For many of us, a solo adventure across the globe seems nerve-wracking. We’re used to tirelessly catering our vacations to our loved ones for fear of what it’d be like to really, really be alone in a foreign country. That’s not the case for everyone – we’ve all seen Reese Witherspoon in Wild and followed Julia Roberts on her life-affirming trip away in Eat, Pray, Love. More than ever, fearlessly independent women have been throwing caution to the wind and traveling the world alone – and they’re absolutely having the time of their lives. Two’s company, but one’s a party if you play it right.
Here are some stories from women who’ve traveled the globe solo, the lessons they’ve learned, and the amazing experiences they found abroad.
There’s Been A 60% Increase In Female Solo Travel
According to Cynthia Dunbar, general manager of backpacking/wilderness travel company REI Adventures, there’s been a huge increase in women traveling the world alone.
“Since 2010, women traveling with us has grown by 60 percent, and we continue to see this figure grow steadily each year. Last year alone, 58 percent of all our guests were women,” she told Conde Nast Traveler.
“I’m Not Actually Ever Alone”
One of the biggest caveats of traveling alone is that you’ll be, well, alone. Apparently, solo travelers are a lot less alone that we actually think. The experience opens up the opportunity to meet new people. Sometimes, it helps you flip your definition of lonely.
“While my first solo adventure served its purpose in that it got me to face myself in a way I never had after the ending of a long-term relationship, it also taught me a ton about relationships and human connection… and that I’m not actually ever alone,” said Sahaj Kohli, a travel essayist for The Huffington Post. “I’ve noticed there’s often something missing from most conversations regarding solo travel: The people you encounter along the way.”
“I’ve Gotten Comfortable Going Up To Strangers…”
Kohli admits that some of the biggest benefits of solo travel are often left out of the conversation, one of those being how it shifts your idea of personal comfort. Most of us aren’t comfortable being vulnerable, but traveling alone helps you live a little bit with your guard down. Instead of falling back on familiar company and hiding behind your friends, you’re forced to reach out to strangers and make new friends.
“I’ve gotten incredibly comfortable going up to strangers to make new friends or inserting myself confidently (and respectfully) in a conversation amongst other travelers. I’ve gotten very good at asking questions, listening and learning people’s stories ― from waiters and bartenders to tour guides and hostel workers/volunteers,” she wrote.
“I’ve Gotten [Okay] With Laughing At Myself And Acknowledging My Flaws”
Kholi also believes that traveling gave her an essential skill for a happy life – the ability to laugh at yourself and acknowledge your flaws.
“Most importantly, though, is how okay I’ve gotten with laughing at myself and acknowledging my own flaws/inadequacies,” she told The Huffington Post. “I’ve gotten secure with owning up to the fact that I can’t do everything alone, and I am perfectly capable of repeatedly asking for help when I need it as I’m aimlessly wandering around streets and have no idea where I am.”
Much like Reese Witherspoon’s character in Wild, many women believe they’ve found the secrets to happiness through traveling the world alone.
“Solo Traveling Eventually Became A Way Of Life For Me”
Medhavi Davada, the blogger behind Ravenous Legs, started traveling alone after she tried to plan a number of failed trips with friends. She found out that no group of friends could ever agree on the goal of the trip – whether it was members wanting to get into alcohol and drugs, others looking for hookup,s and some just wanting to hang out in the pool while other wanted to explore. With solo travel, your goals are solely up to you.
“When I realized that my purpose was not aligned to any of these [things my friends wanted to do], I was forced to travel solo. I have an unmatchable level of energy on my travels. Solo traveling eventually became a way of life for me,” she said.
“I Realized I’m Responsible For My Own Happiness”
Medhavi quickly realized after traveling the world alone, that happiness comes from within. It’s a message we saw sprawled across the pages Eat, Pray, Love, and one that rings true for so many solo female travelers.
“With a lot of importance given to codependent relationships in our society, most of us fail to understand that nobody else is responsible for your happiness except you,” Medhavi said. “Being forced to believe in codependency, I too had a hard time learning this through my solo travels. Being constantly surrounded by people in my regular life – friends, colleagues, family, I never got a chance to realize this. When I started traveling solo surrounded with strangers everywhere, when I had some travels gone wrong, when I had to take charge of everything around me, in strange lands, I learnt taking responsibility for my own happiness.”
“Everywhere I’ve Been Is The Best Place I’ve Ever Been”
Linda Clark, a New Jersey-based travel agent, started traveling alone because she didn’t want to miss opportunities if no one could join her. She frequently travels to the Carribean by herself, and learned that no place is better than the other. The whole world is amazing if only because it gifts you with unique experiences.
“Everywhere I’ve been is the best place I’ve ever been because that’s the last place I’ve ever been,” she said. That doesn’t mean all trips are smooth sailing. In fact, Clark had a dubious run-in with some locals (who turned out to be animals).
