On the back of international women’s day this last weekend, let me talk to you about solo women’s travel.
The female travelling community seems to be roughly split on this. Half are comfortable with taking off by themselves and half hold themselves back, waiting for the perfect travel partner to come along with the same destination desires as them. Let me tell you, you can be waiting for a long time for that. Even I, with my incredibly flexible schedule and all the time in the world for exploring, can find it difficult to line myself up with someone else’s plans. The best solution is just to go by yourself!
I think that when some people think of solo travel they imagine being ALONE. That terribly scary state of being. But it rarely ever is such. Of course if you want solitude and quiet it can be found but it is much easier to find yourself amongst comrades, travellers in arms.
Let me give you some tips on travelling solo as a woman.
To begin with, although I JUST said that you probably wont be by yourself entirely for the whole of the trip, you need to be able to cope if you are. I’m talking right from the beginning, can you handle your bags by yourself?
It seems like such a simple thing but I have seen so many girls with both a big suitcase and a little carry on suitcase, and probably her handbag as well. First of all, do you need that much stuff? And if you do, think for a second. Maybe when you are envisioning your holiday you see yourself wheeling both of these comfortably through the airport or hotel lobby. Ok, now envision tackling them both on cobblestone streets, up and down curbs or through train stations with lots of stairs. Difficult? You betcha.
The good news is that there are nice people out there and even when I am comfortably carrying my bag up and down stairs people will often offer to help me (maybe I don’t look as comfortable as I think…) but you don’t want to have to rely on this. My first piece of advice, take a backpack not a suitcase! I do use a suitcase for various reasons but I know that to really travel freely and easily a backpack wins every time. Not only does it totally get rid of obstacles like huge puddles, potholes and stairs but it also gives you your hands back to act like a normal person!
If you think you need a suitcase (and I definitely understand, for long term travel I find it the best option) then think. Can you convert your carry on into a backpack? Travelling solo is going to teach you about relying on yourself and it starts with basics like these!
Accommodation is the big thing that scares solo women travellers. Do you pay more for a lonely hotel room where you will feel that your belongings are safer or do you save money but be concerned for the safety of said belonging in a hostel room?
This is an easy one.
Get rid of your fears of hostels.
The vast majority of hostels these days allow you to choose on booking what size room you want to stay in. You can choose if you are more comfortable in a 4 bed dorm or anything up to an 18 bed dorm. They almost always come with a locker in the room, designated for your bed, which will be big enough to hold your most precious items but probably not your whole bag. Some hostels keep their bathrooms separated male/female and some have one bathroom per room and so you will be sharing with everyone else. Some even have female only rooms available to book so do your research first before you completely cross the idea of hostels off your list.
The only time that I have every gone in to a hostel room and felt uncomfortable was one time in Wellington, New Zealand. I checked in to my 6 bed dorm and when I got to the room I found that I was sharing with five big, blond, brawny German boys. I kind of just thought in my head, ‘surely the receptionist should have looked at this arrangement and thought, “you know what? A solo girl? I’ll put her in a room with at least one other girl”’ but apparently not. I put my bags down and went straight out for dinner and a walk. When I got back to my room I found these five big imposing boys still in the room, all huddled around a laptop on the floor. They were watching the lion king. All of a sudden I felt a lot better about them.
Not only do I think you should stay in hostels as a solo female traveller, I think you need to. In order to make the most from your trip and to keep yourself sane, you need these fellow travellers around you.
I was about halfway through a month of backpacking around Spain and I was at the point were I was really lonely. I’d met up with a couple of friends along the way but only briefly and I had begun skyping home every few days just to have someone to talk to. I knew I had to snap out of it. My next destination was Valencia and on arriving at the hostel I scouted out what the entertainment for the night was. Pub crawl? Sign me up. I went out with the intention of meeting people. And not surprisingly, I did! I got talking to a pair of Kiwi boys and we made the most of a pretty bad pub crawl and discovered that we had all signed up for the same walking tour for the next day. On that walking tour (which was much better than the pub crawl) we bonded a little more and I ended up spending most of my time exploring Valencia with Marc. We started talking about where we were headed next (neither of us had definite plans) and in the end Marc and I went off to Madrid and later Barcelona together.
Hostels helped save my sanity and my holiday by connecting me with other travellers like this. However it was only when I opened my mind and made positive actions towards it that it happened.
I feel like I need to put in bold that there were no underlying romantic intentions here, we were free wandering people who found it very easy to talk to each other and had the same money saving interests (we considered hitch hiking to Madrid). I think that that is one of the things that women are worried about in hostels is the thought that men stay there to prey on women travellers and I have never ever found that to be the case. Of course always be safe, if you do feel uncomfortable, go tell reception that you want to be moved or talk to the other girls in your room, create a bond where you will stick up for each other, but don’t go into a hostel with pre-conceived ideas of this kind of culture. You are only scaring yourself.
A lot of travelling solo as a woman follows the same rules as you would have in your own home city. Don’t walk the random dark streets alone at night. Don’t go home with a stranger you just met at a bar. Don’t walk around with your bag open flashing all your precious items. If you are capable of surviving your home city solo, then guess what? You are capable of taking on foreign cities by yourself as well.
And if you still feel nervous, well, that’s what tour operators are for! Joining in on a tour groups allows you to do the daunting bits (accommodation, meals, transport) with a bunch of new friends but still the freedom to strike out and discover cities for yourself. It’s a good starting point to taking on the world yourself.
For other tips to travelling alone, check out what I wrote on dining solo.
Go get em tiger!