How To Travel Alone, By 8 Women Who've Visited Nearly Every Country In The World

Solo female travel is on the rise, and we’re here for it. According to a British Airways global study, almost 50% of women have taken a solo trip in the past, and 75% of women are planning to take one in the next few years.

It’s not just studies that highlight this; hotel owners I've spoken to have seen an increase in solo female bookings, I’ve watched as more and more of my female friends jet off alone, and the evidence of these trips is all over social media.

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Instagram is full of solo female travellers doing their thing, and there are countless Facebook groups set up for the community; The Solo Female Traveler Network boasts 250,000+ worldwide members, and has seen a near 40% increase in the last six months. Much of the chat in these online groups is about support, encouragement and lifting each other up; how to find authentic experiences, sharing adventures and how to meet people along the way.

As the numbers increase, companies too are embracing the solo female traveller. Since 2016, Intrepid Travel has seen an average 16% increase in solo female travellers booking tours year-on-year, and as a result has set up female-only trips and actively employed more female guides. For those concerned about undertaking solo travel for the first time, a group trip is a great stepping stone.

Why do women want to travel alone? The perks may seem obvious: freedom to go where you want, when you want and how you want. But doesn’t it get boring? And what about safety?

Ahead, we spoke to eight women who travel alone on the regular to get their views on all this, and more. Click through to hear how long they’ve been doing it solo, where they’ve been, what motivates and inspires them, how to deal with loneliness while on the road – and the one overwhelming piece of advice they have for those of you considering taking up solo travel too.

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In 2017, Jessica Nabongo set out to become the first black woman to visit every country in the world. To date she has visited 178 countries and 66 of those were solo trips.

What first gave you the urge to take off on your own?

My first solo trip was actually inspired by a little bit of a nervous breakdown, and a feeling of really wanting to get away. I booked a last-minute flight and went off on my own.

How many years have you been travelling solo for? And where was the first place?

It was Costa Rica in 2009.

And the last three places you travelled solo?

Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Congo.

Where is the most interesting place you’ve been as a solo female traveller? And why?

Cambodia. What was interesting about that trip is that it was my seventh time travelling solo, but the first time I had regretted being somewhere alone. I went to Angkor Wat, which was such an amazing experience – I was floored by its beauty – but I wished I’d had someone there to experience it with me.

What's your favourite moment from your travels?

Probably in Belgrade, Serbia. I spent the day walking around exploring which was great. But then in the evening, I went to a restaurant called Ambar. I was alone but all of the staff were so much fun and made sure I had a great time there, which was a really cool experience. One thing I love about travelling solo is all the people I meet. When I travel with other people I’m often so focused on the person I’m with that I’m not as open to meeting strangers, but I’ve met so many super fun people while travelling solo.

Have you had any tough moments?

I’d like to make it clear that I haven’t had any scary moments while travelling solo – and that’s after travelling to 66 countries on five continents, alone. I think that’s really important because I’m tired of the narrative of solo travel being scary. I disagree and think moments like that are just bad luck. When you’re travelling solo you have to be open to meeting strangers. Always follow your gut and intuition, but try not to be suspicious of everyone.

How do you deal with being alone?

It definitely gets lonely. In the evenings I often FaceTime my friends. In the daytime I connect with local people so have someone to hang out with.

Have you come across any situations that are unique to black female travellers?

I’ll give you an example which drove me insane. I was in Laos, outside of Luang Prubang. I took a small group tour to some waterfalls and there were a lot of other tourists there who kept taking my picture without my permission. I asked them to stop but they wouldn’t, so I walked away and they ended up chasing me to get a photo of me. I think that was pretty unique to me being a black female on that trip – there were other white German tourists on my group tour and no one was trying to take their photo.

What do you do to try and ensure your safety?

I think I’m street smart. When I’m travelling I typically dress pretty conservatively, unless I really feel I can get away with not doing so – but I always err on the side of conservative dress. I follow my intuition and feel like my spider senses keep me abreast of what’s going on. I’m very aware of my surroundings, and I don’t go very far from my hotel in the evening.

If you could give one tip to someone new to solo travel, what would it be?

Two pieces… Firstly, just go. And secondly, choose somewhere you’ll be comfortable with, because if you’re comfortable you’ll be confident, and if you’re confident you won’t appear vulnerable.
Rhea Saran is the editor of Condé Nast Traveller Middle East magazine, but was travelling solo long before her job required it. In fact, her first solo plane trip was at just 8 years old.

