How you choose to travel totally changes your experiences – if you choose to fly solo, no matter who you are, you will have very different experiences compared to if you were accompanied by a friend, family member, partner or a group of people. I am sure experiences can greatly differ depending on what region of the world you visit as a solo female traveller and there a definitely other factors that contribute to your experience (your race for example, sadly).
I would like to share some of my insights from my solo-travels, the upsides and the downsides and also some suggestions on how to overcome the tougher parts. I have done two long-term solo trips in Europe, during those trips I explored 18 European countries so I will be drawing from these experiences.
Why I travel alone
I initially chose to travel alone because otherwise, I would’ve been waiting forever for someone appropriate to come along and join me! I am also an independent, introverted person so I don’t need to constantly be surrounded by people, I recharge best on my own so in that sense, it works. I like to have the freedom to make my own decisions and up until I recently I hadn’t met any people I would like to travel with – I, however, met a few people while travelling who would definitely be good travel partners.
My insights on travelling solo as a female
Meeting people is surprisingly easy
People are more open to you when you are alone, I have found that local people are more interested in talking to me and getting to know me when I am on my own. Locals are often curious about where I am from and why I am alone and they often want to help me and give me advice. If you learn a few basic words of the language of the country you are in that also goes a very long way with local people. Just learning things like ‘hello’, ‘good morning/day/evening’, ”please’, ‘thank you’, ‘goodbye’, shows you are making an effort, even if your pronunciation is horrible.
If you stay in places like hostels you are highly likely to meet other solo travellers from all over the world and I often did, staying in hostels is an easy way to make friends when you travel alone. I have met several very dear friends during my solo travels, some are even solo female travellers themselves – I tend to really vibe with other solo female travellers.
I want to point out, despite travelling solo I was never really alone unless I wanted to be, so if this is your concern – don’t worry.
Hostel Life as a Solo Female Traveller Can be Rough
I have to be honest – this is the part where it gets difficult and I have spoken about hostel struggles in other posts in the pasts. Surprisingly, in all of my travels, I have the most problems with other travellers/foreigners and very rarely local people.
As mentioned in my hostel survival guide, you will meet the best and the worst people while staying in hostels. My biggest annoyance in hostels was the neverending attempts of random guys trying to get in my pants – from hostel staff (this has happened on multiple occasions) and from other tourists. I am not judging anyone who chooses to have casual sex but I am simply not interested in having sex with a different person every night so these mostly sleazy attempts drove me mad. On one occasion I even had a guy tell me that it wasn’t worth talking to me anymore because I rejected him and I have come across a few guys who acted in the same manner which, to be honest, I find quite disgusting.
My tips if you want to get down and dirty in the hostel:
- Be careful about sleeping with guys who work at hostels. One of the guys who tried it on with me (and didn’t succeed) ended up having a girlfriend but he still regularly engages in sexual activity with guests.
- You need to acknowledge the fact that if someone is sleeping with you tonight that they may have slept with some else the night before, possibly even in the same bed (this happened in one of my dorms). Always use protection.
My tips if you want to avoid sleazy guys in hostels:
- Stay in female-only dorms – there are a lot of benefits to this besides avoiding sleazy guys which I wrote about in my hostel survival guide.
- Sometimes you have to be quite abrasive because sadly, some guys don’t understand that just because you are nice to them (and everyone else!) that you don’t want to sleep with them. If someone is giving you the creeps and they are not getting the hint you may need to explicitly express your disinterest in a clear, firm manner. You may need to stop being friendly towards this person or avoid them. If a guest continues to make you feel uncomfortable to the point of harassment tell the hostel staff and get their help OR leave. If the hostel staff is harassing you, I recommend leaving as I had to do once before, sadly.
- Make an effort to meet other female travellers. Meeting other female travellers has always been one of my favourite parts of travelling.
I have also, met a handful of very unfriendly girls and guys (not sleazy just rude) while staying in hostels, surprisingly they were often from my home country, Australia. This can be quite jarring when you are alone and especially if you are homesick. Turn to your friends and family when you are facing these challenging times.
Disclaimer: I might sound like a misandrist from my comments but I am not. I have honestly just had some quite difficult experiences while travelling especially in hostels. I felt like some guys who were total strangers acted like I owed them sex, was occasionally treated very disrespectfully (as mentioned, I left a hostel prematurely because of harassment) and I felt really horrible after some of these interactions and literally cried in public because of them. I did, however, meet some really wonderful guys who are absolutely horrified by some of my experiences and would never ever treat women like that. Like I said – you will meet the worst and best of people in hostels.
Lastly, I want to note that all people have different ideas about appropriate ways to ‘pick up’ and have different standards especially when there are cultural differences. I am sure some of the behaviours that disgusted me would result in a successful pick up with some girls. I honestly, don’t know how to give advice on this point. All I can say is that everyone is different, treat them like they are an individual person and that you can’t expect that your way of picking up back home to be universally effective.
Regardless of your gender, safety is something you should always consider especially when you are travelling somewhere new. I encourage you to spend some time doing some research into potential safety issues, local scams etc. online. Arm yourself with the knowledge so you can make better decisions during your travels. It really depends where you are in the world what particular things you need to pay attention to. The biggest safety issues I have dealt with while travelling includes street harassment and sexual harassment.
