Traveling as a single woman
December 16, 2015 4:14 PM   Subscribe

I've never traveled alone except to destinations where I already knew someone. I've been to Europe a couple of times with friends and a few times to Canada, so there's still a lot of territory for me to explore. My friends are more and more pairing off and getting married, and the few remaining single friends I would like to travel with have not been very interested when I've brought it up. I'd like to figure out if I can learn to enjoy this alone.

* I'm a very anxious person. Even when traveling with a friend I feel anxious in a new place and want to hunker down in the hotel room with a book. Often I don't actually have much FUN on a trip. Remembering the trip is usually more enjoyable than the trip itself. Even at home I don't really enjoy going to museums or concerts alone - I feel restless and unable to focus and generally leave early.
* My idea for fixing the above is a trip with an agenda - a class or workshop (singing, art, language lessons) that would give each day some purpose and structure.
* And of course, I want a destination that's reasonable in price but safe.

I'd appreciate location suggestions and also any tips re my travel concerns. Thank you!
posted by bunderful to Travel & Transportation (28 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
I'm like you- a single gal who loves to travel, whose friends are getting paired off / married / having kids, and whose remaining single friends aren't very interested in travel or have extremely busy schedules. I do find traveling alone kind of lonely as sharing the experience is such a wonderful part of travel, but I'm not going to NOT travel if I have the opportunity to and no one else is able to join me.

I got great answers here when I asked about a last minute solo female trip. I did Berlin -> Prague -> Munich and it was fabulous. I felt really safe in Berlin and Prague though I did not venture out after dark (it was also late May, and it would still be light until 9pm, though). A close friend joined me in Munich which was good because it turned out our hotel was in a slightly dicier part of town near casinos and strip clubs.

I did Kauai alone just a few weeks ago when the friend who was going to travel with me dropped out due to a family emergency and it was also very nice and safe.

I am a planner and I'm an itinerary person so I knew exactly where I was going each day and how to get there as I planned it out / researched everything in advance. This took away a lot of the anxiety of a new place. I'm also an anxious person and the planning helped a lot. I also sent the itinerary and all the places I was staying to my sister so that someone knew where I was and the general vicinity I'd be in, just in case I disappeared or something (she also had me email her each night when I was back in my hotel room- anxiety runs in our family and she was worried about the little sister traveling alone :)).
posted by raw sugar at 4:27 PM on December 16, 2015 [5 favorites]

For a specific place/idea: how about Polish Language Courses in Krakow? They have classes in the morning + extra classes if you want in the afternoon + organized outings with the group, again, only if you want. You'll have a group of people you can hang out if you feel like company; or, you can run away and do things by yourself.

The city is very inexpensive, and pretty safe-- as a young woman (mid 20s), I felt fine walking back from a bar in the square back to my apartment (just off the main square, arranged through the program). And it's a fantastic city for just sort of grabbing a drink, a book, and just sitting on the square.
posted by damayanti at 4:38 PM on December 16, 2015

Would you be happier taking a group tour?
posted by brujita at 4:39 PM on December 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

I have a friend with the same issues (I had to click through to your profile to check if you were her!).

It seems like there should be enough single female travelers to find or form a club where y'all can pair off and do things together?
posted by Jacqueline at 4:40 PM on December 16, 2015

Here was my similar question with tons of great advice: Traveling with me, myself, and I.
posted by cecic at 4:49 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This site GoVoluntouring lists many options to travel around the world and spend several weeks helping communities. (Note: You have to pay for the privilege.) A friend of mine did a few weeks of art restoration in Altamura, Italy. She went alone but made friends there with people from around the world, and while the days were busy, the evenings were very social. There's a listing for saving endangered sea turtles in Greece that sounds right up my alley!
posted by ejs at 5:06 PM on December 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Can you pinpoint what triggers your anxiety? For example, I know I really don't like getting into taxis in strange places, especially when I don't speak the language. I plan for that in advance (hotel within walking distance, public transit, research taxi companies before, etc). If you know what triggers you, you can troubleshoot. Almost every safety concern can be alleviated by either planning or throwing money at the problem.

You can also practice 'traveling' alone at home by going to museums, restaurants, or classes on your own to see how you feel about it. Are there things you can do to increase your fun?

