Lessons Learned as a Solo Female Traveler7 min read
When I was 24 years old, I quit my job to travel the world by myself for a year. I worked three jobs for eight months to save up just enough to shoestring my way across Europe, parts of Asia, and New Zealand. I’ve since moved to Copenhagen and Paris by myself, too. And while I set off in search of adventure (and adventure I certainly did find), I also found life-long friends, life-long lessons, a sense of confidence and a sense of self—all of which have defined how my life has unfurled in the years since.
If you’re considering traveling solo (whether you’re a woman or not!) I have some lessons, big and small, to inform and inspire you and your travels.
The world and its people are mostly good, kind and trustworthy
“The world is a scary place.” It’s a phrase you’ve likely heard, and if you heard it enough or have experienced hardship in life, it may be something you’ve come to deeply believe. But I’d like to amend it to “The world can be a scary place.” On the whole, though, I think the world and its people are much more often good, kind and trustworthy—yet different in a way that can seem scary at first blush.
The more you get out and explore, the more you experience different places, different foods, different people, and different ways of life, the more you see that, while all that newness may be overwhelming, it’s not threatening. It’s true that bad things can and do happen, but much more often good and kind things happen. Venturing outside of your comfort zone is one of the best ways to learn just how much more goes right in the world on a day-to-day basis than what goes wrong.
Other solo female travelers are instant friends
When I was traveling by myself, my friends and family back home often asked if I got lonely. But for me, I found that solo travel was actually a gateway to meeting new people in a way that traveling with people you already know is not.
When you are a woman traveling by yourself and you meet another woman traveling by herself, you’ve just met a new friend. Despite any differences in things like age and nationality, you already know you have enough (the fact that you’re both adventurous enough to set out on your own!) in common to sustain a conversation and maybe even a longer friendship. I met countless people while traveling, and always felt a kinship with women who set off on their own as I had. We could talk about why we were traveling, what our favorite parts had been, share any tips and head out on excursions together, and we often kept in touch when we both went our separate ways.
Consider getting an IUD
This is a tip for my fellow long-term, solo female travelers. Rather than dealing with multiple packs of birth control pills or hunting down menstrual products in a foreign country, getting an IUD was the right choice for me. Consult your doctor to see if it might be a good choice for you, too.
Go for a basic, multi-use wardrobe
When traveling solo, packing light can save a lot of angst. It makes doing laundry, hauling luggage, packing and getting dressed easier. Opt for multi-use items, simple and streamlined color palettes, and limited choices. Daydreams of waltzing around fancy foreign cities in your most unique outfits may have an appeal, but when it comes to keeping your bags organized, your luggage costs low and your trip focused on your experiences rather than your ensembles, simplicity is best.
Have a plan…
In my travels, before I left one spot to move on to the next, I would always have accommodation and transportation booked, double-check addresses and boarding times, and know exactly how long it takes to get to the airport, still making sure to get there with enough time to account for potential lines, traffic or train delays. I was sure to have travel insurance and some money squirreled away in case of emergencies, and digital copies of important documents in case I needed them (which I did at one point when I lost my passport and had to get an emergency replacement).
I tried to think through all the things that could go wrong and then have a plan for how I would handle them if they did. It sounds like a pessimistic practice, but that level of preparedness means you’ll never be caught off guard and without a plan by an unexpected turn of events. Thinking through my blind spots made it easier to bring a calm mind to the whole experience.
…but leave room for spontaneity
When you have an emergency plan in place and can approach travel with a calm and agile mindset, you leave yourself open for the kinds of fun and spontaneous opportunities that often come up while traveling. You may meet new friends who invite you to travel with them instead of continuing on with your solo route, or get a recommendation for a restaurant that you’d never heard of that wasn’t on your list but turns out to be the best meal of your trip. These are the moments that become the memories that last a lifetime, but if you pre-plan every detail or find yourself too caught up worrying about the bigger picture, they may pass you by.
Do what you want to do, not what you think you should be doing
If museums aren’t your thing, don’t go to museums! There is nothing wrong with visiting Paris and never setting foot in the Louvre if it isn’t something you care about or will remember. Your time, money and effort are better spent seeking out the experiences that do matter to you.
Despite how it may feel when posting on social media or talking with friends and acquaintances who have also visited the destination you’re off to, there is nothing that you absolutely have to do if it does not interest you. Understanding and accepting your likes, dislikes, wants and needs before heading into a trip will help you return home feeling fulfilled and accomplished, and that is the real goal.
Take photos for yourself, not for your followers
Wherever you go, you take your habits with you, and that includes social media. It can be so easy to post every moment of your trip to your social media feed, such that you remember your trip not through your own eyes but through the lens of your camera. And being too caught up in likes and social media interactions from people back home will take you out of the moment.
That said, having photos of your trip is one of the best ways to preserve your memories. There’s nothing better than having an old photo of a forgotten moment pop up five years after a trip and being suddenly transported back to that time and place. So be sure to take photos, but do so for yourself and not for the ‘gram.
Find a way to make note of your thoughts and feelings
Photos are great for rekindling old memories, but equally powerful are notes about what you were thinking and feeling along the way. Whether it’s in a travel journal, a note on your phone, a series of voice memos or a video diary, find a way to keep track of your mood and mindset while traveling as an insightful complement to a collection of photos.
Be strategic about your return home
There’s nothing worse than returning from a dreamy trip into an unnecessarily stressful reality. Ease yourself back into real life by leaving your home as clean as possible, and by leaving yourself some basic, non-perishable groceries so you’re not returning to a fridge full of spoiled food and the need to run to the grocery store. If you’re returning to work, try to schedule a work-from-home day or another day off to give yourself the chance to do laundry and let your body rest and recover from jetlag. And as tempting as it can be to put off unpacking, try to tackle it right away so you can get back into the swing of things quickly.