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Is being a female solo traveler easy? …Not!

solo travel

Is female solo travel easy?

You are very brave. I could never do what you do– traveling on your own…

[  HAhhh, here we go again…  ]

How do you do it?

[  Well, you think this is a vacation?  ]

No, I need to go with my husband. He always arranges and schedules things. I wouldn’t know what to do if I had to travel on my own…

[  Honey, you’d be surprised what you can do on your own if you had to or really wanted to.   ]

If I didn’t have my husband, I wouldn’t go anywhere.

[   …or, you could choose that option too.  ]

 

Shweta was an intelligent and forward Indian wife and university professor in her 30’s, vacationing with her husband in Ladakh, India. We were sharing a truck through the icy slopes of Nubra Valley and I was being bombarded with the questions that many females ask about solo travel, when they’re standing on the opposite side of it. As Shweta listened to my answers, her eyes drew a hallowed aura over me– a mixture of  admiration, awe, horror and …pity.

There’s a mystique around female solo travelers. We’re considered an anomaly and yet, our numbers are growing. These days, I meet all types of journeying women, from experienced to the ‘newbie soloist’ ready to cling to the first companion that reaches out to her.  Countless travel articles spill the hurrahs of journeying alone (read here , here , here and here); and although the advertised gains can feel as sexy as a self-help book or a diet and exercise program to lose 10 pounds, they’re all 100% right. The benefits of solo travel, oddly enough, are experiences you will thank yourself for later.

But…

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Is female solo travel easy?

One of my pet peeves is when I meet or hear a female solo traveler claim that solo travel is easyfor her.

Several years back, I met a European girl in her mid 20’s on a van to LAX airport. She was regaling her recent travel tour de force of countries. She was alone. This woman, I thought to myself, was born with monumental balls I didn’t have the gene pool for! How could any woman  be so heroic and brave?  Me, I had to plan my “balls”;   sketch out their shape and size … psych myself into getting them.    If I could buy them at a store, I would!  I  asked her questions similar to Shweta’s .

Euro girl cooly tossed her head back and smugly replied that solo travel was easy to her.  Easy.

At that time, I could barely cross the globe, unless I had a friend to visit and stay with in that country.

If solo travel was so goddamned simple, why was I terrified of doing it?   Was I that much of a wimp?    Was there something wrong with me?  If solo travel was so great, then why weren’t many women doing it?

Whether she truly believed that traveling alone was easy  (more power to her!) or felt the need to front  bravery, due to a missing companion, what it said to me back then was that  solo female travelers were cut from a cloth of courage, I didn’t have a needle and thread for. These kind of woman were  bold, daring, relentless and badass. 

Female badass-ism isn’t bad (just annoying to hear,  if you’re not a badass yourself). It creates a lop-sided myth that solo travel is for those female heroines, who need no one and never feel vulnerable.

In many ways, I’m very comfortable with my independence. Eating in restaurants and going to movies or traveling the U.S. by myself isn’t worrisome to me as it is with others.  Raised like an only child, I’m conditioned to being alone. But born to a Hawaiian-Asian family, where safety and wisdom was preached again and again, I came from a ‘sheltered‘ upbringing.

In 2008, I was separated from friends in India  and forced to go it  alone. It was a massive and terrifying crash course I wasn’t prepared for. Yet somehow I survived  (lessons here). Then, there was my first ‘planned’ solo trip to Thailand in 2009, where I highlighted half my guidebook, color tabbed pages and literally held my breath, as I bought my flight ticket.

If you’re a newbie solo traveler standing at the edge, reluctant to take the plunge, there’s good reason… It’s a scary jump.

The raw truth of the solo female traveler and the life of a single woman.

When I met Gray of SoloFriendly on her vacation to Hawaii, we talked about the ‘pits’ of solo travel. As a single woman herself, we could easily relate much of it to our non-travel lives and when I read her confession in ‘When Solo Travel Sucks‘, I exhaled. Vulnerability is one of the few things a soloist likes admitting aloud.

The hardest part of journeying solo is  similar to the challenges of living as a single woman:

You don’t always get to fully collapse into your vulnerability, even when you feel it immensely.

Eating alone at a restaurant feels awkward, having no one to watch your luggage when you have to go potty is a pain, and bouts of loneliness will probably never make your proud Facebook status;  but crumbling to a sob in your room when someone is unkind, feeling overwhelm with all the decisions you must make for yourself, almost getting pick-pocketed or  stomaching a pervert’s failed attempt to jack off to you in a bus … all make you feel like a helpless little girl stranded in a big, scary world.