Or there are ways to make travel social, either through group tours, staying in social hostels, websites like Couchsurfing (not just for staying at people's places), finding groups that share your hobbies, seeing if anyone has a friend of a friend.
posted by oryelle at 5:06 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Iceland is incredible and safe. Not only is it safe but you also FEEL very safe. I've been to many places I know are perfectly safe but have horrible poverty and things just seem sad and so DIFFERENT that I've felt uneasy traveling alone there for no good reason.

In Iceland food and rental cars can be pricey (although shopping at grocery stores can make negate the food issue). Lodging, if you book early, can be incredible and reasonable. My direct airfare from Boston was under $400 RT.

I know of nothing like organized classes, but I feel like if you did a bit of planning you could make your own agenda - you could book a tour, whale watch, or museum every day. Lots and lots of tours go from the capital. A road trip vacation could also be a part of that... Day one drive 30 miles to this waterfall walk, etc.

I went the end of June when it never got dark - it added to this safe feeling since I knew I was never going to get stuck driving in the dark because I miscalculated time.

It's an incredible place to go and I think going to get more and more popular - which in my book, means it loses a little bit of it's charm. So go soon!
posted by ReluctantViking at 5:08 PM on December 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

I would look into wwoof or some kinda of work exchange. I'm also a socially anxious person, but I've traveled alone a few times and I enjoyed it the most when I was working with a family and had a connection to the locals' world. This way you are technically alone, but not really, because you have a base and people to talk to.
posted by monologish at 5:20 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Not sure if you're an introvert, but I have traveled alone on occasion and completely relate to wanting to hunker down in a hotel with a book. And you know what? Reading in a hotel room is awesome! Some of my favorite memories of the first time I traveled alone (to San Francisco) was grabbing dinner and taking it back to my hotel room to spend the time gloriously alone. I felt so guilty at the time, but I didn't feel safe going out by myself at night and didn't have anything to do, anyway. It is so nice to have quiet time away from real life.

I advise you to let yourself have the hotel room as home base for whenever you need it. Nip in during the day and spend some time soaking in a familiar(ish), private space, and don't feel guilty. You're still doing something different than your normal routine, and that is as nourishing as grand adventure travel.

If you're into traveling in the US, Amtrak would be an amazing way to take a low-key trip by yourself while seeing a lot of beautiful things. Amy Merrick (a florist who I guess is kind of a big deal?) blogged for Amtrak about a trip she made and it's SO inspiring, it seems like a lovely way to ease into solo travel: Amy Merrick’s Amtrak ‘Grams From the Rails.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 5:24 PM on December 16, 2015 [8 favorites]

The Fodor's guides list courses in every city, which may be of interest to you.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:34 PM on December 16, 2015

Gutsy Women does group tours for women either traveling alone or with a pal. Maybe this sort of a trip would interest you. They go to a wide variety of locations around the world.
posted by OkTwigs at 5:43 PM on December 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

I went on vacation by myself for the first time this summer, at 44. I spent three weeks in France, Switzerland and Italy and stayed with friends initially and at AirBnBs for the rest part. I played it by ear, traveled by rental car and then train and booked each place only a couple of days in advance*. I reported continuously about my trip to Facebook and those of my friends back home originally from these countries, suggested places to go. It was really fun to have all my peeps enjoying my vacation vicariously.

At home I don't really like going to museums - perhaps because I never go alone - but on this trip I absolutely loved it. I could skip all the boring bits and just see what I was interested in. I met locals, practiced my French and Italian, and didn't overeat like I might have done if other people had to be accommodated. I was happy with a sandwich on many days.

I took wonderful photos all along - this is a hobby of mine anyway - and that was enough to keep me busy back at the hotel sorting through them and post-processing them.

I felt totally safe in Italy, walking about at all hours, even at 1 in the morning. It was wonderful being able to walk everywhere.

*Occasionally an AirBnB host might not reply in time and you're left stranded. But not to worry, there are always hotels you can book to tide you over.
posted by Dragonness at 6:41 PM on December 16, 2015

i think you might enjoy japan. we visited there a few months ago and were really impressed with how friendly everyone was (it also seemed safe - something i just confirmed with some google searching - and organized). and it wasn't as crazy-expensive as we expected. however, i guess the language barrier may make it harder to find something like a workshop.