“I Had A Visit From A Green Monkey!”
The locals don’t always take kindly to tourists – well, at least the locals who aren’t human. While most travelers report that local people are kind, generous and helpful, some have a little bit of a problem with the wildlife. Travel agent Clark had a funny run-in with a monkey after leaving the doors open in her hotel room.
“Upon check-in, I open the double doors so I could hear the ocean and I [had a] fruit basket in my room. I started a bath…and when I got out of the tub, I thought I heard someone in the living room of my one-bedroom suit,” she said. “When I came out of the bathroom, I realized that someone had taken a bite out of every piece of fruit in my fruit basket. I realized I was safe and sound as long as I closed those double glass doors because I had had a visit from a green monkey.”
“I’ve Learned That I Can And Should Face Fears And Challenges”
Jackie Cular is a fearless solo traveler. She has traveled across the country alone, she’s ventured into Mexico multiple times, and even paid a visit to the Dominican Republic. Next month, she’s visiting four separate countries all by herself. Though Cular loves learning about native culture and values, it’s what she learned about herself that she found most valuable.
“I’ve learned that I can eat dinner alone (and without my phone)—just enjoying new flavors and the sounds around me. I’ve learned that I am interesting and will always meet new and amazing people where ever I go. I’ve learned that I can and should face fears and challenges—like heights or running a half marathon—and enjoy those little victories on my own (without the desire to post on social media)…” she said. “I’ve learned more in the moment and after the fact with each trip I take. I actually prefer to travel alone for all these reasons.”
“I Think Travel Is Best When You Factor In Some Degree Of Unpredictability”
Marcia Robiou, who documents her travels on her Instagram, thisisrabiou, learned to go with the flow during a super scary incident in her solo travels. Sometimes things don’t go as planned because you can never fully plan for a natural disaster.
During one trip, Marcia traveled to Sri Lanka to escape the hustle and bustle of Thailand on New Year’s Eve (Bangkok has a massive foam party as part of the SongKran Festival). Marcia opted to hang out at a relaxing beachside restaurant when things started spiraling out of control.
“The experience really forced me to be present and appreciate my surroundings without the structure of an itinerary,” she said. “I think travel is best when you factor in some degree of unpredictability.” Unfortunately, Marcia’s trip was beyond a simple degree of unpredictability, but she rolled with the punches anyway.
“I Had No Idea Where I Was Going, But Ended Up In A Beautiful Mountain Village”
Marcia had found herself in the middle of a tsunami scare, which she believes had a small silver lining. It allowed her to see some of the most beautiful landscapes she’s ever seen.
“I go to a beach side restaurant straight from the airport for breakfast. That’s when I notice people running down the beach in a panic,” she said. “Turns out there was a tsunami warning. I had to climb into my hotel window to get my bags (because all the staff had left) and took the first train out of Colombo. I had no idea where I was going but ended in a beautiful mountain village and made a bunch of new friends along the way. And the warning turned out to be false!” Marcia’s solo adventure was truly an adventure in every sense of the word.
“I Have Substitute Mothers In All The Continents I Visited”
Anika Villalba has been traveling the world for seven years, and admits that being a woman who’s traveling alone has a number of benefits. When she first announced she was traveling solo around the world, people thought she was either out of her mind or one step away from a kidnapping horror story. This turned out to be the furthest thing from the truth.
” Wherever I go, other women help me and protect me, I have substitute mothers in all the continents I visited, families have invited me to their homes, people tend to trust me from the start because I’m a girl, and it’s always been easy to meet the locals and feel welcome everywhere,” she said in a blog post Matador Network.
“Many People Will Tell You How Brave You Are, But Will Feel Pity That You Choose Traveling Over Having A Family”
Though people are kind, traveling as a woman does have some notable disadvantages. Mostly, it’s in the way people label you (why is the world always so keen to label a woman’s choices?).
“In central China, a woman old enough to be my mom made me promise her that I wouldn’t do it anymore, that I would find a husband and either settle down or travel with him,” she wrote. “For many women around the world, especially in Latin America and Asia, I was too young to be traveling alone and too old to be unmarried.”
“It’s Good To Know About The Cultural Norms Of The Place You Are Traveling To In Order To Avoid Problems Or Misunderstandings With The Locals”
Outside of the U.S., certain cultures do view women differently. Though foreigners are often given a pass simply because they’re foreign, Anika believes you should always try your best to adhere to the culture you’ve immersed yourself in.
“In Bali, for example, you can’t go inside a temple when you are having your period,” she said. “In Buddhist countries such as Thailand, you cannot touch or sit beside the monks. In Morocco, local women don’t go inside the cafés. In Muslim countries you should dress appropriately and cover at least your knees and shoulders, and sometimes your hair and entire body. As a foreigner, this is not strictly enforced, but it is expected as a way of showing respect.”
