the second some Wednesday of the month, Kristin Addis from Be My Travel Muse writes a guest column featuring tips and advice on solo female travel. It’s an important topic I can’t adequately cover, so I brought in an expert to share her advice. This week she writes about fellow female travelers who are exploring the world too.
I used to ask myself what the archetypal solo female traveler was like. I would wonder, who is out there traveling the world by herself right now? Is she anything like me? Does she have something special that I don’t have? Is she braver, stronger, or different in some way than the girl who looks back at me in the mirror? Does she have some kind of background that allows her to travel the world safely and independently, with nothing but what she can carry herself?
I wasn’t sure if I was cut out for traveling on my own. I was a bit shy, not convinced I could rough it in cramped buses and mosquito net-covered beds in shared dorms, and wondered if I was even strong enough to carry the backpack. Doomsday scenarios went through my mind: maybe I wouldn’t meet anyone, I’d get robbed, or I’d hate it and want to come home. Yet the urge in me to travel was so strong that I simply had to test the waters and find out.
Once I started traveling, I met women from all walks of life. Some were total scaredy-cats who were afraid of trying new foods, yet they were out there traveling alone, confronting their fears. Some were beauty queens who back home spent hours in front of the mirror, yet there they were, makeup free, sitting across from me and sweating in the humid Thai sun, loving every minute of it. Some were only 18, and even without a lot of life experience, they were out there conquering the world.
Today, I want to share the stories of six female travelers who’ve saved up money, conquered their fears, and followed their hearts. I talk a lot about my experience in this series, and now I want to showcase real-life examples of other solo female travelers.
Natalie, 28, worked as a fashion designer in New York City and started her travels by exploring a new neighborhood of the Big Apple every weekend, later expanding to Washington, Boston, Philadelphia, and other countries in North America.
Eventually she elected to become a freelancer so that she could have more freedom, and in June of this year, she took the leap and quit her job entirely to start traveling full time. Her first order of business was to stop at her family’s home in northern Germany, and she officially kicked off her adventures from there.
“Living alone in New York City has taught me to be a penny pincher. My best advice to save money for a trip or anything else is to write down how much you need to save, and each paycheck add $5-10 USD into the jar.
“When I quit my job and sold all of my things in June 2015, I realized how much stuff I really didn’t need; the money from selling my entire life minus a suitcase is my traveling money,” she says of her ability to afford the trip.
Her top solo travel tip: “Be brave and don’t be afraid to do something alone and to really put yourself out there in terms of meeting new people. The benefit of traveling alone is that you set your own pace and learn to get comfortable in your own company.”
What we can learn: Traveling solo doesn’t have to mean starting off with a one-way ticket to the other side of the world and never looking back. Starting local and gradually branching out is a great way to get your feet wet before expanding to new countries.
Sandy, 52, wore many professional hats in her home country of Canada before deciding to take an early retirement and travel solo. She started out as an Air Force technician, then moved into occupational health and safety, and finished in law enforcement.
She had always loved to travel and, once the opportunity to take an early retirement presented itself, decided that the time to do it is now, while she’s still healthy enough to enjoy it. She’s explored her own backyard in Western Canada, followed by the U.S., and now she’s learning to surf in Costa Rica.
She keeps herself on the road thanks to a modest pension, adding, “It’s a matter of figuring out how much I have for each day, and then making choices that stay within that budget. It isn’t always easy — sometimes I just have to put off an activity and work it into the next month’s budget.”
Top solo travel tip: “Most of the travelers I meet are fairly young, but there are always a few close to my age. The best suggestion I can offer is to just get out and do it. No matter how old you are, the decisions are yours to make, and it is so gratifying to be out there following your dream.”
What we can learn: There’s no right or wrong time, and it’s never too late (or too early!) to start traveling solo.
Cinthya, 25, makes travel part of her studies or joins volunteer organizations as a way to give back and travel simultaneously. While she was pursuing her undergraduate degree in social work, she volunteered and interned at nonprofits and NGOs in Guatemala and for a semester in Germany. This fall, she started a nine-month multi-continent master’s program as a way to combine her studies and her love of travel.
She affords her travels by making them part of her tuition, and for the extras, she says, “In order to make myself accountable for my spending, I write down everything I pay for throughout the day and analyze it later. I also put up a budget poster in my room, which I fill in on a weekly basis to see if I am spending the allowed amount of money on food, alcohol, coffee, and other expenses.”
Top solo travel tip: Ask your family and friends if they know someone in the country you’re visiting in order to ease your family’s (and your own) fears: “My family was nervous about me going to Central America and would discourage me from going, but I was very confident that I would be OK. In order to calm them down, and at times even myself, I would speak with people who had gone already and collect their positive experiences. Also I would speak with friends who are from Central America and ask them to connect me with their family members who are still there. Through this networking I was able to make connections before I got there, which gave me and my family some comfort.”