(when i travelled solo as a student what i liked least was eating in restaurants - i used to take a book to read, to give me something to do while waiting to be served. however, now that i am older, i actually quite enjoy eating out alone when i get the chance. i think that comes with realising, over the years, that it's ok to just sit there and stare out the window, at the people passing by, or surreptitiously watch the other clientele (there's also the anonymity of age, i guess). but i realise this is pretty useless advice if you're anxious anyway. sorry).
posted by andrewcooke at 7:37 PM on December 16, 2015

I second Japan. I'm generalizing here but Japanese people are inherently respectful, and reserved, yet open minded and curious. It's so easy to get around Japan, and so many things to see that are incredibly different from home. You could also set up an informal tour with a student who will show you around for a day, what they get is practicing English and a modest tip from you. You can get a train pass that will allow you travel easily from city to city. Another similar but more colorful (and underrated) destination is Taiwan.

Another idea! Perhaps warm yourself to the idea of solo travel by taking domestic trips / roadtrips so that you're not too far from the comforts of home.

Last idea! Just relax on a beach somewhere.

For what it's worth, I too feel apprehensive when I travel, even though I've been to my fair share of places, its always been with others. Someday I hope I'm brave enough to do what you're trying!... kudos to you.
posted by watrlily at 8:04 PM on December 16, 2015

I loved loved loved traveling alone, but also I'm an anxious traveler too. I dealt with this in a couple ways - first I had a rule about not going out at night alone. If I found other women in hostels to connect with, I did, but when it got dark I was back at the homestead. This could limit your experience, but I just got up with the sunrise and caught more of the day. I also am a big reader when I travel, so I often went to places with great street cafes and parks and sat and read and watched people etc. for long periods of time. So much fun. I think there is pressure to do certain things when you travel, but when you travel alone, you can do whatever the heck you want. Who is to judge!!

So places? Spain is wonderful for this and safe. Other european countries work well too. I've traveled in central america and found both Guatemala and Costa Rica to be friendly to lady travelers with some obvious precautions.
posted by Toddles at 8:40 PM on December 16, 2015

I travel alone a lot (friends have partners or dislike leaving their apartments), and even before I learned any of the language, Japan was one of my favourite places. It's easy to get around by train, outside Tokyo/Osaka everything is pretty cheap, and people will leave you alone to read your book, if that's what you want. And Japan has the best cafes and the best stationery shops in the world.
posted by betweenthebars at 9:26 PM on December 16, 2015

I love to travel, and love travelling alone so I am probably not the best at advice because for me it is not really an issue. However this part of your question stood out:

Often I don't actually have much FUN on a trip.

Why do you want to travel? Do you actually want to travel or is it something you feel you 'must' do? Here's the thing - recreational travel can be awesome, but it is not compulsory. If it is not fun, it makes you anxious, you will spend the whole time wondering if you are 'doing it right' or feeling lonely, you don't have to go.
posted by Megami at 9:56 PM on December 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

The best thing about traveling solo is that YOU get to decide what you do. If you want to hunker down in your hotel room and read a book, then no-one is going to hassle you into going to a dodgy salsa club or a "cultural theater experience" if you don't want to. And if you get a blister, you don't feel like you're inconveniencing anyone if you decide to spend the afternoon sitting in a cafe in the town square people-watching instead of traipsing around a museum.

If you're anxious about traveling, build a detailed itinerary before you go. (But do feel free to throw that out the window if something better comes up!).

I've done a lot of solo traveling. Early days was backpacking, now I do what I call "luxury backpacking" which means finding a hostel where I can book a single room with an ensuite. Hostels have communal areas that you can hang out in and meet other people. Which is good for many reasons. You get to chat to other people (and after a day walking around by yourself when you don't speak the language, even as an introvert, I need that). You get good advice about the places you're going to next. And sometimes you meet people that you might want to go out to dinner with, or to a bar, or to share a taxi with the next day, or be your bus companion to the next town. And sometimes it's full of drunken 21 year olds that you don't want to have anything to do with, which is when hunkering down in your room is definitely the best option!

You may want to look into group trips - especially trips that allow some free time - that might reduce the anxiety? Also maybe look into wwoof, helpx and workaway options?

And cecic's link is pure gold.
posted by finding.perdita at 11:41 PM on December 16, 2015

Best answer: I was a single, anxious, late 30's woman travelling alone. I started thinking about, researching and planning my trips 18 months in advance and booked my accommodation before leaving. My first solo trip was to England and Scotland, so language wasn't an issue. I went on group walking tours in the evenings. I found lots of ideas and inspiration in Journeywoman magazine.
posted by strasbourg at 12:38 AM on December 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Look into activity holidays. Most people on them are single (I mean, they may be partnered up in real life, but people usually come on the holiday alone or with a friend instead of their partner). You spend the day with the group so there's company if you want it, but you can spend nights on your own if you want to.

