Advice From A Long-Term Solo Female Traveller

Advice From A Long-Term Solo Female Traveller

Posted by Elle Waddington on 26th Oct 2017

What compels us to travel?

It's a question as old as time. Where do we get this incessant need to take new adventures?

People travel for a wide variety of reasons, and this is something quite personal to each and every adventurer. For me, I love the freedom and, to many degrees, the escape away from everyday life; it’s an adrenaline rush, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and hitting the road. You get to experience so many amazing things you wouldn’t have experienced at home – from foods, to sights, to experiences, it’s all so different. Even in one country, you will see vast differences in one area to another, and that’s what makes this planet so incredible.

People often say they travel to ‘find themselves’, but if I’m honest this is never something they ‘find’. Instead, they just realise that travelling is something you yearn more for, and whilst I never said I wanted to ‘find myself’ per se, I definitely left on my first trip feeling a bit lost at home, before I went to university. Three long trips later, and countless shorter ones, I’m still dreaming of the next one!

So, why do I travel?

Simply, I keep travelling because I love culture, people and history. I love to learn, and I think the best way to keep learning is to take yourself out of your comfort zone and to put yourself in a brand-new place that you’ve never been to before. Some places you’ll love (and perhaps revisit!), and some you won’t - and this is absolutely okay! There are very few places I haven’t liked at all, but some have really touched me and made me want to go back. The Balkans trip I took, for example, really opened my heart to the area and the people, and I frequently think about going back.

However, there is also always somewhere new to go, and I now work in a job that very much allows me to travel, and that was a prerequisite when trying to work out my career whilst doing my degree!

Sunset

How long have my trips been?

I have done three longer trips adding up to 7 months in total - summer before uni, summer between second and third year, and then finally after I finished my exams for my Master’s Degree! I financed all of them myself, working 3 jobs for most of university and two jobs before it (and yes, this was hard as I did also study, somehow!).

I think the length of your trip is something you have to work out for yourself. I know, personally, I wouldn’t want to be on the road for a whole year, though I could definitely travel for, say, 6 months and the settle in a place for another 6 and do weekend trips in that country. I think this is because I like to move quite fast, and this does get tiring after a little while.

You also don’t know how you’re going to react to travelling. It’s assumed that if you’re interested, that’s enough, but I’ve seen several people come home a lot earlier than anticipated on a year-long trip. So, if you’re not sure how you like to travel, or where, try a couple of shorter trips first and then see how that goes. You’ll have saved the money anyway, and there’s no harm in starting in a region close to home first! My first trip I did 14 European countries in 3 months, and it was amazing. My next trip, I did a couple of months travelling through the Balkans with a friend – and it soon taught me that I much prefer solo travel!

Choosing your travel partners – or to go it alone

There is a lot to be said for travelling alone, but first I’m going to touch on travelling with others. As I said, I did one longer trip with a friend – but sadly we’re not friends anymore. Travelling is often an emotional and deeply personal experience, and you’re often in close proximity with others. Whether this is because you’re with others on your trip, or staying in hostels, you will find that at some point you need your own space. My friend and I didn’t really fall out, we just realised that our personalities clashed too much in a small space for a long time. We both made assumptions based on the fact we’d known each other for years – I knew she’d travelled a lot, alone, so thought she would be the perfect travel companion, and she assumed that I was fine with her being on every stage of the trip. In reality, I’d booked everything I wanted to do then invited her along, and told her she could deviate and do her own thing whenever she wanted – except she stuck to my exact route and I never got the space I like sometimes.

So, how do you then pick your friends?! Well, my top trip for travelling with friends is to all sit down and lay out what you want from the trip, what you want to do, and then go from there. Plan alone time, plan everything you want to do, even if you have to go it alone. Equally, however, work out if people are also okay doing things alone; because I planned everything then invited my friend, there was no room for her plans and she didn’t want to do stuff alone. Ultimately, I learned a lot about communication! This might make me sound a bit selfish, but I assumed that she would go off and do her thing so I didn’t think I needed to say that she should.

I do, however, love to take shorter trips with friends – I did a fantastic 10-day road trip through Portugal with my best friend the other year, and it was one of my favourite trips I’ve ever taken! Every trip is different, and there are places I’d like to experience with friends – like India or Brazil! – because we have similar interests.

Solo female traveller

So why do I like travelling alone?

I like to travel alone because personally I get more out of it. I push myself to talk to everyone, as I haven’t got someone I comfortable with to rely on! I used to struggle with shyness a bit before I first went travelling, and my trips have built my confidence so much. I wouldn’t have got this if I’d have taken friends with me.

I also like to travel alone because it’s something I do for me and me alone. I give a lot of my time to others, especially when I was at university: I taught and I volunteered and I helped run a sports club… and travel is something I did myself. So travelling alone means no compromise – and this selfishness is completely okay! A little me time is important for everyone. For example, sometimes when travelling, you need a down day. Maybe originally you planned to go to several museums but you wake up and need to just lie on the beach. If you’re alone, you can do this, but if you’re with others, you need to be considerate of their plans.

You can take the exact route you want, change it if necessary, and stay in whichever room you want – 12 bed dorm, absolutely fine! 5* hotel for a night for a break? It’s your money! Plus, there’s always someone to take your photos for you, if you’re worried about the great insta shot!

It’s also practical – a lot of people have different budgets in mind for travelling. I’m not a huge spender and I’m quite thrifty – but I always budget for everything I want to do, and a bit extra. Some people on the other hand underbudget and it’s a bit of a nightmare, and some people like to splash out and won’t slum it in a hostel. We’re all different, so knowing yourself and your group, if not going alone, is key! People’s opinions on what they want to do can also widely vary – some want a fast-paced adventure trip, some want a great, classic road trip, and some want a laid-back beach time. We’re all human, and all different!

Is it safe for a female to travel alone though?

People often ask me what it’s like to travel as a (usually solo) female, and I have to say that I have only had good experiences. I’ve never felt unsafe, and everyone seems to welcome you more! I’m well aware this isn’t the same for all women, unfortunately, but I go with the belief that bad things can happen everywhere. Of course, you can’t be ignorant - in some countries, like Italy or Malta for example, topless sunbathing is very much frowned upon, and in others, it’s a shock if you’re showing a lot of skin (which is easy to do when it’s hot!). For example, someone I knew felt very uncomfortable in a country whilst wearing a mini-skirt and strappy top, because the men would stare as she was the only one dressed like this. It ruined her view of what was a fantastic city!

Do I agree with this?! No. I think all women (and men) everywhere should be able to wear whatever they want, but that isn’t the case so sensitivity to local customs and even laws in some cases will go along way. Other countries are much more relaxed - my Portuguese friend asked me why I didn’t feel like sunbathing topless like everyone else (it isn’t for me, personally!) - so you also might experience a big mix if you’re going to various countries.

Finally…

Each time I go somewhere, I ask myself why I’m going - what do I want to get out of it? There is so much of the world to see, with so many different ways to prepare! Be savvy, do your research and ultimately go have fun!


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