As the resident travel editor here at Camille Styles, I’ve come to embrace solo travel. By March of 2020, I’ll have visited 7 different countries on my own. One of the most common questions I get (besides “Can I have your job?”) is “Are you scared?” The answer to that is yes. Sometimes.
I’ve learned that there are real dangers for women traveling alone — physical, emotional, financial — and I’ve been lucky enough to escape a few shady situations relatively unscathed.
But I’ve also found that if you’re smart and prepared, solo travel doesn’t have to be scary for women. It can be liberating, confidence-building, inspiring, and most of all fun. My solo trips to Mexico and Indonesia were times of massive personal growth for me. I came back changed, in a good way. But I also came back in one piece. Scroll down to see how.
featured image by jenn rose smith
image by kristen kilpatrick
Make female friends first.
Other women are your allies, especially on the road. Pursue friendships with women before anything else. These friendships will provide you with the healthy balance you need before entering into other adventures like dating, hiking off grid, and exploring the area. If you need to ask for directions or help, look for a woman first, a couple second, and a man as a last resort. One of my favorite ways for making new friends is on a trip is finding someone attempting to take a selfie, and offer to take the photo for them. Follow it up with a quick, “Where are you from?” If they seem open to chatting, great. If not, try again with someone else.
When it comes to dating, use even stricter standards than you would at home.
It’s all too easy to bend standards and make exceptions when it comes to dating when traveling alone. You’re in “vacation mode,” “what happens there stays there” etc. This is almost never a good idea.
You’re extra vulnerable when traveling solo — both physically and emotionally.
That’s why it’s a good idea to develop that platonic friend base before getting romantically involved with anyone. You’ll want to introduce that person to your friends, be wary of spending too much time together too fast, keep your life balanced — the exact same way you would be at home. When you’re in a romantic environment, on the beach somewhere fabulous, it’s very easy to be swept away with a new romance. Whatever happens, do not let yourself become isolated socially with just one person. I’m here to tell you that when you’re sitting at a bar alone, wearing a back pack, it is OPEN SEASON for grifters, con artists, and jerks. They’re very good at what they do, and they set up shop in vacation spots precisely because there’s an endless stream of easy prey. If someone is pressuring you to move too fast — move in together, get married, buy a piece of property — take a big step back. You can still date and be open to romance, just proceed with even more caution than you would at home.
image by kristen kilpatrick
Watch your alcohol intake.
Not only is it awful to nurse a hangover by yourself, with no Gatorade in sight, it’s also dangerous to over drink while traveling alone. You’re depending on yourself for directions, possibly driving, making it to the airport to catch the next flight. You may also be around strangers and new friends you don’t know that well yet. You can completely eliminate a LOT of stress and danger by simply not drinking on your trip. If you do chose to drink, do so in moderation, and make sure you have a solid plan in place for how to get home safely.
image by kristen kilpatrick
Rent your own wheels.
If there’s any way you can muster the courage, I highly recommend renting your own car or motorbike when traveling alone. Even a bicycle will work. Not only does it build confidence, it opens up so much freedom for exploring the area. It also ensures that you can immediately exit any situation that doesn’t feel right.
Learn to embrace solitude, but don’t neglect your relationships back home.
Learning how to be alone is one of the greatest gifts of solo travel. It’s an important life skill you’ll probably need again at some point down the road of life.
The irony is that when you’re comfortable being alone, and can even enjoy being alone, you’ll really never feel lonely.
That said, it’s very important to work to maintain your relationships back home. Keep up with your friends on Instagram and WhatsApp, email your parents daily, send regular updates to friends back home. Not only is it good to keep a lifeline going, they’ll appreciate and enjoy sharing your journey with you. And when you get back home, it will be like you never left.
image by ashleigh amoroso
For crying out loud, let your Dad track your iPhone.
I know, I know. It’s invasive and annoying to know that someone else can see exactly how many times you went to the smoothie place in one day. But it’s really important to let someone back home have access to your phone location. It can be a parent, a friend, anyone you trust. But make sure and set up location sharing before you leave on your trip.
Learn to rely on yourself for directions.
I’m not trying to play into stereotypes, but let’s face it — men DO have a way of taking the reins on navigation. If you’re used to spacing out while someone else does the map work for you, you’re going to need to learn how to navigate for yourself. It’s actually fun and gives you a better sense of the area. I love maps, and even draw little homemade maps to take with me when I’m out exploring. They make great souvenirs. If you don’t want to use your data plan for maps in your phone while you’re abroad, there IS a workaround. You can download and save a map on your phone, then turn data off. You won’t be able to see your own location on the map, but the screenshot can serve you the same way a paper map would.
Download the XE Currency app.
Dealing with foreign currency can be confusing and stressful — not to mention an easy way to get ripped off. I rely heavily on the XE Currency app, which provides up-to-date exchange rates for currencies all over the world. Personally, I prefer ATMs over currency exchange booths. But use extreme caution around ATMs — be on the lookout for robbers and make sure to get your card out of the machine when you’re done. It’s a good idea to go in pairs to the machine if you can.
image by buff strickland
Don’t pack more than you can carry yourself.
Imagine me lugging a full sized AWAY suitcase, two backpacks, and a tripod across a beach in the Gili Islands while an amused crowd of locals looked on. I’m not sure which was greater — my embarrassment or the comedy of the situation. Of course there is almost always some kind person willing to jump in and help, but do yourself a favor and don’t pack more than you can carry. It will make those hard airport days (and everything in between) so much easier. You may have to part with your hair dryer or those 5 extra just-in-case outfits, but trust me it’s worth it.
Never ignore your instincts.
As a woman you have a strong set of instincts. It’s nature’s cool way of protecting you against danger. If something doesn’t feel right — someone is pressuring you for money, a stray dog seems scary, you find yourself in a neighborhood that just doesn’t feel right — stop what you’re doing and remove yourself from the situation immediately. Don’t worry about social graces. Your instincts trump everything. Learn to recognize them, never ignore them, and always remember that you’re your own protector out there on the road. If you can do that, you’ll find yourself having nothing but fun on your solo adventure. Happy travels.