What first gave you the urge to take off on your own?

Part of it was practical; if I wanted to go somewhere and there wasn’t someone obvious to go with then I’d say to myself, "Well I want to do it so I’m going to go". I’ve also never really been afraid of being on my own. I think part of the beauty of solo travel is that you get to do all the things you want to do without having to take others into consideration. Now, of course, being editor of a travel magazine, a lot of my business travel is solo too.

How many years have you been travelling solo for, and where was the first place you visited?

I’ve been taking planes on my own since I was about 8. My parents lived in different places so I had to travel between them – to begin with between Mumbai and Delhi, but later my dad moved to Asia so I was flying between India and Singapore, then India and Hong Kong. Maybe this is part of why I’ve never been afraid of getting on a plane and going somewhere alone.

And the last three places you travelled solo?

Cape Town, Vietnam, Tanzania. I did a safari solo in Tanzania, though I’m thankful I didn’t sleep in a tent because I don’t think I could have done that alone.

Where is the most interesting place you’ve been?

Definitely Havana. I went before there were commercial flights from the US and it’s one of the more bold places I’ve been alone, mainly because there wasn’t a lot of easy communication; most phones and credit cards didn’t work. Going somewhere like this means you have to use your own ingenuity, which is a great personal growth tool. The whole thing was just so exciting to me.

Do you have a best moment from all your solo travels?

I visited a restaurant in a very local Havana neighbourhood. No one there spoke English and I think the staff were mainly amused to see a girl who had rocked up alone, having a beer with her meal at 4 in the afternoon. At the end, the chef came out to take some photos and give me a shot of rum and an antique brooch. Travelling solo means you are sometimes conspicuous, but that’s not always a bad thing.

Any other travel-related anecdotes you’d like to share?

A not so nice moment was ironically in Bangalore, which is where my mum lives. I know the city well so I took a taxi from the airport alone at 2am, and think I let my guard down. The driver kept trying to pull over in dark, isolated places. I made it clear to him that I wasn’t an easy target by screaming at him, so he kept driving. In the end I made him pull into a hotel so I could arrange another car via them, and so he didn’t know where I lived.

Does solo travel ever get lonely, and if so how do you deal with this?

Overall I enjoy time with myself and find it fulfilling. I tend to fill my days by chatting to people I meet along the way – if you’re on your own, you have to connect with people. But I would say dinner is the hardest. I try to sit, eat, and enjoy it but of course now we usually have a phone and Wi-Fi to keep us entertained too.

As a woman, what do you do to try and ensure your safety?

I always do a lot of research before I travel so I know things like the best way to get around and what the neighbourhoods are like. I also like to know the culture towards women before I travel; I’ve never taken the attitude of "I’m a woman, I’m liberated so I can do what I want", I find that very insensitive. Where possible, I make sure I have data on my phone so I can get in touch with people and use GPS.

If you could give one tip to someone new to solo travel, what would it be?

Just do it. There’s nothing off limits for a solo traveller!
Maria Pettersson is a pilot who spends a lot of time on the road (and in the air!) alone. It was a twist of fate that set her off on her solo travels, and she’s never looked back…

Were you travelling solo before you became a pilot or has it become something you’ve started to do since?

I travelled long before I became a pilot, it was actually my travel interest that made me look for a profession that allowed me to continue travelling. I knew I couldn’t sit behind a desk all the time. I’ve been flying commercially now for nearly five years.

What first gave you the urge to take off on your own?

Actually it was more of a push – I went to southeast Asia in 2010 with my then-boyfriend, but we broke up while we were travelling and so I went off on my own instead. This trip became my first solo travel experience.

And the last three places you went alone?

Hawaii, New Zealand and Sicily. But now I know so many people in different places so I do tend to meet people once I’m at the destination, wherever that might be.

Where is the most interesting place you’ve been?

I did a small boat trip in Indonesia. It left Lombok and travelled for five days, stopping at Komodo and other amazing, hard-to-reach islands. It was a group tour so although I didn’t know the others when I arrived, we all got to know each other quite well given the circumstances; we slept next to each other on the deck so I also got to know their seasickness habits quickly!

Do you have a best moment from all your solo travels?

One that stands out that I’d love to relive was at Taft Point in Yosemite Park in California. It’s the most amazing place to watch the sunset – it’s so beautiful.

Does solo travel ever get lonely?

