Does your Instagram mood board mainly consist of beautiful travel destinations? Do you find yourself constantly daydreaming about the next place you would like to visit?
If answered yes to any of the above, then I’m assuming the only issue is that you can’t find someone to join you or the thought of traveling abroad solo as a female seems terrifying.
This blog post is for YOU wanderluster.
Life is short. You can either keep waiting for someone to join you or you can gather all your female power and courage to book that flight and start living your life!!
That is how I ended up on my first solo trip to Southeast Asia because no one was serious about joining me. And I would not have had it any other way because I had the time of my life! I will be honest, I was terrified at first. I had no idea how to do it and did not think I was capable of going alone. But just like you, I started googling around to find tips from other solo female travelers and probably read over 10 blogs on traveling solo.
Traveling alone is scary. Traveling alone as a woman is even scarier but the most rewarding, life-changing, and empowering experience you can have.
The good news is that traveling solo is a skill that you can learn how to do and it gets easier each time. In this post, I will share with you simple tips that will help solo female travelers plan for their first solo travel experience to make it less intimidating and more enjoyable.
1. Mental Prep
The very first and most IMPORTANT thing you need to do is to mentally prepare for this new experience by setting realistic expectations and embracing change.
Understand that you will face unexpected situations on the road—especially if you decide to travel to third world countries. No matter how much you plan, you won’t be able to plan for everything and that is part of the adventure. This is how you will learn and grow on your journey.
Remember that you have overcome harder things in life. Take stock of all the difficulties you have had to deal with and how once they were accomplished, you thought to yourself, “why was I so worried/scared/anxious about this in the first place?!”
Traveling alone gets easier after the first week/month/year. I recommend trying a mini solo trip to a city nearby or even doing things like going to dinner or the movies alone pre-trip to get used to being alone even if it’s uncomfortable. However, I have to admit that I don’t think the US is a great place for first-time solo travelers (I personally have not truly traveled solo in the States). Places like Thailand or Costa Rica, for example, are a backpacker’s Mecca and many people travel there solo. So you’ll easily blend in, find resources, and make friends along your trip unlike in the states, where it is less common to find that kind of space.
Trust me, I cried my first week alone in Thailand because I thought I wouldn’t meet people. I was so confused and frustrated by the language barrier, but I realized that it was my attitude that was preventing me from having the trip I dreamed of.
Change your attitude and you’ll change your experience. Realize that you have everything you need right now to be able to travel alone.
2. Create a Trip Outline but Don’t Over Plan
If you plan for everything, you leave no room for adventures to happen.
I understand that not everyone is comfortable traveling without knowing exactly where they’ll be staying or what tours they’ll be going on. That is just how I like to travel because I end up in the coolest places and experience the craziest things.
For your first solo trip, do your research.
Read that Lonely Planet guide book, watch those Youtube videos, but don’t get too attached to your plans. Allow for spontaneity.
What should you plan?
My recommendation is to figure out your route, the number of countries you hope to visit on the trip, and the order you’ll be visiting them in.
Before my first ever solo 6-week trip to South East Asia, I created an outline by looking at the map and figuring out the travel time between countries. After researching, I realized that I would only have enough time to go to Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia.
I booked a round-trip ticket to Bangkok so I could start in Thailand, travel south towards the islands then north towards Chiang Mai which led me to Hanoi in Northern Vietnam by air. (If I had more time I could have taken a bus from northern Thailand into Laos to lead me into Vietnam, but I’ll save that for another trip!) In Vietnam, I traveled by bus through the entire country, north to south, and crossed the border into Cambodia. From there, I crossed the border by land back into Thailand and spent my last night in Bangkok before I took my flight back home.
Create the most logistical outline and book as few things as possible without feeling super anxious. I typically just book my first night in the new country or city I’m visiting and then go from there. If that is not your cup of tea but you still want to stay open to spontaneity, make sure your bookings are refundable.
3. Travel Light
At barely 5 feet and an average fitness level, I have to make sure I can carry my backpack through airports, on and off buses, and walk to hostels from the bus stations up and down steep hills.
