I started my solo travel adventures at the age of 22 when I moved to Ireland and discovered the magic of Ryanair and affordable trains. Fast forward 4 years later and I’m 26 years old with 35 countries under my belt and another long-term solo adventure planned later this year (if you follow me on Facebook and Instagram you know this, if not- surprise! I’m headed to Asia for 3 months!) Needless to say I’ve been doing the solo travel thing for awhile now, and although (mis)adventures are still second nature, I tend to think I kind of know what I’m doing. But with every flight I book, every destination I plan on visiting, and every hostel I stay in I get the same questions over and over again; isn’t it hard? Aren’t you scared? Isn’t it dangerous?
These questions don’t exactly work with clear yes and no answers. There is no black and white when it comes to travel (there’s at least 50 shades of grey). For some, yes it’s all of these things. For others, not at all. I can’t speak for everyone but I can speak for myself and offer my insight based on my own experiences.
Is it Hard?
My automatic response to this question is no, but that’s me. Don’t get me wrong, there are some aspects of travelling alone that can definitely be frustrating. But it’s usually the little things like having no one to watch my bags when I go to the bathroom at the airport or train station, or wishing I had someone with me that had a (much) better sense of direction than I do as I try to find my way to my hostel. But these are small, temporary problems that I’ve grown accustomed to dealing with.
Personally I find travelling with others can be hard. Again it’s silly things, like waiting for them to get ready, or feeling like you need to rush because they are waiting for you. Trying to find a balance to do and see what everyone wants. Not to mention juggling your money and controlling your spending is difficult to do when you are trying to please multiple people. For me, as a budget traveller with a get-up-and-go mentality, these types of ‘problems’ are harder than those I face when travelling alone.
In my travel experience so far, my ‘hard’ times tend to revolve around being alone, not because I’m a female. I’m sure this changes in some places around the world, but I’ve never had a hard time travelling because I’m a woman in any of the countries I’ve been to so far.
Is it Dangerous?
Probably the hardest question to answer because the obvious answer is yes. But unless you live in a perfect bubble, everything can be. Fact is that anything that can happen abroad, can also happen in your hometown. In your neighbourhood. On your street. Sadly the world is not is not exactly a happy, peaceful place in general right now, but I personally refuse to let a few bad people scare me into hiding for the rest of my life.
As much as I hate that it’s true, it is significantly more dangerous for women to travel solo than men. The biggest scares surrounding solo female travel are rape/sexual assault and kidnapping. While I’m not going to say it doesn’t happen, because unfortunately it does, your trip isn’t going suddenly going to morph into the next Taken sequel while you pose for photos in front of the Eiffel Tower or explore the temples of Cambodia.
The truth is that danger can be found everywhere, no matter where you are in the world. It’s up to you to play it smart, follow your gut, and stay informed and educated as to what is going on around you. And while I don’t suggest running off to explore Syria or Afghanistan (at this time), you shouldn’t have to knock places like India off the books just because they can be more difficult.
There are plenty of safety tips for solo female travellers out there including tips on how to avoid unwanted male attention. Many of these should apply to all travellers, whether you are male or female, solo or travelling in a group. But even though there is always a risk, the majority of us solo female travellers all agree that, in general, travelling solo as a woman is not dangerous.
Is it Scary?
It can be. The same way that your first day of high school or meeting your significant other’s family can be scary too. It’s not the travel that’s scary, it’s the fear of the unknown. All the “what if’s” that flit through your mind. As someone with a wild imagination that tends to hover on the dark side (no Hannah, the dripping tap does not mean there’s a serial killer in your bathroom) I tend to freak myself out on a regular basis with all the ‘what if’s’. But even during my scariest travel situation, none of those ‘what ifs’ have ever come to life. You might call it luck, but I personally think it has a lot more to do with over-reacting. Which is ok, because I think that fear makes me a little more careful.
As a woman, I have more to fear while travelling alone than a man. Would I feel safer with someone beside me? Sometimes. Sure I feel like I have a target on my back (or forehead) every time I walk through the streets of Italy alone. But, the catcalls that come with being alone in these places are usually more annoying than terrifying.
Even though being alone often singles me out, the extra attention isn’t always a bad thing. My personal experience has shown that my solo status frequently means others keep an eye on me. Whether it be the family running the guesthouse in Thailand, the bartender at my favourite Irish pub, or the guy at reception at the busy Italian hostel; I know I regularly have people keeping tabs on me. I’ve also noticed that hostel guests and dorm mates tend to do the same. I may be travelling alone, but by doing so I have become part of travel a community. A community that tends to look out for their own; especially the women.
Is it Lonely?
Again, it can be. I’m an outgoing person who is willing and happy to talk to everyone and usually stays in hostels. Often it’s easy for me make friends with fellow travellers pretty quickly. But even my outgoing personality doesn’t guarantee easy friendships. Sometimes I’ve ended up in hostel dorms as the only solo traveller among a bunch of friends unwilling to add someone new to the group. Other times, when I’ve travelled during the off-season, I’ve been the only person in an the dorm, or even in the entire hostel. During extended travel periods, a dorm to myself can be a complete luxury. After all, everyone needs a bit of alone time. But when this trend continues for a week, then yes I do get lonely.
There are always ways to combat this. If you go out to eat, pick somewhere like a pub, where you can sit at the bar and talk to the bartender. Join a walking tour, pub crawl, group excursion, or even take a class. Many of the larger cities also have travel-themed meet-ups run by Travel Massive that offer a great opportunity to meet locals and fellow travellers. There’s also always Couch Surfing and Tinder however, if you are a woman, you do need to be more careful relying on these options.
In general though, travelling solo makes it easier to make friends. As an individual you are much more approachable than a group. Not to mention you are more open and accepting to new friendships than you would be if you were travelling with your best friend of significant other.
As a woman, I think we have it easier than a solo man. Fellow solo females seek each other out pretty quickly, and solo men (however innocent or not their initial intentions may be) usually don’t have a problem approaching solo women either. Again, there is a definite solo travel community that tends to look out for it’s own.
So Why Do It?
I’ve just admitted that travelling alone as a woman can be scary, lonely, dangerous and sometimes difficult. So why bother? I have a bunch of reasons as to why I travel solo, and think everyone should give it a shot. For me though it’s the empowerment and the freedom. I love that I’m the one calling the shots and making all of the decisions. I love that I can chose to wake up at 4:30 to see the sunrise or stay in bed until noon. I love that I feel stronger, smarter, and more powerful, and less fearful now having travelled solo than I did before I boarded my first ever plane.
No, it’s not always easy and no, I don’t always feel comfortable. But it is always an adventure.