It might look lonely sometimes but I don’t really feel it. If I’m sitting alone I just get lost in my own thoughts, or people-watch. I love people-watching.

As a woman, what do you do to try and ensure your safety?

I don’t go out late at night. If someone warns me not to go somewhere because it’s dodgy, I won’t go there alone. I used to travel with a Lonely Planet guidebook and would only stay in places they’d recommended. I also make sure I have cash or cards in different places, that way if one or some get stolen, you still have a small emergency stash. Otherwise, I think as long as you’re street smart it’s okay.

If you could give one tip to someone new to solo travel, what would it be?

When people ask me this I recommend they don’t always stay in a 5* hotel, even if I know they can afford it. In hostels there will always be other travellers so you don’t have to be alone, if you don’t want to be. You can go down to the lobby or restaurant and meet people.
Portia Hart found herself solo travelling for the first time in Colombia. She’s since relocated and set up a hotel and beach bar in Cartagena.

Why did you take your first trip on your own?

I’d been living in the south of France and had quite a stable life. I just had a niggling feeling that I needed to go out and see a bit more of the world.

How many years have you been travelling solo for?

I went to Colombia in 2014 as I was offered a job there, but when I arrived the job wasn’t really ready and the company wasn’t set up properly. I thought, well, I’m here now – it was a sink or swim moment. So I took myself off and ended up travelling around the country alone for nearly three months. I settled in Colombia too, and have set up some businesses here.

Where are the last three places you travelled?

Germany, Spain, and within Colombia.

Where is the most interesting place?

Japan and Colombia. Both are quite off-the-wall places but I felt very safe in both, and didn’t feel there was any stigma to being a solo female traveller. I definitely feel more self-conscious travelling alone in Europe.

What's your best experience?

I had a money-can’t-buy experience in Colombia. I wanted to go to a well-known coffee region called Salento but my guide (with very limited English) kept repeating "not Salento, not Salento". I took his advice and instead spent three days hiking with him into the páramo (an ecosystem unique to Colombia); we stayed with friends of his on a farm and didn’t see any other people the entire time. It turned out that the guide didn’t want me to go to Salento as it was very touristy and not the Colombia he wanted me to see, and he was right – the páramo was the most amazing hike I’ve ever done. Though this is definitely one of those things you tell your mum about afterwards!

Do you get lonely?

I work in hospitality so being lonely is an enormous privilege. I’m usually very comfortable being on my own. The only thing that makes me feel uncomfortable is sitting in a bar alone; there’s a feeling that somehow you might be seen as for sale. That doesn’t happen to men.

What do you do to try and ensure your safety?

Avoiding situations is one big thing, I don’t go out in an unsafe part of town after dark. I always let others know where I am and where I’m planning to be. I’m also always aware – I keep my keys in my hand, I don’t take a handbag, I don’t wear jewellery. I just try to make myself as uninteresting as possible. Not being ostentatious isn’t really because I think people are bad, but because it’s actually just a bit rude to walk around with a phone and jewellery that can be the equivalent of half a year’s salary to someone.

If you could give one tip to someone new to solo travel, what would it be?

Embrace it. Go all in. Say yes to things. Get out of your hostel and be prepared to roll with it.
Fahrinisa Campana is a freelance multimedia journalist focusing on gender, migration and human rights. She travels alone regularly, for work and for pleasure. One of her more daring solo trips was a recent visit to Iraq where she documented the lives of Yazidi women who had escaped capture by ISIS.

Why did you first travel alone?

It wasn’t so much a desire to travel alone but the lack of friends that could go with me. I still wanted to go to these places, so my option was to go alone.

How many years have you been travelling solo for?

Eleven years. Brazil was first, in 2008. I moved to Rio de Janeiro for a year without thinking much about it – until I arrived and realised I didn’t know what I was doing! The only person I could rely on was myself so it was really good for my personal growth because I learned how to be strong in the face of my own fear. Or at least to appear strong.

And the last three places you travelled solo?

Iraq, India and Jordan. Iraq was for work so although I was solo, there’s a difference for me in my resolve when it’s for work versus pleasure. I felt like I didn’t have time to regret or be scared; I just knew I had to do it so these other emotions never really came into the equation.

Where is the most interesting place you’ve been?

India, and I keep going back. It’s hard to describe why, but people there tend to take care of the solo female traveller, as culturally it’s quite unusual for them. This also happened in Iraq. It’s so nice as you don’t feel like you’re alone, and it really makes you see that the human connection is always there.

