As a woman who travels solo a lot (and yes, still a lot even though I've been in a serious relationship for the last two years!), I get my fair share of questions about traveling alone.
Even though I wrote a post not long ago about Why I'm Not Afraid to Travel Alone, the questions still come pouring in. In fact, I got one on my Facebook page recently, asking why it doesn't scare me to travel by myself.
So I figured it was once again time to address the big questions about solo travel!
Here are the top questions I get asked about traveling alone – and my answers to them.
1. Isn't solo travel dangerous as a female?
I actually HATE this question. It's kind of like asking, “Isn't going to the grocery store alone dangerous?” Because the answer, of course, is NO – traveling alone is not inherently dangerous, regardless of your gender.
Do women have to travel differently than men? Yes, we do – but women have to do LOTS of things differently than men, and it says more about gender stereotypes and inequality than anything else.
So long as you're not doing anything while traveling that you wouldn't do at home (i.e. not wandering off with strangers or walking around unfamiliar neighborhoods alone after dark), chances are you'll be fine.
I'm not saying that nothing bad has ever happened to a woman while traveling, but it's a fact that bad things happen far more often to women when they're at home. Making travel a “scary” thing for women is unfair, but unfortunately it's something that the media latches on to and convinces us is true. Talk to just about any solo female traveler, though, and they will tell you that travel in and of itself is NOT dangerous just because of a person's gender.
2. How do you keep your money/valuables safe?
This is a good question. When you travel alone, you're more or less your own body guard and police force. It's up to YOU to carry all of your possessions into the bathroom with you, keep an eye on your phone and camera, hide your cash, and overall make sure your valuables are safe.
On travel days (when you have no choice but to carry everything you own with you), I suggest keeping valuables like your laptop or iPad or phone in a bag that you can always keep your eyes on. And money? Spread your cash and cards out throughout your bags – don't keep it all in one place.
Many people will suggest you use a money belt, and this might be a good idea on travel days so you can hide your credit cards and passport. But for just walking around, I think money belts are silly – as soon as you reach in to get some money out, everyone will know exactly what you're trying to hide.
Here are some other things I do:
- Don't carry a ton of cash. I take a debit card that works abroad and take money out of local ATMs when I need it – traveling with a huge wad of cash is something I avoid at all costs!
- Take advantage of the safe in your hotel room or locker in your hostel – there's no need to take ALL your cash or credit cards or passports out with you. (And yes, that does mean that my passport is NEVER on me when I'm out and about, unless I know I'll need it for some reason.) Only take what you know you'll need – and as much as you're willing to potentially lose. You can also check out this portable safe, which is great to use when you have larger items that won't fit in a standard hotel safe (or when you HAVE no hotel safe).
- Always have a back-up credit/debit card hidden somewhere in your main luggage, just in case your primary one gets stolen or lost.
- Don't flash your valuables around, especially on public transport in bigger cities. You don't need to let everyone on the metro know that you've got a DSLR, iPhone, AND iPad in your messenger bag…
And, at the end of the day, it's always smart to get a good travel insurance policy for those “just in case” situations.
3. How do you get around tour companies or accommodation that try to charge you extra if you're a solo traveler?
Another great question that I get a lot! There are a lot of tour companies and hostels (and even some hotels) that will charge you more if you're traveling alone – basically since you want a 2-person room to yourself.
Sometimes, there's no way around this. That's just how it is.
But there ARE plenty of tour companies and hotels that DON'T charge extra if you're traveling solo. Some hotels/hostels will offer single rooms for solo travelers. Companies like Intrepid Travel and G Adventures will just pair you up with another solo traveler on the trip instead of making you pay more money (though they DO also offer a single supplement if you really want your own room). Even some cruise lines have done away with single supplement fees to try to woo solo travelers.
It may take you more time to find the hotels and tour companies that won't charge you extra if you're traveling alone – but they are definitely out there!
Some other tour companies to check out:
- Exodus – They “Solo Departures” for many of their trips
- Overseas Adventure Travel – They don't charge single supplements at all
- Tauck – Offers special savings for solo travelers
- Solos Vacations – Caters JUST to solo travelers
- AdventureWomen – Tours specifically for women; they pair you up with someone else if you're traveling solo
- Norwegian Cruise Lines – They have ships now offering single rooms
4. How do you deal with loneliness?
Traveling alone DOES have its ups and downs, I won't lie. And there ARE times when I've felt lonely while traveling solo.
However, it's important to remember that alone doesn't always have to mean lonely.
