How Solo Female Travel Changed My Life (And How It Can Change Yours, Too)

changed my life

Trekking to the Akha hilltribe village in Chiang Rai as a young 21 year old solo female traveler.

I never thought I would travel solo. It kind of just…happened. And I’m glad it did, because it changed my life.

Growing up, my vacations consisted of Caribbean cruises and road trips spent searching for thrilling roller coasters and America’s best beaches.

It wasn’t until I studied abroad in Sydney at the age of 20 that I got the itch to begin expanding my travel horizons. Inspired by Australia’s rich Thai cuisine culture, I decided I wanted to go to Thailand to try the real thing. I began saving immediately upon my return home to New York, planning to go head to South East Asia the upcoming summer. Right after Christmas I began asking friends and family if they would be interested in visiting Thailand with me that summer. Doing homestays, hiking through rice terraces, taking cooking classes, perusing night markets and spending some time teaching English to hilltribe children. Who could resist such an adventure? Apparently, everyone I knew.

Big Decisions

When the time came to book my ticket I was faced with a big decision: Travel solo or stay home and give up on an experience I had been looking forward to for months. I worried I would feel awkward or that I would be lonely. I worried I wouldn’t be able to communicate with anyone because of language barriers. I worried about finding accommodation and ordering food and getting ripped off. But most of all, I worried I would miss out on an enriching opportunity. A round-trip ticket to Bangkok, please. How many passengers? One!

Growth

Since my first solo travel experience in Thailand I’ve had many others: A summer through Europe, three months through South America, an adventurous journey exploring French Polynesia, some alone time in Morocco, and numerous solo trips around the United States. You see, every time I travel solo it’s like a self-esteem boost as I’m reminded of all that I am capable of. Traveling with others, you tend to rely on different people for different things. Maybe Joe handles the map because he’s good at navigation while Jenn smooths out any ordeals because she’s an excellent problem solver. When you’re traveling solo, you’re responsible for it all: Reading the map, navigating local transportation, communicating through language barriers to order food or a bus ticket, problem solving when you miss your train or your motorbike runs out of gas, getting un-lost in unfamiliar cities, and any travel mishap in between.

And guess what? You’ll do it! You may not think you can handle all the tasks that come with solo travel, but you’ll surprise yourself. Because when you’re looking out for yourself and a challenge comes your way you’ll accomplish anything and everything.

changed my life

Getting good at the self-taken photo traveling solo through French Polynesia.

Learning To Shine

Before I began traveling solo I was much more reliant on other people. I was shy and would hide within the circle of my friends. After traveling solo as a female, however, I realized I could be a social superstar if I tried.

I think I truly reached my full socializing potential when partaking in some solo female travel through Europe. The culture is extremely social in itself, with people mingling and sharing wine in public squares and the ability to make friends on every corner. Suddenly, people were coming up and starting conversations with me in money exchanges, train stations, parks, buses, piazzas, hostels. As I assimilated more into the European culture and the friendliness of the backpacker circuit, I began initiating conversations myself. I would bring a bottle of wine to a park, offering to share with picnickers in exchange for some cheese and bread, or I would invite people from a walking tour out for drinks at night. I made a lot of great friends, many whom I still keep in touch with. Even more, I realized how easy it was to make friends once you came out of your shell, a skill that has helped me in work, friendship and relationships.

Independence

While I’m thankful to have always had such helpful parents, being young and inexperienced in the world left me dependent on other people; however, one solo travel trip to Asia left me transformed. When traveling solo independence isn’t something you need to try to attain; it’s just something that happens naturally. There is nobody there to rely on for money, to watch your luggage when you go to the bathroom or show you the way when you get lost. It’s all up to you. And the more you figure these things out the more independent you become.

I can remember a time when backpacking Europe as a solo female when my luggage was lost on a flight from Munich to Nice. It took me a week to get it back, and the airline made me travel 12 hours to pick it up, which made me almost miss my train which made me almost get to my hostel too late to check-in. Yes it was a hassle, but I figured it out and solved the problem — all on my own.

Open-Mindedness

The best thing about traveling solo is it forces you to interact with locals and not just talk to your travel buddies from home. Before traveling solo, I lived in a bubble where everyone spoke English and tourism catered to my needs. This all changed when I began exploring the world. When you visit a foreign place you must adapt to the local culture, figuring out how to order food, dress appropriately and ride the local transport system. If you don’t know how to use a squat toilet in Thailand they’re not going to roll out the red carpet for you and bring you a flusher. You figure these things out as you go, and as you encounter new situations and cultural facets you’re able to engage, process and react to them without influence from others.

