Solo Travel: Absolute Freedom

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Traveling alone, whether you’re a man or a woman, is one of those taboo things for some people and is the most adventurous way to travel for others. It can be the single most rewarding travel experience that you will have or it can be lonely and depressing. Solo travel can make it easy to be outgoing and meet the locals and other travelers or it can make you go further into your cocoon and sit on the Internet all day chatting with your friends back home. It’s all what you make of it. Solo travel is all about your attitude. If you go into it with a positive attitude and excited to go out there and meet people and do cool things, then that is what will happen. If you are timid, scared or depressed that you’re traveling alone and feeling sorry for yourself then you will have a bad time. It’s that simple. Mix attitude with basic common sense and solo travel can be the best thing you’ve ever done for yourself.

I get the question, do you travel alone or with friends, girlfriend, family, etc all the time. The answer is yes to all of the above. Sometimes I travel with friends and always have a blast and have amazing memories. If I have a girlfriend at the time, I will sometimes travel with her. Sometimes I travel with family as well which can be very rewarding. All of these have their virtues and can greatly enhance a trip and you can share experiences with people you already know and love. But often something is missing when you travel with others. That thing is what I call “absolute freedom”.

Absolute freedom gives you the ability to do what you want, when you want. If you want to sleep until noon on the road, you can. If you want to sit in a coffee shop and chat with locals and tourists alike, you can. If you want to eat at a certain restaurant, you can. There is no negotiation, no compromise with others. You are in charge of your entire destiny for that trip. You are truly the master of your own domain.

That said, it allows you to get the most out of your trip in ways that perhaps you aren’t used to. Solo travel almost forces you to talk to people, whether it’s locals or other tourists and travelers. It forces you to come out of your shell. It forces you to take charge and learn about where you are, where you’re going and where you’ve been. It forces you to be uncomfortable with your surroundings, which is a great thing. Being uncomfortable means you will go out of your way to feel comfortable by meeting people and getting to know the city you’re in. That feeling of being uncomfortable and thriving at overcoming it is what separates travelers from tourists.
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I also wanted to touch on the issue of women solo travelers. I get emails and hear from women all the time about how they’d love to travel alone but because of the fact that they are women, they won’t do it. To me, this is nonsense and here’s why.

In all my travels, I have met tons of solo female travelers from all over the globe. They travel the same way I do. They’re street smart, use common sense and are pretty savvy. The one glaring exception in these women that I usually come across is that they are rarely American (Obviously there are some exceptions as I know a few well traveled American women who read my site and are probably scoffing at this right now). This shocks me but I guess it really shouldn’t because as a culture, we protect the female more and discourage them from traveling alone. This is not the case in many other nations.

The Commonwealth countries are the biggest supplier of solo female travelers who travel alone. The ones I know don’t limit their travel to just Europe, Southeast Asia or Australia where it’s very well-touristed and there are a ton of other tourists. I know women who travel within Africa and the Middle East alone and thrive doing it. How? It is simple; attitude and confidence.

Like anything else in life, if you believe and project positivity and confidence, it will show to others and you will be fine. Obviously, you should dress modestly, not wear expensive jewelry and take all normal precautions wherever you are but traveling is no different than women walking around Manhattan alone at night. You stay out of the bad and dimly lit areas, keep your eyes open and don’t cause or look for trouble. It’s the same thing I do both at home in New York and on the road. That’s all I am saying, it’s not as crazy a thought as most women think.
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One example that is fresh in my mind of something that drives me nuts is this. A female sort of friend of mine who is a “pain in the ass LA fashion type” girl was in Paris last week for work. She was alone, staying in a fancy hotel in St. Germaine and G-chats me saying she was bored. I, of course say how can you be bored in Paris, there are a million things to do and rattled a bunch of ideas off to her. She wasn’t having any of it. Then she said she can’t find any good food. Befuddled at her assertion, I suggested several amazing restaurants in Paris not far from where she was staying. Again she was apathetic and said she didn’t want to go anywhere alone.

When I said, it’s 9pm in Paris not Detroit, it’s safe, there’s a million people around and just take a taxi anyway, she replies and I quote, “I am American, I have high heels, an expensive bag, I’m pretty and have a vagina so I am not leaving the hotel”. I was speechless at the naivety and ignorance of some people. Obviously she’s not a good friend and likely mentally retarded but that is the wrong type of attitude I am talking about, albeit a bit extreme. So now she probably hates Paris, French people and all other things French because she refuses to step out of her shell. Poor girl.

