A few short years ago, I would never have dreamed that I would be predominantly travelling solo. I was convinced that going with companions was the only way to do it. With holiday periods no longer lining up with friends, it was eventually time to pull the trigger and try it for the first time. To start off with I was petrified. It was hard to put the negative thoughts and worries to rest. Where do I go? Will I be lonely? What happens if something goes wrong? Is it safe? I had seen other travel bloggers do it, but I didn’t know many people personally to call on for solo female travel advice.
The first trip, despite being the shortest, was the hardest. The middle of winter in Stockholm wasn’t exactly a soul-warming or relaxing first destination, but it was safe place to foray into the style. With a not-so-social hostel, barely any money left, and only six hours of daylight, it all made me question whether this type of travel was a good fit. And for a while, I was convinced it wasn’t.
Fast forward to a trip to Seoul and it all completely changed. I didn’t realise how much I had developed from the first trip. Armed with knowledge that I could successfully navigate foreign transport, had become more comfortable being alone with my thoughts, and had already experienced dining solo, it seemed a lot less daunting the second time around (and actually started becoming fun). Instead of feeling confused and lonely, I felt more empowered and had the confidence to meet new people, plan better paced itineraries, and choose better-suited accommodation.
Since then, I have done six solo trips in Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, and Europe, ranging from one to seven weeks. And there are more in the pipeline. As time goes on, I have learned to love it more and more. As you become comfortable with your abilities, the solitude is longer isolating but freeing. It sounds cliché, but the intensity of the independence you have when travelling solo builds great self belief. When you solo travel, you only have yourself to rely on and the satisfaction that you get when you navigate difficult situations on your own is unparalleled.
One thing that resonates with me is that you travel solo, but never alone. There are always people to give you a helping hand and plenty of interesting people to meet. Although there will be down days, the good ones outweigh them. Here are some pieces of advice that I wish I had known before embarking on solo female travel.
KNOW THAT THERE WILL BE BAD DAYS
Although travel blogs and Instagram show solo travellers enjoying endless summers, flowing dresses, and plenty of empowerment, in the real world, there are bad days peppered among the good. The most important thing to remember is that it is completely normal to have bad days on the road. We all have crappy moments at home, so of course you’ll have them when dealing with the unique challenges of solo travel and new environments. The most important thing is to listen to and look after yourself when these not-so-good moments hit.
I had really high expectations when I first went solo. Having travelled a fair bit before that, I thought that I would take to it like a duck to water. In reality, that wasn’t the case. There was a lot to learn and a fair few “bad days” before I got comfortable. Everyone is different with how they deal with low days, and it depends on the cause too.
TOP TIPS FOR BAD DAYS ON THE ROAD:
- Be kind to yourself! Don’t put too much pressure on your abilities and plans. If you need a day off from sight-seeing, or would rather watch some Netflix than go to a gallery, just do it. It’s more important that you enjoy your time and don’t burn out. At the end of the day, if you miss a gallery, church, or monument here or there, it doesn’t really matter.
- Make sure you roster in some down time in each destination to just enjoy yourself.
- I like to mix up private rooms with dorm rooms during my travels to give me a break and some privacy. I’m not the most extroverted person in the world and I know that months on end in dorm rooms would be too much. Mixing it up helps me to remain social but not push myself too far.
There are rainy days, and particularly long buses, planes, and transits, where you need something to keep you entertained. If you’re travelling with somebody else, it’s easy to keep busy with chatting, playing cards, and just hanging out. Unfortunately, it’s not so easy when you are solo. For those long journeys, make sure you load your phone up with plenty of podcasts and music in advance. I also like to bring a book and I keep a written travel diary which passes time.
SOME TIPS ON KEEPING ENTERTAINED:
- Bring a book! You can often swap/trade at hostel libraries so you always have something new to read.
- Add a comprehensive playlist to your phone and try to add some music local to the area you’re visiting to get you in the mood (you can always check the top hits for countries on Spotify).
