Even though I have so many amazing travel partners that would fly into the sunset with me at the drop of the hat, sometimes I simply choose to travel alone because I love the adventure of it.
Solo travel is an enriching and life changing experience that everyone should try at least once in their lives. Traveling alone gives you such a feeling of empowerment and accomplishment at not having needed to rely on anyone else. It leaves you open to new experiences and new friendships you may never have warmed up to otherwise.
However, I do think there are certain ugly truths about solo travel, especially as a female, that people just don’t talk about. When I took my first big solo adventure, I was disappointed that it didn’t always look or feel the same as the always smiling Instagram pictures promised.
So, here are some not so insta-worthy truths of solo female travel.
1) It Can Get Lonely
My biggest mistake on my first solo trip was underestimating how much I would miss my friends and family. I had been planning my trip for so long and was so excited that I didn’t think I’d have time to think of anything else, but spending weeks alone can get to you. This is normal! This can be a time of self discovery and exploration, but striking up conversations with people in cafe’s or joining walking tours are a great way to get some human contact.
2) You Might Have to Make Sacrifices For Safety
As a woman traveling alone, there are certain things I would love to do, but decide not to in order to feel more comfortable. My brother sometimes spends nights hiking alone or wandering the empty city streets, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing this in a city I wasn’t familiar with.
I often choose my nightlife very carefully, many times opting for a nice dinner in my hotel or wine across the street instead of exploring more ” lively” options because I prefer to be closer to “home” at night in a place that I’m not familiar with.
If I do go out I make sure I have a way back to my accommodations worked out in advanced, I let someone know where I’m going and when I’ll be back ( even if it’s someone back home), I bring emergency numbers and the address of my accommodations written down.
3) It Can Be Dirty
Between spending days on trains and planes, wearing your shirts more days than you can count and sweating through more clothes than you thought possible, traveling can get dirty. I certainly don’t always look Instagram ready, but thanks to dry shampoo I can look better than I feel. Don’t sweat it if your mascara is running down your face, you’re creating a lifetime of memories to look back on. Pack some wipes, dry shampoo, hand sanitizer and a tide to go stick and the rest is up to fate.
4) Things Will Probably Go Wrong
Even if you are the most organized person, things out of your control are bound to go wrong. Maybe you miss your train stop or the plane loses your luggage. Whatever it is, take a deep breathe. You can handle it. The best and worst part of solo travel is not having someone else to rely on. It might be stressful in the moment, but you’re going to feel like you can tackle anything when you solve the problem by yourself. Spilling juice on your shirt right before a big presentation is going to seem like nothing after finding your way to your hotel in the middle of the night in a place where no one speaks your language and there are no street signs.
5) Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are one of those things that you think will never happen to you, until it does. Nothing sends chills up my spine more than the thought of tiny little bugs crawling over me while I sleep, but the truth is if you are traveling this is a very real possibility. Bed bugs have nothing to do with the cleanliness of a place, they are simply brought in by other travelers. I had the lovely experience of waking up to a body full of red splotches on my last trip and as freaked out as I was, I washed my clothes ( a lot) and lived through it.
6) You Can’t Trust Everyone
I am a very trusting person and I believe strongly that people are genuinely good, but that doens’t mean that I take unnecisary risks. It’s a sad fact, but you can’t trust everyone. Most places are very safe, but petty crime such as pick pocketing and minor theft is common all over the world. If someone approaches you with something that seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you sense something is off, trust that and get out of the situation. Don’t be closed off to opportunities, just be aware.
7) Your Experiences Won’t Be The Same As Anyone Else’s
The easy access of perfect pictures and sunny smiles makes it easy for us to picture what we think our trip is going to be like, but moments can’t be recreated. You can’t control weather, other people or if a famous sight is going to be unexpectedly closed. Just because your friend Amy had an amazing time in Athen’s because she met a nice old lady who made her dinner, doesn’t mean you will. Make your own experiences.
8) Having Your Period Sucks
Let’s face it, having your period any day sucks, but having it on a hot plane for 20 hours with your knees jammed up to your chin makes it that much worse. Plus, loading around boxes of tampons and pads with you is no fun.
I like to bring wipes with me to stay fresh and I generally research where I am going before hand to see if I can get my favourite products there. If my products are available, I pack one or two for emergencies and purchase the rest when I get there to save on packing. If not, stock up, there’s nothing worse than having to DIY a sanitary napkin.
9) You Might Lose Friends
I have been fortunate enough to have surrounded myself with amazing, solid people who celebrate and support my adventures, but I’ve known people who weren’t as lucky.
Not everyone may understand your dreams because they don’t align with theirs or jealousy might cloud their vision. Just know that the people who truly love you want what’s best for you and not for them, they might be worried about your safety, but they want you to be safe, happy and healthy.
Don’t let these things stop you from traveling alone, just let them prepare you. I felt like a failure after my first solo trip for not feeling elated the entire time I was away. I felt guilty for moments of loneliness and ashamed at being grossed out at my bed bug bites because I didn’t feel like that was what a ” real traveler” did.
Your average life is not perfect every moment of every day, so it’s ridiculous to assume that life on the road will suddenly be. Acknowledge that these feelings are normal, that not every day will be perfect, then drink a strong cup of coffee and look at where you are. You can do this and it’s all worth it.