3 Truths of Solo Female Travel

Social media makes solo female travel look pretty damn glamorous. It’s all meaningful insights, and gazing triumphantly over spectacular vistas. And don’t get me wrong, I love that there are so many positive messages out there encouraging women to travel alone, but let’s talk about what it’s really like going solo sometimes (for me anyway):

Sometimes It’s Lonely

Time and time again I’ve heard the wisdom that you’re never really alone when you travel solo because you’ll always meet people on the road. While this definitely holds true in many cases, it’s also true that I totally end up alone all the time! In part, for me, it happens when I travel for work – I’m usually going to destinations that attract more couples and families than solo travelers, as well as not staying in accommodation that has the social atmosphere of hostels.

Sometimes I meet one or two locals who take me under their wings, and spend time with me. Other times, I just….don’t. I go to my assignments alone, eat meals alone, and go back to my hotel room alone, and there’s no denying that this routine can get lonely.

Sometimes It’s Scary

When I’m totally lost or I’ve generally had a crappy day, I sometimes feel painfully aware of just how far away I am from my entire support system. I don’t even find that Skyping with loved ones really helps, because it only seems to emphasize how physically distant we are from one another. I always abide by the advice of making sure someone at home knows my itinerary, but there’s no escaping the knowledge that whatever happens, it’s up to me alone to deal with it. That feeling can be intimidating and sometimes downright scary.

One big difference I notice between traveling alone and traveling with my boyfriend is the amount of creepy attention I get from men – obviously, it doesn’t happen when I’m with him but noticeably happens when I’m alone. Most of the time it’s nothing more than uncomfortably lingering glances; but a few months ago in Nassau, one man cut me off as I was walking in the street and said some extremely sexually explicit things to me. I’d never had someone get that aggressive with me when I was traveling alone before, and yeah, it was scary.

Other frequent solo travelers often talk about trusting your gut, and I have to admit, I have moments when I doubt if I can – if I’ll inherently know when a situation is about to turn bad. In this case, my instincts lived up to the hype: I just kind of knew this man wasn’t going to take it any further and I was right. When I stepped around him, he didn’t try to stop me.

Sometimes It’s Uncomfortable

I think of solo travel as a normal thing to do and I’m surprised when people question it, but I do get the occasional “Oh….it’s just you?” or “You’re here all alone?” from random strangers. I immediately feel embarrassed, as if I need to explain that traveling alone isn’t as weird or sad as their tone implies it is.

I loved Steph’s article last year about eating alone because it’s something that still regularly makes me feel uncomfortable no matter how often I do it. Dining alone reached new levels of discomfort for me last month on Grand Cayman. I went to this beachfront restaurant at dinner, purposefully going around sunset to get some good photos and stupidly not realizing that everyone else would have the same idea. It was quiet when I first sat down, but the patio filled up rapidly, and of course, I was the only one on my own. It wouldn’t have been so bad, except that my table had the best view of the sunset, so people started standing up and crowding around me, taking pictures of the beach over my head and around my table. I felt like the center of attention, which is exactly what I don’t want to be when I’m already self-conscious about dining alone. I just had to sit there and pretend everything was totally normal. But I didn’t feel like a cool, independent solo traveler. I felt painfully awkward.

And That’s OK

So solo female travel isn’t always a dreamy, empowering experience, but that’s exactly what makes it an important thing to do. I never feel stronger than when I fail, cry it out alone, and somehow manage to pick up the pieces and keep going. Sometimes traveling alone sucks, but overcoming the sucky days is far more life-changing than relishing in the perfect ones. Plus, every once in a while, I get to gaze triumphantly over spectacular vistas.

 

 

 

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Jessica Dawdy is a serial expat who has been slowly working her way around the world since 2011. She’s lived in 7 different countries, doing everything from painting houses to teaching English. Catch up with her travel stories and expat adventures at Ways of Wanderers. Read more about Jessica here.
  1. It’s true that traveling solo can get lonely and I can only imagine how frustrating your sunset table for one must have been… but it is absolutely worth it.

