Solo travel, especially for a female, is one of the most exhilarating, life-changing experiences a person can undertake.
I grew up with a single mom who, even though she had limited financial means, always made sure we took a family vacation every summer. These road trips always started before daybreak. She would lead my brother and me, half asleep, wrapped in my great-grandmother’s homemade blankets, into the backseat of our family car, where we would promptly fall back to sleep.
As the pre-dawn cool breezes turned into sweltering mid-morning humidity-infused heat, we would wake up, beyond excited for our journey. And of course, I am sure you all know what our first question was…“Are we there yet?”—followed by pleas for a bathroom break and something to eat.
Our vacations never included meals at fancy, sit-down restaurants, and only after lots of whining and bargaining did we ever talk her into the occasional detour to a Dairy Queen. Most of our meals took place at roadside rest stops. As kids, I don’t think we noticed the pungent smell of urine in the public restrooms or the grimy picnic tables.
Mom always packed a cooler the night before with our favorite sandwiches, chips, and sodas, and we happily scarfed it down while we giggled and asked the important questions. “Could we go swimming as soon as we get to the hot springs?” “Could we eat s’mores for dinner every night?” “Could we stay up late and catch fireflies?”
My adult road trips are nothing like those fun-filled childhood memories, but I am still filled with the same childlike anticipation as I plan my adventures and lie awake the night before, unable to sleep, eager for my trip to begin.
Traveling alone can be a bit scary at first, especially for a “mature” female who might be more aware of the need to be cautious. This fear of the unknown has not stopped me though, and I hope it won’t keep you from your next big adventure!
I am sharing my solo road trip tips with you in hopes that you will find the inspiration to start planning your own life-changing, wind in your hair, car radio blaring excursion into the unknown.
Do your research.
Play the childhood game of closing your eyes, and letting your finger randomly land on a spot on the map or retrieve a destination from your bucket list. However you determine your destination is up to you, but once you know where you are headed, the fun begins. Look into the different routes you can take to get there. How long it will take, camping or hotels, side trip possibilities. The resources I have used for this research include travel magazines like Condé Nast Traveler, Lonely Planet, and Frommer’s. And of course, Google.
I know this seems in complete contrast to tip number one. Unless your time is severely limited, don’t take the fastest or most direct route. Be adventurous! Once I was driving from Texas to California and realized that only a short detour—about five hours out of my way—and I could visit Marfa, Texas—one of my bucket list destinations.
Yes, it was a little scary as I drove along that deserted desert highway, but being able to see the Marfa lights, walk through some world-class art galleries, and chat it up with the locals was an unplanned adventure I will never regret.
Traveling alone can feel daunting in unfamiliar surroundings. Sites like TripAdvisor and AAA have review sections dedicated to solo female travelers that provide great suggestions on places that take extra effort in providing a safe environment.
Park in well-lit spots at night and there is no shame in asking a hotel clerk or security person to walk you to your car or your room. Leave items in your vehicle, like a man’s hat or jacket, to give the impression you are traveling with others. Share your travel plans with family members and close friends, remembering to include any last-minute changes and side trips. Never share too many details of your plans on your social media accounts. Save that for gloating after your return home. Always trust your instincts.
I mean this both figuratively and literally. A truckload of belongings is not necessary for this day and age. Let go of the unnecessary things, both physically and mentally that hold you back. I once did a two-week hike following Hadrian’s Wall on the border of England and Scotland with only what would fit in my backpack. No one judged me as I attended Easter Sunday service in the cathedral, officiated by the Archbishop of York, wearing my “life is good” T-shirt, khaki shorts, and hiking boots.
Take in the beauty of each moment. Experience the sounds and smells as the countryside streams past your window. Stop at the local coffee shop and get to know the townspeople. I have met people who turned out to be lifelong friends in some of the most random places. Give each moment of your journey your undivided attention.
Be Prepared to be Changed.
Your trip will bring lots of surprises, sometimes even unpleasant ones. You will grow as each opportunity presents itself as a way to recognize your strengths and your courage. I once had to cross a high, narrow, snow-covered bridge with no guard rails while driving an oversized passenger van. Did I mention I am terrified of heights? I held my breath most of the way across and with tears in my eyes and shaking like a leaf, I got out of the van and literally kissed the ground once I made it across. I learned if I could do that, I could do anything!
Start dreaming and planning your trip today. As Anna Quindlen says, “The life you have led doesn’t have to be the only life you have.”
I promise to share my next big adventure with you and I sincerely hope you will share yours with me.