Travelling alone as a woman is my great joy
Travelling alone as a woman has given Lucy Ireland the time and space to breathe, explore, have fun, get to know herself better and… spread out.
In a hurry? Some of our editors’ top tips for travelling alone
Aside from preparation and planning it can be good to:
- Keep a travel diary to savour, vent and remember it all for years to come
- Find groups to travel with at hostels for both safety and fun (see 10 more mooky tips on surviving youth hostels)
- Tell others (like hostel staff) of plans when heading out for nights of adventure
- Learn a skill, learn a language, learn something for life – you could try to pick up cooking skills wherever I go
- Plan new trips and set savings goals on your return to help beat the travelsick blues.
Travelling to Thailand alone
See tips for travelling alone as a woman from Broads Abroad
Women are often told “you can’t do that” when it comes to independent travel. For me, travelling alone as a woman is a great reminder that, actually, I can. Immersing myself in another culture is also a fulfilling way to learn a new language and other skills to use in the future.
The first time I went abroad alone was in 2011. I went to Thailand for my 21st birthday. I needed some time on my own and it was a small act of defiance to prove that I could do something radical on my own. I often wonder why I didn’t go online and do some real planning before I first hopped on a plane by myself, but I love the fact that I learned through trial and error.
My lack of planning proved problematic at times – like getting my suncream confiscated at the airport as I was carrying more liquid than allowed in my hand luggage. A small setback, but something to think about nonetheless.
I decided to spend my first evening alone in Thailand seeing some live local bands and got a taxi to a bar. After about an hour in the taxi, and on arrival at a quiet bar in a very rural area (with a cracking live band though, I wish I’d written down their names!) I realised I should probably have looked up where I was going before setting off. I could have told both my family and staff at my hostel what my plans were.
After a couple of miles walking trying to flag down a taxi I finally got back to my hostel problem-free, thanks to a nice Korean man who spoke English and Thai and helped me to communicate with my taxi driver. What I learned that evening is that making plans and making other people aware of my plans would probably be a better way to do things.
In fact, back at the hostel that evening I met a lovely group of people from England, America and Australia who were planning to experience the culture and sights by day and party by night with a tour guide from the hostel. I realised that perhaps I should have tried to meet some new people with the same goals as me on my arrival. Then I could have mentioned the gig to them, rather than trying to do everything entirely alone! (See more hostel tips for women travelling alone on Mookychick).
I spent the rest of my trip with the group, and with others from all over the world who were staying in the same hostel as me. I knew I could travel alone whenever I wanted to, but I didn’t feel obliged to. This was my freedom, and my decision. There was no set template for solo travel that I had to follow.
That time I chose to experience local culture as a group, seeing the sights and experiencing Bangkok’s famous nightlife. It was all done safe in the knowledge that I was in good company, and part of a group that I could turn to if I needed anything.
“Travelling – It leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller”
– Ibn Battuta
Finding your wanderlust.
They say that indie travel broadens the mind and nurtures the soul. As an avid traveller I couldn’t agree more. It doesn’t matter if I’m seeking adventure thrills or exploring urban jungles – I’ve found that experiencing other cultures helps me learn to go with my instincts, cope with unfamiliarity and become more independent. It breaks the monotony of day-to-day life. It sounds cliched to say that travel helps a person to ‘find themselves’ but I love being pushed to open my mind and think differently when exposed to new people, languages, sights and environments.
I’ve often experienced loneliness whilst trying to adjust to a new place when travelling alone. I’ve felt empowered by learning to cope with that loneliness. It’s helped give me a push to get out there. I’m always staggered by how different peoples’ lives can be to mine, but we’re all on a journey to make our lives more meaningful, to love and be loved, to enjoy our lives, support ourselves, better ourselves and forge our own paths.
Planning your journey.
Planning ahead is, of course, one of the most important things to do when you decide to travel anywhere. Many companies specialise in booking world travel for people of all ages. They can help you with booking flights and airport connections. They can also help you to plan an itinerary and book tours and excursions for your stay.
Companies like this also often specialise in helping those who want to work abroad find programmes where they can live and work around the world to develop new skills, learn languages, teach or volunteer. If you’re travelling alone, they can also book you into travelling groups where. You’ll still be travelling independently of family and friends, but you can meet new people and travel with and work towards the same itinerary as them.
If you’re booking your travels completely alone, you may be looking for deals online. That’s what I would usually do if I was going on holiday in Europe, because there are some very cheap flights and hostels to be booked. I’d still bear the above companies in mind, though.
