What if I told you that there was a magical trip that you could embark on where you do absolutely everything that you want to and nothing that you don’t want to do with no strings attached whatsoever? Sounds pretty perfect, doesn’t it?
Well, welcome to the world of solo travel, ladies!
While this travel trend is gaining traction among the majority of travellers, let me just tell you that your female counterparts already know what’s up. Booking.com confirms that a whopping 59% of female solo travelers would travel alone again in the next 12 months with “a mission to be refreshed and inspired.” In other words, when you take to the road on your lonesome you are no longer obliged to participate in the chaotic huddled masses of tourism ‘hot’ spots, tacky tour busses, or other mainstream malarky.
As a singly fabulous female road warrior, if you would rather roll over and order a cheese pizza to your hostel instead of seeing the Colosseum that day, you can do that! Conversely, if you’re in more of a Type A ‘see everything at all costs’ kind of mood and you want to walk around Paris until your feet bleed - can’t nobody hold you back!
That being said, just before you hit up Kayak for the next available flight out of town, you should keep reading below to make sure you don’t fall prey to some of the common errors that can happen when you’re riding high on radical freedom.
Along with the common mistakes female solo travelers make on the road, we’ve also included the hacks to help ensure your travels go according to your plans (or lack thereof) in a harmonious, happy, and stress-free way so you are feelin’ fine while you explore what the world has to offer, on your own terms.
20 Saying YES To EVERYTHING
This is probably the WORST advice that most solo travellers get from their well-meaning friends and colleagues before their departure to lands unknown. “Say YES to everything,” they say to you with sparkling eyes and fanatical grins thirstily hoping to live vicariously through your adventures.
The problem with saying YES to everything is that you will, inevitably become burnt out. Yes, the same kind of burnout that are trying to remedy by taking this very trip. Except while at home you can crawl into your bed and heal yourself with a big bowl of ice cream while when you’re on the road, burnout can mean lowered levels of alertness and decision-making ability. As a solo female traveler these very two qualities are your biggest allies so it’s ever-so-important to pace yourself.
How to Hack It: Keep a travel journal and write the top goals for your trip abroad right on the inside cover. It can be as few as 1 main goal or a total bucket list of places to see, things to eat, or even personal skills you hope to improve on. By keeping your goals visible and reviewing them each day, you can easily prioritize each opportunity you’re given against them. The goals should merely serve as a guideline to ensure you aren’t getting swept up and pulled away from the main reasons you chose this journey.
19 Partying ALL NIGHT
I know, I know this sounds like a stern warning from Captain No Fun but hear me out: partying all night, every night is a no-no. Partying too hard even one night, when you are by yourself or without anyone that you trust is an absolute no-no. Partying moderately with at least one person whom you’ve built up a bit of a connection with is actually pretty fun!
See the difference? For starters, it’s not super safe to get totally loose in a foreign place. When you’re a solo female traveller, you may feel safe with new friends or ‘besties’ but you should remember that no matter what, you should always be ‘with it’ enough to have your own back.
Secondly, partying ALL the time will be costly (even in cheaper places like Southeast Asia or Eastern Europe) and will also tax you physically. These two combined will unfortunately limit what you can do when you’re not hitting the bottle.
How to Hack It: You can totally go out and party without putting yourself in harm’s way or bankrupting your budget senselessly. As someone who makes friends fairly easily and initially underestimated the number of lurkers one can encounter in a quest to make interesting friends, it is my recommendation to always go out with at least one buddy. Bringing someone along who can look out for you and to share the party vibes with you is just as important as bringing your dancing shoes. To avoid exhaustion evaluate your travel plans for the week and pick out 1 or 2 nights for (cautiously!) raging that include buffer recovery days. Some of the things on your list may be low-key (like beach chilling!), so you can plan to do those on your days that you may not be ‘shining your brightest.’ Also, drink plenty of water.
18 Being TOO HONEST
Honesty is the best policy - except when you’re a solo female traveller. This one takes quite a bit of practice for most, but it is incredibly important to remember that you don’t owe anyone any explanations - ever! Yes, read that sentence over and over again until you really and firmly believe it because it’s true. When you’re traveling, you will have all kinds of interesting experiences and it is natural to want to open yourself up to all of them. People will ask you about your life back home, how old you are, what your views on xyz are which you are of course, free to answer as long as it isn’t jeopardizing your safety or inviting unwelcome attention.
