I used to be scared to travel alone. Now I jump right in.
Before spending a year studying in Turkey, I had never traveled solo. But after a few months, I needed a break from fellow students, some confidence to believe in my independence, and a bit of pampering. So I went out on my own for a weekend getaway: jumping on a 12-hour overnight bus to the Pamukkale natural springs. And I learned it wasn't all that scary.
Today I sit on a plane, heading out of Melbourne, Australia, where I just spent two weeks at Lonely Planet headquarters. I’m stopping by Sydney to sneak in a few nights of solo travel. And it got me thinking – when and why do I like to travel alone, and where and how do I like to travel alone? And what do my friends and associates think?
I put out the question to some Facebook pals and came up with a wealth of good tips for the budding solo woman traveler:
1. Benefit from business
Always try to tack on some travel before, during or after a business trip. My recent trip to Australia is ending with a gorgeous beach getaway on Bondi Beach.
Here are some other tricks friends have used:
- A teaching engagement in Rome coincided with Venice’s Carnival for a consultant friend. Always up for a party, she tagged on a few extra days to check it out. A search on eBay secured her a ticket to one of the famous balls, a trip to a New York costume rental place found her a gown, and a mask was easily obtained upon arrival in Venice. Her ensemble made the crowds more welcoming, and she quickly found her dance card full.
- A conference in Las Vegas found another friend escaping a few miles out to Red Rock Spa to shed the pounds from Sin City. Speaking of which, my second tip is…
2. Splurge in the spa
Getting worked to the bone, with no time to eat healthy and exercise, is just not good for the soul. The best way to unwind: spa, spa, spa.
If you’re looking to get some great value, walk away from your hotel: often you’ll find dedicated day spas that offer indulgence for a fraction of the price your accommodations would charge you.
Another great tip is that spas abroad can be far cheaper than what you’d pay for the luxury at home. For example, in Malaysia a high-quality treatment at a five-star establishment, complete with massage and body scrub, can run as low as $75. You’d be paying upward of $350 for anything comparable in the USA.
3. Join the group
Solo travel is extremely rewarding, but too much isolation can drive you crazy. Taking package tours right and left defeats the purpose of traveling alone; and the idea of a group tour can conjure up images of smelly busses, old people and umbrellas. However, a well-chosen group activity can make your trip. Think of companies like REI Adventure Travel, which offers exciting, high-quality group experiences. Try a bike ride through Hungary and the Czech Republic, a multisport adventure in Japan or (my personal favorite) a hike through the Haute Route in the Swiss Alps. It’s just that much easier, and less intimidating, when you are sharing the experience with newfound friends (and professionals are there to sweat the details!).
4. Don’t fear the far
Admit it: many American girls are a tad timid about traveling alone, let alone to faraway places. In reality, it’s not that daunting – and well worth it. Here are some tricks of the trade:
- Read about the culture before you go to understand about safety and dress. Once you’re there, be flexible: you’ll meet more people and learn when and how to find the secret, but safe, spots.
- Keep your wits about you. Don’t do anything that puts you at risk, such as being out alone and inebriated well after dark. The same things that invite trouble at home are risky abroad.
- Stay in a smaller boutique hotel where you can get to know the proprietor. When you book at a restaurant, share your full name and the fact that you are traveling alone – you may get to chat with the chef and even get some free food!
- Don’t let your fears be a barrier. In destinations such as Southeast Asia, many locals are genuinely friendly and curious when confronted by solo women travelers.
This article was first published in February 2010 and was republished in January 2013.