Roughly 90% of the time, I LOVE traveling solo. I love being able to do exactly what I want when I want to do it. This also means that if I'm feeling a bit down, I can decide to skip the sightseeing and just binge on movies in my hotel room all day.
But here's what I do to battle the loneliness that sometimes still manages to seep in:
- I go on walking tours and day trips, which are great ways to meet other travelers. When you get to a new city, see if there are any free walking tours you can join – I guarantee you'll meet another solo traveler on one.
- I chat with people on social media – family and friends are just a message away!
- I go on small group trips (like the tours I've done with Intrepid Travel in the past) usually about once a year. This allows me to explore new places without doing it completely on my own.
- When I used to stay in hostels, I would hang out in the common areas at night – it's easy to meet other travelers this way.
- Now, if I'm feeling lonely, I head somewhere where there are lots of people – a park or restaurant or local event. Even if I don't end up talking to anyone, sometimes just being around other people can help!
5. How do you convince your family/friends to chill out?
When you've traveled as often and as far away from home as I have, your family has inevitably just resigned themselves to what you're doing and accepted that nothing they say is going to change your mind.
BUT, if you're not an experienced traveler (or if your circle is just full of really really anxious people and/or people who haven't traveled much themselves), you might run into some resistance. For example, when I told my graduate school friends that I was going to travel around Eastern Europe for 2 months, they all assured me I was going to die. (Spoiler alert: I didn't.)
It's not always easy to convince your friends and family that travel isn't dangerous and that you can take care of yourself. But here are a few things to try:
- Have a serious conversation. Find out what their concerns are, and address them in a grown-up way (i.e. don't just tell them they're stupid or get into an argument). Parents worry; it's what they do. And even if you think the things they're worrying about are silly, that doesn't actually mean that they are.
- Let them in on the planning process. Show them how you're researching your destinations and your accommodation choices. Let them leaf through a guidebook or check out some blog posts with you. Basically, try to show them that you're doing your homework and that you aren't taking nearly as many crazy risks as they assume you are.
- Agree on a communication plan. When I first started traveling, I would email my mom at least every 2 days to check in and let her know I was okay. Now, she follows my Facebook page and blog in order to keep up with me. I'll email her when I think I might be without Internet connection for a while (just so she doesn't freak out), and I can text her since I have an international data plan.
- Invite them to go with you. You don't need to invite your nervous dad or bestie to join you on your round-the-world trip, but you can always try a long weekend or shorter holiday. Letting a worried parent or friend see you “in action” (i.e. able to take care of yourself) can help put a mind at ease. And maybe you can even prove to them that traveling isn't nearly as scary as it's made out to be in movies and on TV!
6. How do you decide on where to stay?
Speaking of doing your homework, people often ask me how I pick a place to stay when going to a new place. And the answer is… I'm actually TERRIBLE at this part. In fact, booking accommodation is the part of travel planning that I hate THE MOST. There are so many options out there that it's overwhelming, and I frequently waste entire evenings just reading hotel reviews on booking.com.
I'm not the type of traveler who can just show up to a place and wander around until I find a room that's to my liking, meaning booking accommodation at least a few days ahead of time is a must for me.
As a solo traveler, there are a few things I consider when looking for options:
- Location – I try to look for central hotels or apartments that are close to public transport. I also will usually look into the neighborhood (especially if it's a larger city) to make sure that I would feel comfortable walking back by myself after dark.
- Room types – Sometimes hotels will sell single rooms at a cheaper rate than doubles/twins. If I can book a single room, I often will!
- Safety – Along with checking out the neighborhood, I'll look for things like 24 hour reception and safes/lockers in the room.
When I used to stay in hostels more often, I would also take into account the common areas and whether the hostel also had an on-site restaurant or bar.
And, I suppose it goes without saying that I always look for free wifi, too. But that's just the blogger/Internet addict in me and really has nothing to do with solo travel. 😉
Recently, I've been booking Airbnb rooms or apartments more often than hotels. Why? Because it's often cheaper and you get a lot more bang for your buck. Instead of just your standard hotel room, you also usually get access to a kitchen and sometimes an entire apartment for less than you'd pay for a hotel room (for example, my mom and I paid $150 per night for an entire 2-bedroom flat in London earlier this year, where a shared hotel room with two twin beds would have been at least $250).
Plus, having a more “homey” space to come back to can be super nice when you're staying in one spot for a while.