How to Hack It: When backpacking solo, I had a number of random strangers approach me on the street, in hostels, on night trains (!) and I would oblige them in conversation to be polite. It wasn’t until I met my extremely introverted travel companion that I realized the power of complete silence. If someone asked her to answer a question, or to complete a task that she didn’t feel up to doing, she would just stay totally silent. And faster than you can say ‘well this is awkward,’ they would leave her completely alone. If your gut feeling is going off and you don’t trust someone, don’t feel compelled to answer any of their questions. Period.
17 Adding EVERYONE On Facebook
This is a tricky one because keeping in touch with people you meet on the road is a big part of the experience of travelling. It tends to become a default to add people on Facebook because everyone has Facebook and it’s a great way to keep up with a new friend’s travels and stay in touch. The trouble is when you stop filtering who your ‘Friends’ should be, online and offline, you can get cornered into more awkwardness than you bargained for without realizing it.
How to Hack It: Give it a couple of days of knowing someone before you hit that famous ‘Add Friend’ button. A totally normal and genuine person won’t be stalking your friendship status anyways, so if they start poking around as to why you haven’t accepted their friendship request immediately consider that Red Flag #1. You can also modify your settings (as I eventually did) so that you can be the only one to add other people to your friends list. This makes it easy for you to buy some time while you wait a few days and helps you to gain more control over your online community.
16 Not Bonding With Locals
Hostels are one of the best places to meet people, and in fact, I met 2 of my now best friends FOR LIFE while living in hostels on the road over 4 years ago. While it can be tempting to reserve all your social time for the super high energy, vibrantly social environment of a hostel you can miss out on getting an authentic experience of the place you’re visiting by missing out on the locals. This takes a little extra effort because in most cases, there will be some form of a language barrier or cultural awkwardness that will ensue but it can add a whole new layer to your experience (and your bond!).
How to Hack It: Learn some key phrases in the local language like “I’m english, can we speak in English?” and you’ll be surprised and how quickly a local may come out of their shell and take you up on the opportunity to practice one of the most revered languages of the world. Even if their english is limited you can engage in a friendly form of small talk that might lend you to understanding more about the culture, or even what their impression of your culture is which can be super interesting too.
15 Trusting Your Stuff With Strangers
With poetic quotes about living in the moment and trusting the Universe sweeping Pinterest boards and Insta stories it can be easy to adopt that free spirited nature across the board while traveling which may lead to a lowered guard. When in your hometown, you probably wouldn’t trust complete strangers to hold your purse / drink / camera but when you’re on the road, we can have our rose colored Ray Bans on. I’m not saying that you should be afraid of everyone and hoard your belongings, but I am saying that you should be very alert about the location of important items like your passport, cash, tablet, or telephone at all times while traveling alone.
How to Hack It: Get a sweet bag for your travels like the nomadic travel bag that makes it easy to juggle your things and a super-duper combination lock in case your hostel doesn’t offer them so you can store away important documents and valuables with peace of mind. I kept my passport in a bag of mementos that quite literally appeared as a bag of garbage vs. my wallet so that if on a travel day, someone got handsy with my wallet - the worst they could take is my cash. The unassuming bag-of-garbage-passport-disguise is great as long as you REMEMBER its secret value.
It took me MONTHS to really master a packing technique that allowed me to feel completely comfortable on the road, with everything I truly needed without breaking my back or pack. Overpacking is natural since you are away from home and you want to be prepared however, you can quickly realize what a rookie mistake overpacking is once you arrive at the airport and you’re charged fees for violating the weight, or at your destination where everything is so cheap and interesting but there’s no room!, or on travel days where you actually feel like a sweaty donkey because you brought a pair of sandals in every colour vs 1 pair of versatile runners.
