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There’s a big world out there waiting to be explored, but lots of women think they can’t travel if they don’t have someone to go with them. TPG Contributor Rebecca Benson says that’s not true and shares some tips she’s learned from traveling solo in 18 countries. (All photos are by the author).
In February, two female Argentine backpackers were murdered as they traveled through Ecuador. As a result, female solo travelers around the world banded together and posted photos of their own epic solo adventures using the #ViajoSola hashtag as a way to encourage women to keep traveling by themselves.
And yet it’s events like this that can make women think twice about traveling alone, which is a shame since traveling solo has been so transformative in my life. Traveling throughout South America, Guatemala, Canada, Europe, Southeast Asia, New Zealand and the US by myself taught me that I am capable, resourceful and independent — knowledge that comes in handy in my normal, day-to-day life. Solo travel also gives you much more flexibility than when you’re traveling with someone else — if I’d had to wait for someone whose travel plans were similar to my own, I would have seen much less of the world by now.
But I understand that to many, traveling alone seems scary or just too difficult. When I talk about how great solo travel is, people — especially women — express the same concerns. Here are the four common myths and excuses I hear most and my tips for making the most of this amazing style of travel.
1. It’s Too Expensive
If you’re a regular TPG reader, then you know this simply isn’t true. Using the right combination of airline miles and hotel rewards points can yield a few free nights on the road, while oftentimes a single credit card sign-up bonus can give you enough free miles for a free flight or two. If you’re just getting started, check out TPG’s beginner guide to points and miles.
There are plenty of other ways to cut costs, too, like traveling during the shoulder season instead of during peak travel times (aka. summer), visiting cold places during the winter and hot places during the summer, sticking to public transportation instead of taking taxis and Uber rides everywhere — which can really add up! — going to local restaurants instead of touristy places and opting to stay at an Airbnb, locally run B&B, hostel or boutique hotel rather than a pricier chain hotel if you’re out of rewards points.
Using a credit card with no foreign exchange fees — like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Citi Prestige or the Citi ThankYou Premier Card — will also save you money if you plan on putting a lot of your expenses on a given credit card during your trip, especially as you pay for flights, hotels and meals.
2. It’s Too Lonely
I’ll be honest, there have been moments during my solo travel adventures when I have been lonely. But those times have been few and far between and certainly weren’t frequent enough to make me wish I’d stayed at home.
Traveling alone doesn’t mean you have to be by yourself throughout the entire trip. There are lots of ways to meet people if you’re open to it, like sitting at the bar and chatting with the people around you instead of asking for your own table at a restaurant. Here are four more ideas:
Meet Other Travelers By Staying In Hostels
I know, I know. This isn’t the advice you expected to see on a travel blog that devotes a lot of space to aspirational travel. But hostels today aren’t the dirty, crowded, bare-bones facilities you’re imagining. Hostels make it really easy to meet your fellow travelers by providing common spaces to relax and often hosting bar crawls, day-trips and other fun mixer activities. There’s also a new trend called “poshtels” where hostels are being designed to look and feel more like boutique hotels, the only difference being that some of the rooms have bunkbeds in them. Private rooms are almost always available as well, in case you’d rather bunk by yourself instead of with your new friends.
Join a Tour Group
At one end of this spectrum is the organized multi-day tour where every minute of every day is accounted for — not really my cup of tea, but I know a lot of people who swear by these trips. If you’re traveling with the same group for an extended period of time, it would be weird not to socialize with them, and it’s easy to make friends quickly. At the other end of the spectrum is the half-day tour of a specific site. These group tours are typically smaller than multi-day trips, making it easy to get to know people. You can also hang out with your new friends — or continue to travel with them — after the tour is done if you feel so inclined.
Couchsurfing is not (only) about free accommodation — it also gives you the opportunity to get to know your local hosts, not just the person whose couch you’re currently crashing on, but also people who may not have a couch to offer but would still love to meet you at their favorite café. As a bonus, Couchsurfing acts as a worldwide social network — keep an eye out for fun Couchsurfing events happening in your town.
Meet Up or Share a Meal
Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum has a section dedicated to matching up people who want a buddy for a particular experience in their travels. EatWith, Cookening, Eat With Me and other similar sites and apps organize dinner parties for people who don’t know each other, usually hosted by locals, so you always have a new friend to share a meal with, even on the road — the same dating apps you use at home can also find you a friend to have dinner with. MeetUp is also worth checking out since it has listings around the world and offers social activities for almost every interest.
3. It’s Too Hard
It’s true that there are some things made more complicated by traveling alone. For example, with no one to watch my luggage in a train station, I had to learn to use a squat toilet with a 60L pack on my back. Getting lost is a funny story when you’re with someone but a potentially stressful experience by yourself — when you have a problem, a buddy means you have double the brainpower to solve it.
However, I find traveling with someone just as difficult as traveling alone. Even very good friends or partners can get on each other’s nerves after too much time together. Inevitably, someone has to compromise. Simple decisions such as where to have lunch can become half-hour discussions, wasting precious time on your trip. With solo travel, you are the boss of your own trip and make all the decisions and it’s incredibly liberating.
4. It’s Not Safe
Nowhere is completely safe. So how can you be as safe as possible? Here are some tips:
Do Your Homework Ahead of Time
The US State Department and its counterparts abroad issue advice about traveler safety around the world on a regular basis, so read through the latest travel alerts and warnings when making your travel plans — you don’t necessarily have to follow the advice and stay away from certain areas, but being informed about the risks involved is essential.
Be Just As Cautious Abroad As You Are At Home
Use common sense wherever you go. Never leave drinks unattended. Make sure someone knows where you’re going and when to expect you back. Walk along well-lit streets with plenty of people around. And whether you’re alone or with someone, always wear a helmet if you get on a motorcycle. Note that none of this advice is intended to suggest women who are victims of violent crimes while traveling were not being sufficiently cautious at the time.
Carry Several Separate Stashes of Money and Credit/Debit Cards
A fake wallet — perhaps filled with old decoy credit cards — is extremely handy if you ever encounter pickpockets or someone who wants to rob you. Don’t keep all your money and cards in one place, but spread them out between different places in your pack, suitcase or purse or consider wearing a money belt or pickpocket-proof clothing for additional peace of mind.
It’s true that some places might present a risk to your safety that is probably not worth taking. The level of risk you’re comfortable with is a deeply personal decision, but you should be fully informed while making that decision. There are complex psychological processes that make most people terrible at evaluating risk — your life at home is probably riskier than you realize, especially if you live in a big city like New York, Chicago or Los Angeles.
Solo travel doesn’t have to mean a giant round-the-world adventure either. Start small by taking yourself on a day-trip, an overnight trip in a new city or by starting in countries where you can speak a little of the language. And give yourself a break if you decide to cut it short and come home early — no judging here.
There will be times when you’re dying to go somewhere but none of your friends or family are able to come along. If there’s somewhere in the world you want to see, please don’t let the lack of a companion stop you. Follow these tips and go for it!
Have you ever traveled solo? Share your best solo travel tips in the comments, below.
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