I went on an amazing swimming holiday in Turkey with Swimtrek a few years ago. They do trips to lots of other European countries too. Scuba diving in Egypt is a classic, there are far too many operators to list but it is a wonderful thing to do. Or you could do a walking holiday, or a cycling tour. Accommodation and food would be organised, you'd have a guide, and the groups are usually small enough for everyone to get to know each other fairly quickly.
posted by tinkletown at 2:27 AM on December 17, 2015

I'd say do some safe practice trips. Book a room for a weekend in a town a couple hours away with easy parking. Then, force yourself out of the room and just walk around. Don't force yourself to do anything you don't want to do, but do force yourself to leave the room for X hours per day (after breakfast and before lunch, after lunch until dinner, etc.)
posted by Piedmont_Americana at 3:33 AM on December 17, 2015

Best answer: on not having fun during the trip: perhaps the most interesting part of kahneman's "thinking fast and slow" is about the relative value of experience lived v retrospectively. and it's fair to say that (1) things are complicated and (2) doing something unpleasant that you later look back on with pleasure is not necessarily "wrong".
posted by andrewcooke at 4:12 AM on December 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've been single for a very, very long time and forced myself to travel alone because if I didn't, I'd never get to go anywhere. I used to hate it, I felt like it wasn't fair that everyone else got someone to travel with and I didn't.

BUT I clicked how to enjoy it - I had to stay active. My favourite hobby is hiking, the first solo hiking holiday I did was brilliant. I was out walking every day in gorgeous countryside (Cappadocia, in central Turkey). I realised that I need to keep myself busy or I just dwell on why am I alone and no-one else is, or I wander aimlessly around and get bored.

So yes - keep busy doing things YOU want to do, not things you think you should be doing, I find that really helps. I would strongly recommend Work Away, I've not used them yet myself but I will in the near future.

As for destinations - see other replies to your question!
posted by sarahdal at 6:34 AM on December 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

As a single female, now a white-haired single female, I take whatever reasonable precautions I can for safety, like avoiding sketchy neighborhoods, and having a competent, strong stance. I often don't enjoy dinner alone, so I'm more likely to go out for lunch, and have a light evening meal in my room, or maybe a pub if available, or a hotel restaurant - not always a fantastic choice for food and affordability.

I'm an extrovert and too much alone time doesn't feel great. I try to participate in activities I enjoy if I can find a local group - it's a good way to meet people, even if just for a beer after an event. In some places, it's typical for extra seats at a table to be shared, and that can be social and nice. I like walking in new towns and cities, some hiking, museums, music, nature, and just seeing how other cultures experience life.

If you're part of a group - alumni, professional organization, whatever - you might find group travel to feel safer and less stressful. I've done short trips and it's fun to have people to do stuff with. Please don't let the anxiety of being out there on your own, feeling obvious single, deter you from going places. I always fear that, but it passes, and I have had some excellent travels.
posted by theora55 at 11:09 AM on December 17, 2015

I used to travel extensively for work and would often tack on a few days or a week extra so I could have some personal travel time in whatever area I was in. I traveled throughout Canada, UK, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, and Bulgaria alone. I enjoyed all those places and would love to go back to any of them.

I get the anxious feeling for sure. To me, it beats feeling totally blase and bored about your surroundings, but it might be nice to have some middle ground! As a low stress activity to acclimate to where I am, I usually seek out a park or some natural area and check that out, find a bench and take in all the passersby for a little while. Maybe roam around and take a few pictures. Then plan out a couple more ambitious activities.

I think your idea of signing up for a workshop or class somewhere and having that be one of your main purposeful activities is a really, really good one!
posted by medeine at 1:25 PM on December 17, 2015

Best answer: Check out Adventures in Good Company, which does women-only adventure and outdoorsy travel. You can do everything from day hiking while staying in a hotel to intensive hiking, in all parts of the world. There's structure and learning and just enough company for introverts.

I had a very good experience with them myself on a US-based trip a few years ago, and hope to go on one of their excursions again at some point.
posted by mishaps at 3:11 PM on December 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've been thinking about your question but hesitating to answer because it depends SO much on your personality and interests. Like, I loved Switzerland and Slovenia and Croatia for the amazing scenery while hiking and kayaking, but the more famous/larger cities I visited in Europe were kinda boring for me, just people and buildings like anywhere else (ok ok, it was still really cool to see all the famous stuff, but I don't have much interest in returning to any particular city). I'm sure many other people would have literally opposite reactions.