You’ve booked your flights? Check! Your hotel or hostel? Check! If you’re using public transport to get to your accommodation, look at the transport schedule online. Make a note of directions from the bus or train station to your accommodation. Also tell the accommodation staff what time you might be arriving. In most cases you can book a taxi online to wait for you when you arrive at the airport. Make sure you have the company’s name, their name and registration/taxi number so that you can identify them and be sure to give that information to friends or family too. You could also ask how long the journey should be, so you know you’re going to the right place and that you’re not paying over the odds! You should be able to agree a price online before your flight. Isn’t that a relief? If you choose to jump in a taxi at the airport, be sure that it’s a licensed taxi beforehand.
Enjoying your trip safely.
Check the general safety of the country that you are visiting. You can use the government’s Foreign Travel Advice website.
Carry a secure day bag and keep it close to you at all times.
Try not to keep things in your pockets, because that can make you an easier target for pickpockets.
Never carry large amounts of cash! Take what you’ll need and lock the rest away in your room.
You can get pre-loaded travel cards, too – I’ve used the Post Office’s preloaded travel cards before with no problems. If you’re travelling to different destinations, be sure to tell them when you put money on the card, in case you’ll need a different type of card for different currencies.
I also wouldn’t recommend flaunting any fancy gadgets on holiday! I’m not necessarily telling you to hide them, but use your common sense as to when you take your smart phone or camera out in public. In your hotel or hostel, I would also recommend that you don’t leave windows and doors open. It can be very tempting to leave a window or door open to keep cool, but I’d say it’s a bad idea, especially if your room is on the ground floor. Get the air-con turned on once you’re in your room and request a room on a higher floor for a bit of added security if you feel it’s necessary.
If you’re travelling in Europe, I encourage you to get a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). An EHIC gives you the right to access state-provided healthcare on temporary stays in other European Economic Area (EEA) countries and Switzerland at a reduced cost, or sometimes for free. It will cover immediate and clinically necessary state-funded treatment until your planned return home to the UK. It also covers the treatment of pre-existing medical conditions and routine maternity care.
If travelling outside of Europe you can browse travel insurance packages that include medical care. An important thing to remember is to visit your doctor and find out if you need any vaccinations before travelling.
Vaccinations usually available for free on the NHS:
- hepatitis A (including when combines with typhoid or hepatitis B)
If you need any assistance while travelling – from help with directions to suffering from homesickness, illness or issues with other travellers – go straight to the staff at your hostel or accommodation. If they can’t or won’t offer help for any reason (I’ve met some quite unhelpful people in my time), ask to speak to someone else, like a manager. Having people around you who can help will be a great source of comfort.
The obvious stuff: I’d also tell you to…
- ensure that you stay warm or cool depending on the climate of the country that you’re travelling to
- carry sun lotion and a hat
- wash your hands often
- drink bottled water
- carry insect repellant
- ensure that you pick up maps in case you can’t access maps on your phone
…but I don’t need to do that. I’m sure you had that covered!
Forgive me for not being all there, my mind has found a place called elsewhere.
Coping with back-to-reality blues
Often I feel a tiny bit weepy when I’m anticipating my journey home. I like my life. In fact, I love my life! It does feel difficult to leave the extraordinary behind, though.
First of all, one way to cope when coming back from your travels is to to set some savings goals and start planning your next trip. It always makes me feel better to know that I have something to look forward to.
It can also really help to adjust by talking about your trip and telling your stories to all who will listen. Read the room, though. Not everybody is quite so enthusiastic about travel, I’ve found, or endless personal stories of it.
A fantastic outlet is to keep a travel diary whilst you’re away. You can read it when you get home, and years later, too. Don’t ever throw that travel diary away.
You can write and blog about your travel experiences both while travelling and on your return.
Make many scrap books, photo albums and of course use any new skills that you learned whilst you were travelling. They could be newfound culinary skills and crafts or you could practise getting more familiar with a new language!
Travelling alone as a woman can be incredibly liberating. Yes, you really can roam this big, wide world. You can have fun doing it. My tips and thoughts on travelling alone are based purely on my personal experience. I don’t know everything there is to know about travel, so I suggest doing your own research and asking as many people as possible for their advice. The more recently people have travelled somewhere you’d like to go, the more up-to-date their insights will be.
Learn from their experiences and enjoy their stories. You’ll (hopefully) learn something, and you’ll be helping them celebrate some great past experiences all over again, too.
Have a wonderful journey x
- Tips for travelling alone from jet-setting alternative model Roswell Ivory