- On the bus/train/plane to a new place, save some web pages to your phone in advance about the history/culture of the place you’re en route to so you can read up beforehand!
- If you bring a small diary you can write some of the best memories of the day and keep memorable tickets/postcards, it’s great fun to write your memories down and amazing to look back on.
- Download some of your favourite shows or movies to your phone/laptop for those longer journeys or when you want a quiet night in the hostel!
- Carry a pack of cards with you — you never know when they might come in handy!
THE FIRST FEW DAYS ARE ALWAYS THE HARDEST
Getting into the swing of things on a new trip takes time as it is, with culture shock and unfamiliar environments. Doing it solo adds a new degree of difficulty to the experience. The first few days are usually the hardest as you adjust to your new environment and exploring it by yourself.
SOLO FEMALE TRAVEL ADVICE FOR THE FIRST FEW DAYS:
- Spend at least a few days in your first destination so you can get to grips with doing things solo and work out your style. This is especially important if you are jet lagged — there is nothing worse than being tired and stressed.
- Have your first few days well organised to prevent any avoidable bumps in the road. Simple steps like booking yourself into a place you’ll look forward to staying in, and knowing how you’ll get from the airport to your accommodation, can make those first few days easier.
BUY A SIM CARD AND BE CONTACTABLE
I used to travel without a SIM card, often going for days out without my phone at all, and it was fine… until it wasn’t. There are times on the road when you need to be able to phone home, get in contact with your accommodation, look up the best food near you, transfer money, or just figure out where you are on the GPS. In my recent solo trips, I have made sure to spend the extra money and get a SIM card which works in the country. It has been great for looking up information on the fly and making each trip smoother. It usually only costs $10-$20 for a loaded data SIM (data is a lot cheaper outside of Australia).
SOME TIPS FOR BEING REACHABLE:
- Many countries have free tourist SIM cards available at the airport/main stations, it is worth researching this option if budget is a concern.
- If you’re going somewhere outside of Wi-Fi range/phone reception, make sure you tell someone where you’re going and when you’re expected to be back.
- Often a data SIM is enough and you don’t have to pay extra money for calls/text packages. You can call over Facebook/WhatsApp. If you need to call a physical phone number, you can always top up Skype credit and call through Skype to a landline/mobile (they don’t need to have Skype).
- If you know your itinerary in advance, send it to your friends and family so they can stay up-to-date.
- Register your travels with smarttraveller.gov.au so they can contact you in cases of emergency/unrest in the places you’re visiting and make sure you’re safe.
READ MORE: Anxiety, Stockholm and Me
JOIN WALKING TOURS
Walking tours are a great way to get your bearings in a new city and meet new people! In Europe there are plenty of free walking tours where you usually get a 3-4 hour tour and pay a donation to the tour guide at the end. I love joining one of these on my first day in a new city, and have met some fantastic people which have turned into travel buddies during my stay in the city!
TIPS FOR WALKING TOURS:
- Join the free walking tours as these are often better (in my experience), and are (obviously) more cost effective.
- Bring a good attitude and get talking to the other people on the tour!
- If you’re prone to forgetfulness (like me), you can pin places on Google Maps that you want to come back to or restaurants/cafés you walk past that you want to try later.
EAT AT WHICHEVER RESTAURANT YOU LIKE AND DON’T LET ANYONE TELL YOU OTHERWISE
One of the hardest parts of solo travelling — even though it might seem like the easiest — is eating. You’ll quickly realise that a lot of restaurants are set up for (at least) two people. It’s when you dine out alone that you get the most comments from people asking if and why you’re alone. Often, you’ll also be seated at the worst table in the room. It’s just something that you have to take in your stride. The first few times you get the comments in restaurants, I’m not going to lie, it feels crappy. But soon enough they are just part of the game and it’s easy to brush them off. Act with confidence and always tell the waiter/waitress if there is a particular table you want.
