A revolution has started! More and more women are going against the grain and travelling alone. We have been told to avoid certain places or wait until we find
a man someone to travel with. Travelling solo is a scary idea to many people, especially women. In all honesty, it’s not as bad as what it’s made out to be. It may come as no surprise that I’m a lover of backpacking solo but because of my gender, I often get asked why. Well, why shouldn’t I!
There’s a sense of newfound freedom. I’ve been fortunate enough to have travelled around the South East Asian region and parts of Europe on my own, rarely feeling unsafe. What usually stops people from experiencing a new place alone is fear. There are so many doubts, so many uncertainties.
This guide aims to cover the basics of solo travel. While it is targeted mainly to women, there are some pointers here useful for all genders. This is designed to give you the courage and empower you to travel solo at least once. The world isn’t a scary place and I urge you to see it for yourself.
Why do I travel solo?
Let’s start off with why I choose to travel alone. Everyone has a different motivator and in a way, it was forced upon me. Prior to my first solo adventure (to Cambodia), my relationship ended and I didn’t ask anyone to join me. I suppose I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it and be independent. As expected, my trip didn’t go smoothly. Despite that, it didn’t deter me from trying again.
Over the last few years of travelling, I’ve become quite self-reliant. I don’t have a significant other, neither will I wait until I meet someone to go travelling with and I’m perfectly happy just doing that. I prefer doing things on my own time so when I find a good deal that fits my schedule, rarely am I hesitant to book the flight. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy travelling with others but it’s just not always feasible. I enjoy meeting new people on the road. Isn’t that what makes it an adventure?
The Solo Basics:
A lot of females hesitate to travel solo due to personal safety. I’m not going to lie and tell you that solo travel is all rainbows and butterflies, I did encounter some tricky situations. However, these instances were rare and I felt completely safe apart from it.
This can be a controversial one. While I don’t believe females should be told what we can or can’t wear, the unfortunate reality is that in some situations, we do have to be wary of our clothes. While travelling to destinations, try dressing modestly, especially in an area known for violence or if it’ll be after dark. There are still some parts of the world where women get unwanted attention due to our outfits and exercising a degree of caution is necessary.
Tip: Keep caution. I loathe being cat called so I find a resting bitch face can help avoid this. Not always, though.
I’m not saying avoid wearing your cute shorts or that muscle tee, just be aware of your surroundings. While I’m on the beach in a touristy area, you’ll catch me frolicking in my bikini. However, if I’m taking a night bus: hippie pants and a loosely fitted t-shirt are my go-to’s. All are situation dependent.
Avoid overnight travel, if possible. It is a better option to travel during the day.
I’m not the biggest fan of getting to my destinations late at night, depending on the region. While it does save on accommodation costs, do research on the safety aspects and talk to those who have done it. It is common in a lot of countries to offer sleeper buses. In most situations, sleeper buses are single seats reclined back. In Laos, however, sleeper buses consist of squeezing two people onto the same mattress. Talk about an invasion of personal space, right? If you’re travelling solo, you’re not guaranteed to be paired with the same gender (despite what the travel agent say). Your best bet is to find another solo traveller and swapping partners, so both of you will be together.
In certain countries, there are female-only carriages on trains (India for example).
For the most part, I haven’t encountered any issues staying in mixed dorms. Some hostels offer female-only dorms for your comfort and safety. Alternatively, if you want more privacy whilst staying somewhere with a social vibe, there are private rooms available in most hostels.
What about personal belongings? Lockers are a common feature in dorms. Generally, there are no issues leaving personal belongings in your designated locker. Another option is to leave your belongings at the reception.
Tip: Bring your own lock as some hostels do not provide you with one.
Solo Travel Tips:
You’re never ‘alone’:
Unless you’ve decided to take a trek to the middle of nowhere alone, you’re never truly alone. Having an open mind helps in meeting people. I find most travellers are down to earth and easy to chat to. Also, a bit of liquid courage helps act as a social lubricant.
Tip: I find having a deck of cards to be very handy – regardless if you drink or not.
In my experience, the type of accommodation you pick can aid in meeting people. Most of the places I’ve stayed in are hostels with a big common area. The hostel might not be for everyone, though. Don’t fret! In today’s times, the internet makes it so much easier to meet people. Websites like Couchsurfing, to travels groups on Facebook and heaps of apps, are used by locals and travellers eager to meet-up and show you around.
Getting out of your comfort zone:
For some people, it may be really easy to step outside of your comfort zone. For others, not so much. Either way, solo travel is a big leap from regular travelling.
