Is being a female solo traveler easy? …Not!

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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…

. Read 5 Top Obstacles for Solo Travelers 

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 ‘, kind locals and fellow travelers, who offer a word of encouragement, helpful guidance and an umbrella of temporary protection… before moving on.

Read How to make friends as a solo traveler.

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.”

.

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
.

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

 

.

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

 

Best Travel Insurance for Female Solo Travelers

American travelers often pay a premium on travel insurance.  World Nomads offers economic solutions for travelers who seek security and peace of mind.  It covers 150 countries.

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78 Comments. Leave new

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!! ^^

Reply

    @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.

    Reply

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

Reply

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.

Reply

    @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. =)

    Reply

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 !

Reply

    @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!

    Reply

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.

Reply

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 🙂

Reply

    @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!

    Reply

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