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My solo female travel journey started small. I was on a trip to Ecuador with a friend and had a few more extra vacation days than her, so I stayed in Ecuador and took a bus to a small mountain town for three days. In those moments I realized that while having someone to travel with was fun, it wasn’t necessary. I could do it alone and it wasn’t scary or boring!
Since then I’ve traveled solo to more than 10 countries and really have loved each trip that I’ve embarked upon. I don’t know if it’s because I’m an INTJ or not, but I actually really look forward to traveling alone. It’s a chance for me to take whatever time I need to do whatever I want and not feel guilty about it. If I want to shop at random gift stores, wander through international grocery stores, or sit on a blanket and read for hours, I can do it!
Traveling alone has given me the time and space I need to mentally and physically recharge so I can be more present at my “regular” work and life.
Here are some of the most relevant lessons and tips I’ve learned from solo female travel. Chime in in the comments and let me know what you would add to this list!
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This is definitely a hard-learned lesson. Especially when traveling in places with lots of stairs, cobblestones, and no access to elevators, you definitely want to be able to easily lift and carry your luggage at all times.
There’s nothing worse than dragging heavy luggage all around — especially when you’ve overpacked and don’t even end up wearing half of the things you brought. Unless you’re an odd size, chances are if you forget something you can pick it up on the trip. Especially heavy toiletries.
My rule of thumb is to always try to fit my entire trip into a carry on. I pack three packing cubes: one with socks, bras and underwear. One with bottoms and dresses, and one with tops and night clothes. Then I go through them again and take out at least one “thing” per packing cube. I only pack one pair of shoes plus the ones I wear to travel, and a small toiletry bag. Then they all go in my carry on bag for the trip.
This technique has worked well to keep my luggage light and pared down, and allows for several changes of clothes.
It’s possible to re-wear shirts and pants several times without washing, but underwear? NO! They take up such little room in my bag that I always pack at least three more pairs than I’d need. I am not into hand washing underwear, and sometimes don’t have time to let them air dry. So for me, it just makes sense to pack extras.
If you’re in Paris and want to take a food tour or a guided tour of Versailles, you better just do it! Don’t be nervous about doing things alone–you will have a great time and meet some new people. I personally love doing things like special tours when in a new city. It’s a unique way to see a new place from the eyes of a local as a solo female traveler.
The costs can add up from doing these special things, so I like to save in other ways like eating affordably the day of a special event or walking to a location instead of taking a taxi.
One of my favorite ways to experience a new city is to do an AirBnb experience led by a local. I’ve swum in cenotes in Mexico, gone on a food tour in Paris, and hiked to a monastery in Spain on these experiences. The groups are usually small and the experiences are unique and fun!
If you obsess over every calorie you eat and every step you track on your FitBit, try to make some mental and physical space on vacation to enjoy food. It sounds so simple–enjoy food.
Allow your body and brain to relax into the new cuisines you will try. Whether that’s a croissant in Paris or an empanada from a food truck in Costa Rica, try everything and anything that strikes your fancy. Our regular meal patterns will fall back into place when we return home, so eat what the locals eat and enjoy every second!
Wine and dinner in Paris
When I backpacked around Europe for 10 weeks, it was the first time I stayed in hostels. Outside of a few AirBnbs in Italy, my whole summer was spent with strangers in bunk beds. And I have to say…I liked it!
I’ll talk more about hostels below, but one thing I wasn’t sure about was if they would be safe. Would I make friends or would I be alone for 10 weeks because of my solo travel? Some of the nicest and most sincere people I’ve ever met have been on my travels.
It taught me that we are all strangers to each other, and we all want the same thing–to have people to talk to, to have a travel buddy, and to have fun.
Outside of Spanish, I can speak very basic Italian, French, and German (thanks to my education studying opera in college). Even if I butchered everything I said in another language, the locals were very forgiving and helpful with whatever I needed. The kindness of strangers during this long trip really blew me away. Whether it was directions, help with the local busses, or ordering food in an unknown language, my struggles were always greeted with patience.
It taught me a lot about extending empathy to other people. It just makes all the difference to be treated with patience and kindness instead of frustration and annoyance.
Don’t be afraid to travel solo as a woman and to do things alone on a trip. You might just surprise yourself with how much fun you might have! You can always book group experiences through TripAdvisor or AirBnb Experiences if you’re longing for some camaraderie. And those excursions are a wonderful way to meet other solo female travelers. And after the day trips you can either keep hanging out together or head back to your hotel if you need some alone time.
But seriously, don’t sit inside alone. Who cares if you go to a movie alone or even Disney Paris (like I did last year)! You don’t know these people, and you won’t see them again. So if you want to go out and do something, do it! Let the awkwardness roll off you and just have a good time and enjoy the fact that you’re trying something new and living your life out loud.
There are so many apps and translation tools you can download right to your mobile device before a trip. Take a few weeks before you travel to learn some phrases in the local language. At least phrases like “hello, goodbye, thank you, how much is…, where is…, can I please have…, and I’m sorry/excuse me.”
My favorite apps to brush up on language skills are DuoLingo, MemRise, and Google Translate. Download offline language packs so you can translate without a wifi or data connection.
Just saying a few phrases will take you so far in your comfort level in a new place. And literally having a dictionary in your phone can help you even more if you have to say more complicated phrases during your travels.
I love just carrying a credit card, and we’ve become accustomed to being able to swipe and pay almost everywhere in America. But in many countries that’s not the norm. Especially places where stores are mom and pop shops, food trucks, or fruit stands, they won’t be using a credit card machine or iPad to process payments. They might not even have access to wifi if you’re off the beaten path.
So you will really need to carry some cash on your travels. I’d suggest carrying $10-$20 in small bills or coins in your wallet somewhere accessible by hand, and a bit more cash hidden in a second location like a sock packed in your bag. The small change will be great for public transit, bathrooms that cost a small bit of money, or quick snacks.
My favorite bank for traveling anywhere is Charles Schwab. They offer a no-fee ATM/checking card that allows you to use ATMs anywhere around the world for free. You just accept the ATM fees in the moment and the bank reimburses your account within a few days. It’s a great comfort to know you can take out a little or a lot from your checking account without racking up tons of fees.
Traveling like the locals do will save you tons of money and give you a better sense of the day to day rhythm of a destination. Taking taxis or Ubers can really add up, so use them in a pinch or at the end of a long day on your feet. Otherwise, dive into traveling a country by bus or train. In many parts of the world, transportation is reliable, punctual, and clean.
I have a trip to Tokyo coming up and am looking forward to trying a bullet train and to witness the legendary punctuality of the metros.
Another wonderful thing about traveling by bus or train is that the stations are frequently right in a city center. Airports can often be many miles out of town and require lengthy train rides or expensive car hires. So ground transport can often be the most efficient mode of getting from place to place.
Enjoy the view on a train ride
This is often a topic of contention among other travels. I personally think AirBnbs and hostels are a wonderful way to meet people and travel affordably. I like to stay in a single bedroom in the house of a local who I can chat with about their town and get recommendations for restaurants and things to do.
And as I mentioned before, I met absolutely wonderful and fun people staying at hostels while I traveled solo and saved a boatload of money.
Some downfalls to staying in hostels are: snoring, shared bathrooms, and the fact that your new roommates might bring home a companion in the middle of the night. Overwhelmingly, my hostel experiences were positive, but be prepared with ear plugs, a white noise app, and flip flops for the shower.
A wonderful Airbnb in Tangier Morocco
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