Travelling solo? Three Australian women share their experiences and tips for going it alone

There can be many barriers getting in the way of travelling — the cost, getting time off and rearranging care commitments.

But for many women there can be an added barrier — having no one to go with.

There seems to be more of a stigma about women travelling alone than men. 

Because it’s not just loneliness or the potential awkwardness of being alone that can put some women off travelling solo — it’s also about safety.

‘Geography of fear’ creates a barrier for women

Catheryn Khoo, professor and researcher of hospitality and tourism at Torrens University, says safety is an issue for everyone, not just women.

“It is more the social discourse around safety that is a huge barrier for women wanting to travel solo,” Dr Khoo told the ABC.

“The media perpetuates danger by reinforcing.

“It creates the geography of fear for women and incites self-doubt.”

But Dr Khoo says there are many good reasons for women to travel on their own.

“Women find themselves tied to the responsibilities attached to their roles as women, mothers, daughters, wives, and partners.

“But when they go on a solo journey, they no longer have to fulfil these roles.

“They live only for themselves and only have themselves to take care of.”

And when they share these experiences, it can also empower other women to break the stigma. 

“Women who have actually travelled solo are creating a social acceptance of doing so, which gives others courage to do the same,” Dr Khoo says.

“For these women, the motivations are personal growth, self-discovery, empowerment, and independence.”

We spoke to three women about their experiences travelling alone. 

‘Yearning for adventure’

Eleea Navarro has climbed Mount Fuji, ridden bareback with Andalusian horses in Spain and braved the heat of the Sahara Desert. 

And she did it all on her own.

“I feel confident travelling by myself,” Eleea tells the ABC.

A lady standing on a cliff top overlooking a lake and town

Eleea visiting Lake Bled in Slovenia in 2017.(Supplied)

“And the thing that still pushes me to travel is the thrill of the unknown, my yearning for adventure, wanting to connect with new people, and wanting to get to know myself better.

“The beauty of going solo is that the only person you have to convince is yourself.”

‘Liberating’ and ‘overwhelming’

Travelling abroad was never a possibility for Chelsea Golding’s family when she was growing up.

But now she’s in her 20s, things are different. 

So when the timing felt right in 2023 she decided it was “now or never” and went on a solo trip through South-East Asia for three months.

A lady in the ocean scuba diving

Chelsea planned ahead of her travels, learning the language and customs of each South-Asian country she visited.(Supplied)

“Going off on my own for the first time was definitely a shock to the system,” Chelsea tells the ABC.

“It went in waves where it was the most liberating feeling, to something that felt quite overwhelming.

“But I would absolutely do it again, it was an amazing experience.”

Writing the next chapter

For Donna Manders, the catalyst for her solo adventure was a little different.

After her divorce a few years ago, she found herself experiencing a lack of identity, not knowing who she was or where she fitted in. Even though she had love and support from her children, family, friends and work colleagues.

“I felt like I still had so much to offer and that I was only halfway through my life story,” Donna tells the ABC.

“The usual commentary around situations like this, a middle-aged, divorced woman with grown children, is ‘just keep going as the best is behind you now’.

“But that didn’t feel right to me.”

A woman with a black long coat walking and smiling back at the camera in an Italian city

Donna thought she was too old to stay in a backpacking hostel, but realised it’s for people of all ages.(Supplied)

So, with an unexplainable desire to push herself, Donna decided to take a leap of faith and write the next chapter of her life story.

She travelled for two and a half months through Italy, England, and Scotland solo.

“Although it was a journey of emotions along the way, I learnt how capable and resilient I actually am,” she says.

“I learnt to trust my intuition, lean into the solitude and silence, so I could finally hear myself.”

But it wasn’t all sunshine

Eleea says being able to travel is an incredible privilege, but warns that it is romanticised online.

“Just like in real life, you’re likely to get exhausted, ripped off, sick, injured, financially stressed, overwhelmed, lost, confused, or lonely.

“I’ve experienced everything from intense food poisoning while on a 10-hour bus commute, being scammed by a dilapidated half-built resort in Hoi An, and getting bitten by bed bugs from a cheap hostel in Budapest.