Instead of wallowing, a solo traveler must pick herself up after enduring the blow.

She has no choice.

nepalese work woman

nepalese work woman


What’s the greatest comfort for a solo traveler?

Angels in the form of passing ‘strangers ‘ or fellow travelers, who offer a word of encouragement, some helpful guidance and an umbrella of temporary protection… before moving on.

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Why did I choose solo travel?

I was having lunch with a PR representative for a famous Hawaii hotel chain.  We were talking about tourism and travel blogging , when she drew into her admiration for female solo travelers like myself. Travel alone was something she’d never done. Not without her husband or family.

I felt like I was growing big bulging biceps, rippling muscles and a red cape! I felt self-consicous, naked, proud and yet embarassed.

Out of the blue, my spigot of truth turned. Out came the answer I’d been holding back :

” Honestly, the only reason I became a solo traveler was because I had no one to travel with. I love travel and as a single woman with no babies or husband, I didn’t want to drown in wait for someone to arrive to start my travel dreams (I could be waiting forever and how pathetic would that be, right?…). I wanted to travel -not badly, but desperately- and if you want something desperately enough, you find a way!

 …. But had I a constant companion to travel with, I can’t say I would’ve ever tried going solo.”

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There it was… out on the table as if I had vomited all over my lunch. The rep sat speechless. I felt like a prim vegan, who broke into a gorge on a package of good ‘ole Craft American cheese.

Maybe I was expected to stand strong… survive the myth of a heroic female Tarzan.

Everything you want is on the other side of FEAR. – Jack Canfield
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How did I make the leap from fear to solo travel?

I’m a woman like any other.  I wasn’t born with superhuman genes and I didn’t jump into solo travel out of courage. I leapt out of fear in the way a person in a burning building leaps to a possible death.

In short, to not attempt my travel dreams equated to ‘a death worse than any other’. My fear of regret trumped fear itself.

Simple as that… although not quite simple.

fear or regret

My fear is bigger than your fear

 

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When does solo travel get easier?

I’ll tell you how it happened for me and my first solo trip to Thailand…. After I hurdled my fear to buy my plane ticket, everything became more breathable. It was like jumping into cold water. You feel the first bite of cold and then you acclimate.

Perhaps I felt more relaxed because I was then dealing with a tangible reality that I couldn’t  make an excuse to back out on. Or maybe I went numb as a way to deal with  aftershock.

After landing in Thailand, I felt a shaky and uncertain. But the intoxication of being in a foreign country on my own, quickly turned into an energizing buzz. I couldn’t believe I did it. I was scared, excited, thrilled and freaking out. But overall,… I rocked. I found myself more capable than I imagined and that trip was the best in my life!

christine kaaloa Thailand

Me at a floating market in Thailand

Does the fear in solo travel ever go away?

I’d love to reassure you that the fears around solo travel go away (here’s some steps I use). But everyone is different.

Even though I’ve traveled on my own many times in the last two years and living abroad for a year has helped my travel confidence, I still experience bouts of reluctance in planning a solo trip. You get the hang of things and you don’t.  You think you know how to navigate a new place and know the ‘ins and outs’ of being on your own, but travel holds many surprises to keep you on your toes.  It’ll thrill you, scare you, piss you off, challenge you and make you laugh at yourself and life.

There is nothing like going solo…  if you can find your own way get over the initial fear.

 

thikse friends

My GRRRL Gang friends and guides at Thikse Monastery, Ladakh

 

Here are some other good articles and references if you’re interested in female solo travel: journeywoman, Solitary Wanderer

 

What do you think? Is female solo travel easy?

76 Comments

  1. lynda says:

    I am agree with you that female solo travel is not so easy. Our society always see female traveling with negative mind. They think that woman is not able and bot fit for traveling foreign solo. But this kind of idea should be changed.

  2. Absolutely agree. It’s not easy to travel alone, especially as a woman. But it’s so worth it. Granted you manage to stay safe, even moments of horror can be educational. People always ask me if i am afraid to travel alone and the truth is I am not..in hindsight. During, there are definitely scary moments… I wrote about one of them when I thought it was the day I get raped and murdered…do you have similar stories?

