**This article includes quotes from three solo female travelers within the community**
“Aren’t you scared?” “Don’t you get lonely?” “How do you stay safe and protect yourself?” “Why don’t you have a male partner traveling with you?”
These are just a few of the many questions I frequently receive when I tell people that I am a solo female traveler. But what does the term “solo female traveler” actually mean to me? What I have found is that, often, people think about solo female travel only in terms of contrasting it to traveling with a partner. They think of all the things that you don’t have by not traveling with somebody else. They think of the emotions that come up from not having somebody else with you. My personal experience is that when I focus on all the things that solo travel as a female does NOT provide, I miss out on all the wonderful things it can and does offer.
Before I dive in, I believe it’s important to note that I used to travel with a partner. For over a year, I lived in my current van with a boyfriend and traveled the entire continent of North America. I have now been traveling solo in the same van for roughly 8 months. It is my honest opinion that this is an important part of my story because of what it adds to my view on the definition of solo female travel. I am able to think of it in both terms: 1.) what I am gaining and 2.) what I am losing.
I also think it’s important to state that I was hesitant to dive into traveling alone as a female. In fact, I didn’t think I could do it.
From an outside perspective, it can easily seem like there were zero cares in the world and I just hit the road! That wasn’t the case. Although I am a big believer in challenging myself, I didn’t think I was outdoorsy enough, or independent enough, or even self-sufficient. But when I considered ending “vanlife” for good, I was devastated. I could not imagine my life taking any other course. So, I made a deal with myself. I would take over the loan of the van as the sole owner, live in it for at least 6 months, and then reassess. If I hated it, I would allow myself to sell the van, without shame or self-judgment. Then I just did it. It took pulling on all my strings and using all my resources, but I made it happen. Now, 8 months later, I am so extremely happy with my decision.
Bottom line is, when you remove everything else and it’s just you, alone, in a vehicle, driving, you face things you didn’t even know were there.
You’re required to look into who you are, what is important to you, what is left when you remove the other people or experiences. For me, this is what solo travel has offered. When I was traveling with a partner, there was so much stimulation, constant conversation, and new experiences, that I never did much work on myself.
When I hit the road again, this time single/alone, I couldn’t believe how much I didn’t know how to handle silence or being by myself. Being alone really forced me to assess what my goals and values were, and figure out what I wanted my life to look like. I would even go as far as to say that I wasn’t even independent at the time of hitting the road solo. Like I stated before, I honestly didn’t even know if I would like traveling alone. But I dug deep. I challenged myself, looked straight into the eyes of things I had been burying for years. I faced fears, allowed myself to be vulnerable, and handled previously buried pain. Since diving into the adventure on my own, I’ve met many amazing like-minded women on the road who have had similar experiences.
“Being on the road alone has taken me out of my comfort zone and forced me to try so many things that I otherwise never would’ve done. I have learned pieces of me that were buried for so many years and never had the chance to surface until now. You’d be amazed what sitting at the top of a mountain during sunset or laying awake at night staring at the van ceiling can do for the soul. I’m forever grateful for this journey.” – Sydney Ferbrache (@divineontheroad)
While this chapter of my life could have easily gone a different way, I found that when I was forced to sit and spend some time with myself, I actually really like who I am.
I enjoy spending time by myself. I have fun, confidently seek adventure, and even narrate things that happen throughout my day. When I drive, I sing loudly to music that is blasting through my van. At the end of the day, I have nobody else’s opinions or timelines or expectations in mind, just my own.
“I like to think of my solo bus life as an act of rebellion — rebelling for social norms, from socioeconomic access restrictions, from sexist/outdated gender expectations. I imagine that I’m driving around with an invisible sign on the bus saying “this is a space I, a plus-sized/mostly broke/bikini-slanging woman traveling alone in a school bus, get to be. Deal with it.” Martha Hudson (@luv_martha)
Beyond the emotional experience traveling as a solo female has provided, I can’t deny that there are logistics that have changed. I am lucky in the sense that I had a year of experience living in a van by the time I decided to hit the road alone. This has been tremendous help but I’d like to believe that even if that wasn’t the case, I still would have been bold enough to do this alone. Regardless (and unfortunately) I have to be more careful now. I wish that wasn’t the way the world worked and I wish I could say that I’m able to do the exact same things I did when I was traveling with a male partner, but at the end of the day I’d rather be careful than prove a point.
So, here is a list of personal things that I do differently since traveling alone.
**NOTE: this list is based on personal experiences and preferences. This list might very well be the same as simply a solo traveler’s list and does not necessarily exist because I am a female solo traveler. Many other women/solo travelers may have a very different list, or maybe even no list at all. As a close friend said to me once, “as with everything, make what you want of it so long as it holds meaning for you.”**
- Park nose of vehicle out so I can drive away from a location as fast as possible
- Don’t go to BLM/far out on dirt roads alone
- Once parked for the night, never unlock doors or go outside
- When leaving the car, get out the front door instead of the slider so nobody can see inside/see that the rear of the car is empty
- Never open the back doors of the van in public unless moving locations afterwards
- Do not go to rest stops at night (rarely did this even with a partner)
- Plan routes/stops in advance since nobody is navigating while the other is driving
- Pursue community, attend gatherings more frequently than before, seek out other road travel friends to caravan with
- Driving days are much shorter since there is nobody to share driving distances with
- My van was honestly built for two people so I can’t do something things as easily as before (can’t use my road shower, filling my water tank is more complicated, etc.)
While this list does exist after 8 months alone on the road, I think that most individuals will find that the logistics end up falling into place. Lessons end up being learned no matter what.
My experience, as well as the experience of many of my peers, is that having confidence and building a good relationship with yourself is really what solo travel ends up being about.
With all of this on the table, I’ll end with a quote from my dear friend, Megan.
“I’ve driven the back roads solo with the wind in my hair, the music up and ‘no service’ on my cell phone. Sometimes the thought passes through my mind that I could break down or something bad could happen. Scary. Rather than pushing that thought away and saying it will never happen. I look at the road and tell myself, “That could happen. And if it doesn’t, I will figure it out. I am strong, capable and resourceful. The next time you see a solo female traveler, do not ask them “why are you traveling alone?” or “don’t you get scared by yourself?”… Tell them they are strong. Tell them they can always call you if they need anything, even if that’s just someone to talk to. Encourage them to think about and have a place for every situation but do not discourage them from traveling. Help them feel brave and be prepared for anything.” -Megan Cable (@meganmcable)