Solo Female Travel: How to Get Over Your Fears
Kristin Addis from Be My Travel Muse writes our regular column on solo female travel. It’s an important topic I can’t adequately cover, so I brought in an expert to share her advice for other women travelers to help cover the topics important and specific to them! In this month’s article, she shows us how other solo female travelers get over their fears!
Over the years, a lot of women have admitted to me that they made travel plans — only to cancel the trip before they went.
Fear and anxiety got in the way.
There’s a little something about solo traveling that almost nobody talks about.
It’s more common than you think – especially for first time female travelers.
After all, there’s a lot we have to worry about when we go out.
For a lot of us, these worries can be crippling.
When the usual worries about loneliness, safety, and boredom creep in, I remind myself that getting to have this experience abroad will be worth it. I visualize success by picturing myself on the beach, laughing with new friends, and having a fantastic trip. Those good vibes are often enough to make it all come true.
Then I wondered, how do other women kick fear to the curb and live out their solo travel dreams?
So I posed the question to the women in my Facebook group. This is what they said:
“Realize that time with yourself is a luxury” – Alex, 29, Florida
I started traveling solo when I was about 20 years old. I booked my first solo trip because I became tired of waiting around for friends to join me. At the time, I was going to grad school in Barcelona, and I wanted to take the opportunity to travel as much as possible while I lived in Europe. I realized that if I didn’t go by myself, I wouldn’t get to go at all, and I’d miss a huge opportunity to see this part of the world simply out of fear. I weighed all the possible bad things that could happen and decided to face my fear and book my tickets.
I set off on a three-week trip to Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. It ended up being such an incredible trip, and I met so many people that ever since, I’ve become a solo traveler almost exclusively.
I’ve learned how to really enjoy time with myself and not be afraid of being alone. I have the freedom to meet new people and hang with them, but also the freedom to take time to myself when I need it. Through solo travel, I’ve become more confident and more aware of all the great qualities that I have. I’ve learned that I’m not as afraid as I thought and that I can be incredibly resourceful.
The more you research, the better prepared you’ll feel (Yana, 32, Boston, Massachusetts, of Beard and Curly)
I always wanted to travel but found it really hard to get others to commit to go with me. After a friend bailed on me last-minute, I realized that I shouldn’t depend on anyone to go experience the world. At first, it was scary to be on my own. My most debilitating fear was being lonely. Was I always going to be alone? Would it be weird to eat at a restaurant on my own? Also, would I be able to depend on myself for everything, from getting to my hostel safely to navigating a city?
To conquer my fears, I did a lot of research to familiarize myself with the places I was visiting. I also asked other travelers on forums and social media platforms about their experience. Their words encouraged me. Taking the time to research and plan made me feel more comfortable about traveling alone. I have now visited over 120 countries, mostly on my own.
If I can survive at home, why should it be different elsewhere? (Sarah, 52, from the UK, living in Italy)
I started solo traveling only after I was widowed. I realized that it was a case of go alone or stay at home, and never going anywhere was a lot scarier than going by myself!
I built my confidence by starting slowly, adding on days in new places to trips to see family and friends. The first time, it was a stopover in Sydney on my way home from Christchurch. The next time, I did a few days in Auckland before catching up with family in Australia. My next trip will be two weeks completely solo in Thailand next month.
I research my destinations thoroughly so that I know what to expect and what I want to see and do. I book hotels and transport in advance, and sometimes tours too, which are a good way of meeting other people on the road. I use the street-view function on Google Maps to check the location of hotels or hostels and have a virtual “walk” around the area. This allows me to avoid booking anywhere too isolated, at the end of dark alleys, or just in neighborhoods I wouldn’t feel safe in alone. My sense of direction is terrible, so getting an idea of where everything is in advance makes me feel a lot more confident. I also always try to make sure that my flights arrive during daytime and find out how to get from the airport to my accommodation in advance, so that I know exactly where I’m going upon arrival, when I’m likely to be tired.
I realized that people are mostly good (Isabella, 25, from Chicago, Illinois)
I think I got over that initial fear of traveling alone by realizing how exciting that level of independence was — I had some money and some time, and I could do absolutely anything that I wanted with it. Plus, my fears are always assuaged by the fact that everywhere I’ve been, there have been kind people there who are willing to help and teach me.
In Japan, a local offered help when I was lost, and instead of just directing me to my train stop/transfer, he came with me and walked me the whole way. In Myanmar, a group of locals rushed over to help me when I fell off my scooter; they didn’t speak a word of English but their action made me realize that kindness itself is a universal language. This helped me overcome my fears and become braver.
Do one small thing everyday (Michelle, 45, from Alaska, of Pursuing Seven)
I’m currently a couple months into a three-continent mission to complete my goal of visiting all seven continents. At the time of writing this, I am sitting in Christchurch, New Zealand, waiting for weather to clear in Antarctica so my flight can get there, where I will be working for four months. I wasn’t always this fearless and adventurous, but I am definitely proud of who I have become.
Setting realistic expectations — which probably means lowering them — helped me overcome my fear of solo traveling. It sounds counterintuitive at first, but being realistic truly ends up being a gift to myself (and my mental sanity). Not every day is going to be epic, and as a solo traveler you’ll be the making all the decisions and solving all the travel problems you encounter, which takes a lot of energy some days. Especially at the beginning, while you’re finding your solo-travel groove, cut yourself some slack; do one small thing every day that makes you happy, and when you have an epic day, soak it all in!
Utilize tours and apps to gain confidence (Peggy, 45, from San Francisco, California)
My first solo trip was the typical post-college European trip, and my friend had to leave early. It was only one week of solo travel, but I learned and gained self-confidence that I could do this and survive. ? Decades later, I decided to follow my passion of seeing the world. I’ve been traveling for over two years, the majority of it solo.