The moral of the story is don’t have a bad attitude, get out there and do it. If you’re scared or nervous but want to travel solo, do it…that’s half the fun! Men and women; just get out there and do it. Embrace the unknown, embrace being uncomfortable, embrace absolute freedom!
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Comments

  1. I agree that solo travel is one of the best travel experiences you can have. I also agree that women shouldn’t be scared as long as they are smart. It’s the best way to really get to know a culture, people and most importantly yourself.

  2. That girl in Paris that you describe sounds like a real treat LOL!!!

  3. I am an American woman and I would never travel alone. I love to travel but no matter what, I would still be scared. I would have no idea what to do in many situations where they don’t speak English and what would I do if I got attacked? I’m sorry.

    • you should stay home then lol

    • I’ve been traveling alone for almost a year now, doing the round-the-world trip I’ve always dreamed of. I’ve been to six continents, and am currently house-sitting in Cusco, Peru for 7 weeks. I haven’t been attacked once; the worst that’s happened is an overly persistent suitor following me back to my hotel in Morocco, which was a little frightening — but I’d been warned to expect things like that, so I joined an organized tour for a week so I could go see the country without too much worry. (I have significant health issues / am ‘disabled’ as well as having my lady-ness to think about, so I’m not quite as rugged a traveler as some.)

      When you’re fearful about going somewhere, remember that’s always an option; there are organized tours to every remotely-popular travel destination in the world, where an English-speaking guide will take you everywhere and make sure you’re OK. You’ll be a bit of a novelty on some of them as the lone solo woman, but you’ll have friends on the tour within a day if you’re a remotely friendly person, and then you’re not traveling alone. (Just don’t accidentally book onto a Spanish-speaking tour by mistake like I did; it does up the adventure factor a little. ;)

      But really, in the developed world there is absolutely no need for a woman to join a tour for any reason other than preferring to avoid the hassle of finding transportation and accommodation for herself, and most developing countries are fine as long as you’re careful, too. You’re never really ‘alone'; you are surrounded by decent, honorable people everywhere you go, who could be your friends if you just talked to them… and seriously, if you fear strangers that much, there’s nothing like a solo trip and the inevitable times when you rely on the kindness of strangers to give you a lot more faith in the human race.

      Your fear isn’t a reason you shouldn’t travel alone, it’s a reason why you should.

      (And yes, incidentally, I’m not American. I’m glad to have grown up in Australia, where our culture has a little more respect for a woman’s right to chase off ill-intentioned men with a cricket bat, rather than just telling us that staying at home is the only option if you don’t have a man to protect your precious precious vagina. Really, if that’s what American women grow up thinking about going places and doing things alone, how are you in any way qualified to bring ‘freedom’ to the Middle East? It’s not sounding all that different to me: “stay locked in your homes, ladies, it’s for your own protection.” Ugh.)

  4. Lee, great summary of solo travel. I love to travel alone as well. As an Englishman, we are encouraged to do just that. I know many women who have traveled alone and loved it too. That said, I have never met a solo American woman and that story you mentioned doesn’t make me think I ever will.

  5. I only travel alone, I hate compromising with others.

  6. Good story, funny about that girl! Best quote, “Obviously she’s not a good friend and likely mentally retarded but”…haha because I know you hate LOL!

  7. Jason Smart says:

    Like you hinted at, I thought people who travelled alone were slightly odd. Why not go with someone else, I thought. Then after visiting a lot of ‘easy’ countries, I came to realise that I wanted to go to some other places, but alas, no one wanted to go with me.

    On the way to Dacca, Bangladesh, all alone except my guide book was scary as hell. I couldn’t believe I was doing it. but I ended up loving it. One of the best things I did. And since then, I’ve done a whole lot more solo trips, which like you say, were made better because I could do what I wanted, when I wanted, and how I wanted.

    That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the trips with my wife, or my friend, but those solo trips are really something special.

  8. Jason Smart says:

    I’d like to apologise for my lack of correct punctuation in the last post, it’s this bloody iPad I’ve just got. I can’t get used to the keypad thing! And I’ve got more that one friend! Honest!

    Good work, Lee. Keep up the travel tales….

  9. Good comments everyone and thanks.

    Dana, I am sorry I couldn’t convince you otherwise but just don’t dismiss the idea. Again, to all, it’s not to say don’t travel with friends, family, etc…just don’t automatically dismiss the idea of going at it alone.

    I always say that it’s tough to find people to travel with in general because of two things; time and money. That formula multiplies by 100 when you are asking friends to go to places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and anywhere off the tourist beat. I’ve been fortunate to have had friends with me in all those places except Iran and all of them I had a great time in different ways. But Iran and the rest of the places I’ve been alone, had I waited for friends, I still wouldn’t have gone there. If you want to do it, don’t wait, just go!

