We’ve seen all the movies–woman ventures out into the world by herself, has a life-changing experience, meets some ruggedly handsome gentleman, and is forever changed.
In reality, solo travel isn’t nearly as glamorous. For women, there’s a lot that we must consider both before, during, and even after venturing out on the road, from the reality of cultural attitudes and norms abroad to safety and security to the social pressure we receive to take our friends, our partners, or our kids along with us.
That doesn’t mean, however, that we’re not getting out there anyway–and before COVID-19 struck, we were doing it more than ever before. Google Trends reported that searches for the term “solo women travel” increased a whopping 230% in 2019, up from 59% the year prior.
And contrary to what we may see on mainstream media, these women traveling solo are not just white, Western, thin, and straight.
The average solo traveler in the U.K. is 57 years old. Disabled travelers are spending $58.7 billion on their trips. Black Americans are contributing a whopping $109.4 billion to the leisure travel space. Women are equally as likely to be twenty-somethings preparing to study abroad as we are to be empty nesters rediscovering ourselves after our kids leave home.
While travel has suffered on a whole in 2020, if nothing else, this past year has given us the motivation to not delay our dream trips another moment once it’s safe to get out there again. Whether you’re contemplating a first solo trip due to the loss of your travel partner, to indulge in a little self-care, or because you’re simply done waiting for another person to sign up for your plans, there are some key things you can start doing (yes, even now) to get you ready to travel in our new world.
Redefine What “Solo Travel” Means to You
We often think of traveling solo as an epic, adventurous, rugged experience reserved only for 21-year-old dudes with a single backpack. But you don’t have to be sleeping on the side of a mountain to be indulging in an enriching solo travel experience.
Instead, consider joining a small group trip, signing up for a volunteer experience abroad, or taking a course overseas. Programs like Vacation With an Artist (VAWAA) pair you with artisans around the world where you can apprentice in their craft for a few days (or a few weeks). Through WWOOF you can earn room and board while working on an organic farm.
Or if you’re okay with jumping into traveling alone, maybe you still want someone to join you for dinner. EatWith and Traveling Spoon offer ways to connect with locals and other travelers through a home-cooked meal.
Use Early 2021 to Work Your Travel Muscle
Even if you’re an experienced solo traveler, there’s nothing like a year of non-travel to throw you off your game. Lucky for you, traveling alone is as much a muscle as anything else. It’s not about how far you go, but how much it changes you and forces you out of your comfort zone.
So while you might not be booking transcontinental flights quite yet (or maybe you are), taking solo travel in small chunks can help you acclimate to some of the things you’ll experience on a much larger trip, while inviting you to find transformative travel experiences right in your own local region.
If you’re still in quarantine mode, try spending a day in a state park by yourself (though please exercise caution in doing anything even remotely strenuous alone, as this should be fun and not dangerous). Pack a picnic, or take a walk in a nearby town and order takeout. Take some time getting comfortable with being solitary (especially if you’ve been cooped up with family over the last year).
Once you feel safer about venturing out, take a two- to three-day road trip somewhere by yourself. Stay at a hotel, or for a more personal experience, a bed and breakfast, inn, vacation rental, or even a hostel (many hostels nowadays have private rooms with ensuite bathrooms so you can still have your sleep privacy while also meeting other travelers at the same time).
Give Yourself a “Day 0”
While it’s exciting to think about that “Day 1” of your solo adventure, starting out with a “Day 0” is an important way for any solo traveler to get her bearings in a new trip.
What is a Day 0, exactly?
It’s a day (or at least a morning, or an afternoon), to just take a look around. Discover where the grocery store is. See how the public transit works. Jump on a walking tour (you can go on a free walking tour from Sandeman’s, or have ultra-customized experiences from Context Travel, TakeWalks.com, and Tours By Locals). Get your bearings during the daylight, and notice the differences at night. Take a picture of your cross streets. Write down your address and circle it on a map.
These activities are especially important when traveling alone, not only because you won’t have a fallback if you get lost, but also because it will allow you to travel more confidently the rest of the time you’re there, avoiding unnecessary deliberation in moments when you want to just get somewhere or are on a tight timeline.
Find a Community to Guide You
One of the biggest misconceptions about solo travel is that we spend so much time alone. While you certainly can use solo travel as a means to avoid people, it can actually be one of the least lonely things you can do. That’s because you’ll spend a lot of time meeting and chatting with other locals and travelers along the way, and most likely make some rich friendships in the process.
One of the best ways to do this is by tapping into an international network of travelers who are primed and ready to guide you around the world, whether taking you out for dinner, hosting you in their home, or just providing helpful advice and support when you need it.
With thousands of members now in our growing Wanderful community and chapters in over 50 cities, you’re almost guaranteed to have a friend wherever you land. Even when you’re not traveling, you can build cross-cultural connections through daily virtual events from cooking classes to language circles to simple fun travel talk and networking. It’s what drives our motto, “Women helping women travel the world.”
These Tips Are Just the Beginning: Introducing the Stories of Women Around the World
Of course, these tips only scrape the surface of how to take that first step into getting out there. In honor of Women’s Month, Wanderful is proud to team up with Fodor’s to offer a whole series of stories, tips, and advice from women-identifying travelers of various intersections to help you travel solo when the time is right for you.
Stay with us, share your questions, meet other solo women travelers and let’s all make this year the best one yet.
And don’t forget: While you may travel solo, you’re never really alone.