Travel Tips Tuesday: Going it Alone

I have to confess that I don’t always love traveling alone. I prefer to talk (and talk and talk) with my traveling companions. If we’re taking a long bus ride, I’d always rather a shoulder to sleep on. Though I do what I can to always travel with friends, I have still have had to travel alone – and in fact solo travel can be quite empowering! As a female traveler, I have developed a number of strategies for staying safe, finding friends, and enjoying my trip.

Join A Group

I had a free weekend while on a work assignment in Northern Uganda, and I wanted to visit nearbyMurchison Falls National Park. I looked into car hire for myself, but it was expensive, and my Ugandan coworkers did not think it was entirely safe. So I called a few tour companies that run ‘backpacker’ safaris out of Kampala. I ended up joining a group from Red Chilli Lodge: the group was extremely welcoming and friendly.  By traveling with a group, I saved money, made some friends, and got a completely different experience than I would have had I traveled solo.

Book Ahead

If you travel alone, make sure to book hotels and transportation in advance! Advance planning makes transitions easier.

On a work trip to Ethiopia, I wanted to go to Lalibela to see the UNESCO World Heritage Rock Cut churches. My coworkers wanted to stay at the hotel in Addis Ababa (we’d just had a LONG work week) – undaunted, I booked a flight to northern Ethiopia by myself, as I didn’t know if I’d ever be back there! To be safe, I booked my hotel in advance, and then called them several times to make sure they would be there to pick me up with a sign, etc. – I did not want to show up and look lost and alone!

When I arrived, the hotel driver was definitely waiting for me at the airport with a smile and a MASSIVE sign for “MR/MRS/MS JENNYBORDO” – and as a bonus, there was a fun group of Spanish young professionals staying at the same lodge, who I ended up befriending, and then sharing meals and a tour guide with.

Jenny in Lalibela

Find Yourself A Family

Wherever I go, I look for families. I think in general families are the safest traveling companions. The easiest way to befriend a family? Make friends with kids. If I need someone to watch my stuff while I run to the bathroom, hold my place in line, recommend somewhere to eat, or borrow a telephone – I will always approach a family.

I once left my wallet on the back seat of a crowded bus in India. The father whose small child I was playing with on the ride brought it out to me before the bus roared away! On a trip to Ghana, I went to see a soccer match when I had a free Sunday in Accra. I chose to sit by a group of slightly graying, chubby men who looked like dads – one of whom had brought his young son to the game with him.They took me in, explained the game, advised me on what snacks to buy, and helped me get a taxi afterwards.

If you befriend a family, you’ll definitely make new friends – and you may receive some excellent local advice.

Do Your Research

Read up – and ask questions. Is it unsafe to be alone on the streets after dark? Do women never go to the movie theaters alone? Is it inappropriate to wear shorts? Is there a women’s only section on the bus or train? Find out what the local customs are, and do your best to follow them! Guidebooks often have a section on traveling alone as a women. Also – guidebooks often identify the best hotels/lodges to stay at if you want to meet other travelers. A little bit of prep work before your trip can ensure you have a wonderful time, free of anxiety as a solo traveler.

Do you have any tips for traveling alone?

– Jenny