What we can learn: Combining traveling solo with volunteering, interning, and studying abroad is an excellent way to gain course credit and solo traveling experience at once. It’s also a great way to ease into it, with opportunities to meet friends in the form of fellow students, volunteers, and/or interns who are likely to be from all over the world.
Marissa, 30, went on a backpacking trip in her early 20s with a friend and fell in love with traveling. Since then she has mainly traveled solo, electing not to wait until friends can join her; as working professionals, they can’t always take holidays at the same time.
These days she freelances as a biotech consultant and a social media marketer so that she can make a full-time income without having a set schedule, noting, “the typical 9-to-5 doesn’t work for me.”
By working multiple jobs without rigid schedules, she takes vacations whenever she has a break in her work and so far, has traveled to Asia, North Africa, and most of Europe. She adds, “I started with shorter trips to get my comfort level up.”
Top solo travel tip: “Everyone has different priorities when it comes to traveling on the road, and the key to stretching your budget is finding that, and knowing where to compromise. I like to spend on accommodations and save on other things like transportation, food, etc. Keep realistic budgets in mind when saving money, and know what’s important.”
What we can learn: Seeing the world doesn’t always have to mean putting your studies on hold or taking a sabbatical. In Marissa’s case, she’s able to travel thanks to the flexibility of working freelance contracts. But even if you’re in a situation where you work a 9-to-5 job and have a fixed amount of vacation time, you can still save it up and travel. For example, I used to get one week of vacation per year, but I always used it all on a trip to Central America. When it comes to traveling, where there’s a will, there’s a way. If your friends can’t take their vacation at the same time, take a little time for yourself and go somewhere solo. The time away is perfect for recharging.
Joanna, 34, didn’t start out as a solo traveler. She got married at 27 and went to Thailandwith three other women on her first short backpacking trip when she was 31. She recalls that during that trip she met so many people were traveling solo and living their lives to the fullest that once she returned to Europe, she was hooked on travel and immediately started planning anther trip. This time, she went solo.
When she returned, she knew the traveling lifestyle was for her and that she didn’t want to remain in Europe. Following a divorce, she elected to finally take the leap and travel long term on her own through Australia and much of Southeast Asia. She says of the decision, “Life is too short, and the world is just waiting to be discovered,” adding that reaching retirement age is not a guarantee and she felt like she couldn’t wait. These days, she’s an expat in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where she teaches English.
She didn’t have the support of her family at first, noting, “I come from a small town in Poland, and long-term travel, especially solo, is not that common there. People were very surprised when I told them about my plans. I think many of them thought I was going through some sort of crisis after the divorce. They tried to talk me out of it. But at the end of the day, I did what I did and I have never regretted it.”
Top solo travel tip: “Traveling solo can be lonely at times, and this is the worst for me, but when I feel like that, I usually try to talk to the locals or stay somewhere where I know I would meet someone new, or use Couchsurfing. I also usually treat this as an adventure and know this will be something to talk about later, so why stress?”
What we can learn: Starting out with a few friends or a significant other before traveling completely solo, if that option is available to you, is a great way to test the waters before going on your own. Chances are good that you’ll meet people who are out there traveling alone, and you’ll have a chance to see what it’s like for them before taking the leap yourself. Moreover, you can always take a hardship and turn it into a reason to travel the world, especially given how many jobs are available for proficient English speakersthese days.
Kirsten, 35, used to work full time as a marketing copywriter before deciding to take a sabbatical and travel the world. She felt as though her life was moving too quickly, that she’d blink and already be 80 without having lived out her dream to explore the world. She realized that there was nothing stopping her, such as a husband, kids, or mortgage, from putting on the brakes and stepping outside of her comfort zone to really live and experience the world.
The problem? Nobody was available to join her on her adventure, and she was afraid that she would be lonely if she went on her own due to her introverted nature. She decided to go anyway, and she just wrapped up month 3 of a one-year trip beginning in Barcelona and continuing through Portugal, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Greece and Croatia.
She says the trip has helped her come out of her shell, adding, “I have several goals with this journey, and one of the biggest is to gain confidence and overcome my introverted ways — that is absolutely what is happening, and it seems to be happening naturally, which is such a great feeling.”
Top solo travel tip: “For my fellow introverts out there who want to travel but feel that the world can seem too big, loud, and crazy to negotiate: Your solo travel experience is your own, and it can be tailored to fit your comfort zone. You’ll discover, however, that your comfort zone is much larger than you ever suspected — and the world is smaller than you’d feared.”
What we can learn: Lots of people are shy by nature and worry that it will result in a lonely solo trip. The good news is that solo travelers want to meet others, and there are a lot of us out there. Chances are good you’ll come out of your shell little by little as you travel.
Solo female travelers come from all kinds of backgrounds, and in all colors, creeds, and ages. There’s really no personality trait, skill set, or physical characteristic that each and every solo traveler possesses. There is nothing that makes one person more capable than another to travel on their own. And as the women in the examples above have shown, there are all kinds of ways to work traveling into your life, whether you start off by incorporating it into your studies, taking to the road after retirement, or doing it sometime in between.