  3. Finally! A solo female traveler speaking the truth! This post is so comforting to me at this point. I’ve been traveling for 11 months and for the most part I love it, but easy, it is not. Seems we’ve been down similar paths. Thank you!

  4. Kelly says:

    You rock!! I am hoping to be a female solo travel newbie by the end of this year and l’m not gonna lie, I’m a bit scared. I have to say, the thing I’m mostly afraid of is being exposed to sexual violence, would you say this is a rational fear and have you ever experienced anything like this?

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Kelly: Totally valid and I think your fear is very rational. In this day & age, anything is possible. Fortunately, I’ve not met anyone who’s experienced that but at the most, sexual harassment, groping, etc. Closest I’ve come … is having an ex-con sexual pervert stalking me all the way into my secured NYC apartment building, while standing in the nude as he knocked on the door of my apartment after I had just gotten home. *HOME* It made me realize that danger happens anytime/any place and all you can do is be alert, proactive and try your best to create safety in your decisions/actions. My philosophy: don’t question safety; create it. Because the alternate choice is to never travel (and that’s irrational).

      Not sure if you’ve seen some of my recent posts : How safe is it to travel alone as a woman? If you’re going solo for the first time, a good place to start is to choose starter countries which others consider safe, research the country’s customs/dress codes, trust your gut and practice good safety sense. Here’s some safety tips I make my religion when I travel: 8 Safety Tips for solo travelers

      Also, to give you peace of mind, solo travel isn’t as lonely as people think . There’s a tendency to meet other travelers; depending on matching interests, sometimes you join up with them on legs of a trip.

  5. Mia Aiecha says:

    Soon in a few months ahead, I am going to be newbies solo female traveler.. Honestly I felt shaking and sometimes I think should I back off?? But when I think it back, why not at least challenge myself once in my life time?? (but i guess later I could be addicted to it) Hahah!! I just pray everything going to be smooth and I am ready for most experience moment in my life!! ^^

    • @Mia: Well, a lot of us start of a little shaky and timid… so you’re on the right track.;-) I feel like once you cross that line, it will feel better and you’ll be more excited than nervous. The reality is less scary than your imagination.

  6. Yeity says:

    Here’s a question (out of personal interest) granted common sense prevails – solo female bicycling from tip to tip of South America, thoughts?

  7. Ruby says:

    Oh my gosh, thank you so much for this post. I’m currently working abroad, living alone, one month into my year-long contract.

    I only have a couple friends, but they’re much older than me and we have different interests, so I’m finding that I feel really, really lonely. Especially when I’ve had a hard day at work or listen to everyone’s weekend plans … it just hits me and I feel like crying. There’s some really nice ideas here, and hopefully I’ll make a friend soon, and I won’t have to eat another awkward lonesome dinner out.

    So I’m really glad you mentioned that the solo journey can be difficult and lonely. It’s definitely a drawback, but otherwise I would always recommend travelling solo.

    • @Ruby: I can totally commiserate with you, Ruby. The first few months of adjusting to expat life in Korea, I was in your shoes. It happens to most of us and it’s part of culture shock. You’re not wrong for feeling that (this was my experience).

      One way out of it is to build familiarity with some of those foreign things. Get to know your neighborhood and the shop keepers, etc… Let the older women take you under their wing so you can learn the culture more, but also check Facebook to for expat groups in your city. Usually, there’s expats everywhere and once you find them, you’ll find other foreigners to bond with and do things with! But until then, maybe try to explore the city on your own a bit. =)

  8. Aniza says:

    Doing consulting job meaning that I can hardly fix a date for vacation. Finishing a current project than I will be free for vacation but friends may not able to join. If no one able to join my trip than I will be a solo traveller else with few friends. Solo sucks when I need to go to loo with the backpack. So far that was my only regret !. I always have a wishlist place to see before I started the journey so no problem for me for direction or budgeting. Travelling with companion sucks when they keep asking you to take their photos as your are taking the mood to shot your best scenery moments and when you wanted to indulge yourself with some luxury moment with food or spa when your partner budget is not the same as yours !. Nice reading your blog !

    • @Aniza: ha ha… I completely empathize with the part about companions always asking you to take their photos and when their budget isn’t the same as yours. It can go from annoyance to financial frustation. 😉 Thanks for sharing!