Do you have a best moment from all your solo travels?

My standout moments come from doing something that I know is difficult and accomplishing it. For example, I landed in Iraq at 4am and arriving at my hotel was a great moment; knowing I’d got myself through customs, got a phone, taken money out, taken a taxi, not been ripped off. When I finally got to my hotel, I realised 'I did it'. It felt really good to know that I’d done the hardest part of it and that I could handle the next two weeks.

What's the funniest moment you've had?

I moved to India alone in 2012 for work, and my company sent a car to pick me up. I was so delirious and nervous on arriving that I spoke to my driver rapidly for the 30-minute car ride, and only when I asked him a question did he tell me he didn’t speak English. I paused, then laughed – I wanted to feel embarrassed but realised he enjoyed it, I enjoyed it, and everything was fine. This set me up for India overall, where you can just roll with the punches and there’s no need to be embarrassed.

Are you okay with being lonely sometimes?

Loneliness is the hardest. I’m a really social person who is emotionally attached to friends and family. When travelling solo I try to resist my loneliness because I feel I should be strong enough to do so. If it’s daytime I try to find a nearby event to go to, to be around large groups of people. At other times I’ll just go back to my hotel and read a good book or make a phone call.

What do you do to try and ensure your safety?

A lot of safety starts with not placing yourself in a dangerous situation to begin with. If I’m in a place where women’s safety is a priority then I won’t go out by myself at night, I won’t wander around the back streets, I won’t go to a bar alone. If I find myself in an unavoidable situation, I’ll try to find people and light. I also carry pepper spray. I have a bit of an aggressive streak so if I have to fight then I know I’ll go 100% into it. I think if you can out-crazy crazy then you’re better off.

If you could give one tip to someone new to solo travel, what would it be?

Just do it. But also plan well. It’s always going to be worth it.
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Kareemah began solo travel as a personal journey to achieve some of her goals. She has since travelled solo multiple times and documents her travels as a Muslim woman, as well as sharing advice and resources for other Muslim travellers.

Why did you first head out on your own?

It started as a personal journey; I moved to Spain alone not knowing anyone there. While there I had other trips I wanted to do but I didn’t want to wait for someone to approve or clear their schedule in order for me to achieve my travel goals.

What are the last three places you travelled solo?

Istanbul, Vienna, Austria.

Where is the most interesting place you’ve been?

Istanbul. I went not knowing any of the language. I knew a bit about the culture but in hindsight feel I was very ignorant; I saw a lot of historical things but didn’t know the significance of them. I guess I learned from that. I told myself that next time I travel I should do some research first so I can appreciate it more. This was in 2016, which was a delicate time in Turkey and Istanbul. Friends and family were worried, so going alone knowing that was a bit scary. But Turkey is so interesting and I hope to go back soon.

Do you have a best moment from all your solo travels?

Alhambra Palace in Granada. It’s a magnificent place with structures that have been there for over a thousand years, and I feel privileged to have seen it. While there I was just sitting and looking in awe.

Does solo travel ever get lonely?

There are moments when I wish I had someone to take a photo of me, or with me. It’s always tricky when you have to ask other tourists; there’s a level of trust versus whether they will take a good photo of this moment that I’m not going to repeat again. To combat loneliness I join Facebook or Meetup groups for that location. Hostels or group tours are also a great way to meet people. I sometimes video call my siblings so they’re experiencing things with me while I’m there.

How does your experience as a Muslim woman contribute to your travels?

I’m not looking for the nightlife like many people are. I’m looking for nearby mosques and places to pray. I’m also looking for places to eat that can accommodate no pork or alcohol. In the Islamic religion you don’t have to fast if you’re travelling during Ramadan, instead you can pay it back later. But I’m so ambitious and don’t want to pay it back. The last time I travelled during Ramadan was very difficult; I was in Spain during a hot summer, and I was parched. After that trip I realised I don’t want to do that again so now I try to avoid travelling during Ramadan, if it’s an option.

How do you manage the safety aspect?

You have to be alert, there’s always guys propositioning inappropriate things. I don’t usually post online where I am while I’m there. I don’t let the taxi driver know exactly where I’m staying, instead stopping the car a few streets away. In some countries I carry a fake ring in my pocket which I can put on at any time.

If you could give one tip to someone new to solo travel, what would it be?