    Jason, Dhaka is an interesting place as you mentioned it. I was originally supposed to be there a week because my buddy was living there for the summer doing some microfinance work and I was to visit. He left suddenly right before I got there because of work stuff and I was still going and went alone. Honestly, it couldn’t have worked out better because I got to meet other people and explore the city in ways I wouldn’t have if him and I just hung out drinking beers. I ended up playing cricket in the streets with a ton of kids which was one of my favorite times traveling. All because I was by myself and was able to do new things and not conform to others. It still would’ve been fun-just different fun.

    To those who are emailing me about the girl in Paris, no we never dated nor ever would…I was just illustrating the point and hoping she doesn’t read this and I’d be shocked if she did. If we were all the same it’d be boring, right?!

  10. I love the absolute freedom picture at the end, very clever!

  11. Even better quote, “That feeling of being uncomfortable and thriving at overcoming it is what separates travelers from tourists”.

    Well said Sir. Very true.

  12. I think it works both ways. Some trips are great to have others with (such as West Africa to share in the craziness; or bouncing around the Central & South America — who wants to do jungle trips and hikes alone?), but there are also plenty of places that are just as fun solo then with company, such as almost all of Asia and Europe because you are never alone for long and meet so many more people not being in a bubble with a friend. Everyone always says solo travelers are more interesting to the locals too and they want to get to know you so they strike up a conversation — this will rarely happen if you’re with someone else because it’s more intimidating to approach 2 people talking, then it is someone alone obviously. There are downsides to being solo no matter where you are at times (such as eating alone or staring at a world wonder and wishing you had someone to talk with about it) but I think with an open mind (and realizing those same friends will be waiting to hear the stories when you get back) make solo travel a lot of fun. Plus, if you do decide to try and visit every country, there is no way you can always get someone to join along, so you better get use to some trips alone. Personally I don’t mind it and it builds character.

  13. One last thing. Another perk is that most of us are always surrounded by people we are friends with and know at home, so it’s always nice to get a break from what you know and the people you know and go explore on your own terms with total freedom and no compromising. Those same people will be around when you get back so no problems going off and entertaining yourself for however long your trip is scheduled for. Chances are by being open an accessible, you’ll come back having made more encounters and friends along the way then you would have being with someone you already knew…I think everyone that has traveled a good bit solo can look back on an encounter or instance that they know wouldn’t have turned out the same way had they not been alone. I can think of many times personally.

  14. Whats with the shot at detroit!

  15. Being one of those American women you’re referring to who reads your site, yes, I am scoffing all over the place :-)

    I figured out long ago that if you wait for someone to travel with you, you’ll be waiting a long time. If you want to see the world badly enough, you’ll go solo. Worse would be realizing at the end of your life that you should have done it.

  16. Alex, the shot at Detroit is because it contains people like you that present a menace to society…you know, grown Iraqi men who have cats!

    Pam, I almost mentioned you by name but I figured you’d get a kick out of reading that! I also completely agree with why wait when you can just go because life is short!

  17. Great story, love your honest writing style dude.

  18. Good article Lee…I love to travel alone too and get so much out of the experience. Much more so than with friends. I traveled all over Latin America by myself and made so many new friends.

  19. I am a college student (junior) and thinking of traveling by myself to Asia this winter break because I regret not doing study abroad. Thanks for your story, it makes me feel more comfortable. How do you overcome the language issue in Asia?

  20. Thanks guys and Ian, in Asia you should be fine as I assume you are talking about Southeast Asia, as in Thailand etc? If so, have no fear, they all speak English down there with regards to the people you will deal with and there are a ton of tourists/backpackers in all of those countries so you’ll be fine trust me. Other places in Asia are more difficult but stick to hotels and touristy type places to ask for help and directions etc. Also, get an english map and/or a guidebook.

  21. Great article Lee :)
    I’ve been travelling alone for 2 years now and I would say that it’s been the best experience in my life (even if I was scared as hell before leaving home). I have to say that sometimes it’s difficult to be alone though because you always meet people to share your journey.
    I’ve met a lot of American women travelling alone and luckily they were enjoying themselves :)

  22. Hi, this my first time here, I’m from Brazil and I have to say I really enjoyed reading your post.
    I have travelled alone twice and I really loved the experience! I agree that it is when we can really be free to do what we like and just be…
    I only travelled alone in Brazil and I had no problems being a woman alone, it really is all about the attitude ( of course it is normal to feel nervous and a bit scared at first). But it is a fact that are less woman travelling alone, people always looked surprised when I would tell then that I was travelling alone.

