Completely unimaginable? Five female solo travelers prove it’s totally doable!

Completely unimaginable? Five female solo travelers prove it’s totally doable!

On our trips throughout the world we met many solo travelers, and to our surprise the majority of them were women. If you haven’t traveled alone before you might now be thinking about danger, loneliness and boredom, but clearly there must also be good reasons for why women travel alone. In fact on the Internet you can find a fair bit of information about the advantages and disadvantages, about planing, packing, equipment, safety and “proper behavior” of women traveling alone.

But I wanted to learn first hand about the motivation and experiences of female solo travelers, so I prepared 10 questions and spoke with five of the solo female travelers whom Bojidar and I met along the way. I asked them to share with me and with all readers of 1001 Unforgettable Trips some details about their trips, their hopes and fears, strengths and limitations, pressure and expectations, lessons learned, and finally their thoughts about how traveling alone has changed them.

Please note that even though these women may seem heroic at first, they are just like you and me, but they had the guts to “just do it.” They listened to their hearts, started traveling and even got addicted to it.

So here we go! I am very happy to first present to you Lisa, Eliška, Susan, Mirjam and Marlene and after that their answers to my 10 questions.

Lisa from Germany (25 years old):

Traveling has always being my passion and since I was a child I always wanted to travel the world. After my Bachelor in Social Science in 2011 I decided to do some work and travel for about a year. After a year of traveling I kind of got addicted to it and I kept traveling for almost another year. But after two years I had to go back to reality and since then I am doing my Masters in Criminology. Every now and then I still get itchy feet — that’s why I try to do as many weekend trips as possible. After my Masters I want to travel again. By now I have been to Norway, Denmark, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, U.S., Mexico, Cuba, Portugal, Spain, Netherlands, France, Austria, … basically most of Europe. My next destinations will be Australia and New Zealand!

Lisa Norway

Eliška from the Czech Republic (40 years old):

I am a secondary teacher of English and have mainly taught abroad combining my profession with my love of traveling. I first left home when I was 18 and went to England with the intention to learn English. This was the start to my ‘gypsy’ life and I have lived and been to many different countries since. Even though most of the countries were Western world countries I have always looked for remote destinations and adventures to enjoy. I have done many hikes and mountaineering trips on my own carrying all my food and equipment. I love nature and observing the wildlife. As I said before I am a sociable person too and do not like to miss any opportunity of having a good time with other people. 

Eliška Ecuador

Susan from Germany (34 years old)

I am Susan, and I am writing to you from the historic town of Dunedin in New Zealand. I am living and working here because I got a job offer to manage a hostel (how great is that! 😉 ). I am open towards nearly everything and have always been curious about cultures, different ways of life and food. Well I guess thanks to my studies in tourism management this interest has become even more pronounced over the past years. Besides traveling I love to dance and to socialize. To make people laugh, to laugh myself, and to embrace moments is very important to me.

Susan New Zealand

Mirjam from Switzerland (21 years old)

I have been working and traveling for the last two years and eventually had to return Zurich to start my studies in social work. Other than traveling I spend my free time with cooking, singing, dancing, painting and … my bicycle! I love my bicycle like I do love my friends 🙂 . I really like spontaneity, and I couldn’t live without laughing… ;). I really like the Swiss alps, the famous Swiss cheese and my dear friends, but I would leave for a trip every time I could in order to discover knew places in the world. Usually I travel with my friend(s) or my sister, but just recently I made my first experiences traveling alone (in South America).

Mirjam Ecuador

Marlene from Germany (25 years old)

Traveling is my “life”. I like to bump into new people and new characters, and to experience their life. I finished my studies last August. After that I worked a little bit and in October last year I started my trip through South America. My plan was to travel to Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru and then back home. At the moment I am in Panama and just got rid of my guide book. I am now trying to travel simply with recommendations. I don’t know yet what my next plans are and where I will go next. If you like follow my world trip on my blog (in german).

Marlene

Which destinations have you visited alone and for how long? Was it a backpacking trip?

