The most irritating thing you can ever say to a woman who is about to leave to travel overseas by herself is.... “Aren’t you scared”. Well if I wasn’t before, now I’m wondering “Maybe I should be scared! Why aren’t I? Do they know something I don’t?”. My experience is that they are actually projecting their own fears onto you. You do not need to take on the someone else’s doubt. If you choose to fly solo on your next trip, the simple truth is that you are about to embark on a phenomenal journey. It will be the greatest thing you will ever do.
I have travelled to so many countries by myself. I can safely say the most memorable moments from my travels have been when I’ve been by myself. Every time I’ve travelled with a friend, it’s been a disaster. When I say by myself, I mean I leave the country by myself, not knowing anyone where I’m going. I’m never actually alone. I think with all my travels, I have spent one whole day and night totally by myself.
When you arrive at an airport there are always people everywhere. If you are confused and don’t know where the transport is, ask. There is always an information counter. If you arrive at an hour when they are closed, there are always security and airport staff around to ask. I find within the USA it is cheaper to get a shared shuttle bus. In other countries, it may be a cab. This is something you should research before you leave. I often check with the Hostel and see their suggestions. In certain countries, it may be safer to organise private transfers, often through the hotel, or tour companies.
When I was younger, I had this ridiculous idea that hostels were all dirty, gross and unsafe. I’m sure there are still loads of them around but thankfully we now have this brilliant thing called TripAdvisor, and many other websites with visitor reviews. My main advice is do not book anywhere without checking TripAdvisor first. It is very important. The website for the actual accommodation will always portray their best facilities. Reviews from other people will inform you on things such as service, cleanliness, location and most importantly, safety. I always check reviews to see what other solo female travellers have said. I make sure I always add that information to my reviews. I personally prefer to stay at a hostel that has a private room with private bathroom. Most of the rooms are just as good as hotels. Communal areas and bars at a hostel have a lot more atmosphere and a chilled vibe. If the hostel has raving reviews, it’s in the perfect location and only has shared rooms and facilities, I will book it for a couple of days. I will not stay in a mixed dorm. This means males and females in the same room. I have heard some horror stories, and let’s be honest, most men snore. No thanks.
Safety is a big deal, do your research. If the country is known for a high crime rate, be extra vigilant. I often choose to stay in a hotel. Hostels in countries with a high crime rate can be targeted and are not the safest. When I was in Africa I stayed at hotels only, even then I pushed my backpack up against the door and slept with my high-power torch under my pillow every night. Anything to make me sleep better. I personally didn’t have any issues, but I would rather take extra precautions. Trusting your intuition is huge, if you get the feeling to not go somewhere or not to do something, listen to it.
I want to share some of the experiences I’ve had while I was travelling by myself.
USA HOSTELS, San Francisco, now that’s how all hostels should be. You cannot enter without showing your key card, so I felt totally safe. It has a fantastic communal area in the basement so the noise is kept away from the rooms. Breakfast is included in the room rate and they had a huge selection, including pancakes. The private room also had a mini fridge.
I checked into my private room, linked into the WIFI and I got the call that my Uncle had passed away. It was expected, I had to say my goodbyes to him before I left, one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. He had told me to go and enjoy my trip and not be a cry baby. Of course I had a cry for a couple of hours, then his voice popped into my head, STOP CRYING AND GO MEET PEOPLE AND HAVE FUN. I got myself together and found the communal areas.
There were some people playing pool, one lady sitting on the couch. I sat myself in a position hoping they would talk to me. One thing I’ve learned about hostels is that most people staying in them are solo travellers looking for people to hang with. Most people are extremely friendly. Sure enough, the boys asked me to join in and play pool. We had some drinks, they showed me around the hostel and where the closest bottle shop was. All the important things. The lady on the couch started talking to me. Her name was Louise. Louise was from Ireland and was planning on staying there for a while. I’ll quote something she said that I will never forget. “I’m staying longer as you can’t make good friends in a couple of days”. I can tell you she was wrong. I have made so many friends in a couple of days that I still stay in contact with, including that beautiful lady. We shared so many stories that night, including my sad story of my beautiful Uncle passing earlier that day. The Hostel had a trivia night that I participated in.
Alcatraz was a big draw for me to visit San Francisco, I had planned my trip and booked tickets to the prison island months in advance, they do book out, I would suggest booking as soon as you plan your trip to avoid disappointment. I had prebooked my ticket for Alcatraz for the next day. After Alcatraz, I had made plans to go on the evening pub crawl that the Hostel was organising with all the people I had just met.
I had breakfast with someone I met from the night before, then I set off exploring by myself. I had a brilliant day doing all the tourist things I wanted to knock off my list before I visited Alcatraz late in the afternoon. On the ferry over to the island, I sat on a table with a lovely couple. We started talking, they were so shocked that I was travelling by myself. They were from Texas and had a daughter a few years younger than I was. We were separated while we did our individual audio tours of the island.
