standing on a street corner in Reykjavik

Things No One Told Me About Traveling Solo As a Woman

For just about my entire adult life, I had only traveled with family and friends. All of that changed after I switched jobs and started traveling solo for work. I realized that traveling by myself was pretty nice and decided I wanted to travel solo for leisure as well. However, the first time I traveled by myself for fun, I quickly realized it was very different than work travel. Let’s discuss what no one told me about traveling solo as a woman and how to fix it.

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Traveling Solo As a Woman

Traveling solo as a woman can be a rewarding and empowering experience but if you, like me, have only ever traveled for work, it doesn’t take long see the differences when you start traveling solo for fun.

With work travel – you’re working. You have a schedule to keep and not a lot of free time. Someone in your company probably even made the travel arrangements.

Traveling solo is a totally different experience. Every decision is on you. It gives new meaning to being self sufficient. There can also be quite a bit of time to fill. Before you had a schedule, now you really don’t. Plus, traveling solo as a woman brings can bring on a different set of problems altogether.

While I’m still not a solo travel expert, I do know a bit more now than when I first started traveling solo as a woman. Here’s the things I wish I had known – or at least thought about before my first solo trip.

No one told me that my bags would go everywhere with me…

You know that thing you say to your travel partner right before you walk away: “watch my stuff, I’ll be right back”? Well, it’s not happening this time. Not when you are traveling solo. What’s even worse is when you’ve picked the perfect seat somewhere and have to give it up if you leave.

This seems like a no-brainer but honestly, I hadn’t thought about my bags being with me constantly. That means up the five flights of stairs when there’s no elevator, the bathroom stall at the airport and the tour boat tour between destinations. How can you make it a bit easier?

Southerner Says solution:

  • Pack light(er) when traveling solo. Take half of what you think you need. It’s tempting to pack all the cute shoes but shoes weigh a lot! I try to follow a three pair rule and not weigh my bags down.
  • Instead of one big heavy bag, try a couple of smaller bags that can be that could be carried separate but then hooked together when needed.
  • Pack smarter. Use packing cubes so that you can redistribute clothing to different bags or even your purse to reduce weight if need be.

No one told me people would ask if I was traveling alone…

By nature, humans are curious. As you meet people and strike up conversations on your travels, it’s only natural they’ll ask you about yourself, your family and that dreaded question – who are you here with? For safety reasons, it’s never a good idea to tell a stranger you’re traveling solo. So what’s the solution?

Southerner Says solution:

  • Be prepared. Know that this will happen at some point. If you anticipate this question, the more natural your answer will sound. One of my favorite things to tell people is that I’m visiting friends and meeting them later or that my husband is with me and working for the day.
  • If it’s plausible, you can even tell people you live there. That way, you’re not an easy mark as a tourist. Tourists come and go but there’s more accountability for a resident.

No one told me I would be eating every meal, every day alone…

I’m no stranger to dining alone and I’ve never really had a problem with it. Obviously I knew I would be eating by myself when traveling solo. However, I didn’t expect it to get so boring after awhile. Eat every meal by yourself day after day and you might begin to question why you are alone to begin with. That’s not a good thing.

Southerner Says solution:

  • Choose restaurants with bars or counters. When you sit there, you have the option of talking to the bartenders or even other customers. Bartenders are used to talking but they also seem to have a knack of knowing when not to as well. And no, you don’t have to drink alcohol to sit at a bar.
  • Carry a book with you or something to work on. I personally use the time waiting for my food in a restaurant to catch up on my travel journal and what I’ve been doing on my trip.
  • Find someplace with a great view. Even if it means sitting outside in 40F degree weather, a good view always helps.
a breakfast while traveling solo as a woman in Madrid
Breakfast for one with a view in Madrid

No one told me I wouldn’t be in any of the photos…

I love landscape photography and I’m okay with selfies but occasionally you’d like a nice photo of yourself IN some of that beautiful scenery you’re visiting. Getting good photos of yourself when traveling solo requires some effort and practice.

