I wasn’t exactly planning to take off around the world for 6+ months. RTW travel snuck up on me.
Despite growing up with plenty of international travel, I never fully considered going it alone until solo female travel was staring me in the face. For some reason, I always assumed I’d have a friend, partner, or family member around to share the world with. But in June of 2019, I found myself walking across Grant Hall stage to receive my diploma – the end of five years of study. That night, I got home to discover that my partner had moved most of my things and was breaking up with me – the end of six years of relationship.
The floor had fallen out from under me. My career was in flux, my formal education had come to a close, and I was single for the first time in my adult life. The universe was telling me something. It was time for a life change.
It’s funny how things work out – I had already accepted an invitation to work with teens at the Family Adventure Summit, held that year in Bali, and I had built up enough remote work to sustain myself in cheaper destinations. So, steeling myself against the inevitable fears, I booked a one-way flight and took off. Six months and three continents later, I’m still going.
Travel was not a new concept for me – I was a worldschooled kid. It’s a long story (feel free to dive into it), but essentially my parents hopped on the location-independent bandwagon before it became popular and I spent my childhood from the age of 11 all the way through 18 traveling the world with them and my three brothers. We traveled relatively slowly, but still managed to touch on all six inhabited continents by the time I moved out. In university, I opted to spend a full year on exchange in the Netherlands and a summer working in a research library in Guatemala. So by the time this trip rolled around, I was already a fairly seasoned traveler.
Still, I DID have fears. Traveling the world solo was a whole new ball game, one I wasn’t sure I was ready to tackle.
I spent many nights up late with my laptop, researching travel safety tips, safest solo female travel destinations, and ways to boost my confidence. I bought a rubber doorstop I still haven’t used, and an app that tracks my location at all times – but also drains my battery at an unreasonable rate. I almost caved and bought that ridiculously heavy bag cage to keep my things safe in hostels around the world. I’m glad I didn’t.
Here’s the thing – extra travel gadgets won’t calm your fears – preparation will.
If ‘preparation’ happens to include a travel gadget, great. But 90% of the “solo female travel gear” out there is unnecessary junk (hello, quick-dry underwear). Instead of anxiously searching for one more overpriced thing to stuff in your bag, take a deep breath and sit with your fear for a moment. Try to understand it.
For me, the dominant worry was that of getting stuck somewhere and not being able to figure it out. I conquered this fear by upping my planning game. Now, when researching a new country, especially if it’s one that pushes my comfort zone, I create a quick guide for myself that includes the nearest hospitals, visa requirements, embassies, safe regions to visit, must-have phrases in the local language, etc. In fact, I’m in the process of putting this together for my next destination: Turkey!
While you’re at it, hit yourself (and any concerned family members) up with the stats. Traveling solo for any length of time is generally no more dangerous than taking a weekend trip to your nearest local city.
Statistically, you’re far more likely to be harmed at the hands of someone you know than by a stranger in another country. Check out online communities for solo female travelers to remember that there are hundreds of thousands of women out there adventuring every day, all over the world – you’re not alone!
In the past six months, I have had only two sketchy scenarios in which I felt that my safety was at risk.
One could have been easily avoided – I went out alone at night in Marrakech and had to walk home along a dark alley by myself (an obviously risky move), and I was harassed by a group of older teen boys on the way. I was physically okay, but emotionally shaken by that experience.
The second event came when I arrived at an Airbnb in the UK, only to find that the listing was completely inaccurate and the place was under construction. A bathtub balanced on 2x4s? I think not. In both circumstances, I was able to take care of myself, learn from the experience, and move on that much more prepared for future adventures. Both scenarios could have happened just as easily in my home country.
If you want to up your safety game:
- Trust your gut. If a situation feels unsafe, it probably is. Don’t be nice, don’t make excuses. Advocate for yourself and create a better space. When I said no to that sketchy Airbnb in Edinburgh, I ended up with a lovely host in Stirling who introduced me to local experiences – imagine if I’d stayed quiet and had miserable accommodation instead?
- Do your research. Know the neighborhoods to avoid. Learn how to enjoy nightlife without putting yourself in a risky position. Read the reviews on your accommodation listings and carefully screen all hosts.
- Follow the same basic safety procedures you would adhere to in a new city at home. Don’t stress yourself out and potentially miss out on cool connections by overthinking the risks!
- Keep an emergency fund available to bail out if the need arises, and make sure you have multiple ways to access it (in case you lose the bank card). You’ll feel better just knowing that you CAN fly home or book yourself into an extra nice hotel at any time.