When I'm traveling solo, I often will book B&B-style rooms instead of a whole apartment just so I have someone else to talk to. For safety reasons, I usually only rent from females or couples when I'm on my own – but that's just my personal preference!
(PS – You can get a free credit to try out Airbnb here!)
7. How do you make sure you feel safe?
Being safe and *feeling* safe are often two entirely separate things. Like I mentioned before, women DO have to travel a little differently than men in some parts of the world.
Here are my three best tips for how to feel safer while traveling solo as a female:
- Dress the part – If you're going to a destination with a more conservative culture, be aware of what you're putting on your body. If you don't want unwanted attention (male or otherwise), don't make yourself stand out as a tourist by ignoring cultural norms when it comes to clothing. In most cases, this just means covering up a little more.
- Don't do anything you wouldn't do at home – This should be obvious, but basically don't be stupid. Don't go wandering on your own at night; don't take rides from strangers; don't get drunk or do drugs if you're not with someone you can trust. If you wouldn't put yourself in a situation at home, definitely don't do it while you're traveling.
- Get travel insurance – I mentioned this before, but having travel insurance to cover those remote possibilities that you have nightmares about (like getting injured or losing your luggage) can help put your mind at ease. Talk to your own insurance company before you leave to see if you're covered abroad. If you're not, consider taking out travel insurance for your trip.
- Trust your gut – If a situation is making you feel uncomfortable, remove yourself from it. Your intuition is stronger (and smarter) than you probably think.
8. Don't you feel awkward doing everything alone?
Being alone may not equal loneliness when traveling, but even if you're not feeling lonely it can sometimes be daunting to do certain things on your own. Like asking for a “table for one” or navigating public transportation or going to a festival, sporting event, or show.
I totally get it. In real life, I can be really introverted and needlessly anxious sometimes. There have been times in the past (admittedly more times that I'd like to own up to) when I skipped meals instead of going into a restaurant alone, or wandered around aimlessly for way longer than necessary because I was too anxious to ask anyone for help. This is stupid, of course – people are usually very generous with their help when they see someone (especially a female) traveling alone, and eating alone definitely isn't traumatizing!
Getting over these fears isn't always just a switch you can flip, though – you just have to force yourself to do it. Take your Kindle with you when you go to a restaurant alone. Don't be afraid to ask people for help if you're trying to figure out train lines or bus schedules. Hold your head high when you walk into a museum or festival or soccer game alone – sometimes it really is a matter of faking it until you make it!
And, at the end of the day, remind yourself that the people around you (the ones you're so worried are judging you) are strangers that you'll never see again. So don't sweat it!
9. What are the best locations for solo travel?
I've written a whole post about this, which you can check out here: 7 Great Places for Solo Female Travel.
Some of my top suggestions include places like New Zealand, Scotland, Canada, Iceland, and Slovenia because of the natural beauty, overall safety, and the fact that basically everyone will speak English. (I would also add Norway to this list now after having zero problems traveling there on my own recently.) And I suggest Thailand in Southeast Asia because it has a great tourism infrastructure, is cheap, and is filled with other travelers.
BONUS! How do you get photos of yourself?
Lastly, one bonus question! How do you make sure to get photographic proof that you've been to that gorgeous temple or summited that epic mountain? It's a question I get more often than you'd think!
In the past, I was pretty terrible about getting photos of myself IN places. But I'm making an effort to change that! Here are the two main things I normally do:
- 1. Ask someone else to take my photo – More often than not, if I want a photo at a tourist attraction or monument, there will be others around taking photos, too. I'll look for another solo traveler or a nice-looking couple and ask if they can take my photo. I then always offer to take one of them in return. Easy!
- 2. Use the timer on my camera – When I find myself in places with less people, I'll sometimes use the timer mode on my camera, set it up on a wall or rock or my little Gorilla Pod (I don't always travel with a full tripod), and let the camera do its thing. This sometimes takes a few tries to get right, but it works!
What about a selfie stick, you're asking? Well, first I'd like to point out that I had a selfie stick for my point-and-shoot camera waaaay before they became a thing. These days, though, the only selfie stick I travel with is the one I use for my GoPro (either an GoPole Evo or my GoPro 3-way mount), and therefore don't bother with one for my camera or phone. If I really want a phone selfie (or something for Snapchat), I'll just use my super long arms and snap one that way. The front-facing camera on most phones is usually really poor quality anyway, so this is a last resort when it comes to getting a photo of myself somewhere!
What other questions do you have about solo travel? Leave them in the comments below!