    Living in Spain and traveling throughout Europe I’ve been so surprised how impressed locals (mostly women) are that I so often travel alone. Many of them literally tell me that they could never do it – it’s surprising to me! No, traveling solo isn’t always perfect, but when it’s that or staying home, to me it’s a no brainer. Thanks for sharing!

  2. la morenita says:

    so true! except when people ask me I tend to gloss over these aspects and go straight to the “you meet plenty of people” line because I know that they think thatsolo travellers literally stay mute for the entire duration of the trip. I find it has faaaar fewer lows than travelling with an uncompatible buddy and yes it has lonely moments; but who doesn’t have low moments at work? travelling? in a relationship? Going alone is better than not going at all and I find it MUCH more fun and more exciting than going with someone.

  3. Thanks for your honesty, Jessica! I’m a solo traveler myself and spend a lot of time telling other women that solo travel is amazing and life-changing. But it does get lonely at times and it can feel awkward when you sit in a restaurant alone and don’t want to hide behind your phone for the entire meal. We shouldn’t glorify solo travel. It’s better to give people a realistic idea of how it’s going to be so they’re prepared. I still think solo travel is absolutely wonderful, but like travel in general, it comes with its ups and downs.

    • I totally agree Mariam that we shouldn’t glorify solo travel. I think everyone should give it a try because it has its perks but also has its downsides. But I’d rather go then not go at all!

  4. Sometimes it takes the challenges and uncomfortable aspects of travel to make the awesome things about travel all the better … I agree 100% with you!

  5. Hi guys. i’m luisa. Brazilian, living in Florida. I’m 19. And I have a dream to travel the world but i still have many questions. i would love to go on a road trip with someone who understands me. People around me just think i am delusional about this ”travel thing”.. i mean, i don’t wanna have a degree or have a job. I would rather kill myself than have a regular boring job in a boring life. i wanna go places, i wanna explore. I wanna sleep under palm trees and feel the breeze.. i wanna sleep in the car and take pictures of the sunrise.. i wanna dance in the rain.. i wanna FEEL ALIVE. Most people just live to work, money, material stuff. I don’t wanna that life.. I wanna live to see the beauty of the world. I wanna so much more than ”a regular life” …honestly if you have the chance to go places.. and get lost , you are richer than someone who has millions of dollars but spend the time inside of an office. So I wanna fulfill my dream, make them come true. But i don’t know how to set realistic goals, I don’t know how to start, i don’t know anything yet. If someone can talk to me.. or help me somehow, I will be eternally grateful. <3

    • The best thing you can do is take the plunge! Just pick a place you want to go to and work against that. You can work in hostels as you travel or teach Portuguese or English :). Many people blog about how to make money while traveling. Google that and you’ll get some trips on how you can support yourself. I’m happy to give some advice if you like!

  6. I totally agree that solo travel can be scary. Navigating the Paris metro system at night was a completely different story than doing so by day. I’m sure everyone around me could tell I was nervous too, but I simply couldn’t help it. I still haven’t gotten used to being totally confident travelling alone.

  7. Yes to all of this! And especially “I never feel stronger than when I fail, cry it out alone, and somehow manage to pick up the pieces and keep going.”

    I think sometimes people have this expectation that travel is going to be one amazing day after another. That’s not true of my day-to-day life, so why would it be true when I’m traveling, whether I’m alone or not? Some days are going to suck, but some are going to be spectacular beyond anything I could have imagined.

  8. I frequently am asked ““Oh….it’s just you?” or “You’re here all alone,” especially while in cabs and it always makes me feel uncomfortable. Not for being judged, but more for issues of security.

    I always find logistics to be the hardest part of traveling solo. Going to the bathroom while at a bus top with your backpacks never seems to get easier for me.

    But, my favorite part of traveling solo is that it opens up the opportunity to meet some of the most incredible people.

    Thanks for sharing. I love promoting solo travel, and have joined a company to make it easier for people to do so.

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