I typically start a new city with a free or nominally priced walking tour. They provide a great overview of the place and its history and culture, plus local tips. I have met people on these walking tours that range from going to sightseeing together the rest of the day to friends that I still stay in touch with to this day.
I also check the Couchsurfing and Meetup apps for local events. Through these, I have great memories of going to the Notte Bianca festival in Malta, hiking to small towns outside of Frankfurt, and attending a weekly coffee meetup in Brno and social events in Budapest, Istanbul, and Bishkek. When traveling solo, I’m not in a bubble with my friends. I become more aware of my surroundings and find myself more open to local interaction, which has led to countless examples of people being incredibly kind and helpful.
Start from your own city (Kathleen, 33, from Boston, of Lonesome Roads)
Once I realized I wanted to try traveling solo, I decided I needed to practice first. I started in my home city of Boston: going to a museum on my own, then a movie solo. After that, lunch alone at a nice place, and then dinner out by myself (I think eating alone can be the biggest thing to get used to!). Finally, I spent two days all by myself in Portland, where I had lived for a year, so it was familiar enough to be comfortable, but I was fully on my own. And I had a wonderful time! I chatted with people in bars, I had a romantic dinner alone while doing some top-notch people-watching, and walked everywhere.
I then fully set off: solo trips to Miami and LA, then a stopover in Iceland for two days by myself when coming back from a trip with a friend, and then six days alone in Copenhagen. I loved it so much that right now, I’m two months into a yearlong solo trip in Europe and Southeast Asia!
I’ve learned that politeness and a few words of the local language will get you everywhere. That people are overwhelmingly kind and generous. And that traveling solo gives my curiosity free rein in a way that’s incredibly freeing, whether it’s exploring operas in Paris or befriending an Icelandic girl in line for a bar bathroom. If I’m brave enough, you’re brave enough too. You just might need a little practice.
Take the risk (Caitlyn, 27 from Brisbane, Australia, of Girl Seeking Purpose)
Before departing on my six-month solo adventure through South America, I was plagued with doubt and fear about all of the possible outcomes of traveling alone. I was concerned about whether it was safe as a solo female to travel in developing countries and if I would be able to reach all of my intended destinations without confirmed travel partners ahead of time. Most of all, I was concerned that I might not meet anyone on the road to travel and share my experiences with. I was absolutely terrified by the idea of being alone.
After reading countless blog posts and forums, I began to realize that all of the fears I had about solo travel were the same fears we all have before we take that leap into anything new and unknown. It then became clear that if I lived my entire life afraid of all of the possible things that could go wrong in any given situation, then I would never leave my comfort zone, let alone my house or my country. That just didn’t sound like the life I wanted for myself.
Realizing this, I made the decision to face all of these fears head on by acknowledging their existence. I decided that I was going to push on to make my dreams a reality with or without them in the back of my mind. Identifying that it was normal to have these concerns and to realize it was possible to overcome them gave me the strength and confidence I needed to get on the plane.
During the final days before my flight, I reassured myself that once I arrived it would all just fall into place and work itself out. And that is exactly what happened. It was one of the most incredible, life-changing, and defining moments of my life, and I am so glad I didn’t let the fears stop me from taking that leap.
Start small and familiar (Shae, 41, from Melbourne, Australia, of The Bright Eyed Explorer)
I’d always traveled with other people, but at age 36, I just couldn’t rely on the comfort and security that traveling with friends brings if I wanted to fulfill my dreams of traveling the world. I am a relatively shy and somewhat introverted person, especially around strangers, so the thought of being in an unfamiliar country and having to talk to people I didn’t know and perhaps not understand made my stomach churn!
For me, starting my solo travels small scale and in a place that I was very familiar with helped ease those fears I had of traveling alone. I’d been to Bali five times prior to my first solo trip, so I was confident and comfortable with my surroundings, the people, and the lifestyle. This comfort then enabled me to push myself a little further — talking to strangers, asking for help when I needed it — but also learn to appreciate the time I had to myself in restaurants and bars.
I have since traveled solo extensively through Europe and Australia (which is home), but there are still times that I still get a little nervous and anxious about my upcoming trip. Generally, if this happens, I give myself a bit of a pep talk and remind myself that I am strong and brave. This will generally give me a little confidence boost, which gets then builds up my excitement levels and then I am so ready to travel.
***I hope these stories help to show that there is no special gene, life experience, background, or age that makes someone a good solo traveler. It doesn’t even require bravery to travel alone — lots of us built that up along the way instead.
So please don’t let all of the things that could go wrong hold you back from your dreams. Most of what we worry about — not just related to travel but to life in general — never comes to pass anyway. Focus on the adventures, the good times, the sunsets with new friends, and the learning experiences. The biggest step is just to make the decision and stick with it. After that, the rest falls into place.
Conquering Mountains: The Guide to Solo Female Travel
For a complete A-to-Z guide on solo female travel, check out Kristin’s new book, Conquering Mountains. Besides discussing many of the practical tips of preparing and planning your trip, the book addresses the fears, safety, and emotional concerns women have about traveling alone. It features over 20 interviews with other female travel writers and travelers. Click here to learn more about the book and start reading it today!
Kristin Addis is a solo female travel expert who inspires women to travel the world in an authentic and adventurous way. A former investment banker who sold all of her belongings and left California in 2012, Kristin has solo traveled the world for over four years, covering every continent (except for Antarctica, but it’s on her list). There’s almost nothing she won’t try and almost nowhere she won’t explore. You can find more of her musings at