Do not stop thinking of life as an adventure. You have no security unless you can live bravely, excitingly, imaginatively, unless you can choose a challenge instead of a competence.” Those are the words of Eleanor Roosevelt. During her time as first lady, Mrs. Roosevelt was an avid traveler who journeyed far and wide to further the advancement of women in both the workplace and the social sphere.
Mrs. Roosevelt loved travel, something she has in common with many of her modern counterparts. According to the Travel Industry Association, 32 million American single women traveled in 2018. And of those 86% say they are not afraid to travel alone. So with female travel on the rise, where are women jetting off to and why are they going there?
For recent college graduate Andrea Mangulabnan, her first solo travel experience came along by accident. She was studying abroad in London during the spring of 2019 when she decided to cross the Irish Sea and explore Dublin, Ireland. Unfortunately, she couldn’t find a travel companion whose schedule matched hers. So she decided to go alone. “This was something that I really wanted to do and I didn’t want to sacrifice the trip just because no one else would come with me,” she remembers. So, after talking to people who had been there and looking at travel blogs about the Irish capital written by people who were around her age, she decided to go by herself. “Besides,” she smiles, “Dublin is pretty close to London and very inexpensive.”
On her weekend trip, Mangulabnan visited the famous Guinness Storehouse where she tried her very first pint. The Marketing major also spent hours exploring a floor of the Storehouse completely dedicated to Guinness Advertising, something she doesn’t know if she would have been able to do had she been with a group of people.
Confidence gained by traveling alone soon led to other excursions. Upon returning to London, she visited many museums on her own. She also went skydiving alone in Switzerland when her travel companion decided not to join her. “I began to feel free and comfortable with myself, knowing that I could do whatever I wanted.”
The one downside? She remembers initially it was a little awkward asking someone to take photos of her, but she did not let their confusion at her being alone get her down.
Where to Start
Rebekah Anaya, the Study Abroad and Peace Corps Prep Coordinator, at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, is a seasoned world traveler and has been to 26 countries on six continents. While living in Spain, she made frequent solo visits to towns such as Grenada and Seville. She also visited Belgium, intrigued by the food in the country and set off to do some solo culinary exploration.
Now a professional in the travel industry assisting college students create their own study abroad experiences, Anaya has some suggestions for safe places where women traveling alone can go. She says Western Europe, Canada and the Australia – New Zealand areas are good options for novice solo travelers because they are generally safe and fairly easy to navigate. They also speak English, host many American students and are used to having American tourists in their cities.
Language barriers can be one of the biggest issues solo travelers confront, says Anaya, so she recommends you know some basic phrases and slang before you take off. Hello, Goodbye, Thank you, and I don’t speak that language are essential. Also good to know: How much is…, Where can I find a taxi, bus, train? and I’m really not interested.
Custom and what is considered polite and impolite can vary greatly from country to country, so Anaya also recommends doing some cultural research ahead of time. In Thailand, for example, you never touch anybody’s head or sit so that the sole of your foot points at another person. Some populations don’t like to be touched by strangers. That’s why in India, Thailand and Burma people wai instead of shake hands. Going to China? Then be sure to take a debit or credit card. Merchants there no longer like to accept cash.
What to Wear
When she travels, she also always tries to adhere to the country’s modesty standards to avoid standing out as a tourist. For instance, if you are visiting a Muslim country, leave your short skirts and shorts are home. Hijabs are not mandatory for Western women but they are a sign of respect that Muslim men and women will appreciate if you are walking through a crowded market.
If you’re a woman, you probably do not want to go to Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq or Iran due to restrictions on women. But you’ll have a great time in Jordan, where you can take a bus down to Petra, stopping off at the Dead Sea for a mud bath, and visit ruins of old Crusader Castles along the way. After spending a full day wandering around Petra, head for Aqaba, a resort city on the Gulf of Aqaba that doesn’t mind women wearing bathing suits on the beach. On the drive back to Amman, stop at Wadi Rum, where responsible Bedouin guides will take you into the desert for a closer look at The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, a rock formation that British soldier T.E. Lawrence used as the title of his autobiography.
