Ten Tips for Solo Female Travellers
People ask me all the time for tips on travelling alone as a female. I’ve listed my top ten below. I hope this helps.
1. Learn to follow your gut instinct. People will approach you more when you’re alone. Some locals and other travellers may invite you along to do fun things (share a meal, a tour, or even visit a new place together) while others may simply waste your time. If you listen to your gut instinct, you will know which is which. It’s a risk (as is life), but if you’ve learned to follow your intuition, you’ll experience some exciting new adventures that are impossible to plan on your own. For example, I met a local couple in Cape Town in a wine bar one evening and after chatting for hours they invited me to spend the weekend with them at their country home in Stellenbosch. The wife was a winemaker and the husband managed a wine export company. It was absolutely amazing!
2. Learn to completely ignore the well-meaning “peanut gallery” at home. When you choose to do something as “insane” as travel around the world alone, everyone will have (unsolicited) advice for you…even if they never travelled before themselves. So before you decide to publicly share your plans, master the skill of tuning people out first. This may sound a bit harsh, but you and your dream to travel will be tested and you need to be prepared. (In my case, I rarely take advice from other people. But when I do, I make sure that that person’s core believes and life goals are in line with mine.)
3. Have a trusted (non-peanut gallery) person back home. Make sure to designate a trustworthy, resourceful, and well-travelled friend or family member to help you. This person should know where you are at all times, have a copy of your passport, be able to send you money in a bind, and act on your behalf to solve small emergencies back home. You may want to consider making this person your legal representative in your home country while you are abroad.
4. Establish your support group prior to travel. Reach out to and connect with likeminded people online and in real-life. There’s a fast-growing community of solo female travellers. Read books and blogs by women who have already lived your dream. Let this be your support group. You can easily find us online! (For example, I belong to a group on Facebook called The Solo Female Traveler Network. We share travel stories, news, tips on destinations, support, questions, pictures, and more.)
5. Learn to listen to your body. Travel can be stressful on your body externally and internally. The beauty of traveling alone is that you are in control of your itinerary. When it’s time to rest, rest. If your digestive system needs a break from new foods, consider cooking your own meals for a few days. There is no rule on how, when, or what. Your body will know what it needs and when. You just need to be able to hear it when it’s talking to you. Consider experimenting with using foods and natural herbs as a way to heal and soothe well before you travel. For example, I started using fresh or ground ginger root instead of chemical-based motion sickness medicine (i.e. Dramamine) and I’ve never looked back! Ginger root is easily accessible around the world, it’s 100% natural, it’s cheaper and does not make it you drowsy.
6. Money: Make sure that you have two completely different credit cards and debit cards (not just copies of the same cards, but different bank accounts with different banking institutions). If this sounds like overkill, it’s not. Trust me. The moment that one of your cards is compromised overseas, your account will immediately be blocked (for your own protection). In moments like this, you need to have immediate access to money while you’re sorting things out. Most importantly, keep your credit and debit cards in separate places. They should never be kept together. If you travel long enough, at some point one of your cards will either be misplaced, stolen, or eaten by an ATM machine. It’s life and it happens to the best of us. Your home bank will eventually straighten everything out and mail you (or your designated person) another card. Also have at least $200 USD or €200 Euros in good old fashioned cash at all times. Make sure that the bills are new and flawless (no rips, drawings, or tears).
7. Phones: Make sure that your smartphone backs-up to cloud-based storage automatically when you’re connected to WiFi. Set that up now! My brand-new I-phone was stolen in Israel. I wasn’t worried about the phone itself as that was insured. I also wasn’t worried about not being able to communicate with people because I bought a cheap backup phone in the meantime. I was, however, sick to my stomach for days thinking that I’d lost all of my beautiful pictures and videos from weeks before.
8. Passports and visas: Do your homework ahead of time to know what you need to enter each country or territory. Be advised that many countries in Southeast Asia will take up to two full passport sheets with visas and stamps. Foreign countries are very strict about these things so don’t be lazy. (If you’re from the U.S., make sure that you request the 52-page passport booklet when it’s time to renew or if you’re applying for a passport the first time.) While waiting in the immigration line to enter Cambodia, I overheard a woman try to convince the officer not to use so many pages in her passport because she was running low and wouldn’t have enough for the rest of her travels. His response was brilliant, “you don’t have to come here”. The rules are the rules and never forget that travel in any other country is a privilege, and not a right. Period.
9. Be prepared to change (forever). These types of experiences are non-reversible paradigm shifts in your life. They serve as catalysts for serious growth. Once you embark on a solo journey around the world, you shed your old skin and you become a new person. On a subconscious level, you begin to see your world differently… and there’s no going back. When you return home (if you return “home”) you will be faced with reconciling your old life with the new you. You’ll immediately notice that your friendships have changed, the way you relate to your family has changed, how you define yourself professionally is different, and your romantic relationship (if it even survived your travels in the first place) has definitely changed. Just accept these transitions with patience and grace. You’re a different person now and the new you will soon find its groove. All is well. (And when in doubt, go back to #3!)
10. Don’t pre-plan everything. If you feel the need to map everything out ahead of time, make sure that you leave some time to just be. You’d be amazed at how many unique experiences can arise when you are not too busy following an ambitious itinerary. (Besides, after the first few weeks, you’ll notice how what you thought you’d want to do will change once you’re actually on the trip. I promise.)
The most important tip is to have fun and enjoy every minute of it! If you’ve made it this far that means that the hardest part -finding the courage to take the leap- is behind you. You are actually doing something that most people will only dream of. Congratulations! Now get out there and explore the world.
Most importantly, once you’re done, reach back and help another aspiring solo traveller do the same.
(If you have any tips to add, please leave them in the comment section or send me an e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org)
Sheree M. Mitchell has traveled to 40 countries, lived on three continents and speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese and some Italian. In 2014, Sheree gave up a comfortable life and career in Miami to embark on an ambitious 14-month, five continent transformational solo sojourn around the world. Today she oversees Immersa Global and IG Scholar, two boutique firms that specialize in designing unique immersion experiences abroad for discerning travelers and students. Sheree regularly speaks at the New York Times Travel Show and serves as a tourism product development and marketing consultant for regional and national organizations. Connect with Sheree and Immersa Global on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @immersaglobal