if you make mistakes, making an effort goes a long way with locals!Now all that to say, travelling solo allows you the freedom to meet and pair up with whomever you want when you want and it is a freedom unlike anything else! The nature of backpacking, hostels and various adventures is that you rarely wind up alone, unless you want to be! And that is a beautiful thing that we rarely get to control in life.
Another unique factor I wanted to comment on is being part of the LGBT+ community. Unfortunately laws and treatment of LGBT+ folks vary around the world. My ex and I used to look into countries ahead of time to see how open we would be able to be there. This is something to be aware of. While it is not fair, people can also surprise you. I tend to keep my orientation under wraps (even in hostels with other westerners) until I get a feeling for people. I once had an amazing conversation with a farmer in Guatemala after working with him for several weeks. He was so open minded and interested in learning about the culture when i revealed after weeks of (broken spanish) conversations that I dated women. He was so sweet and it was an experience I’ll never forget!
Work arounds: Book a tour or do volunteer work to get more comfortable, then backpack after if you feel up for it. Do your homework on the area you want to visit, always carry pens and a headlamp, and keep your wits about you. Being in a new country means you shouldn’t always do the same things you would do at home. Try to arrange your travel during the day or if at night, go in a group when possible. Overnight trains and buses can be helpful!”
Countries Visited: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Chile, China, Cuba, Czech Republic, Ecuador, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Macao, Morocco, Myanmar, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Portugal, Singapore, Thailand, United Kingdom, United States, Vatican City State, Viêt Nam, Canada, China
“The most important thing to remember is to always trust yourself. When being far away from your comfort zone, your senses are wide open and sharp, you can trust what you really feel in your deep inside. If a situation or an invitation smells bad, just decline it. Traveling solo doesn’t mean becoming a hero at all, the idea is to enjoy and stay safe.
Try to stay calm and slowly get away from this wrong situation.
South America has very dangerous cities. Most of the time they are not an amazing place to stay and visit but as you will most probably land in a big city, never forget to talk to locals and listen to the way you should behave or where not to go. When walking around you end up in an area you don’t feel ok, do not panic, just listen to yourself and calmly walk out of the place without showing to the others you’re in the wrong spot. Try not to take out your map all the time in the streets and if you have to get mad with a taxi cab driver regarding the price of the route always wait to be outside of the car and with all your belongings before refusing to add some more money for example.
This experience happened to me and my sister in India: the driver got mad because we were not interested in going shopping for some precious stones and he just locked us up in the car and drove like crazy in the middle of the traffic. I really thought we would have to jump out of the car but in the end we arrived at the train station and when being outside of the car just normally start yelling at him! Followed by 4 taxi drivers getting into a fight with our driver at the station. Luckily we both ended up unharmed. Never stay with the fear in your stomach, talk about it and you’ll see similar things happens to other. Never feel ashamed after a bad experience, it can happen to anyone.
As an advice when traveling solo in not very safe places, don’t get to drunk or under other substances and have to walk back home alone. Value your life, it’s precious. If somewhere someone wants to steal or hurt another person, it’s probably gonna happen, but you can manage this person not to be yourself.
Traveling solo opens the door to meet and share deep amazing thing with others. Everything happens very fast and some beautiful moments come out of this meetings. Open yourself to the others and within 2 seconds you’ll be surrounded with great people. Don’t be naive but don’t be scared to open yourself to this beautiful part of traveling.
Without traveling solo and using Couchsurfing I would never have:
- Ended up on an epic camping weekend in kangaroo county in the middle of nowhere in Australie with a bunch of fabulous people.
- Met this ex-prisoner in New Zealand who went fishing in the ocean and smoked this fish just for me and told me I had been an inspiration to him.
- Met some of the people I love the most today and I am always so happy to go visit where they live.
Traveling and meeting people means open a part of yourself faster than usual and take decisions faster than usual. You’ll learn more about yourself by travelling solo 2 weeks than staying 10 years quite at home. Traveling solo is a type that touches the soul, don’t miss the chance to start this journey, you’ll love it..”
Countries Visited: ~60 countries/7 continents. Majority of them solo.
“Travelling solo is always going to be a tiny bit scary to start. But that’s even more incentive to book that flight. Despite spending 4 entire years on the road alone in the past 7 years, I’m always nervous each time I get on an airplane for a solo trip. This is completely okay. It’s normal to be scared and nervous.
Ways to help overcome the fear? Do your research on the destination you’re headed to and know why you’re going there. Traveling with a purpose is much more enjoyable than wandering aimlessly. When you arrive, ask the locals who work in the airport or the hotel you’re staying at about location-specific safety measures while in that destination.
I also always like to tell people that I travel solo but very rarely alone. There are always people I meet on my travels, whether it’s simply to share a bus ride or city-hop for few weeks together…”