Solo female travel changed my life. Traveling alone gave me confidence and compassion among many, many other things.
When I went on my first solo trip, I didn’t feel it was anything out of the ordinary, I didn’t feel like a revolutionary. I did so much research and read so many stories written by other women who had traveled solo around the world, it seemed quite commonplace for me to go on a few week backpacking trip across Europe.
That was in 2014. In 2020, I still get shocked responses when I tell people that I travel alone. ‘You’re so brave!’ “I could never do something like that!’ ‘Aren’t you scared? Haven’t you ever watched Taken?’
There’s Still a Stigma?
In other words, female solo travel isn’t as common as I thought. There is still a stigma surrounding female solo travel, and the stigmas run the gambit: these women are wild, they’re irresponsible, they’re from bad families, they just want to hook up with foreigners, they have no friends, they’re weird, who would ever want to travel alone?…
There are also quieter probings and considerations. ‘You must be so brave’, ‘you’re incredible’, ‘I could never be like you’…
I beg of you, don’t put me, or any other solo female traveler on that pedestal.
What I want is to inspire women to travel. Not be the figurehead of some unattainable goal. I want female solo travel to be commonplace, I want everyone to do it.
I want to trade stories with women who have traversed the globe solo, who have taken trips in groups, with partners, and families.
I want us to celebrate each other and lift each other up in every way.
If you’re someone who is wondering ‘how’, how do I travel solo? I don’t know where to start. This page, and this site, is my love letter to you.
My Solo Female Travel Evolution
I didn’t go on my first solo trip in 2014 because I wanted to, I went because I literally had no one else to go with.
All of my friends were either in grad school, working in jobs with little to no time off, or had no interest in spending a few weeks in Europe over the summer.
I was drowning: working a job I hated, hating myself for not teaching abroad or studying abroad in or right after college, yearning to get out of the US, and reset.
I researched Contiki Tours, and EF tours (I wasn’t a partier, and I was at the high end of the age gap) so those were thrown out; I ventured into some smaller services but they were expensive and no one had the tour that I wanted.
So, I went alone.
The first city I visited was Vienna, and it was pretty miserable. I remember trying to get from the train station to my hostel. A 20-minute walk turned into a couple hours as I hunched under an overhang, in the rain, trying to read a map and figure out where I was.
I was exhausted, I didn’t know what to do, didn’t know how to talk to people. I was painfully shy and super self-conscious about my clothes. (I hadn’t bought clothes in a whole year because I was saving up for my trip). Everyone looked so much better than me. Everyone was young, I hated sleeping in a hostel with men and women who came in drunk and loud and smelled like sweat and alcohol and sex.
I thought I was going to be miserable and I regretted everything.
Thankfully, it got better in Prague and Amsterdam.
I met more people my age, I learned how to be comfortable being alone, eating alone, going places alone. I reveled in doing exactly what I wanted to do every second of every day.
Was I lonely sometimes? Sure. But I was also incredibly happy.
I met a girl in Prague who took me to a bar and we watched a football game with a big group And then, I met a girl in line at the Anne Frank museum who ended up being my travel buddy for the next couple of months (spoil alert, I stayed in Europe for 4 months).
I lived abroad in Rome, spent days exploring the city by myself, met lots of friends, and went on weekend trips, basically lived it up.
Over the next several years I went on several more solo trips to England, France, Scotland, Ireland, Iceland, New Zealand, Japan, and Thailand a couple of times.
I love traveling solo. I also sometimes travel with my partner or my friends, but I always love exploring somewhere alone as well.
The Necessity of Solo Female Travel
My solo female travel experience was birthed out of necessity. And I am so happy about it.
But even if you have friends, even if they love traveling, even if your boyfriend or girlfriend is the best travel partner in the whole world: try traveling alone.
There is some magic in being somewhere new completely on your own. There is power in making your own decisions and doing whatever the heck you want to do.