For example, when backpacking South America I spent much time riding the bus. This is a cultural experience in itself, as you sit with locals for 20 hours at a time, meet local artisans, hear traditional musicians, sample typical foods and see what the local farmers are selling. If I were traveling with a friend I may have had to deal with judgmental comments or persuasive opinions, or I might have been too consumed talking with my companion to actually notice the everyday nuances of culture going on around me. Solo female travel has allowed me to take culture in and interact with it without distractions, transforming me into a more worldly and open-minded individual.

changed my life

Experience pure freedom by traveling solo. Photo taken in Saint Lucia.

Pure Freedom

Probably the greatest gift solo female travel has given my life has been the experience of ultimate freedom. When you travel solo you decide where you’ll go, what you’ll do and when you’ll do it. There’s nobody trying to change your plans and there’s no need to compromise. You’re in complete control of your travel experience, and it feels good.

As I’ve gotten used to traveling as a solo female, I enjoy traveling without making plans. When I arrive to a place I discover it organically, asking for recommendations from locals and using CouchSurfing to meet new people. I change my plans daily based on how I’m feeling and who I meet. Life’s one big adventure full of experiences to be had, and there is nobody there to tell me I can’t.

From Vacations To Journeys

As the name of my blog “Jessie on a Journey” states, I’m on a journey. This journey is my life’s mission. I’m not looking to turn life into one long vacation, but to have unique experiences around the world on this journey called life. Solo female travel has showed me how to stop being stagnant and keep moving to learn and experience more with the short time I’m give on Earth. I don’t need to wait around for my best friend to have time off from work or my boyfriend to save up enough money to accompany me. I’ve got big plans and there’s no time to waste.

It Isn’t Permanent

I think what helped assuage my fears of female solo travel from the get-go was the realization I really was in control of the trip planning, down to the fact that I could hop on a plane home if I really felt uncomfortable. Many people seem to forget that just because you make a decision to travel somewhere solo doesn’t mean it’s permanent. Once you arrive to your destination give yourself a few days to get used to being on your own and orienting yourself in the destination. If after you’ve given it a fair shot you genuinely feel terrified or miserable, change your location or go home. When you’re traveling solo, it’s all up to you.

changed my life

Solo female travel can be very empowering. Photo taken in Trinidad.

The Truth

Whether you end up loving traveling solo or deciding it’s not really your thing doesn’t matter, as either way you’ll end up having an enriching and unique experience. Because really, the worst case scenario is you feel some awkwardness, but also discover you’re capable of so much more than you believed while immersing yourself in a new culture in a way that forces you to interact with locals instead of your friends from home. And if you really feel uncomfortable, you can always hide in a comfortable hotel room or change your ticket to board the next flight home.

My Most Important Lesson

The most important thing solo female travel has taught me is that anything is possible. It’s opened the world for me and made it a smaller and larger place all at the same time. While it’s easier than ever to cross seas and explore new continents, there are so many experiences to be had and so many interesting people to meet. I’ve gone from blindly believing stereotypes and what I hear on the news to experiencing places and cultures firsthand, creating my own truths. And while I know there are bad people and dangerous places in the world, solo female travel has turned me into an optimist that believes there are many more safe places and people with kind hearts. Solo female travel has taught me how much more worthwhile life can be when you live it to the fullest without regrets.

Would you ever travel solo? If you already have, has the experience taught you any valuable lessons? Please share in the comments below.

Recommended Reads:

The Solo Traveler’s Handbook

Go Your Own Way: Women Travel the World Solo

Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling Solo

*For product purchases (like books) please consider using the links provided in this post, as I make a small commission — at no extra cost to you — that helps keep this website running. Thank you!

33 Comments

  1. Excellent post, Jessie! I especially like what you say about solo travel being a big self-esteem boost – so true. It’s great to feel that you’re capable of being in control of all these new experiences. I’ve written before about standing in the middle of Zagreb bus station at midnight in a situation where I could have felt alone/scared/a failure but it was totally empowering! Yay for solo travel.

