As someone who has traveled to over 30 countries solo (spanning the United States, Europe, East Asia, and Southeast Asia), I get asked a lot of questions.
How do you do it, Roopa? How do you travel alone?
Aren’t you scared to travel alone as a woman? Is it safe? Don’t you feel alone…and lonely?
All valid questions. And I’ll answer them shortly.
But if you’re thinking about traveling alone, start by asking yourself this extremely important question:
Do you want to travel alone?
I cannot stress how important this question is and how honestly you need to answer it. Not for the outside world, but for yourself. You can fool everyone else, but you cannot fool yourself—especially when it comes to traveling alone as a woman.
From personal experience, let me tell you: your desire to travel solo should not be because of peer pressure. Or because you have friends or acquaintances who’ve done it. Or because you just read your favorite travel blogger write about how much fun she had on her latest solo trip to Fiji. Or because you want to one-up men (“If men can do it, so can I!”). Or because you think you’re a 21st century woman and if women can go to space, surely you can go to Nepal on your own, right? Or because you think it’s a mental challenge you need to overcome. Or because you want to prove a point to friends, family, society, and even yourself that you can.
Not that these aren’t valid concerns, but…
Let me come back to that “but” in just a bit.
I traveled alone for the first time to Singapore in 2015. I’d just come back to India for good after having spent over a decade in the United States and I was hoping to land a job in the Lion City. Since I planned to scout for opportunities and land multiple interviews, I decided I needed to stay for at least a month.
In hindsight, when I traveled alone to Singapore, I had no real concept of the fact that I was going alone. To me, it felt like any of the hundreds of trips I’d made to the U.S. until then. I always flew alone from India to the U.S. and back. Sure, I flew from my home in India to my home in America, so just the flying part was solo. But to me, going to Singapore felt like that. I was flying solo to Singapore and staying in a hotel for the entire month; then I’d come back to India.
I’m still not sure why the fact I was traveling solo and staying in a hotel as opposed to my own home did not strike me. I think it was either because I was genuinely clueless or because I was so comfortable being by myself, being on my own, that traveling to Singapore on my own for a month seemed an extension of my daily life.
Also, I lucked out with my first solo trip as a woman because Singapore is an incredibly safe country to be in. After my first week there, returning home from a friend’s apartment in a taxi in the middle of the night was normal. The only other city I’ve ever done that in is Shanghai, because it’s also quite safe…and better to be safe than sorry.
And while I traveled a lot prior to 2015, it was always with family and friends. But since 2015, I’ve traveled to well over 30 countries alone because I genuinely like traveling alone.
So…back to that “but” above:
The key for me with solo travel is that I enjoy it.
It’s not for everyone and it doesn’t have to be. I didn’t start traveling solo because I had a point to prove to anyone. I did it, and still do, because I love it.
I’m comfortable with myself and I like my own company. I like knowing I can wake up at any time in the morning and go anywhere I want. I don’t have to go to seven museums in London because my family or friends want to. I can spend an entire day just watching gorgeous men surfing or count the various shades of blue on Bondi beach and do nothing else because I can. I love watching uber-stylish French men and women walking briskly by as I order crepes and hot chocolate at a Parisienne coffee shop. I like haggling and feeling triumphant over a good deal when buying a colorful jumpsuit at Ubud, Bali.
On the other hand, I also love traveling with friends and family. I’ve travelled to 48 states in the U.S. (haven’t been to Hawaii and Alaska yet)—most of them with friends driving from one state to the other. I loved traveling with my mom in western Europe and have travelled all over southern, rural India with my dad.
So before you think about traveling solo—before you decide whether you truly want to take the leap—ask yourself these tough questions:
Are you okay being a single woman and the ninth person in an eight-seater van in Hong Kong where there are four couples and…you? And the guide tells everyone loudly that you’re the only “single lady passenger” and they couldn’t find a place for you anywhere else?
Are you okay knowing you will never have those perfect Instagram-worthy pictures of yourself posing in front of the incredible Bayon temple at Angkor Vat in Cambodia, and that you may have to ask others to take a picture of you or just click selfies?
Are you okay knowing that you will be one of the few single people (sometimes the only single woman) eating breakfast alone in the morning at the café in your hotel in Vienna while you’re surrounded by noisy families with children and couples or groups of friends traveling together?
Are you okay knowing you’re standing and touching the historical Berlin Wall and you turn around to talk about the implication of the fall of the wall and the end of modern communism with someone and realize you’re all by yourself?
Are you okay knowing you’re inside the Hagia Sophia mosque in Istanbul and you’re awestruck by the sheer beauty of its colors and architecture but have no one to share it with?
Are you okay being excited AF that you’re standing at the very same spot where Game of Thrones was filmed at the Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach near Vik, Iceland, but there’s no one to show off to?
You see, I am okay with this. I’ve done every single one of the above and so many more and I am more than okay. I loved it all!
Because I like traveling. Alone or with others. But the key thing with the former is to want to do it. I like the freedom that comes with traveling alone. I like having the space to explore a new place, a new culture, a new country, and meet new people on my own.
But most of all, I feel comfortable knowing that while I am alone when I’m traveling, I am more than enough for myself and never feel lonely. There are too many places to see, too many people to meet, too many cultures to partake of, too many cuisines to enjoy, too many gorgeous men to ogle—just too much of everything for me to ever feel lonely.
And for anyone who wonders if it’s weird, odd, or dangerous traveling solo as a woman? Not really. We women instinctively know how to protect ourselves because we are conditioned to be careful on a daily basis, irrespective of where we are—at home or in a strange, new place. So, as you would every single day of your life, if you keep your wits about you, avoid unsafe places, don’t get into strangers’ vehicles for a quick lift back to your hotel, be smart about your choices (for example, if you’re in a conservative country, don’t wear skimpy clothing) you should be fine.
Also, in case you’re wondering if you’ll stick out like a sore thumb as a solo woman traveler? Sorry to disappoint you. Being a solo woman traveler is no longer like finding Big Foot. There are many of us these days.
So again, ask yourself: Do I want to travel alone?
If your answer is yes, then traveling alone becomes a simple case of logistics and being smart about how to do it safely instead of worrying about if you can do it or should you do it.
Happy Travelling, ladies!