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I’ve got a case of wanderlust, and a serious one at that. My dream lifestyle involves bouncing from one country to the next, with all the essentials right on my back. And while I haven’t gone full digital nomad…yet…I do travel a lot—more frequently than I can find a companion to come with me.
So what’s a wanderer to do? She hits the road on her own.
Getting the confidence to travel solo, though, is a trek in and of itself. The first day of my first solo trip in 2010 involved holing myself up in a hotel room. I had left the familiarity of New Delhi, where I studied Hindi and Indian art with 20 other American college kids, to conduct field research on local cuisine around India. An overnight train ride dropped me (and my unmanageably large backpack) off 900-ish miles south in Ahmedabad, and it hit me: I was alone. I felt vulnerable and intimidated, so when I arrived at the hotel, I struggled to leave. I felt like a failure.
But time was ticking and I needed to begin my research, stat. It took hours of giving myself an internal pep talk and making expensive long-distance calls to friends back home to finally work up the courage to leave my hotel room. But I did it, and it turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, inspiring countless future trips around the world with no one’s hand to hold but my own.
Hopping on a plane to somewhere you’ve never been, where you don’t speak the language, and you have little idea where to go or what to do…it sounds ludicrous, I know. But there’s something deeply invigorating about getting up in the morning and having the entire day to explore the world alone. You have no one to answer to but yourself.
Trust me, you can do it. Any woman with a bit of grit and a lot of curiosity can (and should) take at least one solo trip.
When it comes time for yours, I’ve got some tips that can make your adventure easier and (hopefully) more fun.
Spin the globe.
The destination you choose will set the tone for your journey. If it’s your first time traveling solo, look for a place that has a strong tourism infrastructure: lots of hotels, restaurants, and things to do. That will make it easy for you to meet other people and enjoy the experience with minimal hassle.
Just as important is safety, especially when you’re a woman traveling alone. The U.S. Department of State publishes official travel advisories that can warn you about potential dangers in different parts of the world. TripAdvisor and travel forums can give you recent travelers’ perspectives of a place. The Lonely Planet destination guidebooks (a must-have on every trip I take) also offer traveler-specific guidance on dangers and annoyances you might experience on your trip.
Having never been the victim of a crime abroad, I genuinely believe many places in the world are safe and welcoming. Do your homework before you hop on the plane, leave your valuables at home, and remain assertive and confident no matter what the trip throws your way.
Dress the part.
What you wear plays a big role in how you experience foreign destinations. It’s a reality I don’t love, but it’s been my experience nonetheless.
I feel more comfortable when I cover up with cotton garments on my trips—often knee-length skirts (or longer), T-shirts, and jackets and scarves. However, if locals are wearing shorts and tank tops, I consider that a cue that it’s fine for me to do so too. Uniqlo and Zara have become my go-to stores for updating my travel wardrobe.
Dressing like a local is another way to show respect for host country and blend in. Visit a local mall or market early in your trip and see what clothes catch your eye.
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Getting around in a foreign country is equal parts confusing, frustrating, fascinating, and fun. I recommend taking a private cab (or arranging a pickup from your hotel) when you go to a new country alone. It’ll help you get your bearings after a long flight.
But try using public transportation throughout the rest of your trip. Riding the subways or hopping on buses saves you money and immerses you in the culture, showing you what it’s actually like to live in a different place.
Some of my most vivid memories from my time in Jakarta, Indonesia, involve bumpy rides around the metropolis backed by the music of buskers on the crowded Kopaja buses, and it was a lot more colorful than sitting alone in a taxi.
You do you.
There’s nothing like the feeling of freedom you get when traveling solo. Feeling ambitious and want to take on a five-mile hike followed by an afternoon of museum hopping? Go for it! Has the trip worn you out and you need a break? Sip coffee and pore over a novel at a cafe all day—no judgment.
No matter how you choose to spend your days, you’ll learn about yourself, what you find fulfilling, and what it takes to live authentically—all skills that will continue enrich your life back home.
You can also consider diving deep into something that intrigues you. If you’re completely obsessed with the local cuisine, fill your itinerary with foodie activities and restaurant reservations. A cooking class, a stroll through a food market, and dinner at the place all the locals love are all musts. Immersing yourself in an area of interest will give your trip a greater sense of purpose.
Oh, the People You Meet!
It’s a fact: When you take a solo trip, you’re going to get lonely. But here’s another fact: You’re going to meet people.
Eager for some companionship after spending a few days alone, I made conversation with a woman playing solitaire in the hotel room of my guesthouse in Amritsar. She was friendly, and we decided we’d go see the festive border ceremony between India and Pakistan, a day trip I was nervous about taking on my own. There, we danced to Bollywood music with Indian women in the streets as tens of thousands of people showed pride for their countries, waving flags and chanting.
It was electrifying to share this experience with someone I’d only just met. Friends are surprisingly easy to come by when you’re traveling.
Take the plunge and book a flight to that place you’ve always dreamed of visiting. And take it from me: Leaving your hotel room will be the biggest challenge of your first trip alone.