How to Hack It: There are heaps of online packing lists to get you started where you can tailor a skeleton go-to list with climate of the place you’re visiting and length of your stay too! Limit your superfluous ‘must-haves’ to 5 (okay fine, 7) items that will make you feel comforted when you’re in the throes of homesickness. For me this included a small tube of lavender essential oil, pictures of the people I love most, some cheerful magnets to personalize my bunk beds and a few luxe toiletries. Bear in mind what your destination is known for. Ask people who have been there, if you’re unsure about an item - the country may have your must-have available at a fraction of the cost!
13 Forgetting To STASH EXTRA CASH
Step away from the money belt.
I’ll admit it I spent ages researching and purchasing a very unsexy, albeit high-tech, ‘nude’ coloured money belt for my trip to Europe which I had read was ripe with pickpockets. I felt it was a worthy investment for the peace of mind. I used it exactly 0% of the time.
If you feel safer having a money belt where you keep your emergency cash in case something should happen with your bank card (technology!) or when facing an unanticipated expense then go for it. They aren’t expensive, mostly just awkward and obvious. The most important thing is that you have a discrete way to keep cash you don’t expect to access in public.
How to Hack It: If you’re impartial to the kissing cousin of the fanny pack, then there are a number of creative ways you can disguise your cash in everyday objects. It requires a bit of crafting but you can find ways to disguise a couple of bills in a cleaned out chapstick tube, an old vitamin bottle, even stashing a bill in the back pocket of a notebook that you throw in your knapsack can be effective. Divvying your cash up and being discrete will be the best safeguard against pickpockets.
12 Getting Caught Up in Other Travelers' Itineraries
Any solo traveller is at risk of this common error. It can happen all too easily! You meet someone cool and chat it up a bit over breakfast and get an invite for a walking tour/ bar crawl / shopping spree that you hadn’t anticipated. This person who has invited you is clearly excited about this itinerary and so you get excited too and say YES. Chances are that you will have a blast. I honestly can’t remember too many times I regretted an impromptu chill session while traveling BUT it’s important to remember what you are trading off in order to say YES to someone else’s game plan.
How to Hack It: It can be as easy as consulting with your travel goals that you laid out for yourself for that day and taking a moment to check in with your first reaction at the mention of the plans proposed. Don’t over think it too much, was it exciting or did you feel a bit drained at the thought of another museum? It’s also okay to say ‘let me think about it’ because after all, most travelers are just being friendly and won’t take it personally if you have your own plans.
11 Not Researching Ahead of Time
Ah, the romance! Taking off to places unknown! Only the open road and your dreams to guide you!
That’s how I went about my travelling and then I remembered (while abroad) there are things like Visas and violations of said visas that can curtail your free-flowing plans quite abruptly. In other words, it’s okay to refuse to map out every single detail of your journey, but please, always do your research on the big things to avoid a panic while on an overnight ferry in Greece (just me?).
How to Hack It: It’s quite simple with the internet, gone are the days of having to wait in line at some smelly tourist office. Information about visas, customs and laws, affordable accommodations, banking infrastructure are all largely available online. Word to the wise: not all websites are created equal so take a moment to research your research sources for accurate and up to date information. After all that boringness is over with, you can more assuredly enjoy your travels. When moseying along on your travels, always prepare a solid booking of your next accommodation before you begin to move - it’s funny but even a hostel you’ve never been to can be like a lighthouse in a storm during a long travel day.
10 Forgetting to Make ‘Me-Time’ A Priority
Spending time with new friends and uncovering the unknown together is one of the most memorable parts of travelling. It can be tempting to ‘soak it all in’ and spend as much time with other travellers while you can, after all, eventually you will go your own separate ways like ships in the night. While it is an amazing part of travel, it is also important to take time to recharge your batteries with some personal quiet time. Making time for periods of reflection is equally as important as those amazing memory-making moments!
How to Hack It: Bust out that travel journal and record some of your favorite moments so far, or reflect on the aspects of your trip you are truly grateful for or are hoping to integrate into your lifestyle back at home like trying foreign foods or talking to new people more often. Write postcards to your loved ones, take a trip to the local print shop and print off some travel photos for your scrapbook, take a local cooking class, visit a library, read in a garden - there are so many ways that you can take in a bit of ‘me-time’ while exploring, do whatever best suits your mood in the moment.