TIPS FOR DINING OUT SOLO:
- If you want a particular table, make sure you perk up and ask otherwise you’ll probably be taken to a not-so-good one at the back.
- Don’t overthink it. Go to the restaurant you want to go to and walk in without giving yourself time to overthink the situation.
- Act with confidence. It is completely normal and fine for you to be eating alone, you do not need to be sitting across from someone to be able to enjoy a good meal.
- Just brush off any comments about dining solo. It is 100% a non-issue and the comments get easier to deal with as time passes.
READ MORE: On Solo Travel, Kindness and Noodle Soup
ALLOW FOR ITINERARY CHANGES
It’s hard to predict whether you’ll love or not-so-love a destination before you get there. Especially with solo travel, you want to be spending time in destinations which spark joy. Having some leniency in your itinerary means that you can spend longer in places you fall for, and cut short your stay in places you’re not having fun. Often as a solo female traveller you’ll meet amazing people on the road who you want to travel onwards with, so having some flexibility will go a long way.
TIPS FOR FLEXIBILITY:
- This doesn’t always mean that you have to not book anything. Look for accommodation with flexible bookings and good cancellation policies in case you change your mind.
- Talk to other travellers! You will most likely meet some amazing people and you can make plans together.
KNOW YOUR BUDGET
It is important to budget well for your travels and make sure you have enough before you leave home. But the work doesn’t stop there. When you travel solo, you are completely reliant on your own funds and it’s not as easy to split your purchases and accommodation. Keeping track of your spending for the duration of your trip will help you stay within budget and not over-spend. It might seem like a pain at the time… but it will save you hassle further along and ensure you have enough at the end of your trip to still enjoy yourself.
TIPS FOR BUDGETING SOLO:
- Have some money spare in case you’re in a sticky situation or need to treat yourself. Insurance will pay you back when you have to spend in emergency situations, but you often have to come up with the money in the first place.
- Keep track of how much you’re spending. Whether you use an app on your phone or an Excel spread sheet, it’s good to know how much you’re spending so it doesn’t blow out.
GIVE YOURSELF TIME
Be gentle to yourself and allow yourself plenty of time to get things done. If you need to get to the airport or to a train, allow yourself enough time to get there. Being stressed and missing connections when you’re alone sucks, it’s worth getting there early and having a coffee while you wait.
Another piece of advice is to allow yourself enough time in your itinerary for each destination. Rushing from place to place can be stress-inducing at the best of times, let alone when you’re doing it by yourself. Make sure you spend enough time in each place to chill out and enjoy the destination before needing to make another transfer.
TOP TIPS FOR SCHEDULING TIME:
- Allow extra time to get to the airport and any transport connections. It might sometimes seem like a waste of time but making your connections saves a lot of stress (and money) which can throw a trip off.
- Put some extra days in your schedule to enjoy a destination and have some “off” days.
GET USED TO THE “WHERE’S YOUR BOYFRIEND?” COMMENTS
No matter where you go, the comments will follow you. In a lot of places, it’s unusual to see women travelling, eating dinner at a restaurant, or drinking at a bar, solo. I found the most comments came in Portugal, Italy and Malaysia, and the least were in Taiwan. This surprised me a bit!
The most common questions are: “why are you alone?”, “you are travelling all by yourself?” *face of horror*, “your parents/boyfriend let you do this alone?”, “where is your boyfriend?”, “aren’t you married?”, etc. etc. It can wear you down a bit, especially when you’re asked at check-in, breakfast, lunch, dinner, on day tours, and even when you’re just grabbing a coffee. At the end of the day, these comments don’t usually come from a bad place and people are genuinely curious. I put my deep-down annoyance and sassiness to the side and answer the questions honestly and proudly. It is becoming more common to see solo female travellers on the road, so hopefully it becomes more accepted and these questions aren’t asked at every point in the day.