“I was also depressingly lonely for days on end on one of my first solo trips to Vietnam.

“I resorted to crossing my fingers as people walked past, hoping they’d talk to me.”

Donna says that although she felt excitement and joy, there were times where she felt isolated, lonely and sad, but was able to navigate her way out of those feelings with a few tools.

“I repeated my favourite affirmations, listened to music — this is where your favourite playlist comes into the picture — wrote in a journal, and just learnt to trust myself.”

A lady taking a photo with an Italian city behind her

Donna said she was rewarded with unique experiences and is grateful to have met so many inspiring and interesting people on her solo travels.(Supplied)

Chelsea recalls times where she was shouted at and experienced catcalling in Malaysia.

“There’s probably nothing I could have done in that situation to make it less confronting, as I was already dressing modestly to respect the customs.”

What are their safety tips?

Eleea recommends walking with confidence and trying not to look like a tourist.

“If you’re following directions on maps, try putting one headphone in your ear to listen to the audio cues, instead of constantly looking down at the map on your phone,” she said.

“This helps you stay more aware of your surroundings and look more confident, like a local.”

Eleea says she also wore a plain ring on her wedding finger as a deterrent from unwanted attention.

Here’s some more tips from our three solo travellers:

  • Learn the language and customs of your destination 
  • Give friends and family members your full itinerary
  • Never go overseas without travel insurance
  • Dress simply and don’t wear expensive jewellery to avoid unwanted attention
  • Keep in touch with a good support network, even if they’re back home
  • Switch on a ‘find my phone’ setting on your smartphone
  • Travel light with your luggage so you confidently carry everything without help
  • Book accommodation near public transport
  • Project a sense of being in control, especially in crowded places and public transport areas
  • Be wary about giving out the address of your accommodation
  • Get an e-SIM or local SIM card that allows you to make calls and access the internet
  • Call family of friends while walking out at night on a quiet road
  • Carry your valuables in bum bag strapped around your waist or a crossbody bag
  • Wear a backpack on the front of your body when in crowded places or on public transport
A woman with her back to the camera in an Asian temple

Chelsea travelled to Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, the Philippines, and Vietnam.(Supplied)

How to overcome solo travel fears

Do your homework before you start booking.

Join a supportive online community that supports women’s travel,” Dr Khoo says.

“This will mitigate perceived risks, and eliminate fear, doubt, and anxiety.

“You can also read the empowering literature on solo travel and be inspired by the stories.”

This was something Donna couldn’t recommend enough.

Chelsea and Eleea recommend staying in hostels as a way to meet fellow travellers and build a sense of community away from home.

“I would often meet friends in my hostel dorm or on free walking tours on my first day in a new destination,” Eleea says.

“I usually opt for the largest mixed gender hostel dorm available, as it’s typically the cheapest and the most likely place to meet new friends.

“And most importantly, don’t be afraid to say hello to somebody and start a conversation.”

A lady standing sideways to the camera in a red shirt in Morocco with buildings on a hill behind her

Eleea says to expect things to go wrong. (Supplied)

Prepare yourself for a certain level of discomfort, Chelsea says. 

“You can plan as much as possible but there will always be an element that you can’t predict or feels out of your control.

“So being willing to be uncomfortable is necessary.”

But Eleea believes overcoming these minor discomforts can make you more confident and resilient person.

“Plus if nothing goes wrong, then you have no funny stories to tell when you get home.”

‘Best thing I’ve ever done’

Donna says travelling on your own takes confidence and courage.

It helps you gain perspective and can reveal strengths you never knew you had. 

This is why Donna says it’s the “best thing I’ve ever done”. 

“I highly recommend it to anyone, especially middle aged women who may think their story is over.

“Don’t be put off by your age.

“If you want to do it, give it a go.”

For Eleea, solo travel has altered the course of her life in the most positive light.

“I have never regretted a trip, even if things weren’t perfect.

“I feel so lucky to have the passport and freedom to see the world, and I try to appreciate and immerse myself in every moment.”

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