9 Telling People You Are Traveling Alone
When you’re travelling, especially when visiting multiple destinations on your trip, it can become a bit of a whirlwind. You are in and out, up and then down, surrounded by people and playing the ‘get to know me game’ so often that you can fall into autopilot mode. If you’ve had a particularly cozy experience on your travels with new friends, this can mean oversharing personal details. Of course, if you make solid travel friends you will be more forthcoming about your plans, hopes and dreams but for everyone else you meet, try and keep the details of your travel itinerary to a minimum.
How to Hack It: Whenever asked a question that you don’t want to answer, just ask the person something about them instead in a roundabout way. Oftentimes, people will be so delighted that you’ve taken an interest in them that they will completely forget that you haven’t directly answered their question. You can also be diplomatic about your answer in nice, vague, cliche ways like “wherever the wind blows me.” Telling people you are traveling alone as a female traveller can attract all kinds of unnecessary questions, curiosities, or unwarranted opinions and ain’t nobody got time for that.
8 Not Sticking To Your Budget
Free spirited doesn’t have to mean free falling into debt. If you love travelling, the best thing you can do is establish your budget and stick within it. This ensures you won’t bankrupt your future opportunities for adventure and fun! It is totally counterproductive to empower yourself on this journey of independence only to find yourself calling home to ask your parents for money. Exercising some self-restraint to stay within your budget can ease the burden of blues returning home too.
How to Hack It: Establish your total budget for your trip and pad it with a few hundred dollars so that even if you overspend on a meal or have to cover the cost of unplanned incidentals, you aren’t in the negative. From there divide by the number of days, taking into account any opportunities you may have to stay with friends/family vs days that you will have to dole out for accommodations. Creating a daily max budget is mostly a goal post so that you can track your spending as each day will be different. By keeping a light tally of whether you are under or over each day, it can set you up for success on the whole.
7 Leaving Your Stuff Unlocked In Hostels
Any great hostel will create an atmosphere where you feel like you’re at a super fun, less regimented, foreign overnight camp with upgraded amenities. The best hostels create a community that lends itself to trust, openness and good vibes which can be incredibly comforting to a solo traveller. This can also mean you are a bit more airy fairy about your personal belongings amidst the midday chats and drinking games. While, more often than not you will be safe, there is really no sense risking it. As a solo traveller you are your own protector so by locking up your goods you can relax your mind and enjoy your surroundings.
How to Hack It: Invest in a proper padlock that you can take with you on your travels. Most hostels will provide them, but it can help to have your own just in case. Don’t leave valuables splayed out on your bunk and when you’re storing electronics like cameras or laptops, wrap them in a piece of clothing or bury them within your bag vs. leaving them in plain sight in the cage or locker. At the end of the day, you really don’t know the people sleeping in your space that well, it’s always better to be safe than sorry!
6 Arriving After Dark
Sometimes this is simply unavoidable. With the economical red eye flights and/or night trains, most travelers will opt to save a few bucks. There is a very popular song that I think illustrates my point perfectly by Whodini called The Freaks Come Out of Night. This is true of the big bustling cities as it is for the humbler villages - things can feel just a little more foreign when you’re arriving after nightfall. Aside from the obvious added challenges of navigating in darkness, it can also be more frustrating to find help if you’re lost when shops are closed and transit options are slimmer.
How to Hack It: If you absolutely must arrive to a new destination at night, have your transportation organized. Ideally, budgeting for a cab directly to your accommodation is best if you can swing it. Otherwise, mapping out exact routes with transit, exploring the area via Google street view ahead of time and taking relevant screenshots of your route can be helpful. It can be a blessing to have a travel companion or buddy whom is going the same way as you even if you stay in different hostels. Buddying up in these scenarios can prove to be smoother and ease a large majority of the stress felt from navigating solo.
5 Using Public WiFi For Banking
This is just something we should all stop doing immediately, even in our hometowns. Public WiFi (if you’re lucky to discover it) is free which is alluring, but it’s also largely unmonitored.
Have you ever noticed that you have to check a box and agree to a bunch of terms before accessing public, free WiFi? Who has the time to read all that when you are in a frenzy to post your latest cheeseburger to insta?!
Basically, in short: you are allowing access to your information and assuming all the risk so it’s best not to use public WiFi for anything involving your personal or financial details.
