Solo travelling as a female can be daunting, but it shouldn’t be! Travelling on your own can be an amazing experience. After all, you’re your own boss, and the only person you need to worry about is yourself. To help keep you calm and to answer some of your questions, girlie gapper Cara Grayling answered your questions:
Before you set off on your trip, didn’t you have any qualms about being a solo female backpacker?
Sure, I had the odd nervous moment, which is natural. It’s good to feel a bit scared, as long as you deal with your worries by staying informed. I got advice from books, and this wonderful website of course! It’s better than being blasé and wandering into danger. That said, there’s no point staying awake at night worrying, being so paranoid it ruins your trip. There is a balance. It seems scary, but the media exaggerate horror stories. You never hear on the news that thousands of women backpacked round the world safely. You could get mugged or beaten up in your home town on a Friday night.
How did your parents react to the news that you would be travelling alone?
They didn’t love the idea at first, but I think they worried more about the career issue, that I’d bum around for the next five years and ruin my CV, and how would I raise the money to go. Once they realised I was determined to go and had thought it through – and most importantly – wasn’t expecting them to fund the trip, they relaxed.
All parents worry, but if they love you they won’t want to limit you. My mum did have the odd moment of parental concern (for example, suggesting I take a personal rape alarm), but as long as you show you’ve thought about safety issues and are responsible, they’ll chill out. My mum is quite cool, and has been inspired by my travels; she wants to travel the world in her retirement!
When on the road, did you come across many other female travellers?
Loads! You think you’ll be the only one, but there are so many solo female travellers. Don’t worry about being the only loner among loads of groups and couples, you won’t! I made some great girl friends from Japan and the US as well as the UK, many of whom I’m still in touch with, all who were all travelling alone.
Is it easy to make friends when you are travelling?
Definitely. I made so many friends. Travellers are often a lot friendlier and more open than at home, especially solo ones. Everyone wants to make friends. I think solo female travellers are more approachable; if you’re with friends or in a couple people might tend to leave you to yourself a bit more.
You will get chatting in hostels, in your dorm room or just go to the communal areas and sit there looking like you want to meet people! People will often come and talk to you, if not, pick someone who you’d like to get to know and go and talk to them. Just say hello and ask where they’ve been, where they’re going, how long they’ve been around and if they’d recommend anything cool to do or see.
Did you ever try wearing a fake wedding ring to detract attention from yourself, if not; do you think this might be a good plan in some countries?
No. I considered it for the Asia part of my trip, but decided not to bother. Girls alone will get attention anyway. People in South East Asia are curious and don’t think twice about asking personal questions! If you need to, you can always invent a boyfriend, which I did on occasions. This works just as well. However, you will need a good story about where they are – Asians don’t do anything alone. ‘Stomach upset’ or ‘Gone to the shop’ both work well as excuses. You’ll also be asked their name, how long you’ve been together and their shoe size!
However, you don’t always need to lie; say you’re travelling alone if you feel comfortable doing so. It’s not always a problem. It might even inspire local girls to travel! Wearing a fake wedding ring might be a good plan in strict Muslim countries, where it would be a problem travelling alone or in an unmarried couple.
In which country did you find it hardest to be a solo female traveller and why?
I went to Oz, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Each one was different, and had different challenges. Indonesia was the least developed, but in many ways I felt safer than in Thailand. Thailand is more westernised and geared towards tourists and there is more crime. However, I don’t think I could describe one as the hardest.
What top five tips would you give to a girl about to go round the world on her lonesome?
My top tips for solo female travellers are:
- Don’t be too hard on yourself while on the road. Travel is hard work. The occasional treat like a night in a nice hotel, a trip to the cinema, a shopping trip or a nice meal will recharge your batteries. As long as you stick to your budget 90% of the time, it shouldn’t do too much damage.
- Make the most of your trip; you’ll only get one chance to travel the world. Don’t be limited by being a solo female traveller. You can do anything you want to.
- Be friendly and open… but not too much so – take your time getting to know people, until you’re certain you can trust them. It’s a hard balance to get right, but can be learned.
- Do the trip your way. Don’t let anyone tell you what makes a worthwhile gap year, they’re all worthwhile! Take your straighteners if you want to – as long as you have room in your pack! It’s your trip, no one else’s!
- Do a first trial pack at least a week before you go. You may well end up in tears as you find you can’t do your pack up – or can’t lift it! You’ll need to do several re-packs and re-thinks. Be strict, but allow yourself one or two luxuries. And yes, it is a good idea to leave space in your pack… for shopping purposes! And it relieves a lot of stress not to struggle to do up your pack each time you move on.
Did you take any extra safety precautions on the road?