    1. @Amanda: Thank you for the comment! It’s always hard for me to explain how empowering it is. I feel like even navigating small things like ordering lunch in a place where they don’t speak the language can make you want to give yourself a high five! ha. But especially when a bigger challenge comes along — like yours with the Zagreb bus station — you really feel like there’s nothing you can’t accomplish πŸ™‚

  2. My first solo trip was to sky dive in Dubai and haven’t looked back since. Love the independence and convenience of it all. The fact that I can stay put at a cafΓ© for hours at end doing nothing but just watch people and read is thrilling!! Making my own decisions and planning the itinerary gave me the courage I needed and an opportunity to discover myself! again, absolutely love it!!

    1. @Arunima: What an adventurous solo trip! πŸ™‚ I truly believe traveling solo is something everyone should experience at least once in their lives. It’s so nice being able to truly mold your own travel experience into exactly what you want it to be without needing to compromise with the needs of others. Plus, as you stated, it helps you rediscover yourself and often helps strength your relationship with yourself.

  3. Great article!! I have traveled solo once within my own country (Canada) but I had a few stops along the way where I would visit with friends. I have my very first foreign solo trip coming up, which is 3 months long! Feeling very excited and nervous, but hearing your story really helps me feel more empowered. Although I’m finding the decision making process a bit hard sometimes, I’m really looking forward to gaining more experience and becoming more comfortable with it. Thanks for sharing your story!

    1. @Sherri: That’s great to hear! While you may feel a little homesick/challenged the first few days, once you get used to your new situation that will change and you’ll be able to really enjoy the absolute freedom of traveling solo. The biggest thing to remember when you’re feeling nervous is that when you’re in charge of yourself in every possible way there’s nothing you can’t do/figure out. Be confident in your abilities and you’ll have a rewarding experience. Let me know if you have any questions! πŸ™‚

      1. @jess2716 – I just happened across your article again and thought I’d post an update! I absolutely loved my 3 month solo travel experience! I can fully relate to a lot of the things you mentioned. I’ve always been pretty shy too, but while traveling and since returning, I feel so much more confident. It truly was a life-changing experience, and I can’t wait to do it again. Reading this inspires me to take that leap again and plan the next one πŸ™‚ Where’s your next trip?

          1. @jess2716, wow those are super exciting places! I just read your post on the Azores and I was sold at the pineapples πŸ™‚ It looks stunning there. I had no idea that there was a direct flight from the US, I need to check that out! I’m heading to Vegas next week, and hoping to go to Argentina in the fall!

  4. No website yet. I am a mom with a 17 year old, who has ideas of traveling to far away places alone. I am thinking of giving her the gift of planning a graduation trip for the two of us. I am not ready to send her away alone just yet. However this will give me a chance to see her abilities, and hopefully have a measure of comfort. Your website is inspiring.

  5. Very well-written article! Solo travel is certainly life changing. I traveled on a few short trips solo and then this past year decided to do a longer one. Traveled for 6 months in Europe and enjoyed it so much I am returning this year for 2 months.

    1. @Faith: I love hearing other people — especially females — hitting the road solo. I truly think it’s something everyone should experience at least once. Glad you liked it so much you’re doing it again!

  6. I have done the large majority of my travels solo as I don’t have any friends really in a position to travel with (they’re all married with kids). However so far my travel is usually part of a tour, I haven’t quite been brave enough to just venture off alone…

    1. @Zita: A tour can be nice because there’s less planning on your part and you can still break away when you need; however, going completely solo, while more stressful, is just such a freeing thing. I highly recommend you try. Start small with a local trip then work your way up! πŸ™‚

  7. Hey Jessie! I am doing a research project on solo female travel and we are required to get some interview responses from some ‘experts’, so I was wondering if you could answer a few question for me? I really admire you and your blog and would love some of your advice/input.

    -Not everyone is bound to enjoy or is capable of being a solo female traveler. What do you think are some of the qualifiers for a woman who can travel alone?
    -How can travel affect your health, positively and negatively?
    -What were some of the biggest struggles you faced, physically, emotionally, or even ones that were inevitable when traveling alone?

    Thank you so much πŸ™‚

    Aspiring solo female traveler,

    Madison Hernandez

    1. @Madison: I genuinely think once a woman puts faith in herself that she is capable of traveling alone she can do it. It’s one of those things that makes you see what you’re truly capable of, as when faced with a problem you’ll need to rely on yourself to handle it. I’ve learned SO MUCH about myself I never knew before. That being said, I think having an adventurous spirit and confidence from the get-go helps a lot, as well as being able to go with the flow.