  • Lisa: I have been traveling on my own to Norway, Canada (B.C., Ontario, Nova Scotia and Alberta), the U.S. (Alaska, Washington, San Francisco and New York), Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands and Ireland. Most of it was a backpack trip.
  • Eliška: My last trip where I went alone was three weeks in Ecuador. It was a backpacking trip. I even carried a tent with me the whole time but unfortunately did not use it once.
  • Susan: I’ve done many trips on my own, and almost all of them were backpacking trips. My longest trip alone was a one year backpacking trip in New Zealand (with a working holiday visa, so I was also working ;)). For two months a traveled through Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria, and for another 2 months I traveled through Australia. Other shorter trips were to Japan and South Korea, and to England for a couple of weeks. Oh, and I also spent one month in Russia (St. Petersburg) with a language program and two weeks in Paris but even though I took my backpack they don’t really count as backpacking trips ;).
  • Mirjam: Traveling through South America was my first time really traveling alone. After finishing a one month long social project in the tropical City of Puyo in Ecuador I traveled through Ecuador for two weeks visiting Baños, Latacunga/ Quilotoa and Quito as well as its nearby villages Otavalo and Cotacachi. Afterwards I flew to Buenos Aires, Argentina. I decided for flying because my time was limited and it was very important to me to have plenty of time to spend in Argentina, otherwise I would have preferred to travel through Peru and Bolivia via busses. In Argentina I had a great time in Buenos Aires, then went to the famous Iguazu Falls, to Cordoba and westwards to Mendoza. From there I went south to Bariloche and finally back to Buenos Aires, from where I flew back home to Switzerland. The whole trip took me one and a half months and the whole journey was a backpack trip.
  • Marlene: My first travel experience was Australia in 2010. I traveled the east coast for two month from Cairns down to Adelaide. It was my first time traveling alone with a big backpack and in a foreign country, so I booked many tours to get around Australia. This was a very expensive trip, but still amazing. The other trips I did were always with my best friend – so that doesn’t count. Now that I have finished studying I am pursuing my dream to travel through South America. I have thought about this the whole time during my studies and decided to come here for a year.

What was your main motivation to travel alone?

  • Lisa: I decided to travel on my own because I thought it would be great to challenge myself and figure out how much I can achieve just be myself. After experiencing how great it is to be fully independent and being just responsible for myself, I realized that traveling on my own is my definition of freedom.
  • Eliška: For me it was mainly that I had no one else to travel with. All my good friends did not have time off work or were busy with something else or could not afford to travel. So, the decision came to travel alone.
  • Susan: I find it more and more harder to find someone to travel with in terms of expectations and ways of traveling. Also it is easier to get in touch with other travelers and locals if you are by yourself. On the other hand I also like to make adventures and share new experiences with friends.
  • Mirjam: I didn’t plan to travel alone. But no one I would have liked to travel with had time to join me. But that didn’t stop me though, and I just went on my own.
  • Marlene: The reason for me was that I wanted to change myself (something bad happened in the past) and I needed to try to figure out what it is that I want for my future. Another reason was and is that I want to live my life the way I want to because it is too short to waste it.

Lisa(Lisa in action)

Were you scared? Were your friends and family worried about you?

