A female friend of mine, who has traveled extensively but usually in the company of family or others, recently remarked that she didn’t feel brave enough to travel alone.
Having traveled a lot on my own myself, especially in my younger days, and never feeling particularly threatened by it, I realize that single women may have a different perspective: Safety issues, getting hassled by unwanted attention, perhaps dealing with creeps who think they can take advantage of you, having to dine alone, and so on.
So I thought this would be a good time to reprise a post that first appeared more than a year ago, with a dozen tips for women traveling solo or considering traveling solo for the first time.
Never having traveled as a baby boomer woman myself, I asked my good friend and fellow travel writer Ellen Perlman, who writes a blog called BoldlyGoSolo.com, to pass on a few pointers.
While they pertain to just about any woman traveling solo, a baby boomer woman who is trying solo travel for the first time might find these especially useful:
* Travel light so you can handle everything you brought easily. That way, you won’t struggle to get your luggage onto a train car, up a flight of stairs or into an overhead rack or compartment — or need someone to watch your luggage while you go the restroom. (No one will know you’re wearing the same clothes over and over. You’re traveling alone!)
* Consider taking classes of some sort in the destinations you’ll be visiting – they can combat any loneliness you might feel being on your own all day and they’re generally “safe places.” Most of all, they can be really fun, especially if the subjects are unique to the places you’re going. Think tango lessons in Argentina, French cooking classes in France, olive oil tours in Italy, photo tours in Alaska, bike or winery tours in Northern California, etc.
* Even if you skip the language classes, learn a few words in the language of the country you’re visiting — even if it’s just “please” and “thank you.” That simple act can go a long way toward creating cross-cultural goodwill.
* Talk to shopkeepers, waiters, B&B owners — anyone you encounter. They often are intrigued by women traveling alone and may offer tips and suggestions and extra assistance. (Ellen recalls that when the owner of a restaurant on Vancouver Island saw her sitting alone, he sat down and chatted with her, while a waiter at a restaurant in Austin, Texas, brought her a free dessert just because they struck up a conversation.)
* Do whatever you want to do because the only person you need to please is yourself. Relish the flexibility and opportunity to do whatever you want, change your mind, go left when you were sure you were going to go right. Go shopping for gifts for family and friends, or wander down the aisles of markets to inspect the different foods and brands in a country — whatever strikes your fancy.
* Practice street smarts much as you would in your own home town. If you’re going out after dark and don’t know the area, take taxis (that is, if taxis are considered safe in the country you’re visiting!). Try not to look like a tourist, with a camera around your neck and your map out. Know the local cultural norms so you can blend in a bit (not that you ever will entirely).
* Do your research before heading out so you’re familiar with things you want to see and won’t waste time with your head in your guidebook once you get there.
* If you’re traveling alone because you can’t find someone to go with you, but you do like company, consider group tours: windjammer cruises, white water rafting, biking or hiking trips, or staying at a horse ranch, where you eat at family style tables and meet people. (Ellen notes that she went to Club Med alone once and met a friend who she was in touch with for a decade afterwards.) Some guided tours and themed cruises are specifically aimed toward singles.
* If you do take a regular guided tour, call and ask for the ratio of solo travelers to couples who are signed up. Although you might be just fine going with all couples, it may be more comfortable to know that others in the group are also traveling alone. (If you’re a very early booker, this may not work!) If you want to save money, many tour companies will waive the single supplement if you’re willing to room with another woman traveling alone — they’ll pair you up if you’re both agreeable to it.
* Remember that solo does not equal “loser.” Married women often travel solo because their husbands don’t like to do the same things or go the same places they do. (Keep an eye out for couples sitting together sullenly because they’ve been fighting or are tired of traveling together and remember how lucky you are not to have to deal with that!)
* Understand that you will be apprehensive about setting out, particularly if you’re going to a new place. Perhaps extremely apprehensive. Ellen says it happens to her every time, after years of travel — yet as soon as she gets to her destination, the feelings of apprehension go away.
* Know that you can deal with most anything that comes up. Because you can. Just the way you do at home.
Thanks once again to Ellen Perlman for these insightful tips, and don’t forget to check out her entertaining blog.