There are several travel companies that specialize in tours for single women. One such group in Annapolis, Maryland is Women Traveling Together. Founded in 1997 by a single woman who wanted to travel but did not want to be the only single woman on tours primarily designed for couples. WTT seeks to create an enjoyable and safe experience for all who are willing to contribute to the group as a whole.
The company has tours all over the nation ranging from hiking in West Virginia to touring the bright lights and city streets of Manhattan, to relaxing in the Florida Keys. Most trips last less than a week and allow participants to immerse themselves in various cultural experiences. It also has trips to the Albuquerque Balloon Festival in October and to New York City in May to experience Manhattan’s different neighborhoods.
There are also several Facebook groups like The Solo Female Traveler Network and Solo Female Travelers that are meant to “empower women through travel.” With over half a million members combined, both groups are full of women helping each other on their solo travel journeys. You may even meet a lifelong friend along the way.
Go to Guatemala
Solo travel gives you the chance to try your wings, crash and then fly again. Want to improve your Spanish, then don’t head to Mexico which can be over touristed. Try Guatemala. Guatemala City is beautiful and inexpensive. You can get a day tour to Antigua, a beautiful Spanish colonial city that once served as Guatemala’s capital, fly to Tikal to see Mayan ruins or drive to Chichicastenango, the most colorful Indian market in Central America where you can stay at the Santo Thomas Hotel in a room with a wood burning fireplace.
Abroad at Home
Or stay in the U.S. and get a different kind of Spanish colonial experience in New Mexico’s capital of Santa Fe. It has great shopping along Canyon Road, Indian artisans selling authentic jewelry across from the downtown square and some of the best Mexican food in the Southwest. Plus, it’s an easy drive to Indian pueblos nearby. Yes, it will require some planning since you’ll have to fly into Albuquerque and drive 60 mins to Santa Fe. But then you’ll have a car to see Taos, which has a pueblo in the middle of town.
Las Vegas, Nevada
If you’re in the mood for a thrill, head to Sin City itself where you can still enjoy the gambling and bar scene just with more distance and fewer people around you. If night life isn’t your thing, book a tour to the Grand Canyon or the Hoover Dam. There are many group tour options, so you are around others while still enjoying your independence. Vegas is considered relatively safe for women traveling alone, just remember, as with any major city, to stay vigilant about your surroundings.
Door County, Wisconsin
For a more sedate option than Las Vegas try Door County, Wisconsin. It’s a haven for Scandinavian culture in the Midwest. Here, you can have an authentic cultural experience without ever picking up your passport. Immerse yourself in the old custom of Hygge, a practice that promotes coziness and comfort as part of everyday life, or dine at one of their many restaurants to try some local cuisine.
Sans pandemic there really is no place like New York City. It is one of my favorite places to go alone. There is just so much to do, and with so many people, I never felt alone. Two years ago, I hopped on a 30-dollar bus from Syracuse University and spent three days reading in Central Park and using my Student ID for a discounted ticket to see Starry Night at the Museum of Modern Art. I even ended up on the stage at Radio City Music Hall and attended a Broadway theater with a 25-dollar ticket, the prize of a long wait at a ticket center that morning. New York is one of the most expensive cities in the world, but I found plenty of cheap eats – be it dollar pizza or sticking to appetizers. Locations like Central Park and the High Line give you beautiful views and a workout for free.
There is no denying that traveling alone can be daunting- scary even. The idea of total and utter self-reliance does not come naturally to all people. Travel is meant to be an enjoyable experience, not a stress inducing one. So, don’t feel like you have to kick off your solo travel career with an extensive trip backpacking across the mountains of Spain or spending time on a remote island in the Pacific Ocean.
Larry Bleiberg, the President of the Society of American Travel Writers, suggests, starting small. Really small if you need to. Become a tourist in your town. Hop on Yelp or TripAdvisor and find a place you’ve never been to before —there must be one, and just go. Spend a few hours at the local mom and pop shop you’ve seen but never gone into. Spend a few hours with your journal or a book in a park.
Then when you feel comfortable with that, look for a place close by. Then another one a bit further away. And another. And another until you have reached your personal travel goals and come to know new destinations.
Amanda Morris is a junior at Syracuse University, pursuing a degree in Television, Radio, and Film at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.