Going it alone – solo travel for women

Have you had a holiday this year? If you haven’t because times are hard and money tight, fair enough. If it’s because you didn’t have anyone to go with, read on. Travelling alone can be a truly liberating experience.

How to start
If you want to throw yourself into a week’s holiday somewhere hot, go for it. However, if that idea is less than appealing, start small. Get on a train and go to a new city for the day. You can go back to the station and return home any time you like. Just have a look around. Go to the tourist information centre and see what looks interesting. If you’re used to travelling with others the ability to decide exactly where you want to go and how long to spend there can be strange and novel but is, to my mind, the best thing about exploring solo. Treat yourself to a decent lunch too. If you can eat an evening meal on your own in a good restaurant, you’re ready for anything – and remember, it isn’t cheating to take a book. I did loads of these before I had a night in a hotel on my own so remember to take it at your own pace. If you’re not enjoying yourself, go home, it’s meant to be fun!

Staying in a hotel by yourself can be strange, particularly as hotel staff sometimes don’t know how to treat you. I’ve travelled along on business and no-one bats an eyelid, but turn up in jeans and they seem to get a bit confused. That said, I’ve never met with anything other than politeness, so respond in kind.

Will I be safe?
It’s a sad reality that lone women can be a target (and lone men, for that matter), but I’m not going to give you advice on how to be scared, or patronise you with safety tips. When you’re unused to travelling alone you’re going to have a heightened awareness of your surrounding anyway. Just remember to keep your valuables out of sight and if you don’t feel safe, move on. If you’re particularly concerned about stumbling into a dodgy part of town unawares, seek guidance from tourist information. I’ve travelled alone to Buenos Aires and the authorities there are extremely solicitous in ensuring that tourists stay away from the scarier parts of town.

Will I be lonely?
The main drawback when you’re travelling alone is the lack of a companion to share the experience and discuss it with you at the end of another eventful day. I can’t make you any guarantees, but there are certainly ways of avoiding being alone or feeling isolated. Your experience will, in part, depend upon where you go. If your accent matches your location, people are less likely to speak to you. You might just be out shopping or taking in a museum in your home town. In those circumstances, the onus will fall on you to strike up conversation. It doesn’t have to be anything significant; a comment on the weather, a particularly attractive painting or an enquiry about some delicious looking food can be enough. The further you are from home, the more people are likely to talk to you. In my experience, the setting doesn’t seem to matter. I’ve had just as many friendly chats in posh restaurants as I have in the common area of a B&B. It can also be a great way to gather ideas for your next trip; if you meet someone from another country, ask them where they would recommend you go and what there is to do there.

What will people think?
This can be a huge issue and your age doesn’t necessarily matter. If you’re young your parents will worry, if you’re older it may be your children. Your friends might think you’ve lost your marbles. In the end, it’s up to you. If those close to you have legitimate concerns, listen and consider what you can do to address them. Depending upon your personal circumstances there will always be practical issues to consider. My own expeditions have been curtailed by a young family but it isn’t impossible. When I was younger my Mum became quite blasé about me flitting off to London or Scotland on my own. I also once planned a solo trip to visit family in Scotland and ended up taking my Dad with me! Mum did worry a bit more when I announced I was off to Argentina, but regular text messages helped to put her mind at ease. You could also use Skype, or just post regular photo updates to social media so that everyone back home can see that you’re fine and having a great holiday.

There is always the possibility that their worries aren’t grounded in logic and they’re simply concerned about what other people will say. I have always adopted a policy of ignoring those people, but it can be easier said than done. At some level, people will talk. Thankfully I have never been on the receiving end of anything but admiration and encouragement. However, if you feel that being the subject of gossip is going to be an insurmountable problem, solo travel may not be for you. All I can suggest is that you try a few days out and see how it goes. You may be surprised. I know that I would rather have the experiences that I’ve had than sit at home worrying about whether others approve. All of my solo adventures have come from times in my life where I needed a break and didn’t have anyone else to go with or couldn’t countenance hanging around waiting for others to commit to the venture.

How will I feel?
I realise that I have asked a huge question here. Of course, how you feel will depend on who you are, where you go and what you do. I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great days out and holidays, some with friends and family and some on my own. The freedom that comes from being able to decide your location and set your own itinerary is life changing. I have learnt a lot both from spending time in my own company and with people from other places and I’ve taken on challenges that I didn’t know I was capable of. I have also found that the effects find their way into my daily life when I have returned home. I am brave, adventurous and decisive (OK, not all the time) and find that a journey alone reminds me of the person that I am capable of being. I have taken risks and occasionally done stupid things, but there is no-one else there to see. Most importantly, I have learnt from those things. There may be times that you’re scared or wonder what on earth you’ve taken on. For me, those times are vastly outweighed by the good memories.

Solo travel might not be for everyone, but if you’re in the slightest bit tempted, give it a go. You won’t regret it.