I really can’t stress how important and overlooked this is for first-time solo female travelers. You have to be able to carry your own stuff so pack smart!
The lighter your bag is, the freer and less frustrated you’ll feel on the road. I have witnessed female travelers struggling with overstuffed backpacks that are bigger than they are and they never looked too happy.
Therefore, I recommend investing in a really good backpack (if you are not into that look, invest in a four-wheeled suitcase that can easily move around with you). I bought this backpack, made specifically for petite females with size options ranging from X-Small to Medium, about four years ago. I put this bag through so much and it is still going strong.
It’s easy to carry with back and waist support. It has front access like a normal suitcase (most backpacks are top loading) and many convenient compartments. I also recommend packing cubes to compress and organize your clothes.
Other smart things to pack are:
- A portable phone charger
- your meds and Emergen-C
- wall plug adapter for your electronics
- extra cash stored in various areas of your bag for emergencies
- Kindle travel guides to save space
- a physical language book (because you can’t always rely on Google Translate)
I created a complete guide on how to pack and travel light:
4. Stay in Hostels
If you don’t want to be completely alone the whole trip and wish to meet like-minded travelers from all over the world, I highly suggest staying in hostels.
I always end up meeting the coolest people, and from experience, travelers tend to be generous with information. They will be your best travel guide/resource for your next destination. I still maintain a lot of the friendships I had while traveling, so really you are building your network around the world! Not to mention you will be saving loads of money staying at hostels vs. hotels.
However, I do understand that there are many stereotypes about hostels, especially in the states. But believe me, they are not all true… at least most of them aren’t. I never felt like my safety was threatened, even in the bigger dorm rooms. But of course, practice common sense and lock up your valuables. (BTW, you can always book amazing private rooms or private tents at hostels for half the price of hotels if sharing a room is not your thing!)
I find clean, safe, and cute hostels all around the world on HostelWorld or Booking.com. I love the HostelWorld app to book on the go. Make sure you read the reviews because other travelers have made it easy for us to avoid those nasty hostels!
5. Make Travel Buddies
To add on to tip #4, when you stay in hostels, you WILL end up meeting other solo travelers and making friends. Even if you are not an extrovert, the environment and the culture of travel makes it easy for people to connect because you already have a lot in common. Remember, they are also searching for friends so don’t hesitate to make that first move!
Often times other travelers are taking the same route around the country or region as you, which makes it easy to have travel buddies. So far, every solo trip I have taken, I had one or two people join me on parts of my trip, so really I wasn’t always on my own!
Stay open to opportunities, join other travelers, and don’t be afraid to ask them to join you (perk, you can split costs!!). This brings me back to tip #2; when you travel without solid plans or pre-planned bookings, you have the freedom to join people and leave space for unexpected adventures.
6. Adapt to the Local Scene
Blending in will save you a lot of harassment and unwanted attention. Don’t be flashy and you’ll survive!
If you are traveling to a modest country, for instance, think about the community as a whole. How they dress, what is considered offensive, local laws, etc. just to name a few. We’re used to space and being able to express ourselves freely in the States–sometimes this can be the trickiest / biggest part of stepping outside your comfort zone!
You are still free to dress as you wish and be your truest self but if you want to avoid trouble, it may be a good idea to show that you understand and respect the culture. This is where researching the countries you’re visiting and their culture is crucial.
When it comes to electronics, I usually walk around with my phone out for pictures but I will put it away when I’m at markets or crowded places. I take a fanny pack (I wear it across my chest) or a crossbody bag with only essentials such as enough cash for the day, my travel credit card, portable charger, and hand sanitizer, which is all I ever need for the day!
However, I feel like a big camera around your neck can make you more vulnerable in some parts of cities. I always like to ask the front desk and other travelers if they felt safe wearing certain things or taking their electronics with them around town.
7. Stay Safe and Trust your Gut
If it feels good, then it must be good. If it feels shady, then it must be unsafe.
This is really the only way I stay safe—look at me, I’m still alive after 10 solo trips and all in one piece!
