"Your inner voice is the voice of Divinity. To hear it, we need to be in solitude, even in crowded places." - A. R. Rahman -
Solo travel for women is one of my specialties! Last week I did a booking for a client’s first solo trip. I don’t know who is more excited…her, or me for her?! As a result, I am inspired to write a post with tips for women traveling alone. These are gleaned from my experiences over the years, as well as my travel industry expertise.
Anytime I’ve left on a solo trip (or returned), I’ve received a remarkable number of comments on how brave I am. I’m not going to lie that I don’t have multiple ‘holy shit’ moments along the way, yet I have never seen my solo travel as brave. Traveling solo didn’t so much arise as a choice, but out of necessity. Family and friends simply didn’t have the funds or the vacation time or ability, due to other responsibilities, to travel as far and for as long as I desired. Now however, it is a choice I make regularly. And one I encourage everyone to make at least once. It is empowering beyond belief. Hopefully the following may be helpful in making that choice.
Start with baby steps
For most people, starting out with a multi-month adventure to the other side of the world would not be the best way to start. And the good news is, you don’t have to! Start small. I started to find my solo travel legs on a business trip to Toronto many years ago. I did have family to visit with, but I found I loved the feeling of adventuring about on my own. So, for you, how about a long weekend adventure to somewhere in North America? My client is starting in San Francisco which I think is an excellent city for a first-time solo female. Other suggestions would be an all-inclusive in Mexico or the Caribbean where there is little stress and you are pretty much guaranteed to meet people, or an English-speaking country like Britain or Ireland. As your confidence grows you can plan longer and more adventurous trips to more far-flung locales.
Take others’ advice with a grain of salt
Two days before my trip to Colombia I almost cancelled it because so many people had made comments to me about safety that my anxiety had skyrocketed. I was lucky that I was scheduled to have drinks with two friends who reminded me that I had thoroughly researched my destination, had traveled solo before and I was prepared. That calmed me down. Or was it the cocktails?! Anyhow, point is, that those others, though they cared, were not informed sources. I had the most amazing time in Colombia that I would have missed out on if I had listened. And to be honest, I feel more unsafe in my own city then I did there at any time. On the other hand, if people are informed, particularly if they are native to the country you are visiting, you will want to listen more closely. While enjoying the stunning Ipanema Beach in Rio, one of the new friends I had made who happened to be living in Brazil for a time, had a bad feeling about some people nearby. I didn’t hesitate to listen and we all hightailed it out of there. Always better safe than sorry. Which leads me to my next tip…
Better safe than sorry
While we don’t always have to listen to others, ALWAYS listen to your own intuition. For me that feeling resides in my gut. I get a bad feeling there and I know something is amiss. You might sense things differently. If you aren’t already tuned into your intuition, solo travel is definitely one way to develop a stronger sense of it. You absolutely must trust yourself when you’re on your own. To able to tap into your intuition, that means you need to watch your alcohol intake. Booze dulls our senses, including our intuition. I rarely have more than a drink or two at a time (outside of my accommodation at least!) while I’m traveling, unless I’ve found trusty companions. I have a few more tips under this heading. When in doubt call a taxi or Uber. Particularly after dark. Never hesitate to splurge when it comes to safety. That goes for accommodation as well. I also recommended tucking some money and possibly a credit card in somewhere other than your wallet/purse. For me I usually tuck those things into my bra. And always zip up your bag! I broke my own rules in both these last cases on my last trip to Japan and proceeded to lose my wallet and was left with zilch. It’s a long story but in the end, I did get my wallet back. At one point though I thought it was going to be a long hungry night. Which is a nice segue to my next tip.
Make sure you have set up the phone a friend option in advance
Have someone you trust to check in with periodically, who knows your travel schedule and can bail you out in case of emergency. In my case when I lost my wallet I was lucky to have that friend who was willing and able to transfer money to me through Western Union. It was a relief to know I had money in my pocket again let me tell you!
You are going to have to haul all your stuff around; do you really want to be hauling a heavy, overstuffed suitcase with you? No, no you don’t. Trust me! My ability to pack like a boss developed when I learned to pick a color scheme. Typically, mine is black and white. When you’ve pared it down to a basic colour scheme, then you can really edit what shoes, accessories and even makeup you need. Though to be honest I barely bring any accessories any more. One of the bonuses of travelling solo is you aren’t seeing the same people every day so you can repeat outfits as much as you like. Photographs will be the only evidence.
Your devices are your best friend
My mobile device is incredibly vital when travelling. All my travel details are accessible that way. As well as copy of my passport and credit card info (I email a copy of this info to myself so technically it is accessible from other places. Good idea to email to a trusted friend or family member as well). Google maps and translator can be real lifesavers. Just in case though, I always tuck a card from my accommodation with the address into my purse or pack. That way if I get lost I can just hop into a taxi and show the card. If you’re like me you are probably taking most of your photos with your mobile device also. This can drain your battery quickly. Thus, an external phone charger becomes a necessity. There are many nifty ones out there. And keep track of your device at all times. That goes for all your belongings.
Join a walking tour
On my trips now I typically try to join one of these soon after I arrive in my new destination. It helps me to get a lay of the lands, hear some expert tips and recommendations, and often I even make friends! That in fact is how I met those lovely people I mentioned above in my story about Ipanema! And Henry in Cartagena. Sayuri in Salvador. Aya in Kyoto. You get the idea! Further ask for suggestions from locals that you meet whether it be staff at your accommodation or restaurants or friends that you make along the way. They will often have the inside scoop or may even offer to show you around. That’s how I started a wonderful friendship with Flavio in Ouro Preto!
My preparation for this starts weeks before my trip when typically, I start dosing up on the probiotics. I rarely have stomach issues which I attribute in part to this. I typically pack my yoga mat. However, with the amount of walking done you may not feel you need any more physical exercise. Comfortable shoes are a non-negotiable. Pack band aids just in case though. Bring your own water bottle and stay hydrated. I used to get very stressed about the lack of vegetables I could consume. I’ve learned over time to let it go and can usually find a source to get my fill at least once and awhile. For example, in Japan, 7/11 of all places was my source for a much-needed salad once and a while. Plus, I take my vitamins!
Savour your time
This is your time to do whatever YOU want! Linger over your coffee. Indulge your passions whether that be food or wine or art or nature or adventure activities. Do what you love or push yourself out of you comfort zone and do something you wouldn’t typically. Do both! For example when I was in Montreal instead of going with my typical modus operandus of an art gallery I went to an history/architecture museum. Bonus was that it came as part of a package deal with a Nordic spa! I thoroughly enjoyed both and realized how truly interesting architecture is. Learn to enjoy your own company if you don’t already. This is not to say you aren’t going to have moments of homesickness or feel alone at times. Though I actually find I meet so many amazing people as I travel that I don’t always get enough solo time, so I will take a step back if I need it. Don't feel guilty saying no to anything. You do you!
Pick the right destinations. Know what to expect. Have reasonable expectations. Do your research on culture and etiquette, dangerous areas and common scams of the places you travel to. Or, you can work with me and I will ensure you leave feeling like you can take on the world!