Southerner Says solution:

  • Invest in a tripod and get to know your self timer. To be honest, I have tried this and my photos were pretty bad but I’ve been practicing. If your photos don’t turn out, they will at least give you something to laugh about when when you get home.
  • Ask someone to take your photo. This is a bit awkward at first but it gets easier as you get used to doing it. Most people taking photos don’t mind taking one of you. I look for someone that looks like they know what they are doing or that has a nice camera. I still haven’t gotten over the anxiety of handing my device over to a stranger though.
  • Learn to live in the moment. Travel shouldn’t just be about getting the perfect shot. Put down your camera or phone and soak it in.

No one told me I would feel lonely…

It’s true. Some days you’ll feel lonely. How much though, depends on your personality. Naturally, most people like to share and talk about things with others. Being in a new or exciting place with no one to share it with can be a totally different experience if you aren’t used to it. Here’s a few ways to make it easier.

Southerner Says solution:

  • If you think loneliness might an issue, start small. Take an overnight trip or a weekend getaway by yourself first to see how you feel and how you adjust to being alone before you commit to a longer trip. Go somewhere you’ve been before so you feel more comfortable.
  • Stay in a hostel or a resort. Many places cater to single travelers and have planned group activities. Some resorts even offer things like wine and cooking classes right onsite.
  • Book a group tour to break up the alone time so you don’t get lonely. Utilize apps or local Facebook groups to find out what’s happening. Many cities and destinations have language classes and walking tours. A good place to find local tours is Airbnb experiences.

No one told me my family and friends would think something was wrong…

The first time I went out out of the country alone, I didn’t even tell my mom until the day I left because I knew she would worry about me. When I finally called her, from the airport in Mexico, and told her where I was, her first words were “what’s wrong”?

Even after years of traveling alone for work she assumed that by traveling solo, something had to be wrong.

In fact, imagine my surprise when other family members and even a few friends, asked me if I was okay; was I traveling for work, where’s your husband, etc. I felt like I was doing something that I wasn’t supposed to be doing.

Southerner Says solution:

  • Just don’t put too much thought into it. Traveling solo as a woman isn’t for everyone. There are plenty of women that do enjoy solo travel. It’s perfectly normal. More than likely, if someone is negative or doesn’t understand why you’re travel alone, they’ve probably just never tried it.
  • If their concern is safety, use the opportunity to educate them about how it’s safe and other ways to stay safe as a solo female traveler.

No one told me strangers would try to fix me up…

It’s funny because on some trips, it seems if something happens once, then it happens over and over. I had this one trip where everyone I met wanted to find me a date. Even an Uber driver said “well maybe you’ll meet someone here”. Me: rolls eyes.

Southerner Says solution:

  • This one is easy. Just say you’re not looking, married, in a relationship, going through a divorce or all of the above. You can always just laugh or pretend you didn’t understand if they speak a different language. I find that always works well when you just don’t know what to say.

No one told me I might feel like a target…

When you travel for work, you look professional, have a badge or clothing that identifies you are a business traveler and for the most part, people leave you alone. Traveling solo as a woman on vacation can be another story. I’ve had a couple of times where I felt I was targeted as a female traveler.

The first time it happened, I was waiting for a bus on a bench in a Mexico city and a man came running up and sat down real close beside me. Just his manner and the way he approached me gave me a bad vibe. He asked me if I would do him a favor. Automatically, I replied no.

He seemed a bit taken aback and he said but you don’t even know what it is. And he was right. I didn’t know. But to be perfectly frank – I didn’t care. I had a feeling I was approached as female tourist and knew it couldn’t be good. I decided to shut it down before it even got started.

After I said no, he just sat there, staring at me. A little incredulous. Finally, he walked away but not before calling me an ugly name. And then, I knew I had done the right thing. So how can you protect yourself from something like this?

Southerner Says solution:

  • Implement some travel safety tips and be situationally aware at all times. Sometimes you have to make quick decisions. Remember that while you are a guest in a foreign country and want to be respectful, you aren’t obligated to do anything for anyone.
  • Wear sunglasses as much as possible. It’s much easier to play the “don’t mess with me” tough person when your eyes are hidden.
  • Listen to your gut. If you are uncomfortable, there’s a reason. If you feel unsafe, get help immediately or move into a crowded area or someplace safe.

