Over the past few weeks, I’ve lost count of the conversations I’ve had with friends, family, and even coworkers about what it’s like to experience the world as a woman.
Regardless of your political affiliation, it’s been impossible to escape the headlines—positive and negative alike—about women and power, women and safety, and women and the workplace. And since I’m in the vacation rental industry, I’ve been thinking a lot about women and travel.
Admittedly, we talk about travel all the time here at the Vacasa headquarters. Usually that means discussing how to help people travel together while spending time in a vacation home.
But there’s a different kind of travel that’s been on my mind recently: women traveling alone. Solo travel has been a part of my life since my twentieth birthday, when I drove nearly 12 hours through the night to spend the weekend all by myself in Savannah. I sat on benches in the immaculate town squares for hours, people-watching and journalling and worrying about no one except myself.
And I am not alone. When I sent out an email to a group of female coworkers asking for their experiences and thoughts on traveling solo, I was positively flooded with enthusiastic responses. Many of them agreed that while traveling alone as a woman may be unconventional, it’s also uniquely rewarding. There’s nothing like exploring a new part of the world on your own terms, on your own schedule, with only your own interpretation of your experience.
So in the spirit of a positive, empowering conversation about what it means to be a woman, here are some practical tips and firsthand advice from my colleagues.
Love the outdoors? Head to a national park.
Maura, one of our hardworking copywriters (and author of The Long Weekender blog), travels more than almost anyone I know. And according to her, national parks are the best way to explore the great outdoors on your own.
“Nature keeps you company in a way and allows you lots of time and space to reflect,” Maura wrote. “I love national parks specifically because they’re just populated enough to make you feel secure and safe when you hike alone, but you also have the option of joining free ranger-led hikes (through which you can meet awesome people and get great information about what you’re seeing). I think my all-time favorite place for solo travel has been Acadia National Park in Maine. It’s such a quiet and serene place, and being there alone only amplified the experience.”
Bring your journal to dinner.
Nearly all of my coworkers mentioned bringing a book along when you dine alone, but Maura goes one step further and brings her journal. “Having a small notebook to write in can help you comfortably pass the time at a restaurant or bar. And on two occasions, it’s even led to my server assuming I was a restaurant reviewer and delivering the star treatment (and a bonus dish or two!)”
Make friends, even if you’re not the hostel type.
My marketing colleague Jamie credits her stay in a hostel for providing an otherworldly experience: sitting atop a tall cliff overlooking Paris at 3am. “If you’re up for it, staying in a hostel and engaging with your temporary roommates is a great way to meet potential travel buddies. If you prefer more privacy, you can usually stay elsewhere but still visit the hostel bar. By nature, the atmosphere is typically very open and full of people up for good conversation or adventure. Obviously, keep your safety spidey senses on alert and trust your gut feelings about people, but don’t be afraid to turn the paranoia down a smidge — you never know what hidden gems other travelers may have found!”
Our SEM specialist Gillian lived alone in Europe for three months, and combated loneliness by joining tours of college students at museums. “You can ask at the front desk to join student groups, which I loved, because I got to talk to people my age who could speak English (typically Americans take guided tours, especially English ones).”
Share your itinerary with someone back home.
Even our most seasoned globe-trotter — our photographer Melissa, author of Women with Wanderlust: A Guide to Roaming — always lets someone know where she will be every day. “Leave a copy of your flight schedule and what hotels you have booked. If you don’t know that in advance, then just email them as you go.”
Don’t be afraid of public transit, but be prepared.
My coworker Angela recounted her recent experience diving into LA’s not-exactly-renowned public transit system: “Before I left for the trip and also in the morning before I left the hotel, I familiarized myself with the neighborhoods via maps and blog posts, what transit lines go through them, what major streets they traverse, and what landmarks to look out for to assure myself I’m on the right track. I even printed out directions to save my phone battery. Going into a place with some idea of major street names and the lay of the land helps.”
Get lost, safely.
Jamie also reports, “I am a proponent of getting lost at least once when you’re traveling. How else will you stumble upon that quiet cafe or amazingly beautiful alley that isn’t yet touted on Lonely Planet?”
This sentiment was echoed over and over again. Here’s how to let yourself get lost alone, while staying safe.
Be that person and carry a paper map.
While carrying a map can identify you as a tourist and make you a target for theft, it can also save you when you don’t have access to a map on your phone. Rather than whipping out the map in the middle of a street and calling attention to yourself, step into a restroom or other relatively private location. This could also be your opportunity to ask someone in a cafe for directions.
Or, take screenshots of maps on your phone just in case.
Jamie wrote, “I’ve gotten lost in San Francisco (my hometown) and the NYC subways on more than one occasion because my maps app couldn’t handle all those tall buildings or being underground. Ever since, I’ve screen-shotted the overall map route, zooming in on pieces of the map (so all steps are visually covered) and all pages of written directions. As a bonus, it takes less phone battery (and data) to reference screen shots than your location-based maps app.
If traveling internationally, learn how to say, “where is,” “right,” “left,” and “go straight” in that country’s language.
If you can’t communicate these phrases verbally, have them written down somewhere you can point to. Seems like overkill, but it can absolutely come in handy when you’re on your own.
Remember: nobody else’s sense of adventure has to define yours.
This is my personal tip. My last solo getaway was a quiet weekend on the Oregon Coast, just a few hours from home, sharing a beach cottage with my golden retriever. No clifftops overlooking Paris, no five-star restaurants, and no danger whatsoever of getting lost…but it was just what the kind of experience I wanted, all to myself.
Originally published on The Huffington Post
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