Solo female travel – what it’s like to travel alone (and on a budget)

It’s normal to be scared shitless before heading into an unknown world, especially if you’re going by yourself for the first time.

Have you ever thought about traveling alone?

Perhaps you’ve never done it, but have always wondered about it…

Perhaps you’ve wanted to do it but have been too scared…

Or, perhaps you’ve decided to take the leap and finally do it!

(Maybe you’re even like me and have already done it – and kudos to you if you have!)

From what I’ve seen, most people seem to go through the same thought process when they haven’t yet traveled by themselves or are just about to go. They usually think something along the lines of:

  • “It would be so cool to go on a trip by myself but I prefer to have company.”
  • “I’d rather experience things with other people when I’m traveling.”
  • “I’m thinking about doing a solo trip but I’m too scared.”
  • “I’m scared of/ don’t want to be alone. I’ll get lonely.”
  • “I’m excited but nervous.”

I know I certainly had all of these thoughts (and more!) before I embarked on my first solo trip to India (I couldn’t help it, I’m an overly-anxious person who likes to be in control and the unknown or uncertain scares me).

It also seems that first-time solo travelers either have the most AH-MA-ZING or HORRIBLE time of their lives. And if they’re not enjoying themselves…they’re usually thinking something like: “I should be having the best time but I can’t seem to enjoy myself”…or maybe even sad or depressing thoughts start to kick in.

 

How do I know all this?

Let’s just say – because the Facebook community told me so! (personal experience might have helped too)

Seeing the same thing over and over again on my news feed, really got me thinking about what solo travel means to me

I couldn’t help but have this burning desire to sharing my thoughts and experiences and de-mystify some fears and concerns about traveling solo…ESPECIALLY as a female (because let’s face it, sadly women have a few more things to be concerned about)…

I couldn’t help but feel like I have some sort of obligation to do so, especially as a well-traveled, world citizen 😊

Now…before I jump in, like many of my long blogs, I’ve put a summary below with the links from each heading in case you don’t want to read the whole thing and only just want to read one part. Click on whichever part you fancy!

But, if you’re happy and have the time to, please be my guest 😊

I hope you guys enjoy!!!

Contents

 

So…who is this “solo-female traveler”?

To me, a solo female traveler is:

A woman who has made the decision to go on a traveling journey outside of her home-city, without the need of another. She has decided and realised that she only needs herself to fulfill whatever she set out to do.

Even though so many solo travelers exist in the world…they are unique in their own right because of their perceived bravery and independence…

They form part of the small percentage of the world who are confident & comfortable enough to get uncomfortable and go out into unknown worlds, alone, welcoming anything that might happen with arms wide open. It doesn’t bother them that they might spend countless hours in solitude and without any guarantee they will cross paths with great people or experiences, even though they have full confidence it will happen.

It’s pretty darn special because I believe the majority of people in the world feel like they need to have company when they travel…but solo travelers? They kinda learn to let go of this need and embrace in the beauty of being alone.

Not having someone isn’t enough to hold them back from doing what they want

And I must say, without being sexist, it’s even more impressive when a woman travels alone – because women have a world of extra concerns and danger to deter them from doing it.

Even for me – I’m super proud of myself because I’ve come such a long way from when I caught my first flight, overcoming a whole bunch of fears.

 

And what does solo traveling actually mean to me?

Before I did it, I hadn’t given solo travelling any thought.

In fact, it wasn’t even an option.

It didn’t exist in my vocabulary.

If my old, inexperienced self, had to define ‘solo travel’, I would have probably said something along the lines of “it’s when a person travels by themselves.”

Even though that’s true, my journey around the world and India made me realise that solo traveling is a little bit more than that.

For me, it meant facing my fears, reclaiming independence, building confidence, experiencing living, choosing to learn, going a journey of self-discovery…and most importantly, learning to let go of the need to have company to feel complete.

Solo travel has undoubtedly been one of the most life-changing, enriching and liberating experiences of my life…however, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows ~ at times, it can be difficult, scary, frustrating and downright shit…but that doesn’t discount how great of an experience it is. It’s both wonderful and difficult at the same time…just like life!

