Most of the trips I’ve taken as an adult have been alone, as a woman, and even in my 20s. Granted, they were mostly within the United States, but they were to a variety of places. Because it is a unique experience to travel alone and to be a woman doing it, I’m writing a post with a few tips to help you enjoy your time and also be safe while doing it.
Just so you are aware: This post includes some links where if you click on them I can make a small commission. If you have any questions, let me know.
Visit a friend
I went to college for more than 6 years so I met a lot of people from a lot of places. As a result, I had lots of options for places to visit people. You may not have this option, but you could have a friend visit you in the location! I have traveled to visit friends where they live, but I have also traveled to meet up with friends who were living in multiple cities. It makes the trip more enjoyable to visit because you’ll know someone while you are there but also helps with the safety factor. If the only part you are doing alone is the flight, and maybe one night in a hotel, that isn’t as bad.
Stay in a hostel
Staying in a hostel is good because you can save money, but also because they have social events. Particularly in larger cities, they offer tours and outings that you will never find at a hotel. Typically the people staying in hostels are from international locations and you will have the opportunity to meet them and learn about their culture as well.
One of the best times I ever had traveling was on a bar tour of Washington D.C. The people in the group were from all over the world. There was only one other American in the group. The people were very responsible with their drinking and were really just gathered to meet others, many choosing to not drink in several locations. The tour guide had also made special arrangements for us in many cases that would not have been made otherwise. And the tour guide was familiar with each location and able to give us extra information we would never had known had we gone there on our own. Nearly every person in the group was traveling alone, but we were instant friends. Not one person asked for my phone number or information. Had Facebook existed, we probably would have become Facebook friends, but it was understood that this was a once in a lifetime experience. Also, the transportation was provided and the cost of the event was very affordable.
Another time I stayed in a hostel at Virginia Beach and although my stay was over a period of dates where there did not happen to be activities planned that I wanted to participate in, they provided you with all the beach gear you could imagine. It was just available and they trusted you to return it. So I really appreciated using their beach mat but they also had things like volleyballs, etc. They also had an area where you could cook out and a kitchen you could use.
Another great thing about hostels is that they are always located in really awesome spots. The one in D.C. was walking distance to the White House and the one in Virgina Beach was a block or two from the beach. So you can experience all of the tourist experiences you want very easily without too much of a transportation expense because you can usually walk.
Staying in a hostel does present it’s own separate challenges as far as safety and security. Be sure you have locking luggage (you’ll have to get the kind approved by TSA) and that you minimize the amount of things you bring with you so that you can keep it all organized. I also suggest you pick a bed that is against a wall and keep all of your things organized. I never had anyone mess with my things or steal anything, but I heard of it happening while I was there. They also have lockers on the property that you can rent and many people took that option.
You’ll want to be sure you have a travel shower bag. You don’t want to put your toiletries in it first, because they will be scanned by TSA, so what you will want to do is just take that bag with you but leave it empty to be used once you get to the hostel and pack everything in TSA approved toiletry bags on the way there.
Don’t give out your information
You may want to keep in touch with people you meet along the way. I actually suggest that you do not give out your full name if at all possible. But in today’s world so many people add everyone they meet to their Facebook so if you feel comfortable doing that, do that. But don’t give out enough information that they will be able to steal your identity or stalk you. Criminals prey on travelers because they are usually in a relaxed, happy mood. It helps if you limit your alcohol intake during the transportation process. Once I was on a train and really bored so I would go to the snack car just to get up and have a destination. They had alcoholic options, but I avoided them and not just because I don’t drink frequently anymore. People who want to take advantage of you will target you if you are drinking alcohol. So I would only have water and a snack or something else. Because I’ve traveled by myself often, I don’t mind talking to strangers along the way, but I do have to watch my personal filter more than usual. I’ve been known to get into heated discussions on a plane over politics or porn. But I can guarantee you that I did not give them enough details that they could track me down later. Vacation conversations can be fun because you know that chances are you’ll never see this person again, but don’t count on it 100%. Because I tend to be a social person and have known people from a lot of places, nearly every time I’ve traveled I’ve seen someone or interacted with someone in an airport or public transportation station that I’ve met before. So while you are traveling, also recognize that this is possible. Do not assume you will not run into someone you met at a keg party in college in Ohio on public transportation in Chicago en route to a job interview in California. It could happen. The world really is smaller than you think.
Once I met a guy in a bar while visiting friends in Washington, D.C. and he gave me his business card. He wanted to see me again before I left town. His motivations were probably different than mine. But take note that he gave me his BUSINESS card and not his home phone number or personal email address. He explained that he worked a lot and that it would be easy to get in touch with him. It was and I actually made arrangements and met up with him again. He didn’t know that my friends trailed me and ate at the same restaurant that night! I learned from him though that you can give people a way to contact you without giving them directions to your home. So if you don’t already have one, get a Google Voice phone number that you can use while you are on vacation. If you have a smart phone, you can download the app and will be able to call people using it and receive calls without people even knowing your real number. It doesn’t cost anything and you’ll be able to spontaneously interact with people during your trip and then choose whether you actually want to be lifelong friends with them later.
Plan in advance
You’ll always get better deals if you plan ahead of time. You can also get reduced rates if you travel with a buddy so they are companies now that pair up strangers to travel together just so they get the savings. I’ve not wanted to do that myself, but maybe it could work for you.
I also think researching where you are going to go and when helps you to be aware of what is going to go down. I have been known to type out extremely detailed itineraries literally covering the entire range of the day so that my friends, who may be at work during the day, will know where I’m going to be. I’ve also been known to go off the path of those itineraries if I see something really interesting along the way. The beauty of traveling by yourself is that you can literally do whatever you want, whenever you want.
Another thing I’ve done is to turn on the GPS tracking to my phone and give out the tracking login information to my mom and some friends. That way if I ever come up missing like an episode of 20/20 they will at least know where to find my dead body. Speaking of that, once I got to a location where I had reserved a kayak to go out into the ocean. When I saw the ocean, where they launched you and what strength it was going to take I canceled even though there was a fee and the instructors seemed like they’d help you. I decided I didn’t want that episode of 20/20 to be filmed at sea.
Early to bed, Early to rise
Although I’ve stayed up literally all night long on vacation, I do not recommend it for safety reasons. It also sucks if you sleep through some really cool plans you had for the next day. So, instead, plan to get up early and get a really good breakfast and then head out for tourist activities. It seems like you get a really good handle on a culture and people by how they get to work in the morning. It’s kind of a fascinating thing to watch. It’s also amazing to see the sunrise on Virginia beach, hear Muslim prayer call in Mumbai, or get in line to see the Arch in St. Louis before anyone else gets there.
If you are busy during the day with seeing all of the amazing attractions, you’ll be tired at night anyway. And you’ll save yourself some money because you won’t be out all night ordering drinks, or having to pay for a cab to get from some random area of the city that is over an hour away from your hostel because the public transportation closed at midnight and you didn’t realize it.
Also, if you’re are staying in a hostel it pays to beat everyone else to the shower. If you can get in there when no one else is around, that is a bonus. Sometimes there is only one bathroom and sometimes there is a large bathroom with a bunch of shower stalls, but there is not always a guarantee that there will be a shower curtain. Just being real with you. So taking a shower in the middle of the night or very early in the morning can be advantageous.