      As for health, I tend to get stomach sick quite a bit on the road (negative), but it usually only lasts a morning or so and then I’m good to go. That can be cured with medications (chat with your travel doc), too. On the positive side, I’d say I always feel refreshed and clear headed when returning from a trip.

      Biggest struggles would be language barriers and just getting used to a different way of doing/seeing things, at times. Because of the extent to which I travel I also sometimes miss events like weddings, birthdays, etc, so this can be emotionally trying.

      Hope this helps! πŸ™‚

      Jessie

  8. I started reading the article and was amazed. I was reading it aloud to my friends saying “D’you see! She is literally speaking my words! And doing my actions! And coming to the same conclusions in the similar situations!..how come?” When i came to your “the most important”, i started crying as i live with the credo “impossible is nothing”. It’s not that easy to be Ukrainian and follow this way. Being American you have most borders open and easier can save for trips. I worked hard to have my solo travelling to Montenegro, Albania and Panama. I have just started. However i know that is mine…nothing is impossible, anything is possible and impossible is nothing. Thank you for the way you think and live. Probably we are soul twins πŸ˜‰

  9. Traveling solo is the best thing one young girl could do. I am 25 years old and I am a solo traveler. I am proud with every single destination I have been. When I am alone I can feel the soul of the place. it is amazing when there is no distraction how different is your journey. Best regards!

  10. Hi Jessie!
    What an ispiration you are! Thank you for sharing your experience! I am tired of being the girl who is always envious of women (or ppl in general) like you, who just go for it. I have a few questions that I’m sure you’ve heard a million times, but I have yet to hear a solo woman traveler answer. 1) if there is not necessarily a place you’re dying to go first, what would be your advise in choosing said place? Start big, or small? How long should you plan on giving yourself in the place?
    2) HOW THE HECK DO YOU AFFORD IT?!? What am I suppose to do about my career I currently have? Do I roll the dice and quit? Do I ask for a 3 month leave of absence? What happens when, while on my very first trip, I’ve blown through the very small savings I even have? In the beginning, How were you financially able to keep going from place to place? Should I expect to be looking for work wherever I go? If so, how easy is that to really do?
    3) Are you strictly staying in hostels wherever you go? On average, what do they cost?
    I really need a change. I am in my early 30’s, single, no children, with a job I dread! I want to start LIVING, not just exsisting. Please help! Any and/or all the advise for starting out would be GREATLY appreciated!! Thank you-Kristi

    1. @Kristi: Thank you for the kind words. This is quite a few questions. I’ll give you the short answer and if you’d like a full answer I’d request you go to my Itinerary Planning page — http://jessieonajourney.com/dream-creator/ — which can also cover helping get a first time solo traveler started with destination and budget. For accommodation I typically do budget hotels/hostels/Airbnb and Couchsurfing, which is free. Travel doesn’t have to be super expensive if you plan accordingly and are willing to make some adjustments to your usual lifestyle. As for career I’m lucky as my blog is my full time job, so essentially my job is travel. You may want to consider a location independent job or even starting a blog as a business, though note it does take time to get it to a profitable point. Hope this helps!

  11. Just returned home today from my first solo trip in the small, yet amazing town of Moab. It was a short, yet indescribable 7 days, and I feel changed from it. So freeing. I was wondering how you feel on your return home. This isn’t the typical “vacation blues” I have felt when hitting reality. I almost feel heartbroken having left this incredible place and scenery and feel my souls belongs in nature. Trying to stay optimistic knowing I have amazing memories to look back on. Maybe I’ve just caught the case of the solo travel bug!

    1. @Andrea: Moab is very high on my list! Hearing your account just bumped it even higher. Lately I’ve been really enjoying domestic travel, as I typically travel international. We really have so many beautiful places right here in the USA!

  12. I agree to everything you said, I also left to explore the world as a little 21 year old and I had many of the same transformations. I’m definitely more confident, open minded and the world isn’t such a dangerous place after all!

  13. Thank you for sharing your tips on traveling alone. My tarot archetype is the fool…I like to look at things with fresh eyes, but I tend to not think things through and then wind up in slightly dangerous situations…like almost out of gas without a working cell phone stuck in rush hour traffic in Vancouver, BC, wondering whether I am going to stall out in the middle of a long tunnel. So, I am looking around for inspiration. I appreciate the practical advice I can apply so that I can enjoy myself and have open-eyes without taking too huge risks.

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