I really believe that our intuition is heightened when we travel. It is even more powerful when we travel alone because we really only have ourselves to depend on. So, ladies, there is no better time to trust that inner voice and practice trusting it than on your trip!
8. Seek Help
Just because you’re doing this on your own, doesn’t mean you can’t depend on others for answers and recommendations.
People all around the world are willing to help travelers, even if they can barely speak the language, you just have to ask.
Travelers will also be willing to share their best tips and places to visit. Locals will be very happy to walk you to your destination and help you figure out where you’re going or even give you money if are stuck in a situation like this one:
When I was in Colombia a few years ago, I was on a bus going to a different city, the tire went out on the way, and my phone was about to die. I really had no idea where we were or how long it would take us to get back on the road. A lady noticed that I was freaking out and started talking to me. She soon realized that my Spanish was… pretty bad, so she pulled out her phone for us to speak through Google Translate. We talked that way the whole ride until we eventually got to our destination. (Side note: language is never a barrier. It is our own thoughts that create these barriers. I made many friendships with people without speaking their language or them speaking mine.)
I literally had no phone, no cash, and it was late at night when we arrived. I tried to use the ATMs but there was no cash available—very common in Central/South America I noticed. This amazing woman refused to leave my side, despite me asking her to! She got me a taxi, rode with me, and even paid for the fare. She texted me later to make sure I was safe and we are still friends to this day.
What I’m trying to say is that you may be traveling alone but you are never really alone—unless you want to be, of course. People are there for you and will help you if you need help.
8.5. Travel Photos for the Solo Traveler
You have to be shameless when it comes to getting your travel photos. You worked so hard to get there, you better get those pics for the gram and your future self!
This is how I do it: smile at the person, be confident and then ask in the local language if they could take your photo. No one has ever said no or gave me a dirty look, in my experience. Then frame the photo on your phone for them and ask if they can take multiple photos so you have options to edit later. Simple!
9. Change Direction
Stay open to unexpected changes to your travel plans. Your flight might get canceled, there might not be a bus until the next day to your next destination, or it might be the rainy season and you are stuck in the hostel for a day or two. Learn to love these moments of uncertainty.
Since I’m an Egyptian citizen, I usually have trouble getting visas to some countries (so if you are an American citizen—the world is your oyster, utilize that power!!) I often have to change my travel destinations due to visa issues. But honestly, I never cry over not going somewhere. I still have a blast in whichever country I end up in!
Travel is full of unexpected events. Things that are simple at home can be complicated abroad. From getting your laundry done to trying to order off of a foreign menu, it is all an adventure. Stay flexible and you will have the coolest stories!
10. Keep a Journal
I love re-reading my journal entries from my very first trip. You can track your growth and understand who you are when you’re all alone in an unfamiliar place.
Also, it is very hard to remember the little crazy things you experience and the places you visit in a few years. I think it is really cool to have those written down to revisit and think “WOW! I really did this?!!”
Check out these super compact lined journals here.
11. Own Your Freedom
Nothing I have experienced in my adult life as a female has been more liberating than traveling alone. Having complete ownership of my daily activities and independent thoughts.
You are your truest self when you do not have to adapt to the crowds’ mentality. Traveling solo will make you more adaptable. You will learn to trust yourself and you will learn to let go. When you’re back home, you will find it easier to let go of negative emotions, relationships that no longer serve you well and places that don’t allow you to shine! Because you now know how powerful, smart, and independent you can be.
I’m not saying it’s going to be great all the time. You will get sick, you’ll feel lonely, and you will want the people that love you the most around you, to comfort you. But you’ll know just how much you can handle on your own and what breaks you. How to be your own source of comfort is one of the most powerful parts of the journey.
I didn’t know that one day I would be capable of moving to a new city like NYC all by myself, without any plans, until I experienced traveling alone. I hope you find the courage wherever you may be in your life, to take a chance on yourself, and do the thing that scares you the most!
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Do you still have any questions or tips about traveling solo? Share them with the community below. Much love and happy traveling!