As I was lining up for the ferry to head back to the main land, the same couple that had sat next to me earlier, were standing next to me. We sat together again on the Ferry back, then they invited me to join them for dinner. I was so shocked at the offer, I politely declined. They insisted and said they had a reservation at one of the best restaurants in San Fran, and would love me to join as they were so inspired by my confidence to travel solo. I always trust my gut, my gut spoke and said it was hungry and they seemed lovely. They rang the restaurant to add another person to the booking.
We got off the ferry and they flagged down a cab. The three of us went to this amazing restaurant. They selected fabulous wine and insisted I have three delicious courses. It was truly a special night. They spoke of their daughter, and how they wished she could meet me and have the confidence to do something by herself. I offered to pay for my meal and they would not accept anything at all. I was secretly happy as it was extremely expensive, but I would have been happy to contribute something. I had forgotten about the pub crawl, I was meant to be meeting my new friends at 8pm and it was now close to 10pm. We left the restaurant and they then flagged a cab. I offered to get my own cab as their hotel was not near my hostel. Again, I didn’t win that argument. We shared a cab and they dropped me off first to make sure I got back safely. I was so elated from the evening and how strangers could be so generous and lovely. I was ready to celebrate.
I walked into the Hostel, I asked the desk what pubs the crawl was going too. She made a call to find out where they were. There was one other guy that said he would walk with me to join the crawl. I wouldn’t have walked by myself. I would have got a cab even if it was close. It’s not worth the risk walking alone at night. He kindly waited for me to change clothes, then we walked together. I walked into the pub and my new friends from the night before ran up and told me how worried they were. It was really sweet, firstly that they noticed I wasn’t there and secondly, that they cared about my safety. I explained where I had been and they couldn’t believe it. We all had a brilliant late night. The next couple of days I was in San Francisco we did everything together. Day trips, lunches, dinners. Lifelong friendships built in only a couple of days. A year later I flew to Ireland and stayed with Louise. She now realises that you can build a strong friendship in only a couple of days.
Within the USA, I personally never book a guided group tour. I feel safe enough to travel around by myself. After the USA, I was going to Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. Now these are countries that are not safe to be roaming around by yourself. I had looked up tour companies and booked to go with Geckos. I always organise airport transfers with the tour company if I can. I arrived expecting someone with a sign, there was no one there. I hadn’t been given the hotel details, something that I wouldn’t let happen again. I always have my mobile phone with me for emergencies. I called my mother back home, she called the travel agent and he called the company. Two hours later someone was there to pick me up. They had forgotten. I checked into this dodgy hotel in Mexico City, the tour company had a sign which had the time for the meeting. I dropped off my bags and went down and met everyone joining the tour. We all went out for dinner together and spent the next few weeks all together. Again, not once was I alone. There is always someone that wants someone else to hang out with. Of course you are welcome to hang by yourself if you choose too.
On that same trip I met another new amazing friend, Jessica from Sydney. Three years on, she is one of my best mates. I also went on a Caribbean cruise. In the line to enter the ship I met a mother and daughter from South Africa. We hung out on the ship and had a ball together. I recently went to the daughter Jade’s wedding in South Africa and had the most fabulous time with all her family. I also spent Christmas in Iowa with friends I met on another trip. I call them my American family. I went to my Chicagoan friend’s wedding in Dominican Republic. I have now been to weddings all over the world due to travelling and meeting people from all over the world. I love seeing the different cultures and traditions.
I was at a hostel in Miami, a shared dorm. I was getting ready to go on the club crawl and a new lady arrived, just off the plane from Australia. We had a quick chat and I was off. We ran into each other a few times and added each other on Facebook. She visited Melbourne and we caught up. A couple of years later I was in Dublin, I put a post on Facebook, where should I head to next to celebrate my birthday. She responded with “Come to Palma, Majorca”. I booked a flight and flew out the next day. Jules picked me up from the airport and we had a blast. I celebrated my birthday in the most phenomenal island in Spain, with Jules and her friends. It was the greatest birthday I’ve had so far.
I love my own space; I will always pay extra to have my own room. I love meeting new people but nothing beats having my own bedroom and bathroom while travelling. So if you think you can’t handle lots of people or dorms in hostels, it is possible to have your own room and still have the luxury of meeting other travellers.
I love travelling by myself. If you haven’t done it, please try it. It will be the most eye opening experience. You will learn a lot about yourself, and you just never know who you might meet and how that person will impact your life. My life has been enhanced by all the caring, fun, wild, brilliant people I’ve met on my travels, and together we shared amazing experiences, all while I was travelling ALONE! Do it!
Love life and adventure on,
All images are taken by Mishel Lee