My determination to visit as many countries as possible meant that I never let my single status hold me back when I started travelling at the tender age of 18. From then on until my early twenties, I travelled around Eastern Europe, Central America, Thailand and the northern section of South America. There were solo travellers, but they were pretty much all men.
I distinctly remember travelling around Phuket (I had met a friend on the road but he went on a night out and returned in a drug-induced psychosis) and when I was sitting alone in a restaurant on Bang Tao Beach, a couple sent a drink over to my table because they felt sorry for me. I was looked at as being a bit of a sad case for much of my trip when travelling the tourist areas of Southern Thailand (except in Bangkok where really, anything could happen and nobody would notice), so I had mixed feelings about returning last year.
I couldn’t believe how much had changed in the 15 years since I’d last been to this corner of the world. Southeast Asia is now a hub for solo female travel! I spent a week on Koh Chang and nobody batted an eyelid seeing me alone or perhaps they assumed I was with someone else. This should be no surprise as doing a search of hashtags on Instagram reveals a whole world of solo female travellers out there. Fearless women who can take on the world and snap an incredible picture whilst doing it. I felt so happy that there were still female backpackers flying solo even in places like Myanmar that have only recently opened up for foreign travel.
There are still many places dominated by solo male travellers and when I backpacked around South America, I was never alone for long as many befriended me. I rarely came across women on their own so I learnt Spanish so I could blend in much better. The beauty of less-touristed places is that travellers can form a real community so I didn’t often feel lonely. Southeast Asia is so much more popular nowadays with tourists inspired by blogs or social media, that it is not always as easy to make friends in popular places.
Last year I travelled to Goa alone. It was an accidental solo trip to Palolem Beach as my partner had to return home to get a new passport. I had a few worries about being there as a solo woman but I could not have been more wrong. Again, I was surprised to see so many solo travellers but it’s so relaxed it actually turned out to be the perfect place to be alone.
That week in Goa really made me reevaluate the inner prejudices I’d had about solo travel (even though I only ever applied them to myself). I considered how I felt out of place even though my reasons for being alone were largely a testament to my own inner strength and ambition. I’d been so self-conscious when I was in my twenties but I realised that actually, many tourists admire people who travel alone.
In places like Goa, I think being in ‘holiday mode’ means people are much likely to interact with solo travellers as people have all the time in the world to chat. People are more interested in meeting people when they’re abroad and a Welsh couple from a neighbouring beach hut befriended me as a result. On the beaches and in the cities, local people are much more used to seeing foreigners travelling alone, but in more remote areas you may be seen as more of an oddity – especially as a woman.
I don’t want to make it sound as if I always knew what I was doing – I was terrified when I started travelling alone. If you go solo and you feel worried, clueless or inadequate then that is all perfectly normal. Now that I’m in my thirties, solo travel has certainly given me assurance in my own abilities and my insecurities have lessened. They haven’t gone away completely but I think facing the fears of travelling in my twenties has laid the foundations for being a more confident solo traveller now.
I think everyone has it in them to go travelling alone – even if there are parts that you don’t enjoy – because it’s impossible not to learn something about yourself. There are frustrations when you get ripped off or get on the wrong bus but you learn not only to avoid making mistakes but to let it go when they do happen.
With so many other solo travellers on the scene, you stand a good chance of meeting friends for life or even romantic companionship (if that’s what you want). If you choose to be completely alone for your entire trip, it can give you the headspace you need if you are escaping a busy life at home. Too much alone time can also be difficult so it’s important to stay in touch with people if you are ever concerned about your mental health.
The most important advice I can give you about solo female travel is to look after yourself, be safe and do the things that make you happy because you’re in a rare and privileged position when you have nobody else to worry about but you. Now that we’re saying goodbye to the stigma of solo travel, there’s no reason not to get stuck in.