Solo travel, while accepted and often encouraged for men, is more commonly portrayed as dangerous and irrational when it’s a woman traveler. Employment, relationships and families can hold women back, even after they overcome concerns about safety and loneliness.
But global views are changing when it comes to women’s autonomy. Conversations about female travel are transitioning from cautionary tales to empowering testimonies of women discovering their passions and strengths through travel.
“It seems as though women are becoming more comfortable traveling alone and it’s something I definitely recognize,” said Kim Warne, the Local Organizer for Wanderful San Francisco, an organization that seeks to connect women travelers.
“While it is becoming more common, there definitely needs to be more awareness of solo women travelers, so others feel compelled and safe to do so. We need to break down the barrier that the media has built, telling us how unsafe it is for women to travel alone.”
Warne, who calls travel her “first love,” knows about the benefits women can get from travel. She first caught the travel bug when studying abroad in college, and the freedom to travel throughout Europe inspired later trips to Central and South America.
“From a female standpoint, I definitely think it just helps with independence, discovering more about yourself, gaining a sense of self confidence,” Warne said.
For women, leaving their comfort zone for a new destination, especially alone, can provides opportunities to learn about other cultures in ways a classroom can’t teach– unlike traveling with family members or groups, going alone keeps others’ perceptions and experiences from coloring theirs, leaving them free to shape their own experience. A woman’s challenge of planning her own journey, organizing travel, and managing cultural and language barriers teach her the skills and self-assuredness that could help her succeed in all later endeavors.
“Travel is by far the best education you can get. Travel teaches us so many lessons, and we learn so much about ourselves. You’re exposed to a multitude of cultures, different lifestyles and ways of living, new foods, different languages – it can definitely be challenging at times, but it’s when we’re in those moments that we grow,” said Warne.
Although Warne admits that she feels safer when traveling with men, she credits the Wanderful community in showing her how safe other places are, and fully believes in the importance of connecting to other women travelers.
“Whether they quit their job and are pursuing their love of travel, are venturing outside of the US for the first time, or are checking something specific off their bucket list, it’s always encouraging to hear what incredible things other women are doing,” she said. “If anyone is having doubts or is nervous, it’s always helpful to speak with people who have had similar thoughts as you.”
Warne advises that fears about safety and loneliness are often exaggerated. “Violence and crime happen everywhere, and I’m sure there are U.S. cities that are more dangerous than foreign cities. People obviously need to read up on where they are going, take precaution and travel smart, but it shouldn’t be the reason people don’t travel”
As for loneliness, Warne notes that “the women that travel alone are usually fiercely independent and enjoy the alone time…it’s completely up to you to decide how ‘alone’ you want your trip to be.”
For women who want to reap the benefits of solo travel but aren’t ready for a long-term or expensive trip, Warne advises ‘traveling’ in one’s own region. “There are always new places to discover and seek out. Whether it’s a quick weekend trip, or just exploring a new neighborhood, there are definitely different ways to calm the travel bug.”
“Just go. There is never going to be a ‘right time’ or ‘best time’ to quit your job and go travel,” Warne said. “I think anytime you have the urge and will to go see the world, you just need to make it happen. It is your decision, no one else’s, and only you can make it your reality”