How to Hack It: While on the road this can make monitoring your budget near impossible since you are pretty much always depending on WiFi. If you can live without banking online, it can be possible to access your account details via phone (which you can call using internet services like Google Hangouts or Skype for free since most bank numbers are toll free) or by printing your statements from any ATMs you withdraw cash at. These can feel more inconvenient in the moment but ultimately, there is nothing more inconvenient than exposing yourself to financial vulnerability while in a foreign country from careless use of the internet.
4 Checking In At Home Too Little
It doesn’t matter what age you are, it can seem like a drag to check in at home (aka with reality) when you’re off living your Peter Pan lifestyle and loving every moment. There is definitely a value in striking the right balance and checking in with your loved ones to let them know where you are (Hey Ma, I’m in Hong Kong!) and where you are staying. In addition to the obvious in case of emergency scenario, it’s also pretty grounding while you’re flitting about the world to hear the voices of your nearest and dearest. Even the most seasoned of travelers appreciate this comfort.
How to Hack It: We aren’t living in the dark ages of long distance calling cards anymore thank goodness. They do still exist and are a good last resort if internet is unavailable where you are. Good go-to services like Skype, Whatsapp, Google Hangouts, etc., can make it pretty darn easy provided you have active internet access. Failing that, if you posses an unlocked telephone you can pop in an international calling card for a nominal fee - less ideal if you’re jumping from country to country but it is always a safe bet.
3 Taking Unlicensed Cabs
Let’s say it together: licensed cabs are life.
Taxis are required to have licenses for a reason - mostly for passenger insurance (and assurance) if something goes wrong. There is no time where a solo traveller is more vulnerable than when in a motor vehicle of a stranger with all of their personal belongings. Most of us would like to believe in the goodness of mankind and while this is a lovely mindset to have as you explore new cultures and countries, let’s not be too naive. From meter scams to straight up kidnapping, unlicensed (read: sketchy) taxis are simply not worth the risk.
How to Hack It: It’s easy to do a quick search on the world wide web to see what type of standard taxi you should look for in your chosen destination and where the license is displayed. Don’t worry about looking ‘awkward’ or saying no to a cab when you cannot locate their license or get bad vibes. Just keep moving.
2 Not Trusting Your Instincts
If you remember one thing, and one thing only from this post, it’s this point right here. As a female solo traveller you will have to be on high alert most of the time - a valuable part of honing your intuition and instincts and a skill that will reward you greatly for the rest of your life. You will be engulfed in many new, thrilling, and admittedly offbeat experiences so it can be distracting, charming and at times mesmerizing. All that to say, your instincts will always tell you the way forward and learning to lean on yourself vs. popular opinion or logic is one of the most difficult aspects of being a human and incidentally also a female solo traveller. Trust yourself.
How to Hack It: Your instincts are primal so they will kick into gear no matter what. Physical sensations often include a sharp pang, nausea, nervousness, anger or quite literally a knowing sensation that can appear suddenly. If it seems at odds with your plans or your desires for that moment, you may try to rationalize this feeling as something else ‘I’m just tired” or “paranoid.” Instead, try listening to these ‘seemingly random’ cues and you will see that they will rarely lead you off course.
1 Not Going Out of Fear
A common precursor to the first solo travel are panicked thoughts that it’s too risky, too crazy and “I’m not experienced enough to handle it.” None of this is true, of course but it’s normal to think these things, especially when embarking on a journey into the unknown... alone. You must remember that of course, you will have your bad days and bummer moments but that it is all a part of the big, fantastical travel stories that you will share upon your return home. There is nothing you can’t handle if you keep your wits about you. This experience will move, inspire, and empower you in ways that you could never possibly regret. The only regret would be not taking the trip out of fear.
How to Hack It: Talk to other travelers who have experienced your feelings and share with them. Create a mini support group before you go galavanting! This could be in the form of an email chain or even a Whatsapp Group for those particularly wobbly first steps off the plane. I guarantee that almost every traveller who has decided to take a solo trip has felt similarly and will have words of encouragement that will remind you why this journey is so important to you in the first place. Lean on the wisdom of your community while you push on through to the other side of fear where all the good stuff is.