  • Lisa: I guess my mum is sometimes worried about me being so far away and on my own, but I think that’s normal. 😉 Of course I was scared at the beginning, worrying about feeling lonely and not being able to share my upcoming experiences with me beloved. But after being on the road for a while you start forgetting about this worries and just live in the moment (sounds cheese, I know. But that’s the truth!)
  • Eliška: My family stopped worrying about me when I was 18 and hitchhiked across England on my own. When my mum found out she decided that she mustn’t worry about me otherwise she will grow old prematurely. Well, that is a little bit of a joke, but I think that they do not worry much as I have lived abroad for many years and traveled alone around places and countries. I was a little bit scared at the airport in Mexico City where I got stuck for four hours in Terminal 1 and needed to transfer to Terminal 2. As no trains and busses operate between midnight and 5am I had a few options to get to T2. Since I had no Mexican pesos I decided to walk. This probably was not the best choice considering it was 2am and I was obviously a tourist and a foreigner with blue eyes and fair hair. After 15min of fast walking and meeting many strange looks along with strange people offering me a ride I decided to turn back, exchange some money and pay for the overpriced taxi ride. Looking back I kind of regret I gave in as it would have been a sort of achievement and a satisfaction for me that I did not have to pay the horrible taxi companies that run the show at the airport at that time of the day/night. I think I was a little scared of pickpockets the first time I traveled on the public transport in Quito, mainly because they warn you about them in all the guidebooks. But this feeling did not last past the first bus ride. As I got used to traveling on the busses even though I remained cautious and looked after my belongings I was not scared as such.
  • Susan: No, never scared ;). Every one else is always more concerned about me than I am.
  • Mirjam: I wasn’t really scared. I was rather excited and curious of what’s expecting me. I think my family was more excited for than worried about me. But I think a few friends were worried about me.
  • Marlene: My first travel experience was pretty easy and safe, because Australia is a nice place to learn English and to travel on your own. I began to like it so much that I started to travel during my vacations while I was studying. I was in Sri Lanka, Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Europe, Ecuador, Colombia and Panama. My friends always seem to be a bit jealous: „Oh Marlene, how much money do you have, bla bla bla“. My dad always said “I don’t want you to go to Muslim countries or any countries where drugs play a big role”. As a matter of fact I like to go to places of which  everybody thinks they are too dangerous or impossible to travel to, and you know why? Because it’s not true! The best example is Colombia.

Did you feel unsafe during your trip(s)?

  • Lisa: No, I didn’t. I mean I had some experiences that weren’t so nice, but they never stopped me from keeping on traveling.
  • Eliška: Traveling around the country I was not scared at all. But in all honesty I usually met someone to talk to or to travel with. There are many travelers around South America, and it is highly likely that one will meet someone also traveling alone or a group of people and then join them for a little bit, a trip, a few days. That is what happened to me. Even though traveling alone I really never was alone and always met someone to enjoy the trip with. I am quite a sociable person, and welcomed and enjoyed the company of others.
  • Susan: In general not, only very few situations, where I mostly got myself into ;). My general approach towards people is that I believe in the good in them and I am mostly fine with that.
  • Mirjam: There were just two situations I didn’t feel safe. The first one was when I arrived in Quito. The reason why I didn’t feel safe was that I heard a lot of crazy things about this city, many people warned me of being alone and that I should pay attention. But when I was there I felt perfectly safe and I had nothing to worry about. The second time I got robbed at the Iguazu Falls and I felt unsafe for a little while. But the situation made me stronger, and I still (or even though) continued my trip.
  • Marlene: The only time I was scared was when I was sitting in a lancha (span. word for a small boat) from Turbo to Capurgana in Colombia. But of course there are other moments, like when you stand at the border to another country and feel uncomfortable because you don’t know if you can go across.

Eliška(Eliška in action)

Did you behave differently during the trip than at home? If so, how?

  • Lisa: No, I don’t think so. I even think that I am more open-minded and ready to take a risk while I am traveling, because I always think that I don’t want to miss out on any experience.
  • Eliška: I do not think so. I think I was pretty much myself. I went out even on my own and had a drink as I would at home, went for dinners, talked to people in pubs, cafes. I met an owner of one café who became a very good friend. He has a little café in Quito and interestingly he was really worried about me traveling alone. He gave me his number and contact details and said I must call him if anything happens. Well, I had to visit him when I got back to let him know I was ok, and he was so happy to see me. I tried to meet locals and asked them about life in Ecuador. In some ways I was probably more open to meeting people and snatching opportunities more than I would be at home, where one has a circle of friends and a family and might not be as interested to look beyond it.
  • Susan: No.
  • Mirjam: This is difficult to answer. Probably a little bit. I think one point was the different language (Spanish), because of which I expressed myself in a different way and couldn’t transport the same humour than in my home country. Another point was a totally different daily rhythm. In Ecuador for example the sun sets every day more or less at 6 pm, so I ate dinner and went to bed very early. In Argentina it was totally different again: the locals eat dinner much later, between 10 and 12 pm, and there were a lot of parties and other invitations, so I never really slept before 1 or 2 am.
  • Marlene: When I am traveling I try to get a good karma, honestly. I believe that everything you do for others or for something – good or bad – will get back to you – good or bad. Every time I come home I know that I’m not the same person anymore. My friends know that too. But it is a good feeling, because I know why I’m traveling.