Navigating a new city isn’t always the easiest but it is a thrill. I often find the best thing to do to set your bearings is to grab a map from your accommodation, ask where the points of interests are and set off exploring. You don’t have to do this alone, often there are a lot of solo travellers around who wouldn’t mind joining you. If you think this is too much of a leap, join a Walking Tour! Quite a lot of big cities (especially in Europe) offer Walking Tours taking you to points of interest while educating you on the history. As some pickup points can be from your hostel, you’ll meet a lot of people whom you can grab a drink with after.
Tip: Some Walking Tours are free but it’s customary to tip your guide at the end.
Going out and doing simple activities like having dinner alone can feel extremely daunting. While I often do get those uncomfortable stares, there’s something empowering about being able to just dine in your company. There’s no awkward small talk and you’ll be able to concentrate on the food a lot more. Bringing a book is often a great distraction.
Reassuring your family.
As I’ve previously mentioned, I am an adult child. Frequently, my parents are kept in the loop of where I am and where I’m headed to next. Despite travelling alone for the last few years, the parents are still opinionated of my destinations. I had plans to travel to Myanmar mid-2015, a period where the Rohingya refugee crisis was peaking and there was a lot of internal conflicts. To reassure them that it was safe for foreigners, I actually asked the embassy to keep me up-to-date about the conflict and showed various sources about the crisis to my parents.
While you are the person travelling to all these places, your loved ones are going to be concerned. It’s no harm showing them your research and staying in touch with them. Social media is a fantastic way to share your travels with them and apps such as Whatsapp is great to keep in contact without breaking your phone plan (you do need WIFI at a minimum, though).
Watch. Your. Drink.
Unfortunately, while I was home in Perth, I’ve had my drink spiked during a night out. I managed to get away safely and got my parents to pick me up. It wasn’t pleasant and in some instances, some girls aren’t that fortunate.
Tip: During the Full Moon Party, I covered my bucket with a massive napkin. It helped reduce any chances of my bucket from getting spiked while I wasn’t looking.
Always watch your drink. I have a habit of carrying my drink everywhere I go. Either take it with you to the toilet or finish it before going for a piss. I rarely ask someone to look after it (unless said person is my best friend). In some clubbing areas such as Khao San Road (Thailand), table service is not uncommon and waiters will bring your drinks from the bar. Try and watch your drink be made. While this isn’t always a fool-proof plan, hopefully, it does cut down your chances of being spiked. Also, feel free to drink to have fun! Try not to drink to get drunk 😉
(note to self).
Okay, fine. I’d admit, sometimes it does get lonely. Imagine getting to the most amazing viewpoint, alone, and wanting to share that with someone? It’s a bit hard to reminisce your previous travels to your family or friends. They weren’t there. They probably wouldn’t understand how amazing that USD$1 bowl of noodles was on Koh Rong or how mind-blowing it was swimming in bioluminescent waters.
Like a lot of solo female travellers, I’m not in a relationship so I don’t have a “go-to” travel partner. I don’t have any issues to travel solo and like I said, it’s quite liberating. Although… It would be nice to occasionally pay less by splitting a private room than sleeping in a dorm or have someone to eat with. I mean, who’s going to be my Instagram Boyfriend?
In all honesty, the pros outweigh the cons by a mile. Don’t let loneliness fear you. You’ll meet some amazing souls on the road and that’s what makes all this worthwhile. I’ve met multiple individuals while travelling and remain in close contact with until today.
How to take the leap into solo travel?
It wasn’t until I was 19 when I first travelled on my lonesome. Growing up I had travelled a fair bit but everything was pre-organised by my parents. My first experience ‘alone’ was with my then boyfriend motorbiking around Vietnam for 3 weeks. It gave me an opportunity to learn the ropes from someone with a lot more solo experience than I did. Try dipping your toes in by travelling with someone who has more experience. Observe how they navigate, how they organise their life. Learning what goes on behind the scenes and all the planning will help prepare you for your future solo trip.
Alternatively, if you want to take the plunge, do it! Do some research on the place you’re visiting. Planning ahead, knowing where you’d like to visit and booking accommodation are all ways you can help calm your nerves. If you’re visiting a region renowned for its backpackers (example South East Asia), it’s easy to follow the Banana Pancake Route. Everyone will almost be visiting the same places so planning gets cut significantly and meeting new people won’t be as tough. There are so many regions around the world with a similar backpacker route.
Regardless of gender, everyone should experience solo travel at least once in their lives. It doesn’t have to be to some exotic destination, even just exploring your own backyard, alone, is a massive step. I hope this guide helped you feel more empowered to venture into the world and realise it’s not a scary place. You’ll meet some of the kindest people and see some of the most amazing things. Who knows, maybe you might fall in love with it as well.
Peace, love and good vibes