I can barely remember when I traveled alone for the first time. But I remember very well what the trigger was: None of my friends had the time and desire to got to the place I wanted to go – and I didn’t want to adjust my travel plans to the ones of somebody else. So I packed my suitcase defiantly. Since this days years have passed and the defiance has become a passion. I enjoy traveling alone at least as much as being with my friends and family. Nevertheless, there are still the same questions people continue to ask me: “Traveling alone as a woman? Don’t you feel lonely? Are you not scared? Is that not dangerous?“
Traveling alone does not mean being lonely
Honestly: Traveling alone does not mean being lonely. On the way you meet plenty of like minded people with whom you can exchange your experiences – and with whom you get in contact more easily than anywhere else because you share the same passion for traveling. As a solo female traveler you might arouse some attention – but my experiences tell that people in most countries will be sympathetic. They are curious, often develop a protective instinct and want to help you. There is hardly a better way than traveling solo to engage with a foreign culture . And as well there is no better way to really only do the things that you want to do. Nobody can ever take away the experiences you will gain and it’s amazing how much you can grow when traveling solo. Even in normal everyday life these experiences have helped me a lot. I can not be made uncertain so easily, I know what is good for me and it became much easier for me to take decisions.
The best destinations for a solo trip
Of course there are places you cannot send a solo traveler with a good conscience to – but I experienced as well that you should not trust too much on the image media is painting of a country. Even though people that had never been to Pakistan warned me to not go there, the regions I traveled were one of the best I have been to on this world trip so far. But of course it makes sense to inform yourself and do some research about the current political situation of the country you are planning to go to before your departure. Southeast Asia and Central Asia – particularly the Buddhist dominated areas – are from my experience good and safe destinations to travel solo as a woman.
Security vs. adventure
My first rule when traveling: “Better safe than sorry”. If the district of a city seems dodgy to me or I just don’t feels safe without a particular reason, I ask other travelers or locals if they can accompany me to the nearest supermarket or wherever I want to go. The same applies to cities after dark. In many countries life begins after sunset because of the heat during the day. When men, women and children still stroll and play in the streets at 10 pm I mostly feel secure myself. Like you the locals don’t want to put themselves in danger unnecessarily.
Respecting and being respected
Especially when traveling solo you should try to be sensitive with your new environment and the rituals of locals. Even with fewest resources you can try to adapt and show respect. I for example always have a scarf with me because it’s a real all-rounder: In down burning sun it serves to cover my head, when it’s cold it protects me from freezing and in more traditional areas where women show little shoulder a scarf is the perfect complement to my mostly sleeveless wardrobe.
Pay attention to your environment and what others do: If everybody is taking off their shoes when entering a house you should do the same. To be informed about the most usual practices of your destination and adapting to them at least a little is often the key to its culture. And yes, that can be even more difficult for women than for men because there might be more codes of conduct you have to deal with. But if locals notice that you show serious interest and that you respect them and their way of life, it is much more likely that they will as well respect you and share their traditions.
Sleep in hostels
Do you really need a double bed and a room on your own every night to enjoy your journey? Forget all the prejudices that only unwashed backpackers with matted hair sleep in hostels. It’s travelers like you and I. A hostel is the best place to meet like-minded people and socialize. While I got immoral offers at bars of high-class hotels when I was visiting alone as a woman I can not count the boozy and convivial evenings I had with fellow travelers in cheap dorm rooms. In hostels I have not only found a bed for the night, but also friends and travel companions.
Yes, we all know these stories of poor tourists being robbed at pretty much any place in the world. And we all heard the warnings to not take anything valuable with you. But often it helps to just turn on your brain and don’t wear too many valuables on display. But especially when traveling solo I always bring enough cash. When I visited a restaurant in the evening and the way back to the hotel suddenly looks much less inviting than in bright sunlight, it soothes me immensely to know that I could have someone calling me a taxi at any time. Money certainly cannot rescue you from each and every emergency – but at least from a few.
Find your way: Offline Maps and GPS
One of my favorite apps when traveling solo is maps.me. If you are on online you can download the map of the country and use them later offline. Most newer smartphones come with a built-in GPS which locates you on the map and indicates the direction in which to move. These maps don’t only serve for orientation: Many times I sat in a taxi or tuk tuk and was not quite sure whether the driver had understood me at all or if he was bringing me to a different location to give me a higher price or rip me off. Maybe it’s nonsense, but I feel much safer if I can follow the direction of the movement and if I know where I am going.
When traveling solo there will come the moment you will be eating alone at a restaurant maybe the first time in your life. Food is an important part of every culture – today I enjoy this time, focus on the food and watch the hustle and bustle around me. But I remember that particularly eating alone at the beginning was not very pleasant for me. I felt observed and had far too many thoughts about what other people might be thinking. But a simple trick had helped me to overcome my insecurity: In the beginning I always took a book with me to table. When I fell stared at I just opened the pages and immediately didn’t feel so lost anymore because I had to do something. And when I was reading a guide this sometimes served as an opener for a chat with locals who gave me their best advices.
I believe that a positive attitude not only while traveling brings you the farthest. Nobody will be nice to you if you meet him grimly. Even if I sometimes don’t feel like laughing I know that being kind and a few jokes have preserved me from lots of trouble at police checkpoints or border crossings. And in fact a little feminine charm (and I don’t speak about a deep neckline!) in some situations can be a great advantage. Smiling helps!
When shit happens
On any trip there might come the moment that something goes wrong or does not work out as you wanted. Alone in a foreign country these situations can be much more mentally challenging than you might have expected. Try to remember that these difficult situations are a part of traveling and that you probably will be able to laugh about them afterwards. Getting food poisoning is shitty but in most cases you will feel better after one day. The delayed flight will not start any quicker if you fret about it for two hours. And a hotel that looked great online but in reality is a construction site will not get any more beautiful if you sit on your bed in a bad mood the rest of your vacation. The good thing about traveling solo is that it’s only your decision how to deal with such situations – and you will learn to make the best out of them.
This article was published on Glamour Germany. To read the german version click here.