Safety downsides of being a solo female traveller
- Sometimes you might have to miss out on some experiences in order to be safe if you are alone eg. drinking in a sketchy city alone might be a bad idea. I have normally been pretty lucky to meet people along the way so I haven’t missed out on too much. It did, however, really suck when I was in Serbia and wanted to hike in Tara Mountain but it was unsafe because I was alone and there were no tours available (the hostel owner also lied to my friend and told him there would be other guests and there wasn’t any). This can sometimes be overcome by planning ahead, for example, by doing either a short or long tour of a country or city and booking it in advance. Then you have the upside of safety in numbers while still being able to do your trip without someone accompanying you.
- When you are alone and in a place that feels unsafe that feeling of unsafeness can really be heightened just by being alone and it can really ruin your experience there. For example, I might be one of the rare people on the planet who didn’t enjoy visiting Berlin. I loved loved loved the museums but I absolutely hated the street harassment (leering), sometimes even by groups of men when I took public transport. I have also experienced aggressive begging while alone in a few places (example: a man grabbed my arm in Porto and I’ve been followed around by ‘salesmen’ in Barcelona) these experiences left me hyper-aware of my surroundings in an uncomfortable way which ruined my experiences.
Safety upside of being a solo female traveller
Sometimes local people are very concerned for me and they absolutely go out of their way and give me advice and help me just because I am a woman on my own in a foreign country. This really helps to restore one’s faith in humanity, honestly. I am very grateful to these people who are so kind that they will look out for me when they don’t even know me. Due to these interactions, I had some really unique travel experiences that went way beyond ticking off a sightseeing list because they touched my heart.
I would also exercise wariness with the helpfulness depending on where you are in the world as it could sadly be a scam – do your research and listen to your intuition.
Control – it is all on you!
Having total control over all your plans can be extremely liberating – no one can tell you they don’t want to go to that museum you wanted to go to or go to that restaurant you are dying to eat at. You don’t have compromise on anything with anyone!
At a certain point (especially when travelling longterm) this can become extremely tiring, making every single decision, big or small, 24/7. I found myself envying travelling friends and couples at times because I was longing for someone to take the reigns for me. If you are travelling long-term, I would recommend taking a breather in this circumstance, take a week to chill somewhere and then move on to the decisions. If you are like me and have other travelling friends, send them a message and get some support/advice if you need it.
You are constantly getting outside of your comfort zone
When you are in a foreign country you are probably already outside of your comfort zone especially if you don’t understand a lick of the local language and are unfamiliar with their culture/food/customs. No one is there immediately to hold your hand or help you-you need to work things out on your own! I experienced the initial fear when it dawned on me that I was doing it alone years ago but I found that most of it came naturally to me and eventually found that I could sort out any problem I came across either with the internet or the help of a local person.
For me, really getting outside of my comfort zone was doing things that I would normally do with friends or family – but alone. In my early days of being a baby giraffe traveller, the idea of going to a cafe or a restaurant alone would freak me out especially because I have social anxiety. After some practice and trying different things (for example I sometimes like to read on my Kindle when I am at a Cafe or Restaurant) I could do it without batting an eyelid now. Getting outside of your comfort zone in these ways can be very uncomfortable initially but once you master it you will be empowered by what you have accomplished and feel more confident.
Packing is a pain in the arse
I appreciate good makeup, hair and fashion but it is by no means an extremely important aspect of my life. Nevertheless, I want to look good while I am travelling, I want diverse outfits and a range of potential makeup looks. This. Is. When. It. Gets. Hard. I occasionally met some very presumptuous people who assumed my heavy backpack was full of clothes, well, my backpack on my last trip was 1/3 camera gear/tech, 1/3 clothes/shoes and 1/3 everything else (toiletries/medication/makeup etc). I struggled to choose clothes to bring, to whittle it down basically to nothing so I had room for other things. I struggled when the season changed. I struggled in the most first world problems way possible.
The only way to overcome the packing struggle is with planning and to go in with a ruthless attitude. I recommend watching packing videos and reading blog posts on packing specific to the type of trip you are doing eg. backpacking in Asia in summer, backpacking in Europe in winter. Get a family member or friend to help you be ruthless – I got my mum and sister to help me.
Your travels will be a kaleidoscope of good and bad experiences. Some will challenge you, help you to grow as a person, warm your heart, disgust you, confuse you, break your heart. You have read about a bunch of my difficult travel experiences, I wanted to be real and show you that being a solo female traveller can be hard. It is not always sunshine and lollipops and you have to take the good with the bad. I did, however, also have a lot of very magical travel experiences while alone that probably wouldn’t happen otherwise and I wouldn’t have had it any other way! In all honesty, my good experiences are plentiful enough to fill a novel whereas the bad ones can only fit in a few blogs posts. I only wish that I knew to expect some of these things that I came across, maybe I was a bit naive but I am hoping I can pass this on to other females travelling alone in hope of better preparing them for their travels.
Travelling solo is exhilarating, it leads to unique experiences, character growth and it is totally unpredictable in the best way. Be open to new experiences, say yes to life and you will be amazed by what will unfold. If you are looking for travel that results in deeper, enriching, life-changing, character strengthening experiences, travelling solo might be for you! Being removed from your normal life and environment while alone truly makes you look within and assess everything about your life in an ineffable way. Deciding to travel solo is without a doubt one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life
What is next?
I will be doing my first non-solo trip next month in Europe with my boyfriend, Marko. This, however, won’t mean this will be the end of my solo travels because I genuinely do love travelling alone, even though, admittedly it comes with challenges.
Care to share?
Do you have any insights to share about travelling alone as a woman or tips? Please share in the comments below, I’d love to hear them!
Stay tuned for my next post!