Written by Courtney Bowen at travelcuts
Solo Women Travellers
Travelling solo as a woman has provided me with some of life’s best experiences! I recently turned thirty and have been fortunate to have travelled to over 30 countries, since getting my passport in 2006 – 12 years ago. In this time, I have travelled in duo’s or trio’s, with small groups of women and friends or singularly. I can honestly say I’ve rarely felt in danger, out of place or on edge in any of those travels.
Learnings of Solo Travel
You are guaranteed to learn a great deal through travelling, both in groups and solo. Travellers become more conscious of the world in terms of cultural differences and habits, politics, art, culture and history. I’ve made international acquaintances or friends along the way through many happy, random and interesting encounters. Once when I was overseas during Christmas 2006, I was feeling a bit homesick and had no plans for any festivities. I decided to go (solo) to the Baltic countries – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and ended up meeting two Australians in a Lithuanian hostel. That evening was spent bar-hopping around the capital city, Vilnius; a memorable Christmas after-all!
I’ve felt incredibly happy to be in a memorable moment by myself as a woman, travelling solo, as well as sharing memories with travellers I’ve met along the way. I would never discourage travelling solo, in fact, I think it’s a very good life lesson that everyone should partake in. There are however, some countries I would suggest are better than others, for women travelling solo and I also have some advice to share, that I’ve learned through my own travel experiences.
Trusting Your Instincts
The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is to trust my instincts (or to go with your gut feeling). In many instances, I’ve felt like my natural instincts have guided me through situations, when I’ve needed it most.
When I was living in Russia in 2006, I had just visited a friend in a suburb of the city I wasn’t familiar with. After the visit she walked me to a bus stop and said this was the bus I needed to get home on. This was in 2006, so my mobile phone could text and call…and that was about it – no Google maps etc! Once on the bus, I realised I didn’t know what stop I needed to get off at. It was dark and late at night and I couldn’t see any landmarks to get my bearings. In my limited Russian I tried to ask where the nearest bus stop to my street was, but either my Russian was particularly bad, or other passengers weren’t sure either. Admittedly I had started to really worry that I would end up in a Russian gulag, in the middle of nowhere on a cold winters’ night. Suddenly, I had a strong feeling to hop off at the next stop, which I did, and I realised with a sigh of relief, that is was the exact stop I needed.
Booking Ahead and Group Tours
Booking ahead really will save you money. It also saves you the stress of arriving at your destination and finding that everything is already booked out! I’m personally not great at this, but I explain why, further on!
Travelling in an organised group guarantees you lock in almost exactly what you want from your travel experience (destinations and theme or style). In addition the tours include the added security and comfort of a tour guide, meals, accommodation, and a list of activities with firm start and end dates. I’ve travelled just the once with an organised group tour; trekking 50km’s in Iceland, was one of my best life experiences!
Research, Spontaneity and Local Help
I tend to make up my own itinerary based on places I’ve read about or heard about. Visiting friends and relatives is another reason. Once I’ve heard about something I research it as much as possible. I don’t like suffering from FOMO! Once I’m on the road, I like to travel with a guidebook in my hand and with room for spontaneity!
Sometimes knowing a local, or befriending a local can be beneficial! Apart from travel advice and tips, they may also be able to assist with accommodation and help you save even more! In 2014 when I was in Germany, my German friend booked me train tickets, which saved me about half the price I would have paid as a tourist. As a result, I had a very affordable, six-hour brilliantly scenic, rail journey from Munich in the south of Germany to Venice in Italy. A rail journey I’d strongly recommend.
Remain open to fellow traveller tips and advice to help inspire your next leg of the journey. I had an incredible experience when I took a 24hr train ride to Urumqi in far north- western China, in 2006, based on a guidebook and fellow traveller advice. In another instance I found myself in Switzerland, with nothing more than a list of places that I had heard of, that I couldn’t miss. Those five days, turned out to be my most favourite and memorable travel days in all my travels (despite the expense).
Ingredients of Travel
To describe the components of my travels as a percentage ratio, it would be 40% research, 30% transit, 20% atypical adventuring and 10% typical tourist sightseeing. I love to be the only foreigner amongst locals, for that added sense of adventure, hand-signalling, translation fun and unique, authentic and memorable, local experiences. I do love The Arts and music and Europe has a wonderful offering when it comes to both of those interests. Seeing iconic cultural attractions (such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, in Italy) can be a wonderful, bucket-list ticking experience. Unfortunately, I have found, it can often be an underwhelming experience, as a result of the attraction becoming a money-making tourist trap.
Flexibility with Transport
Aim to spend as little time at airports as possible. Once I arrive in a new country or continent I focus on ground based travel. You quickly get over airport chaos, delays, lines, customs and squishy flights. I prefer scenic travel even if it means long journeys via car, train, boat or bus. Plus! I’m Australian, so I need to add a day of flight transit on to any trip I do, no matter where I’m travelling to – hence the 30% transit percentage. Of course, being flexible with transport is only an option if you have the time. Being flexible in the case of an unexpected change of plans is also a great thing to keep in mind.
When I was in Switzerland in 2016, my next destination was Milan in Italy, as my flight to end my Europe trip left from Milan. I had agreed to meet and stay with a cousin near Lake Como – however, at the last minute, the plans fell through! I found myself with a day and a night and nothing booked! I ended up booking a bus ticket with a train connection to Milan that day and booked a bed in a hostel using sketchy WIFI. The journey took eight hours all up, however on the plus side, it was an incredibly scenic and enjoyable, switch-back bus journey, through the Swiss Alps down into vineyard covered Italy. As an added sweetener, when I arrived at the Swiss-Italian border, I technically didn’t have a train ticket from the border to Milan. Some friendly locals said, not to worry! The train will be delayed, because the Italian train drivers’ will be late and then they will apologise and give you free transit to Milan. And that’s exactly what happened! The best, unexpected, itinerary change.
Countries of Choice for Women Travelling Solo
So, I’ve mentioned a few destinations here. My favourite destinations may not be everyone’s cup of tea! However, when taking into account my personal safety, value for money, friendliness of local people and convenience of transiting to and from attractions, I would consider the following five destinations, great options for women travelling solo:
• The Baltic countries – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia
If you enjoyed reading this and feel inspired, or need additional traveller advice, please get in touch with our travelcuts team!