TOP TIPS FOR DEALING WITH THESE QUESTIONS:
- Don’t get offended! You are a strong independent woman who don’t need no man [icon color=”#000000″ icon=”icon-wink” size=”14px”] and you know it. Just remember that these questions usually come from a place of genuine curiosity and cultural differences, so just answer them honestly.
STAY AT HOSTELS IF YOU CAN
Some travellers are staunchly against staying at hostels, but I absolutely love them for solo travel. If you pick a hostel carefully based on your travel style (are you more chill? Or do you prefer a party vibe?) you will meet loads of other like-minded people to explore new places with. Hostels are set up for solo travellers with communal eating spaces, group day trips and night-time activities. It is really easy to meet other people and have a great time — if you pick the right hostel, it’ll be hard to be lonely.
Hostels can be mix-and-match so you can find the right combination for your needs! Whether you want a female-only or mixed dorm, your own room or with others, you can find a place which suits you. Always, always read reviews before booking a hostel so you choose one which has the right vibe for you and you can meet like-minded people.
TIPS FOR HOSTELS SOLO:
- A lot of hostels have female-only dorm rooms for the same price if it makes you feel more comfortable.
- You can book private rooms in hostels so you can have your own privacy without compromising on the social opportunities.
- Always read the reviews on Booking.com and HostelWorld before booking your stay. Keep an eye out for reviews from other solo females!
- Try making it to communal breakfast and cooking a few meals at the hostel to hang out with other people in the hostel.
READ MORE: What’s In My Bag: Travel Photography Gear
This is a general travel tip but is more important when you’re by yourself (and there’s nobody else to play porter [icon color=”#000000″ icon=”icon-wink” size=”14px”]). It is not great to lug around heavy baggage when you’re trying to explore a new place and find your accommodation. It’s easier said than done but try to only bring what you need. It’ll usually be a lot less stuff than you think! You probably don’t need 24 pairs of underwear and a dress for every occasion [icon color=”#000000″ icon=”icon-wink” size=”14px”].
KNOW YOUR COMFORT ZONE
Exploring new places involves a lot of trust in other people and it’s one of parts of travel I love the most. You have to trust that you’re being given the right directions, that you’re on the right bus, and that friendliness is genuine. Giving yourself over to this trust – in strangers, systems, and in yourself – is one of the freeing parts of travel.
When you are travelling by yourself, the biggest thing to get used to is trusting your gut and acting upon instinct. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. When you’re travelling solo, it is important to know your comfort zone and when things aren’t adding up. Although it’s good to challenge yourself, don’t push it too far. Even if you feel on top of the world when you travel solo, you’re still vulnerable, and trusting your instinct is hugely valuable.
GET TRAVEL INSURANCE
This is not an ad, it’s just something I genuinely think all travellers should have. Travelling is great when it is going well, but bad things can happen anywhere and you want to be protected. My preferred insurers are FastCover which is good cover for a great price, World Nomads which is a bit more expensive but really helpful, and (if you’re a junior doctor) you can go through your Avant Indemnity Insurance for free travel insurance.
TRAVEL INSURANCE TIPS:
- Be honest with your quotes, there is no point saying you’re not doing snow sports or emitting destinations because it lowers the price, because if that’s where you get hurt… you’re not covered.
- Keep a copy of your insurance policy somewhere accessible (email, phone, or printed) and save the number of the 24-hour help line on your phone.
- Read the terms, conditions and inclusions before you buy the policy. You need to make sure that you’re properly covered.
- If things are stolen from you, make sure you report them to the Police if necessary because some policies won’t let you claim unless you have a Police statement.
PIN THIS SOLO FEMALE TRAVEL ADVICE FOR LATER AND FOR OTHERS [icon color=”#0a0a0a” icon=”icon-pinterest” size=”20px”]
Have you travelled solo before? What is your solo female travel advice?