  9. Boston Events says:

    Going out or traveling alone gives me the independence to do whatever I want. If I drop in a town, I can remain there for several weeks. I can go return to the same art gallery over and over if I’m enthusiastic about it.

  10. A lot of people do fear traveling alone, for a lot of reasons. For me, I realize that those fears have their basis of course, but will I let those fears prevent me from traveling solo? Not 🙂 Great post here, will share in my page 🙂

    • @Aleah: Good for you. Yes, all fears have their basis and they’ll hold us back until we confront them. They’re almost always around our biggest dreams, so maybe that’ life’s incentive for us working through them. 😉 Nice blog! Looking forward to reading more of your adventures!

  11. lee laurino says:

    guess we all step as far out on the limb as we can manage? i thought i was brave to quit my business, sell possessions and take a 3 month sabbatical in a foreign country, solo. but all the posts i read are so much more adventurous. oh well, better to go and do it than stay in a sheltered enviornment and wish I had!!!! i just go slower and smaller

    • @Lee: Are you kidding? I think what you’ve done is absolutely adventurous! Quitting an old lifestyle on your own decision and taking a travel break is a *monumental* leap… What makes you think it wasn’t? I have the tendency to think the same way at times too, but then I realize everyone’s adventure and ways of experiencing travel is different. Is adventurous going to a bar, having a meaningful connection with a local, discovering a cool cafe?… I think we all gauge “adventurous” from different perspectives, but basically, the moment you step outside of your comfort zone to experience an alternate reality into something fearful or unknown,… you’re adventurous.

      As I see it, you’ve tackled a big fear: giving up your livelihood and self-definition. Surrendering a business is NOT the same as “quitting your job”. You can always get a new job by sending out a CV; businesses have to be build and are time investments. I can totally commiserate with the difficulty of that choice. I took a couple of gap years and gave up my freelance career in entertainment (a career I actually *loved*) & that was terrifying, bc it came with the knowledge that upon my return I’d be rebuilding from scratch.

      Believe me, you’ve gone big. Probably bigger than had you quit your job and traveled for a year.

      But…it’s all perspective. 😉

  12. Wow–if I quoted everything I agree with wholeheartedly, I’d be copy pasting this entire post. The nail has been hit on the head. Thank you for this. I will be sharing it. Sincerely, another non-badass female solo traveler who shall regret nothing.

  13. Gray says:

    So well said, Christine. Obviously, I agree with the sentiment, but I love the way you’ve written it, too. And that “fear of regret” picture–yes! That pretty much sums it all up. I’m so sorry I missed this post when it first came out. May was a blur for me.

    • @Gray: No worries~ I know you were totally immersed in your solo cruise! Glad you got to read it though. Comparing ‘solo notes’ w/ you when you were in Hawaii was really nice and I did really like your article!

  14. Wow! Nicely put. There are very few negative I can think of in regards to solo traveling. I think that on some occasions travelin solo limits me on the things that I can do when I travel – like camping. I would find it difficult to camp alone, and i love camping! Additionally, I miss out on a good giggle with a friend – another of my passions! With that said though, you will always meet people on the road to do these things with. Luv ur blog!

    • @Solo Female Nomad: Thanks Elle. Yes, I completely agree about those limits. Friend bonding is a big one to miss out on. Camping too. I was a Taman Negara, Malaysia and I wanted to do a rainforest hike, but because I was alone and the paths weren’t obvious and a bit rugged, I kinda turned back quickly. I started to wonder: what if I get hurt, lost or someone jumps me from the bushes? No one would know to look for me. Times like that, safety wins out over headstrong stubbornness and I realize, solo sucks. 😉

  15. I never tried to solo travel. Not because I was afraid of doing it, but because I never got the chance of doing it. But I can see you went strait to the point and the naked truth of what it really means for a girl to do some solo traveling. Lovely post.

  16. Lady, such an honest, bare to the bones testament to the truth. Many people call me a heroine, but definitely there have been tough times — moments when I burst out into tears or felt vulnerable and alone. I think we experience these things whether we’re hardcore travellers or just experiencing a normal day back home.

    We are human – with emotions and bravery sometimes comes in spurts!

    I especially love your graph on regret vs. fear. I don’t want to be old and looking back. It’s much better to look at the present, isn’t it?

    Miss ya girl!

    • @Jeannie: Yeah,bravery does come in spurts and I dont think it’s wrong to be so vulnerable. I like it. We have to use it and give into it more… our emotions are our strength. Guys, they have to rely on muscles! LOL.