Me embracing the backpacking life – from country to country, city to city and plane to plane (or bus)

 

My solo-travel experiences

BEFORE: what went through my mind before I flew my life away

Technically I’ve travelled alone three times ~ the first to Bali, then India and then last but not least…to 3 continents.

Before Bali

I had a massive freak out because I watched this mini documentary-series called Human Trafficking before I left. I was young and naïve (it was over 10 years ago). I seriously thought someone was going to lure and kidnap me as soon as I stepped foot into the airport but it turns out that there was nothing to be worried about! My friend picked me up, hosted me and looked after me so well up until the time I went home.

Before India ~ my REAL first solo trip

This is definitely where all the fun began. I signed myself up to go to a wedding and spontaneously decided to make a trip of it…wrongly assuming my friend (the bride to be), could look after me the whole time. Turns out I would be on my own for most of the trip. Leading up to my departure…I read a bundle of horror stories and was told all sorts of worrying things from my friends and family. I went into severe panic mode. I couldn’t help but think: “what have I done!?” I was so petrified of being raped, robbed or sexual assaulted…ESPECIALLY because I was truly going alone to such a wild destination. There was nobody to rely on or to protect me this time. I couldn’t help but want to cancel the trip but when I consulted my friend, she asked me one, simple question:

“Mei, why are you so worried?”

Her voice was so assuring…

And just like that, my fear turned into motivation (having already bought the plane ticket might have helped as well). I spent 2 months preparing for the trip ~ reading and watching as much as possible about solo female travel in India and it really did help ease my mind. I was so happy with how my trip went and couldn’t have had a more amazing time. It definitely changed me and gave me the confidence I needed to go anywhere by myself.

Before my world trip ~ the big one

If you’ve read parts of my blog already, you’ve probably read some of the stuff I’ve written from my recent world trip. I even wrote a blog about pre-world-trip emotional waves (click here if you want to read it). But if you haven’t had the pleasure, I’ll sum it up for you:

When I spontaneously decided to travel around the world, I was SO excited and started doing everything I could to make it happen. But it didn’t take long before fear and comfort took over me, killing my excitement along the way. It wasn’t assault or crime which was scaring me this time…

It was the fear of being uncomfortable…and destroying my career. Regardless, I knew that deep down, if I didn’t move forward I’d never end up going on this trip and fulfilling my dream.

Once I acknowledged this ~ I built enough motivation to buy a one-way ticket to my first destination.

That ticket was enough to force me to make everything happen. It was enough for me to make the trip a reality (side note: buying plane tickets are like magic ~ it has an unsurpassed power over your fears, laziness or excuses…and suddenly, motivation takes over). 

Before I knew it, I fulfilled one of my dreams and went on a crazy trip around the world, seeing and doing the unimaginable.

Now, I could go on about how amazing the trip was but I’m about to discuss it below 😊

 

DURING: The good, bad and ugly parts of solo female travel

It’s important to remember that every journey is unique and solo travel can come in all shapes and sizes. I can only talk about my own experience as a female traveler who went on a LONG trip to many countries with VERY little money (aka budget travel/backpacking). I know that it’s impossible for my journey to accurately reflect anyone else’s, let alone predict how another person’s experience should be…but it may provide at least a hint of what it’s generally like to tackle the world as a solo (female) (budget) traveler! 😉

 

The good – the fun parts

Me having fun with some amazing guys during the Salkantay Trek (a 5 day trek to Machu Picchu)