Did you feel lonely often?

  • Lisa: No, not really. Traveling on your own makes you even more social, because you don’t want to feel lonely. That’s why you start talking to everyone you meet and in the end you are basically never alone. Of course sometimes the whole small talk you are mainly having in Hostels is annoying and I miss talking to my friends about some personal stuff. But sometimes you meet people that you instantly feel really comfortable with and suddenly you tell them everything about you although you barely know them. It might sound crazy, but when are you always changing place every couple of days making friend kind of speeds up a little bit. Under normal circumstances you would never tell someone so much personal stuff about you, but knowing that you only have a few days together you try to make this time really intense. Sometimes I just spent maybe 48 hours with someone, but it nearly broke my heart when we had to say goodbye because I felt like knowing her or him for ages.
  • Eliška:  As I mentioned in one of the previous answers it would actually be hard to count how many hours I spent alone. There was always someone to talk to, to travel with. So I did not feel lonely, sometimes I even needed to go and do something on my own to enjoy the solitude and nature, to think and reflect.
  • Susan: No. Only after leaving special people behind.
  • Mirjam: No, I rarely felt alone and if I did I contacted my family and friends back home right away. Thanks to modern technology it’s possible from almost everywhere.
  • Marlene: I have to admit that I don’t like to be alone on my trips. Usually I travel with my best friend but she is building a house at the moment so she can’t join me this time. Otherwise it is so hard to find a travel buddy for a long period of time. My best friend and I are like sisters, we share everything together. Of course you meet people when you are traveling and everything is so new and exciting. But a person you can travel with is hard to find. Even if you do they might leave early into the trip.

Susan(Susan in action)

7. Did you have any positive or negative experiences which you might not have had if you had a travel partner?

  • Lisa: I had countless positive experiences and I guess there would have been different if I hadn’t been on my own. I made really good couch surfing experiences, slept in a wooden cabin in the middle of the woods in Alaska, met great people while hitch hiking, etc. Of course there were also two negative couch surfing experiences that probably wouldn’t have happened with someone by my side.  But everything turned out fine and every experience is a lesson in life.
  • Eliška: I guess one thing in Ecuador that could be considered a bit ‘annoying’ is if you are a woman traveling alone and obviously a foreigner, the Ecuadorian men will always start asking you questions such as whether you are married, would like to marry and they are almost willing to propose on the spot. Of course I am slightly exaggerating here. But that is one thing that can be a little trying.
  • Susan: I made lots of positive experiences that I most likely wouldn’t have had with a travel partner like (1) sharing meals with strangers who invited me to their grandmothers’ place, (2) hitch-hiking and not only getting a ride but also a place for the night or (3) meeting great travel companions who enriched not only the time we traveled together but also remained friends or at least precious moments.
  • Mirjam: With a travel partner I probably wouldn’t have met so many local people. I think I would have done more climbing in the mountains with a travel partner.
  • Marlene: Oh yes, I always lose my stuff (pants, shampoo, shoes etc.), and I guess that would be different if I traveled with a companion.

8. Did your travels alone change you in any way?

  • Lisa: They made me realize how much I love my independency and it made me more open minded. And I guess I learned a lot about human personality as well.
  • Eliška: Since this was not my first time traveling alone and since I had lived abroad alone (meaning without my family or friends) for many years I cannot say that this trip changed me in any way. Well, one thing, it made me want to learn Spanish.
  • Susan: It certainly made me more open-minded and also more critical (in a way that I come across all sorts of people and hear so many different opinions and views on life, that I started looking at things differently).
  • Mirjam: Through all these friendships and situations I had to face and all these decisions I had to make I grew more self-confident and more open to other people.
  • Marlene: My travels have changed me a lot. After each trip I have this special charisma which other people can see and tell me that I look very differently. I also try to take more interest in other people and their point of view of everything. Furthermore I want to prove to myself that I can do it alone and have to fight in life.