Do you want to stand in line to take a picture as Harry Potter at Platform 9 ¾? Do it!
Do you want to club all night in Spain and make out with strangers? Do it!
Want to wake up and see the sunrise over an old city and end the day at 8 pm? Do it!
Skip whatever you want, make your schedule, it is so freeing!
Or, if you are like me, don’t have anyone to go with, go alone. Don’t feel sorry for yourself, don’t think your dreams are silly or stupid, don’t get caught up in the solo female travel narratives.
Give this beautiful gift to yourself.
Side note: Just because you haven’t traveled solo, or don’t want to travel solo, doesn’t make you less valid as a traveler. There are all sorts of different ways to travel, and if you’ve tried it, and hated it, or have no desire, be okay with that. Own it. Do travel your way and don’t let anyone else tell you you’re doing it wrong.
The Dirty Side of Solo Female Travel
Solo travel is not all sunshine and rainbows.
Let me say it louder: solo travel is not always fun. It’s not always magical, it’s not always life-changing.
Sometimes, it sucks.
Like when you want to get photos of yourself….uh. I’ve gotten pretty good at asking random strangers but I still get embarrassed to pose in front of someone I don’t know.
Or, when you’re experiencing something so epic and you have no one to share it with.
Or, when you go out to eat for the third meal of the day, the fifth day of the week, alone.
Or, when you spend a few hours in your hostel on your phone because it’s raining and there is nothing to do and no one to talk to.
Or, when you’re physically exhausted by trying to feed yourself, find usable bathrooms, and navigate through a foreign city for 10 hours a day.
Or, if you get sick and have no one to take care of you.
And dozens of other reasons. Solo travel is not perfect. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. You will be bored, and lonely, and fed up, and tired. But, you will also experience so much awesomeness and become a different person.
The Magic of Solo Female Travel
Okay Kelly, if solo female travel sucks so much, why do it?
Because it is pure magic.
My favorite part of solo travel is just sitting in a new city, not doing anything. Whether it is on the beach with a coconut in Thailand, or a Piazza in Italy drinking an orange Bacardi Breezer or drinking a butterbeer in London at the Harry Potter Studios.
The energy of the city envelops you. Your eyes get bigger, your heart swells, and you sigh.
At the end of a long day of traveling, you say, I did it. I conquered 100 fears today and I made it out alive. Nothing bad happened to me. And tomorrow, I’m going to go out and conquer more of my fears, because really, if you can do this, what are you ever going to be afraid of?
That kind of power and self-confidence is mind-boggling.
You’ll also learn this awesome secret about humans: we’re all the same. We all laugh and love and hurt. When given the chance, we will usually do the right thing. You’ll experience the kindness of strangers that will bring you to your knees. Your preconceived notions and prejudices and judgments will disintegrate.
You’ll become a kinder and more accepting version of yourself.
Depending on where you go you’ll see poverty. You’ll see people who are living with less than you ever thought possible. And you’ll feel selfish, maybe cry, and thank the universe for what you have.
You also may experience a country that is so much more advanced than your own. You will see things that you thought would never work, work together in perfect harmony. And your opinions on your own country will change.
You’ll see things that you’ve seen in history books and pictures for years and you’ll be stunned into silence. You’ll wonder if this is real, if you’re here. And history won’t seem so far away for you.
If you travel solo, you will change. And that change is magical.
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I loved reading this! I have traveled solo and with Ciaran. Both solo and couple travel have good and bad aspects for sure. I don’t think I could commit to only doing one or the other.
I feel the same way. Good aspects about both! My boyfriend is so chill he let’s me do whatever I want anyway 🙂 Bahaha
I love your blog Kelly. Your voice is unmistakable through your writing – I can hear you as I read. Still hoping you might return to Scotland (or Samui?) one day so we can break bread once again. Jx
Josie, you are on my mind so much. Your energy and love of life helped me so much. Yes, as soon as Europe or Thailand will allow Americans in, and once covid is under control, I want to see you <3