“Each Mistake Made Me More Self-Conscious”
Carrie Miller, a National Geographic writer, embarked on her first solo trip when she was just 20 years old. She didn’t want to go alone, but her friends simply couldn’t make it all the way to Northern Australia. Unfortunately for the young traveler, everything went wrong as soon as she arrived in Darwin. She was placed in a backpacker bunk with two random German men who didn’t speak English. Her Kakadu National Park tour guide made her the butt of all jokes because she was so young and gullible.
“I am the reigning world heavyweight champion of beating myself up, and each mistake made me more self-conscious. I felt like Nancy No-Mates when I requested a table for one. I was certain everyone was watching me, wondering if I was recently jilted, or simply friendless,” she wrote. This mindset changed when Carrie was approached by a British woman who was impressed with her bravery. “I wish I had the courage to travel on my own like you,” she said. Since then, Carrie learned one of the most important lessons of solo travel: you won’t die of embarrassment.
“My Darwin Disaster Became One Of My Fondest Memories—And One Of My Favorite Campfire Stories”
Sometimes, your worst travel nightmare becomes the best story. This is how Carrie felt about her first solo trip.
“My Darwin disaster became one of my fondest memories—and one of my favorite campfire stories,” she wrote. “Darwin taught me that people don’t see me how I see myself. I look at solo travelers with respect, not pity, and that’s how people were looking at me. And if they are entertaining judgmental thoughts, what does it matter? I’ll never see them again. The more time I spent on the road alone, the stronger my self-confidence grew.”
“I’m Scared Because I Didn’t Know When I Tried To Solo Travel I’d End Up Wanting To Never Live A Life Without It”
Fear is a natural part of solo travel, but sometimes that fear is about what happens when you go home. Traveling alone changes your life, and you come back a different, more experienced person each time. Huffington Post travel writer Sahaj Kohli said her biggest fear about travel is never being satisfied at home.
“I’m scared because I didn’t know when I tried to solo travel I’d end up wanting to never live a life without it. I fear I’m not cut out for the traditional life my bicultural roots expect of me. I’m scared that by declaring that and choosing something unconventional it means I’m de-prioritizing my family and choosing less time with my aging parents and with my growing nephews,” she wrote. “I’m scared my life of travel means I’m only destined for transient relationships, even though I know I’ve built lifelong ones. I’m afraid with every trip I take I’ll grow further and further apart from those I hold dear to my heart, and I worry that choosing a life of solo travel makes me selfish.”
“She Commended Me For My Gumption To See The World Alone While I’m Young”
Venus Wong, a travel contributor for Refinery29, took the birthday trip of a lifetime – but she took it by herself. Wong shipped off to Salzburg and couldn’t have predicted that celebrating her birthday alone would be far from lonely.
“The idea of dining alone on my birthday didn’t intimidate me,” she wrote. “But, to my surprise, I was seated in the middle of a huge Israeli family of 20 who, as luck would have it, have came to the Mozart concert to fête the family matriarch’s 75th birthday. As soon as I mentioned that I happened to share the same birthday, the whole family made sure that I felt included in all the ensuing cake-and-song hoopla. As the songs played, my elderly birthday twin grabbed my hand, and we had a sweet exchange where she commended me for my gumption to see the world alone while I’m young.”
“Solo Travel Is Actually Perfect On The Day You’re Supposed To Matter The Most”
Wong maintains the fact that a solo trip is the perfect birthday celebration. You get to celebrate you with the person who matters most – you! Wong spent her trip wandering through the meaningful historic sites that she wanted to wander through. For one moment, she lived for herself and herself alone.
“In my past vacations with boyfriends, family, or my squad, I’ve always taken it upon myself to be the ‘planner’ of the group: I like to know that we’d be doing a certain number of things to satisfy everyone, and either no one else cared to put in the effort, or they simply had a different approach to travel,” she wrote. “Now that I was alone, I didn’t have to worry about adhering to someone’s bedtime, annoying them with my Insta-posing, or their potential disinterest in things that I want to check off my list. That freedom was the ultimate birthday treat.”
“Of Course There Were Difficult Moments”
Solo travel isn’t always fun. You’re always going to run into some sort of a problem or let-down. To have a successful solo trip, you’ve got to roll with the punches, which is exactly what Venus Wong did when some of the key things she planned turned out to be a total bust.
“The singalong bus tour ended up being somewhat of a letdown, since it was pouring and the tour guide did not have Von Trapp-worthy pipes; It took way longer to navigate from point A to B on my own; Some of the sights I wanted to see were already full. But, I couldn’t help but give props to myself for confronting one of my biggest anxieties head on — I’ve not only matured another year, but I was able to check a destination off my travel bucket list in a really meaningful way,” she said.