      Used to have a gf in advertising, owned a house, wrote some books, was successful, single and turned 40. She got so annoyed when folks admired her for her “strength”. She didn’t like feeling “macho” bc she was always aware she was holding her entire world up. Sometimes, we get tired holding our world up or having everything “together”. Sometimes, we wanna be un-together, wanna cry & be a helpless. Nothing wrong w/ that. I say ‘honor it’.

  17. GREAT post!

    I have to admit I am one of those people who would be scared to go to the movies by myself, although I don’t mind going to a restaurant alone.

    So much respect, awe and admiration of you!

    • @Laura: Nice to see you again, Laura! I had to chuckle when you said you can do restaurants alone but not movies. I’m not sure what that grey line is, but I guess that’s what makes us all unique! 😉

  18. Idun says:

    I’ve not traveled long-term yet (unless you count moving to Britain to study for a year), or even much outside of Europe, but I really, really want to. And I will, even though I might not have someone to travel with, I’ll be going anyway, even if the thought of traveling alone kinda scares me. The fear of regret is definitely a good motivation.

    • @Idun: I consider your year in Britain long term travel. The difference between RTW travelers and expats is that you need deal with the culture shock, oddities and intricacies of making your new foreign home work. You’re actually trying to understand its culture on a deeper level than a tourist. So far, I’ve lived in Korea for a year and although I lived in an apartment & had a steady job, each day was “traveling” for me, not to mention the weekends when I explored the rest of the country. If you’ve moved there alone, consider that an initiation into solo travel! You’re doing it and I think living abroad helps to make the solo concept easier!

  19. Hi there, this is such an awesome post. I felt like I was literally reading about myself . . . you covered this subject so well and with such a great sense of humor, I had to read it again. I grew restless waiting for friends to travel with me and finally decided to venture out on my own in 2006 and I have now traveled to Italy twice, Scotland, Amsterdam, Belgium, Berlin, Spain (Madrid to Andalucia) and now this year for the first time I’m heading to South America (I love Europe but also want to see other parts of the world). I’m a bit worried for this trip but reading your article has given me me more confidence. Thank you very much for writing it. I like your blog will come back to read your other articles.

    • @Kathy: Thanks for dropping by!You sound like you’ve been doing awesome on your solo travels; it’s always more scarier than we think it’ll be and there’s a tendency to doubt our survival skills immensely bc we’ve always been led to believe we’re helpless. I think that’s the brilliant part about solo travel- it shows us that, we’re helpless, but we’ve still got those survival traits. South America seems intimidating & I get the way you feel, but the desire to see it is strong. I think that’s what you have to let guide you as well! Good luck!

  20. For me the novelty did wear off – and I was traveling on my own in the 80s and 90s, when not as many women did. There were difficult moments, like everyone faces, but eventually I realized I was only as alone as I wanted to be. There’s so much companionship and friendship out on the road that the solo bit is self-imposed, only there if you want it.

    It did spoil me for travel with others though!

    • @Womenontheroad: You were practically pioneering solo travel! I can only imagine that there were less female soloists in those times. I totally agree with you also. You can find travel partners on the road and this actually pushes you to be more social. On occasion, I feel like I’m running from actually being solo. LOL. Still, it’s nice to be able to pick and choose on your travels

  21. twitter_thereandbackmn says:

    I have always been curious about what it would be like to travel by myself, but I have not done so yet. I am confident that I would be capable of doing so (I am the one who figures things out, plans, solves problems and communicates in the local dialect most efficiently). Perhaps I will file away in the back of my mind the intent to plan a solo pilgrimage to a place that i have always wanted to go that my husband had no desire to see, and I will see it my way, on my terms.

    • @There&Back: I have no doubt you can! What you mentioned sounds like a wonderful solution for people with partners. Compromise of dreams is one of the challenges of partnerships as well as, negotiating time and support to your individual dreams. Fingers crossed!

  22. Cathy says:

    Fear of REGRET. That was honestly what drove me to plan and DO a solo trip. Every time I talked about doing a trip with some friends – – I always felt like I had to wait until they got their financial plans straightened out and those travel goals got pushed to the side more often that.

    I was tired of waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Nothing better than just taking life by its horns and going full speed. That’s what I did and I feel glorious.
    Cathy Trails

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