  • Finding company is easy-breezy beautiful cover girl – whenever I stayed in a hostel or went on a free tour, it was almost guaranteed that I’d befriend someone. All I had to say was “I might come join you”…or “do you mind if I come?” and just like that, I had a new friend! Sometimes I’d even be so lucky to cross paths with someone who was going to my next destination at the same time and would have a buddy for my commute.
  • I met some of the most amazing people in my life – sometimes I’d stumble upon the right people at the right time. When I did, I’d do everything in my power to spend as much time as possible with them…because they’d always enhance my experiences, some even becoming my life-long friends 😊
  • I had SO MUCH flexibility and freedom and could be as selfish as I wanted – one of my FAVOURITE things about traveling alone is that you don’t have to wait for anyone or worry about another person’s needs and wants. You get to truly focus on yourself and choose what you want to do! You’re free to invite or exclude whoever you want and nobody will be offended.
    • At the beginning of my trip, I chose to stay in hostels because it was perfect to meet people and I never had the obligation to stick with anyone. If I was sick of being in hostels, I’d stay in a private room, hotel or do a Couchsurf.
  • I had so many spontaneous adventures & ended up doing so many things I never foresaw myself doing – I once met this awesome German guy at a hostel in Vietnam. We realised that we both wanted to do a motorbike loop in Ha Giang at around the same time so we exchanged details, agreed to meet later and then ended up doing a 4 day motorbike loop together. We also met a Dutch girl at the hostel we were staying in who ended up joining us. Needless to say it was one of the best experiences I had on my trip.
  • My standards got lower – it sounds bad but it’s actually a great thing because I ended up appreciating more and expecting less! During my travels, I slowly learnt to accept things like heavy rain and shitty weather, annoying people in hostels, dirty clothes or a lack of a washing machine, not wearing makeup or not being able to find good quality food (or coffee).
  • I had so much time to think, sleep or self-reflect – especially when commuting for long periods by myself. It was perfect especially when I wanted to write my life away.

 

The bad – the not so fun moments

The great long layover experiences where it wasn’t worth getting a hostel or finding a host – I would just sleep at the airport, sometimes so sleep deprived. I can’t say it was an overly fun experience.

  • It’s not all sunshine and rainbows – before I ventured out on my journey, I was extremely positive and optimistic…but after a while, problems arose, I got homesick a few times, I didn’t like some places as much as expected (some even drained the hell out of me), and sometimes I even got to the point where I was so annoyed at people and wanted everyone to F off. The point is…it’s not going to be AMAZING 100% of the time! You have to expect the unexpected, which includes annoying, painful or even exhausting things to come your way
  • I was uncomfortable…A LOT – but hey, these were some of the most memorable experiences and sometimes made some of my best travel stories. Many of these situations were definitely where I learnt the most 😊
  • A lot of the time, I wondered “what the fuck am I doing with my life?” Especially if I took a risk and it didn’t turn out the way I wanted or ended up being a questionable situation….
  • Sometimes I felt lonely – even though it’s nice to be in solitude and have time to yourself, sometimes you just feel like having company because being on your own all the time can also get tough. This was especially the case if I was having problems or hadn’t crossed paths with anyone I clicked with for a while.
  • Sometimes it was hard to find company – ok, I might have lied when I said it was super easy to meet people. Sometimes I’d want to go somewhere and couldn’t find a single person to keep me company…but this was usually was only the case when I wasn’t staying in a hostel or if I was staying in a hostel but was in a shitty mood.
  • Sometimes I got tired of meeting people – if you’ve been on the road for a while, you’ll start noticing that the conversations get a little repetitive – people have a tendency to ask the same questions: “Where are you from, where have you been, how long have you been here, how long have you been traveling for, etc?” It was particularly tiresome towards the end of my trip to find energy to talk to someone new especially when I couldn’t find a genuine connection.
  • Sometimes I got jealous of people who were in relationships or those who had money because they had so much financial freedom and didn’t have to tolerate so much discomfort.
  • I never got to go shopping – there were so many amazing things I saw which would have been wonderful clothes to wear or great items to add in my future home but as a budget traveller, it was simply impossible to carry everything I wanted with me for the whole year.
  • Sometimes it was super hard to find the right hostel – honestly, finding the right hostel for the right price almost seemed like an art form, especially when hostels were expensive. I always wanted a clean, sociable but chilled, non-party hostel where I could get a good sleep ~ a place that felt like home (maybe that’s why it was so hard for me because I was picky). Even though I spent countless hours reading reviews and looking through photos, sometimes my judgment would be way off and the place didn’t look as nice as the pictures, the reviews were bullshit, the staff sucked or quite plainly, the wrong people were staying in the hostel. Quite often I’d have snorers or people who loved to make lots of noise no matter how late or early it was. And then there’d be so many times where I finally found a good hostel but they were sold out when I wanted to extend my stay.
  • Decisions got really hard for me – because I didn’t have a set itinerary, was indecisive and also suffered from FOMO (fear of missing out).
  • Sometimes commuting from A to B was long and boring – but in the end, it was such a beautiful experience because it gave me so much time to get lost in my thoughts, sleep or write
  • I got sick of moving around – if I wasn’t stationed in a place for longer than a day or two and kept moving around, it became so tiring and exhausting. Imagine having to constantly pack up your things, find transport, find a place to stay and start all over again, every day or two. That’s why Workaway became my sanctuary – it was such a beautiful thing to be stationed, have a routine and consistency. It also helped that most of my Workaways were in very relaxing places, submerged in nature, where I could truly rest.

