I spent a little over a month this summer backpacking through Europe. I’m a seasoned traveler. However, this was my first time truly traveling by myself. As a woman, I have to admit I was a little apprehensive at first. But I quickly realized that this was a journey I just had to make. It’s a traveling experience that I recommend all women take at least once in their life. I want to share with you some tips and recommendations for your next trip as a female traveling alone, no matter where in the world you decide to experience that journey.
1. Embrace the solo spirit
Contrary to what you may believe, most people actually deeply respect the solo traveler, particularly if you’re a woman. You’ll look a lot more badass than you think you do, and even if you’re lost, you’ll have this aura of bravery and resourcefulness. I met some Danish locals in Copenhagen who were very impressed when I told them I was alone – it gave me a little self-confidence boost. You’ve made a conscious decision to travel alone – be proud of it.
2. Don’t be afraid to say hi
Transportation on long journeys is the perfect time to strike up a conversation. When you’re traveling by bus, train, ferry, plane, (or maybe camel?) try to get to know the person next to you. On line to take a ferry boat heading from Split to Hvar Island in Croatia, I met a Colombian girl named Carolina. She was also standing on the ferry line by herself, and so I said “hi” and introduced myself. We ended up sitting next to each other on the ferry, and for the next three days we explored Hvar together. She and I became friends and we still keep in touch. I can honestly say my experience in Hvar wouldn’t have been the same if I hadn’t approached her. So just say hi, and be open to talking to strangers (even if you were taught otherwise as a kid). You never know where a simple “hi” will take you.
3. Other solo travelers are approachable – and for ladies, can be a nice safety net
You’ll find that when you meet someone else who travels alone, there’s this immediate bond that you’ll have with that person. For some reason solo travellers are concentrated in hostels – and it’s pretty easy to make friends with others when you share a room with them for a couple of nights. Many hostels organize pub-crawls and other social events in the evenings, which is a great opportunity to socialize. For added safety when going out at night, find another lady to stick with – she’ll be like your wing woman that you have at home, and you’ll both be accountable for each other. As a woman I often found myself gravitating towards a fellow female going solo at my hostel when I went out – we were both in the same situation, and there’s an unspoken level of trust you end up forming with them.
4. Be social, but also be anti-social
Social media is a great way to connect with your friends and family back home. If you’re missing some real connections with people you know and trust, create a public blog with photos of your daily travels. If you have a smartphone that only works with Wi-Fi abroad, I suggest you invest in a cheap unlocked smartphone and buy a local SIM card with a data plan. This way you can be connected whenever you’d like to be.
But also, keep it a little anti-social. Try to journal or keep a private blog. Turn off your phone for a couple of hours every day. Remember the journey is about you, and being alone is a gift that very few people have while they travel. You’ll be happier for it.
5. You don’t have to actually couch surf to be a couch surfer
Couch surfing (staying in someone’s home for free) isn’t for everyone. However, it is a fantastic source of insider tips from locals. People who belong to the couch surfing community are really open to helping tourists, by definition of what they do by hosting people in their homes, so they are incredibly approachable. Create a profile and use it to connect with locals by asking them for tips, recommended eats, sites, shopping, and bars. If you want to take it a step further, you can take them up on meeting them in a public place. I connected with some couch surfer hosts in Athens and Reykjavik who offered to just to show me their city and the nightlife when I was in town. You can go to Couchsurfing.org to check it out.
6. You’re not really alone
You’re not the first to travel alone, which is a good thing! There are tons of online resources to help you. There’s Solo Travel Society, which has a blog and facebook group devoted to people who travel alone. There are also a few long-term female travelers who travel alone and blog about their experiences, such as LegalNomads and Adventurous Kate.
7. Connect with your third cousins
Meeting up with my mom’s friend’s son in Munich (as random as that sounds) really changed my experience of the city. One night he and his friends took me to a fantastic local pub, and I got to experience an authentic “Bavarian” night out. While you’re planning your trip, ask all your friends and family if they know someone in the particular city you want to go to, and try to link up with them. If applicable, make sure to pass through cities where you do have a good friend to meet up with, that way midway through your travels you can have some catch-up time with a loved one.
Trust me, it really helps. If you’re stressed, lonely, tired, or whatever, just smile. I promise it will help. And then usually something unexpected happens, and you’ll wonder why you weren’t smiling the whole time!
If you don’t feel like following any of these, at least remember this: Do something that falls a little bit outside your comfort zone – whether it’s engaging with other travelers, linking up with locals, trying a new dish, or saying yes to skydiving or para sailing. After all, no one from back home is watching; you’ve got nothing to lose. And, enjoy the ride; you’ll never forget it.
This article also appears on Women’s iLab to inspire the next generation of female leaders.