Mirjam(Mirjam in action)

9. What would you recommend to a woman who’s about to start her first trip alone?

  • Lisa: Don’t be scared! Why shouldn’t woman travel on their own? Why should we be more scared than men? That’s all bullshit! Go and experience how strong and independent you are.
  • Eliška: I would say be cautious but not scared. Act confident even if you are not. I think it is always obvious when one is a bit scared and lost. Confidence helps and people stop noticing you if you act like you know what you are doing and what you want. It is important to stay cautious though of course and you should never underestimate a situation. Trust your instincts and your sixth sense. I think women are pretty good at this. It always helps to be able to communicate at least some basic phrases in the language of the particular country you travel to or English. Some people feel safer carrying a pepper spray; I guess it would not hurt to have one (I must confess though that I have never had one). I would mainly say though enjoy it! Traveling alone whether it is one’s own choice or just a matter of circumstances is in the end a very rewarding experience. One meets a lot of interesting people, is one’s own boss in many ways, it is also a good way to see how you cope in certain situations and an opportunity to get to know yourself.
  • Susan: Take every day as it comes, don’t make too many plans. But certainly I would also check and consider which country to travel to, because I would not like to travel to Turkey again all by myself for example.
  • Mirjam: I would recommend to do it and don’t let you be scared from others. But always keep an eye open and dress rather modestly instead of revealing.
  • Marlene: Figure out what you want, what might be expecting you and where your interests are. If you are not sure you might want to travel in your own country first. This way if you are feeling uncomfortable or something bad happens you can always go back home. I did it the opposite way and went as far away as I could and tried to do everything by myself.

10. Which destination(s) would you recommend to women traveling alone?

  • Lisa: Any!
  • Eliška: I can only recommend places I have been to myself or I have heard about from other women traveling alone. South America would be number one for me at the moment. I loved New Zealand and Australia, both highly civilized countries with amazing destinations to visit! Thailand, India, Nepal. Any European country. And really anywhere you want to visit. Just find out a little bit about the country and off you go!
  • Susan: I found New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Bulgaria, Ireland andAustralia easy to get around alone and would recommend to go there first (but only if you don’t have any specific plans yourself, and don’t know where to start).
  • Mirjam: I would recommend Argentina over Ecuador to travel on your own. In my opinion Argentina is very European and quite safe but men are very offensive with words on the street – that can be annoying and stressful but people are very open. A lot of people speak English and they are really interested in other cultures so you can very easily meet local people. In this way Ecuador is rather different. People are more “shy” and developed a totally different culture. Here I would recommend learning a little bit of Spanish to have the possibility to come in contact with the local people in the countryside. They are really happy and friendly if you can talk to them in their language, even if you just know the basics you can learn a lot from their lifestyle. But you are not lost if you don’t know any Spanish =). So don’t be shy and give yourself the gift to discover these two beautiful, interesting, fascinating countries. Even if you are a women and ‘just’ by yourself!
  • Marlene: The destination depends on what you desire (work and travel, speak a different language, safe money…), but I would start in Europe, because you can try a lot of activities like camping, hiking, tramping, travel by train, bus or bicycle, or easily learn a new language. If you like hot climate, then start with Spain or Portugal, Australia and Asia. If you prefer colder destinations then go to Norway, Denmark, Sweeden or Canada first.

Marlene(Marlene in action)

Thanks a lot for sharing your experiences to Lisa, Eliška, Susan, Mirjam and Marlene!!!

We hope you liked the interviews. If yes, you are obviously interested in the topic ;).

There are tons of websites out there to get more information. To get started I suggest that you go through the following related articles and blogs about solo traveling, which I found very informative andhelpful:

Traveling alone:

Traveling alone as a woman:

If you are looking for a totally awesome, emotional, motivating and amusing story about a woman traveling alone in order to find herself take a look at Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything from Elisabeth Gilbert (the book is much better than the movie!). Better yet, take that book with you on your next trip alone! 😉

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