She was afraid of heights but she was much more afraid of never flying.
When I’m talking to a female friend or colleague about a trip I’m planning, one of the first questions she asks is whether my husband is going with me. When I say I’m going on my own, her next question is often, “Aren’t you afraid to go by yourself?”
Maybe I was the first time I traveled on my own. Sometimes, I still am. But fear won’t stop me from having a solo adventure. My travels have taken me from Victoria to Inuvik to St. John’s, to Ireland, Mexico, Uruguay, Japan and China. I’ve learned that the fascinating people I’m going to meet, the rich experiences I’m going to have, and the discoveries I’ll make about myself along the way far outweigh my fears.
Then again, I don’t launch myself towards a new destination without doing my homework. Over the years, I’ve developed strategies that reduce my fear, and keep me feeling safe, confident, and prepared to enjoy the journey ahead. Here are a few you can consider trying.
1) Choose your independent travel comfort level.
Travelling alone can have different definitions. For some women, it means not being accompanied by a spouse or friend on the journey but joining a friend or family member at the destination. Others extend solo travel to meeting a group of new friends with whom they’ll travel throughout the vacation, while others stay with a group for only part of the time before taking off on their own. Some women travel independently from start to finish. Jump into solo travel at the level that feels right for you.
2) For totally independent travel, choose a destination you can manage on your own.
Elizabeth Gilbert, of Eat, Pray, Love fame, flung herself into Italy, India, and Indonesia after her divorce. If that’s too much for you (and, during our current COVID crisis, not that advisable or doable), try for a destination closer to home, maybe a day trip from wherever you live. My first solo trip was on a bus to Calgary, 180 kilometers south of my Edmonton home, to visit my sister. As I developed self- confidence, I travelled further, and stayed away longer.
3) Research your destination thoroughly.
Right now, traveling closer to home is more desirable for most people. If you’re new to solo travel, you can view this as less of a limitation and more of an opportunity to practise some of the strategies you’ll need once travel to more far flung places opens up again.
After you’ve decided where to go, find out everything you can about the destination. You can start with official travel and tourism guides and websites, but try tapping into the insights of bloggers who live where you’re going. They often share the hidden gems of their hometowns – local festivals, great breakfast spots, and shops you’d never find on your own. Also, have a look at the grandmother of all websites for women travelling independently – Journeywoman.com. It’s loaded with informative articles on every aspect of solo travel, and you can use their search engine to discover women’s recommendations for where to go, where to eat, what to bring, and how to dress at your Destination.
4) Know how to connect with others.
Some women fear the prospect of feeling lonely on the road. Yes, you may have times when you crave the comfort and conversation of a traveling companion. Of course, you can minimize loneliness by joining up with a group who share one of your interests. But even if you decide to travel totally on your own, you’ll be surprised by the people you meet along the way if you’re open to having conversations with them. I like to maximize these opportunities by staying in bed and breakfasts or guest homes, rather than hotels; by returning several times to the same restaurant so the owners get to know me; and by going to events where I have the chance to chat to the locals.
5) Learn how to eat alone.
Some women are fearful of requesting a table for one in a restaurant. They believe that everyone is looking at them and feeling sorry for their lack of companionship.
I learned long ago that most people are too self-absorbed to give much, if any, thought to a woman sitting by herself at a restaurant. If they do, they may even be envying your freedom and self confidence.
If you’re wondering how to replace mealtime conversation, you can take along a book, relive your day by scanning the photos you took or writing in a journal, or make plans for what to do next. Because I’m also a travel blogger, my favorite mealtime activity is to absorb the sights, smells, tastes, and sounds of wherever I’m eating so I can write about them later.
6) Have a plan for staying safe and healthy on the road.
It’s important to think about how to handle your safety and health when you’re heading off on your own. Find out how independent women travellers are viewed in the country you’re visiting, and how to behave to avoid unwanted attention. Try to arrange to arrive at your destination during the day. It makes getting oriented to your new surroundings a lot easier. For day trips, let someone know where you’re going and when you plan to return. Avoid areas that the locals advise against visiting. Research scams aimed at travellers. Carry a card that has the address of your accommodation written on it in case you get lost.
Remember that traveling can be tiring, both physically and mentally. Build in rest days and get enough sleep. Eat and drink wisely. Find out how to contact an English-speaking doctor before you need one. And if you need help, ask a local woman.
Like so many other new experiences, independent travel can inspire fear because you’re testing your limits by stepping into unknown territory. Doing your research and having a plan to address the “what ifs” of solo travel will allay your fears, and free you to enjoy discovering new places, new people, and a whole new confidence in yourself.