No one told me I’d be asked to complete some tasks…

When people see you alone in a touristy place, my assumption is they think you’re bored or you’re in need of something to do/keep you busy. Whatever the case, I’ve had several situations where I was asked to help complete a task – fill out papers, keep up with something, do this or do that, all because I was the “solo” person in the group.

I once even had a woman on a bus ask me to help her take care of her daughter that she sat next to me! There was an empty seat next to her but she sat the young girl in the seat beside me. Maybe she needed a break? Initially, I’ll admit I was a bit annoyed but I ended helping the girl watch movies and I made new friends. The woman even offered me her card so that I could get in contact if I needed something in the future.

Southerner Says solution:

  • If someone asks you to do something you don’t want to, you always have the prerogative to say no. But just like in my case, it could be that something good comes out of it. For as many times as I’ve felt like the third wheel because I was solo, I’ve also gotten a few extra perks along the way. Better seats, better views, better rooms or drinks and I made friends because I agreed to help someone out.

No one told me it would be more expensive…

This one I kind of expected. It doesn’t seem to matter much that one person is easier to take care of or easier to clean up after, most places will charge a little more for a solo traveler in a single room. Sometimes they’ll just go ahead and charge you for a double room anyway. Like you won’t notice.

Southerner Says solution:

  • The only real way to deal with this is to ask for a discount. Some hotels even have smaller rooms for solo travelers. You probably won’t get much in return but it never hurts to ask. I have occasionally received discounts and a few extra perks for being solo and asking for something nicely.

No one told me people would feel sorry for me…

You’re going about your business, having a good time and surprise – you catch someone looking at you with pity on their face. Are you looking at me? Yes it happens. The hostess at the restaurant, the server, a tour guide, the beach attendant. You get the picture. Little do they know I’m perfectly happy to be there alone. Loving life and traveling solo.

On one trip, near a wine trail, I saw no other solo travelers. While at a restaurant one night, seated at a small bar where the staff prepared drinks, I sensed one of the female servers felt sorry for me.

Finally, she started talking to me and once she found out I was there to tour wineries, she gave me some great recommendations. Then she let me try six different wines to “prepare” for the next day. Not a bad way to learn about local wine

Southerner Says solution:

  • If you find yourself in this situation, you’ve got two choices: laugh about it or use it to your advantage. You might just get something for free.

No one told me I would doubt myself…

Even though one of the easiest things about traveling solo is making all the decisions yourself, sometimes, it’s also one of the hardest things. I can’t tell you how many times I doubted myself when it came time to make decisions. Especially in a new place. Where to go, where to stay, where to eat, what to do, and on and on.

And to be honest, I’ve had some mess ups. Like jumping on a bus last minute to an unknown city and not liking it at all. Then having to backtrack hours the same way because of bus scheduling conflict. Sometimes you win and sometimes you win less but let’s face it, a bad or a semi-bad travel day is better than no travel day at all.

Southerner Says solution:

  • Travel solo as a woman more often. Like most things – it takes practice. The more you do it, the better and more confident you will become at making decisions. Eventually, you’ll have way more decisions turn out to be good ones than bad ones.
  • Leave the quick decisions for things can be undone or changed easily. Deciding to jump on a bus when I was already in a perfectly good city was hasty. I should have stayed overnight where I was and thought it through.
  • If you do mess up, remember most things are fixable. If not immediately, then at least the next day. In the city I didn’t like, I stayed one night, explored some the next day and then left. In the end, I felt so much better about my situation in the light of day and now, looking back, I’m really glad that I had that experience

No one told me traveling solo would be so rewarding…

After reading about some of the negative things that could potentially happen on a solo trip, you might think why would anyone want to put themselves in that position?

Well, because the reward far outweigh the things that could go wrong. Confidence, self sufficiency, freedom, self-care and education are all just a few of the perks of traveling solo.

Traveling solo gives you an opportunity to rely on yourself in a way you might not experience in everyday life and at home. It’s very empowering. And that can be a really good thing for your mental health and confidence.

Southerner Says solution:

  • Plan on traveling solo as a woman asap!

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