 

The ugly – the things which plainly sucked

Tired and waiting for the plane

  • I got traveler’s fatigue many times from pushing my body too hard – this included partying too much, not sleeping enough and moving around too much. When my body had enough, I lost all motivation to do anything and just wanted to chill in the hostel or where I was staying, all day and night long.
  • When I got lazy, I started battling with my need to rest vs. this horrible feeling of guilt for having a day off
  • I also got very lazy, especially with clothing and hygiene – pretty much what I said above about having low standards. There’s positives and negatives to it.
  • If I stayed in hostels, it was almost impossible for me to get a good sleep
  • Guys get a bit overwhelming and annoying sometimes (they think too much with their third leg) – this is ESPECIALLY the case if you’re budget traveling, using Couchsurfing or other traveller meetup Applications/platforms. Guys will use these avenues to try and hook up with you (sadly, the more attractive you are, the more unwanted attention you’re going to get). I certainly had many situations where I simply wanted to make friends but if they were guys, they’d often end up trying to make a move on me. It led me to being very protective of myself and untrusting towards men who got friendly with me ~ sadly, it got to a point where I questioned every interaction with a man that I had.
  • Fixing things became very difficult – any serious or difficult problem became more difficult to solve because I was in a different country, often didn’t know the language, the laws and the system…or had to deal with a health problem which I had no idea about (going to hospital by myself and getting medical advice from doctors was NOT fun! I wasn’t sure if I was getting properly diagnosed half of the time).
  • My problems were heightened – when issues struck…I found that everything was 10 x more intensified. Things were 10 x more stressful, painful or scary ~ any emotion that you can think of!
  • I didn’t feel like I truly had strong emotional support – it didn’t help because everyone was so far away from me – I didn’t have a physical shoulder to cry on like most people do at home. All my friends and family were so far away and the massive time difference didn’t help either.
  • After a while, I felt like my clothes were wearing me – ok, even though it’s nice not having to deal with decision anxiety for choosing an outfit, I can’t deny that I got tired of my clothes. I think it’s only natural to feel this way if you’ve been wearing the same clothes for a year. We’re only human…right???
  • I did some things I wasn’t proud of to save a buck – sometimes I’d steal other people’s food on tour, find a ‘natural toilet’ or refused to pay for a shower.

 

AFTER: The effect of traveling alone – and the big question of “should I travel alone?

To be honest…it’s hard to say for each individual person. Everyone has different needs, wants, desires and expectations. And everyone encounters different people and experiences. Sometimes people are luckier than others and meet the right people and choose the right experiences. Sometimes people cross paths with shit people, go on a shit tour, or even plainly cross paths with people who they don’t click with.

However, regardless of solo traveling not being a “one size fits all” thing, I personally think it’s something which should be experienced by anyone who has the opportunity to do.

Why?

Because it’s a rarity for people to go on a solo adventure and an opportunity to learn so much.

And when you get over the fear of being lonely or the need to have others, then solo travel becomes pretty awesome.

Even though my trip had its ups and downs, I’m so glad I went through everything and persisted, regardless of how homesick I became.

Overall, my trip gave me this wonderful feeling of greatness ~ a sense of accomplishment. Because once I learned that I had the ability to travel alone, the need to have someone traveling with me in order to enjoy myself completely disappeared. My confidence skyrocketed and I realised just how independent I could be.

It was truly empowering.

It was an incredible journey which was intellectually, emotionally and physically liberating. I truly got to be myself, and be by myself. I had so much time to think…to reflect….and discover the world while unveiling my true self along the way.

Lifelong friends I met along the way in Colombia 🙂

I may not have money, a car or house to my name…but I am a thousand times richer in my mind, and my heart.

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