There’s never been a better time to pack your bags and hit the road on your own.
In the movies, taking a solo trip happens Eat Pray Love– style. You know, where extreme heartbreak leads to a far-off journey, bowls of Bolognese, and mind-altering meditations. But IRL, women all over are booking vacations alone for reasons that go beyond getting over love lost. Many women say they travel independently because they are looking for new experiences and want to tap into their adventurous side.
So just how many women are taking trips like this? A recent survey of 9,000 people by British Airways found that more than 50 percent of women around the world have taken a solo trip, and 75 percent of women were planning one in the next few years. On top of that, the average monthly search volume for the term “solo female travel” grew by 52 percent between 2016 and 2017.
“We have more solo women travelers than men,” says John Spence, president of Scott Dunn, a high-end travel company that books tours around the world, from Iceland to Mozambique. “Single women aren’t waiting around for their friends or family to plan trips anymore. They’re taking the reins and doing it themselves, when and how they want.”
There’s also a self-care aspect that’s trending. “I see women who are badasses, who have amazing careers and are doing a lot of self-care for themselves— and a huge part of that is travel,” says Katalina Mayorga, the founder and CEO of El Camino Travel, a company that schedules trips to Colombia and Cuba. Mayorga, who got the inspiration to start a business that caters to solo female travel partly because of a six-month trip she took to South America by herself, says that 60 percent of their customers are women traveling by themselves.
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Intrigued by the idea of hitting the road on your own? Here are a few things you should know first.
There Are Serious Benefits
If you’ve ever had to plan a girls’ trip, you’re probably familiar with the Google Doc hell that it takes to get seven women in one place. But when you only have to look out for No. 1, the planning goes a lot smoother—and you avoid the headache of splitting a bill a gazillion ways at dinner. “The best part is having complete control over the itinerary,” says Jean Henegan, 33, who’s hopscotched Europe on three just-her trips. “My first solo trip happened when I was studying abroad in college because none of my friends wanted to go to Prague or Krakow. So rather than head on a trip I wasn’t excited about, I opted to go it alone.”
There are also emotional side effects. Travel company Trafalgar says that 57 percent of women say that getaways have transformed them, many commenting that it makes them feel stronger and more inspired. “There’s something exhilarating about getting to a new place and having an experience that is your own,” says Katie Fine, 31, who’s done Thailand, Croatia, and France solo. “It’s liberating and makes me feel independent and accomplished.” Grace Clarke, 32, who spent five nights in Death Valley last year by herself, agrees: “I feel grown-up in a way that honors what 16-year-old me hoped I’d one day have the balls, money, and Katharine Hepburn attitude to do.”
And no, solo trips aren’t just for people who like to be left alone. Most women say their vacays end up being the exact opposite—that they make friends with locals and other travelers. “I ask on my social media accounts if anyone has been to wherever I am and has suggestions or friends there,” says Sarah Mary Cunningham, 36, who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro solo in 2017. Chatting up the bartender or waitress, something you may be less likely to do when surrounded by friends, is a great way to learn about a new locale and get invaluable insider recs.
Be Smart About It
You might not be ready to grab your backpack and trek through remote terrain by yourself, and that’s OK. Snagging a spot in a group trip is a good way to dip your toe in. That way you’ll have an itinerary, transportation, and at least a few people to eat meals with (if you want), but you’ll also be free to break off and slip into that cute market you noticed on your way into town.
As for staying safe in a new city, it’s all about being alert. “Use the same street smarts you would use in any city in the United States,” Mayorga says. “Take routes that are well lit and populated, and don’t put your drink down and not know where it’s been for a half hour.” And if a situation doesn’t feel right, get up and leave.
Another helpful tip: Time your travel days so that you will arrive while it’s still light out. Mayorga learned this lesson the hard way when she got to her hostel at 4 a.m. and no one was at the front desk to let her in. You’ll be much better off if you arrive somewhere when businesses are open and people are around.
Finally, even though you don’t want to look like you have a neon sign above you flashing “tourist,” you shouldn’t hesitate to ask the locals what shops, cafés, and sites they recommend because they’ll often give you more authentic ideas than the tour books. Ashley Tibbits, 37, says she asked her bed-and-breakfast host for ideas during her trip to Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico, and he suggested seeing the Rio Grande Gorge at sunrise. “It took my breath away,” she says. “Not only that—that area had artisans, and I bought a lapis ring from a native silversmith and a bunch of local crystals to give my friends. It was so perfect. And you know what? Having another person there wouldn’t have made it one ounce more special.”
Ideal spots for solo travel
Most people in this bustling city speak English as well as Dutch, making it easier for you to meet, talk to, and bond with locals. And biking— which is a solitary endeavor anyhow—is a main mode of transportation in the city! Our suggestion: On day one of your trip, book a walking tour with Context (contexttravel.com). Not only will you take in some great sites, but also it will help you get the lay of the land, so you’re more comfortable walking (or biking) around the city for the remaining duration of your stay.
Join an El Camino group trip (elcamino.travel), and take in this port city on your own. Its walkable layout means you won’t have to stress about navigating public transportation. Plus, there are tons of nearby spots that make for great day trips—like Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, a UNESCO World Heritage site and well-preserved fortress that gives you stunning views of Cartagena. Day trips are a great way of visiting lots of sites without having to travel far from your original location on your own.
Looking to take a big trip? Head to Mumbai, India’s largest city—its population is twice that of New York City. You’ll find delicious food, hip art in the Colaba district, and the gorgeous Gateway of India arch. One thing that makes it particularly cool for women traveling alone: the ITC Grand Central hotel, which offers women- only Eva rooms that have 24-hour security and all-women attendants. Check out more about the hotel’s special offerings at itchotels.in.
Essentials for a seamless getaway
A backpack keeps your hands free for hailing cabs and taking photos—key if you don’t have a pal along to help with that stuff. The Everlane Modern Snap Backpack ($68; everlane.com) looks chic, is water-resistant, and has lots of compartments for things like sunglasses, water bottles, and your smartphone.
Speaking of your phone, keeping it juiced is a must. Not only is this Going Places Ban.do Mobile Charger ($35; bando.com) on-theme—it’s also compact and can fit in a small purse or even your pocket.
You probably won’t have reliable Wi-Fi everywhere you go (and Google Maps doesn’t work even offline in some places, such as Cuba), so make sure you download Maps.Me, which has free offline directions to help you get around any city.
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