Some. I think it’s more a general attitude and awareness than specific things you do. That said, I did a self-defence course, which I would recommend. I took a personal safety alarm, but the only time I used it was when I set it off by accident in the middle of Woolworths in Sydney… the other customers nearby were not impressed! I kept my backpack padlocked, and kept all valuables locked in there, in a safe, or on me. I photocopied my passport, ticket and travellers’ cheques and kept those separately.
In certain guesthouses in some parts of Asia, I used my spare padlock to lock my room door at night. It just made me feel more secure.
It is just common sense. Use your instincts. As has been said on this site, your instincts are not at their sharpest at 3am when drunk, so try not to get too drunk and get into dodgy situations. You know how to keep safe at home so do the same things. There is more to worry about as you’re travelling, but if you were travelling in the UK, you wouldn’t leave your valuables in plain view or walk around in a dodgy area at 2am. Problems happen if you get into the holiday spirit and relax too much. You can become too paranoid though! There is a balance.
What are the best things about travelling on your own?
My favourite thing being a solo female traveller is you’re the boss. You can get up when you want and stay in each place as long as you want. If you want to see something, you see it; if you want to spend a lazy day on the beach, you can do that. You don’t have to take anyone else into consideration. Although you will make friends, who you can turn to if you need help, you rely on yourself more which is great. You’ll know you can look after yourself. You can always find company if you want to, or chill by yourself if you want your own space. You won’t be around someone 24/7. To be honest, if I went travelling with most of my mates for any length of time they’d start to annoy me!
Did you have a hard time at first and how did you get through that?
I guess I felt a bit homesick. I also got winter blues, as I’d gone from baking hot midsummer in the UK to Sydney in winter. I did what I felt like – took it easy for the first few days. Obviously I was jetlagged, tired, and everything was new. It’s not the time to push yourself, if you feel like eating chocolate and lying on your bed, going to McDonald’s or going to the cinema or doing other familiar things, do that. However, I also did some easy sightseeing… seeing Sydney’s Darling Harbour and the Opera House. It reminded me why I’d come halfway across the world. I also got out and met other travellers – between the chocolate eating – so I didn’t feel so alone. I phoned and e-mailed everyone back home too. Remember it’s normal to feel a bit homesick, wobbly and strange for the first few days, it will pass.
What’s been your dodgiest moment on the road?>
Well, I got talking to a local guy in Indonesia, and became friendly. He turned out to be scary and wanted to be more than friends. I didn’t and I made that clear, but he wouldn’t give up. I generally realised he was quite a strange individual. I swiftly changed my guesthouse and avoided places he’d be, and booked a bus ticket out of town (which I’d seen everything in anyway). He seemed nice at first but it is easy to trust people. At least I didn’t go to his home or anywhere not public… it could’ve been so much dodgier.”
How can I convince my parents that travelling on my own is really a good idea!?
Communicate with them. Throwing a teenage style strop is not the way to convince them you are mature enough to go travelling. Being dismissive and saying ‘you’ll be fine’ also won’t work; they’ll just keep on nagging.
Talk through their concerns, get them to be really specific about what they’re worried about, not just ‘it’s dangerous…’ Explain what you will do to alleviate that specific danger, e.g. carry valuables in a money belt, not walk around alone late at night in dodgy areas, do a self defence course etc… They’ll then realise you have thought about this issue and can cope. Also, get them involved from the beginning, not when you’ve planned the whole trip already (but only when you’ve definitely decided to go, and have some initial ideas of when and where.) If they sense you’re unsure, they’ll be more likely to try to talk you out of it.
Allow them to help out a bit (without letting them take over!) Keep them informed. Show them books you have – country guides, advice guides like ‘Before You Go’ and Rough Guides’ ‘First Time Around the World’. Direct them to this website (if they’re internet literate!) This will reassure them that there is advice and support out there for you. Also explain how you will benefit as a person from travelling e.g. from increased confidence, life skills and self-esteem. You might also want to point out that thousands of people go travelling every year, many of them young women travelling alone – again, if they see this site and some books they’ll soon see that for themselves. Be mature and show you’ve thought the whole thing through. They’ll soon come round to the idea and at the end of the day, you’re not going to be the only one solo travelling as a female.
How have you changed as a result of travelling on your own?
I am more self-confident, independent, and self-reliant. I challenge myself and have a go at things, where before I’d have been scared of failing and not even tried. I gained people skills, became friendlier and more open – not that I wasn’t before, but now I can talk to anyone. I am more aware and sensible, and generally gained life skills (reading a map, for example!) I have increased my self-esteem, through knowing what I achieved – which should give every gapper a sense of pride.