I’d advise first trying it somewhere close to home where you’re comfortable; go on a road trip to somewhere nearby to see how you’ll react to being in a new place alone.
Priya Patel has lived and travelled all over the world. At last count she’d visited nearly 60 countries, many of them solo. And with her day job as product lead at Instagram, it’s no wonder she’s so inspired to continue exploring.

What first gave you the urge to take off on your own?

I’ve been interested in travel from an early age, as I was taken to India and across Europe by my family; being exposed to various cultures and fascinating places meant I was bitten by the travel bug. The urge to travel alone came as a result of a curiosity about the world, coupled with financial independence in my early 20s. At that age I was so ready to learn and experience more. I’ve been travelling solo for around 15 years now, both for pleasure and business. My first trip was four months in New Zealand, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

And the last three places you travelled solo?

Istanbul, San Francisco and Nairobi.

Where is the most interesting place you’ve been?

Vietnam. I spent over three weeks there and travelled around the country on sleeper trains. The landscapes were stunning and I loved the hustle and bustle of the larger cities such as Ho Chi Minh. It was also really interesting how I was perceived by Vietnamese people; they were friendly but curious about why I was alone. I guessed that at the time (2004) it wasn’t really a part of their culture to see a young woman travelling alone, which made me feel more empowered and proud that I could make these kind of choices.

Do you have a best moment from all your solo travels?

So many. But one of my most memorable moments is the first time I saw Angkor Wat in Cambodia, I was so blown away by its beauty and scale that it made me tear up!

What has been your scariest moment?

On safari in the Serengeti when my Jeep got stuck because of heavy rain. The radio cut out so there was no way of contacting the camp. A few hours later, it was getting dark and the Jeep was surrounded by hyenas. I was just waiting to see the lions next… Finally the safari guide arranged a rescue but we had to walk to a new Jeep with these animals still nearby.

Does solo travel ever get lonely?

The plane, train and car journeys are sometimes more lonely than anything else. Once I’m at a destination, I make sure that my time is packed with activities so it’s hard to find the time to feel lonely. I think the most difficult part of solo travel is dining alone, it’s always nice to share good food with a friend. In this case a good book or a Netflix episode helps.

As a woman, what do you do to try and ensure your safety?

I make sure I’m always aware of my surroundings and that I’m not carrying anything too valuable. I take taxis late at night instead of walking alone.

If you could give one tip to someone new to solo travel, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid and just do it. Solo travelling is so empowering and can actually be really social as you are more open-minded about meeting different people when you’re by yourself.
Royal Williams has been solo travelling for nine years. She uses her English and Spanish skills to navigate the world, teaching Spanish in the US and English in Colombia.

Why did you do that first solo trip?

I got tired of waiting for friends who at the time were in college and broke; I decided I would end up staying at home if I didn’t just go and do it by myself.

How many years have you been travelling solo for, and where was the first place you visited?

It’s been about nine years. The first international destination I visited alone was Colombia.

And the last three places you travelled solo?

All over Colombia (Cartagena, Santa Marta, Cabo de la Vela) and also Aruba and South Africa.

Where is the most interesting place you’ve been? And why?

Havana, Cuba. I felt safe there. People were very friendly, which made it extra special as I was able to just be.

Do you have a best moment from all your solo travels?

I was in a hostel in Guatemala alone. At the time I was a little more reserved but I remember the exact moment where I told myself "I’m just going to go out there and start talking to people", and that’s what I did. From that moment on, especially when I travel alone, I’m a lot more open and outgoing.

How are your planning skills?

I usually plan a lot before I travel, but I did a six-week backpacking trip through Europe during summer, starting in Copenhagen and finishing in Greece. From there I went straight to South Africa. I arrived in Cape Town in summer clothes without realising that it’s winter there in June. I was walking around in flip-flops and shorts when it was windy and rainy. That was a lesson I learned the hard way; now I research the weather for every place I go.

What do you do to try and ensure your safety?

I always walk around with a purpose, even if I’m completely lost. Once in Havana I was totally lost but instead of pulling out my phone or a map I just started walking. Having a resting bitch face is a really good tool to keep you safe! From what I’ve noticed, in a lot of countries black women are fetishised. Instead of being able to walk around in peace, I may receive certain comments or be mistaken for a prostitute, or something like that. I feel like this is pretty unique to the black female experience when travelling.

If you could give one tip to someone new to solo travel, what would it be?

Stop second guessing and just do it. A lot of people actually ask me how I did it, and I tell them to push any doubts and fears aside and just book that ticket. I don’t think you really know how strong you can be until you can go alone to a new place.
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