A little over five years ago, sitting from my dark, cold cubicle in New York, I couldn’t stop thinking about Puerto Rico. Though I’ve always been adventurous by spirit, my bank account didn’t allow me to truly indulge in my wanderlust until I turned 25. Since then I’ve made up for lost time — stamping 31 countries (and counting) on my passport.
With visions of sandy beaches and tequila sunrises bouncing through my head, I started to poll every last friend I had to go on a long weekend excursion with me, and couldn’t convince anyone to pull the plug. Frustrated and in desperate need of a vacation, I decided to take the trip alone. Though my mother was panicked, I packed my bag and set sail, excited for the adventure.
And an adventure it was: exploring Old San Juan and eating mofongo. Talking to a crew of local medical school students and sleeping in as long as I wanted. Though I have mostly traveled with groups, that April getaway made me realize how easy it is to catch a flight on your own. Since then, I haven’t been afraid to venture to new lands alone, and I encourage other women to do the same.
While there is definitely a stigma attached to it — the truth is, plenty of women are mapping their escape. In fact, in recent years, searches around “solo female travel” have risen by more than 50 percent, according to Solo Traveler World, and one in four people say they have or intend to trek all by their bad selves. If your resolution is to finally book a trip to the country you’ve always wanted to see, without worrying about anyone else’s schedule or ideas, here’s what you need to know:
Engage with locals
Touching down in a new city — especially one where you don’t know the language — can be intimidating. But thanks to a slew of apps, getting by with a handful of phrases is easier than you think. Even if you can’t express more than humor, global senior manager at a multinational company and blogger, Anne-Madeleine Kleinwächter recommends connecting from locals from the get-go.
“Once you get to your hotel, hostel or Airbnb try to find your way around by asking questions. Get to know the people you are taking to and ask for advice about what you can do. Ask for the best coffee in town, art galleries or whatever you are passionate about,” she recommends. Not only will this enrich your experience, but it can provide a safety net of sorts, in case you run into any trouble. Considering Kleinwächter has been to 15 countries alone, she would know a thing or two about solo jet-setting: “Befriending strangers will break the ice and it will open doors to [new] experiences.”
Trust your instincts and emotions
While traveling challenges you to try activities and meals you would normally shy away from, travel blogger Sarah Swank says solo adventuring pushes you far out of comfort zone. This is why many people decide to throw on their backpack and head out, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise caution and listen to your instincts if something feels off or wrong.
“Absolutely try new things and be as open as you can to new experiences and people but don’t feel obligated to travel any certain way,” she recommends. “Sometimes I find solo travel to be super exhausting and I need to say ‘no’ to a few invitations so I can watch Netflix in bed, and regain my mental and emotional strength.” Swank has plenty of practice in following her heart and being mindful of her experiences, since she’s been to 14 countries and has plans to continue her travels.
Be spontaneous and curious
No matter if you’re nibbling on croissants in Paris or learning about tango in Argentina — one of the most beautiful parts of traveling is becoming mesmerized by fascinating sights and flavors. But to fully immerse yourself in the moment requires a healthy level of trust, Kleinwächter shares. Though practicing street smarts and only doing what you feel comfortable with is essential, so is allowing yourself to be spontaneous and curious. “It is amazing what can happen once you immerse yourself into the local culture. Taste the food they love, try their dance moves and find out what they are most proud of. Believe me, this will make you friends for life and create memories you will never forget,” she continues. “And most importantly: have fun.”
Don’t tell strangers you’re alone
First and foremost, global education evangelist Fernanda Meier reminds women it is never their responsibility to not be attacked when traveling. Even so, taking steps to feel more comfortable when you’re in an unfamiliar place will ensure you have a better, happier time, instead of feeling on edge from the moment you touchdown. She’s navigated 12 countries by herself, and has developed a few best practices to staying alert and aware.
Her best tip is to refrain from telling people you’re traveling by yourself. “When chatting with people, I use phrases like, ‘I’m traveling with friends,’ or ‘My housemate is meeting me later,’ or ‘I’m enjoying the program I’m traveling with.’ Even though this isn’t true, it still gives the illusion that you aren’t alone, and that other people are going to be expecting you,” she explains.
Figure out the ways you enjoy spending time alone.
Product manager and traveler Aashima Kapoor has made her way to 12 countries and countless cities by herself, and says determining alone time joys will make trips that much more exciting. “Is it reading? Playing an instrument? Writing? A long bubble bath? Find what allows you to connect with yourself,” she says. “And make sure to carve out time in your solo travel to do that activity.”
Overestimate how much money you’ll need
Some folks calculate their spending down to the very last penny (or euro, peso or quid), while others take a glance at their credit card and shrug, hoping all looks right. No matter where you fall on this spectrum, Swank says it’s always better to overestimate your budget for solo travel. “I’ve never spent less than I expected on an adventure,” Swank says. “Make sure you have a financial safety blanket so you can still get home when you blow your budget on that perfect tour, souvenir, or hotel room you just couldn’t skip.”
Leave your valuables at your lodging
Once you have made it through customs, you don’t need that passport anymore. But you’ll definitely need it to make it back home. So, much like you would do when you travel with a buddy, Meir suggests placing them in a locked suitcase, and keeping copies of your paperwork in your bag or on your phone. If you don’t have this type of luggage, she suggests asking the front desk to keep things in their main hotel or hostel safety deposit box, which is usually much more secure than the one in your room, and they usually are liable for anything that disappears from the front desk safe.
Keep your solo travels balanced
You could consider graphic designer Erica Brooks a professional solo traveler — having visited 30 countries on five continents and 20 states in the United States by herself. With all of this experience and miles behind her, she recommends newbies find a way to keep their trip balanced. This may mean sectioning off how much time you’ll be fully alone, within a structured social setting or hanging out with locals. “That keeps me from living only in my mind for the whole trip,” she says. “Plus, every once in a while, I’ll connect with someone in the group that will lead to an actual friendship and more adventures in the following days.”
And if you’re still not sure how to be at a restaurant without a buddy? Brooks says to request a seat at the bar so you’ll have company. “I can strike up conversation with the bartender, who is usually curious about why a woman is traveling on her own, and is often a little extra attentive to make sure I’m having a good time,” she continues. “They often have the best recommendations for what to choose from the menu, where to go next, and what to explore in the area off the beaten path. As a bonus, they’ll keep an eye out for my safety and comfort.”