None of the things I was told to worry about have actually impacted me on this trip so far. In general, I have not been harrassed, I have not had my things stolen, I haven’t become seriously ill, and I HAVE felt safe. But don’t think it’s been a perfectly smooth ride.
When it comes to slow, long-term solo travel, the loneliness can be real, friends.
It can be way too easy to isolate yourself, dive into work, and fall into a new routine, especially when dealing with a language barrier. I have had to learn to take initiative when it comes to creating connections and adventure, whether that’s in a hostel or out around town. When doing it myself, no one is going to map out the route for me. This rocks, because I’m in complete control, but beware – it’s not hard to fall into complacency. Even when I build connections, I still spend much of my time alone and I do have days where that’s exhausting. But it’s fixable!
Can we chat about Instagram versus reality for a second?
Travel is fabulous, life-changing, beautiful, challenging, and so much more. What it is NOT (often) is picture perfect. Travel and mountain trekking have much in common in this way – the way up is dirty and sweaty, and chances are you’ll think about giving up before you get to the top. When you do summit, it’s all worth it. The photo at the top will be fantastic, of course. But will it tell the full story? No way.
Let’s dive into the grittiness of it all anyway.
Over the past six months, I’ve traveled to Indonesia, Hong Kong, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, and the UK.
Yes, I’m moving slowly. My travel style is to spend a couple of weeks in each new stop, settling in and diving into local culture. I’m a digital nomad and I have some physical limitations with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, so slow travel helps me stay on top of my work and keep my body well-rested. From here, I’m heading towards Turkey and the Middle East. I can’t wait!
This trip has been everything I dreamed of and more. When I started, I was burnt out, feeling abandoned, and bogged down. But guess what?
To travel solo is to awaken to your own independence and power.
It’s getting up when you want to, eating where you want to, walking where you want to. It’s knowing that you and you alone hold the reins on life, and you can follow those flight specials to the far corners of the map.
For me, it was also a way to throw off the restrictions of my past few years and re-embrace my wild side. Travel is a form of self care. Just a couple of weeks into the trip, I felt a noticeable shift in my state of mind. My creativity re-engaged. I started learning new things, opening up to challenging experiences, and reading more. I picked up a new instrument, pounded through books at a mile a minute, and started trying out new languages. My heart healed. My burnout healed. My sense of adventure healed.
On this trip, I’ve ridden a camel through the Sahara desert. I’ve tried homemade port with a host in Portugal. I’ve taken the train across Morocco alone. I’ve wandered the longest art installation in the world and had espresso overlooking Lisbon. I’ve gotten utterly lost in Seville and made new friends as a result. I’ve crashed live music sessions and been introduced to new books and have had my world changed forever. Getting on that first flight to Indonesia may have been the best decision of my life.
What would I tell women planning a similar adventure?
Listen to your gut.
If your gut is telling you to go, GO. You CAN do this, your way. Stop tuning into the fear others will try to spread your way. Do your research, pack your bags, get yourself together, and go. We are unquestionably powerful and capable beyond what we are given credit for. Women have been adventuring the world since always – this is your legacy, too.
Humans are generally kind.
Seriously. Wait and see how many families try to adopt you for a day or two – and let them! On my way, I’ve had backpackers share the last of their supplies with me, taxi drivers refuse a tip and wish me well on my adventures, a host show me her favorite walking trails, and so many Couchsurfers share their cities with me. Again and again, I’ve been reminded that people are kind. I know we hear stories about stalkers and predators, but the overwhelming majority are there to offer local advice, give a quick ride to the next stop, or even offer up their couch in a pinch. I laugh because every “stranger” I’ve met has been quick to warn me about the risks of unknown people on the road, all so concerned for my safety and so completely unaware that they themselves are the unknown faces.
Have a good support system.
One of the things that has saved me multiple times has been having a strong support system. I have a friend, a mentor, a coach, and several family members back home who I can rely on to provide travel brainstorming help, give me a “dude, too far” if I truly am about to do something crazy, and have a quiet call with at the end of the day when I’m craving a conversation in my first language. Surround yourself with support. And if you can’t find any in your own community, get on a women’s travel group and get connected. Seek a mentor. It makes all the difference!
If you have the chance to take time to yourself and travel the world, GO. It’s an empowering, mind-broadening experience at any stage of life. If you’re stuck in a rut, even more so.
Start planning your trip!