I'm also very anxious though, particularly while travelling, so maybe I can give a few tips from that angle, based on what's worked best for me:

-have all the important details figured out in advance: ideally 1-2 activities planned or even booked for each "city day", but more importantly, all accommodations and travel between cities carefully researched and in most cases booked, including lots of buffer time for things like hostel check-in deadlines, getting to airports on time, etc etc. (Again this is extremely personality-dependent, many people prefer to "go with the flow", but I find that much more stressful, and I liked the researching process anyway). It also might help to have a "set up" routine in each new city (e.g. I always find my hostel first and a grocery store second...I'm much less anxious once I have a "home base" set up with food and internet, instead of feeling like a hobo).

-Pick your locations very carefully, with a clear attraction that you're really into, not just "metafilter said it was cool". Think about what you've enjoyed the most (or been annoyed with the most) on previous trips. Are you most excited by museums, places with random cool histories, very different cultures, nature/outdoor sports, fashion, fancy restaurants, historical or current arts, famous movie locations? Do you prefer "difficult/interesting" or "easy/familiar" places (language, culture, transportation, etc)? Would you rather spend time with locals, other travellers, or just keep to yourself? Etc etc. Contrary to many travel guides (which tend to heavily promote the "10 best cities to visit" or the "find somewhere as different from your own culture as possible and go chill with the locals" approach), I don't think any locations are universally "best".... it all depends on your personality.

-Avoid judging yourself (or worrying about other people judging you) for not travelling "properly". If you feel like staying in all day and reading, that's fine! If everyone in your hostel is going out partying but you don't really feel like it, that's fine too! It's your trip, not a generic "ideal trip to wherever for whoever". In Italy, everyone says you need to try the local food, but I still cooked all my own meals because I get anxious eating in restaurants by myself and the slightly-tastier food isn't worth the extra cost to me (also, I dislike pasta and pizza, which limited the affordable restaurant options). I'd worry about missing out on an "experience", but figuring out how to cook on an ancient gas stove without blowing myself up thanks to pantomimed+Italian instructions from my also-ancient landlord and her husband was its own experience (and the meal was amazing too, with all the super-fresh ingredients!). In Berlin, everyone says you need to go check out the amazing nightlife, but I wasn't feeling well so I stayed in the hostel for a whole day on my laptop and didn't go to a single bar. But that was the best choice for me at the time - I'm not a big partier anyway and would have been miserable going out sick (and even worse the next day, with a hangover). So many people will tell you "the best part of travelling is meeting new people", but when I stay in hostels, I'm friendly but mostly keep to myself. As a strong introvert, I have much more fun exploring on my own without worrying about making small talk with that's what I do. If you feel nervous or bored on your own, you might prefer organized group travel of some kind, or just try to make friends in hostels and go out with them. A huge advantage of solo travel is that it lets you do whatever's best for you like that, without worrying about what's right for anyone else.

-Similarly, don't beat yourself up for feeling stressed while travelling or not having "enough fun" during the actual trip. I think I'm always going to be an anxious traveller and that's ok. Sometimes anxiety just means you're out of your comfort zone, which is often a good thing. Exploring new places will never be as relaxing as lying on a tropical beach for a week, and you may or may not be as "happy" during the actual trip...but I bet you'll have better memories, and more fun looking at your photos later. To me, that tradeoff is more than worth it. If it isn't for you, even when you're travelling in a way and place that works for you, maybe travel isn't really your thing, and that's ok too! Also, I like to end my big trips with a day or two somewhere beachy/relaxing if possible, which helps a lot with the feeling of "I just had a 2 week vacation, why am I still so stressed ahh". Or just take a day "off" here and there to chill out in a park (or coffee shop, or whatever your ideal chilling out location is).

-I can't comment much on the safety thing since I never felt particularly unsafe anywhere. It probably helped that I stayed in the hostel most nights to unwind after a busy day of exploring, and when I did go out at night, it was in places where there was a lot of activity. I was also much more aware of my surroundings than usual (combination of watching out for pickpockets and sightseeing/people-watching) so that probably helped too. You're probably going to be fine doing whatever you normally would to feel safe at home, unless you're behaving radically differently from usual or going somewhere with a radically different culture/general safety level.
posted by randomnity at 3:30 PM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

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