  23. Pattottas says:

    I’ve done a few roadtrips by myself with just enough money to get by and it’s really fun. for me just the feeling to be in a total different place seeing something really cool and talking to people from other latitudes with the same interests of you is a lot of fun. It is so true what you are saying. i remember getting sad on top of spaceneeddle looking at a couple while been by myself but got happy right away. Lol!

  24. discovered this blog by accident and so glad that i did!

    i am going to embark on a solo euro trip soon and i have to say all the stuff you mentioned above are spot on. i’ve wanted to go to europe ever since i was a kid and thankfully 20 years later i’m able to fulfill my dream. every person who heard that i’ll be traveling alone were all suprised. i guess the idea of traveling alone still seems peculiar to most. i’m not gonna lie by saying i’m not at all scared with my upcoming voyage but just like what you said, it is necessary that i experience the discomfort in the unknown so that i could realize what i would be able to achieve if i’m willing to step out of my bubble and go the extra mile.

    looking forward to hear more of your experience! greetings from indonesia. :D

  25. Hi Lee,

    Greetings from Manila, Philippines.
    In reading your blog, you make me realized on what’s the possibility that life can offer to every one. I must say that traveling is a privileged given to everyone who have the courage to face difficulties along the way.
    You have no idea on how you have touched, moved and inspires me in your dreams to travel around the world. May God Bless You in your way. I really want to say “thank you” for sharing your travel thoughts and experience. See you on the Road.

    – Marlo

  26. “we protect the female more and discourage them from traveling alone” what i think you meant to say is “we oppress women and raise them to believe that every man they meet might rape and murder them.” women in our country are extremely paranoid (in general) and are bombarded daily with reasons to be afraid and to never have adventures. only men can have adventures! women have expensive bags and vaginas so they should stay at home where its safe! ;}

    i was one of those women who was kept home and not ‘allowed’ to do things along. but at 32, shortly after my mothers death, i had a bit of a breakdown and really saw how short life is and that we must live as much as possible in the short time we have. it was very difficult to do, but i went to germany and turkey solo. my family and most of my friends tried very hard to stop me (if you listened to them, turkey is full of terrorists who wanted to kidnap me and women are shunned and cant be seen in public… and germany is full of drunks and rapists).

    but i went anyway. alone. and it was THE best time i have ever had! nothing bad happened and i felt safe my entire trip, i met friends, talked with strangers, ate lovely food and had a blast. i cant wait to do it again!! women need to come out from under their beds and stop hiding. the world isnt out there to get you! come out and live and travel and be free <3

  27. I have been traveling alone a lot lately and actually just got back from Korea alone!

  28. the girl in paris says:

    I was trying to ask you to come to my room moron!!

  29. Kai Chongloi says:

    I’m 18, a college student and i travel alone around Delhi a lot amidst the scams taking place everywhere in the public…and I’ve been ripped off a few times. Hahaha.

  30. jkajjaja, what a funny example!!! but its crazy too!!! why did your friend go to paris? to stay enclosed? crazy girl!!… while i was reading and trying to understand (because i speak spanish and i am learning english), the situation transmit me the idea that the girl wanted you to be near she ;) Anyway, she es totally crazy.
    Good web!!!!!! im enjoying reading!!!

  31. Roger Danley says:

    I cn reate to the hesitancy. I was 45, American male, well travelled with others but nervous about travelling alone, until I did it the first time. Like many things, it’s easy after you know!

  32. An Aussie girl who travels alone and loves every bit of it. I am always throwing my ideas out to family and friends and if they are in, they are in. If they are out then I am still all in. Sometimes I even go on trips with friends and then go off alone afterwards. Its all about confidence and street smarts. In the 10 years I have travelled alone or with just one other girl I have never had any problems and I have done some crazy stuff and been to some crazy places. Its total freedom!

  33. Lee, can totally relate to that “alone is freedom” bit. In the mid 80’s went to Bali, Hong Kong and Chinawith a female friend. First time overseas for both of us. Our travel agent gave us one piece of advice – don’t feel you have to do EVERYTHING together. Well, in the 3 weeks travelling we did, the girl I was with only left the hotel to: a. go to and from the airport b. Go on prebooked guided tours c: the motel pool. After 2 days by the pool in Bali, I gave up on her and did things on my own. I never travelled with her again and when I did travel again, it was either on my own or with another experienced open-minded traveller. My favourite travel time was going from Cheyenne, WY to New York city in the American winter on my own over 3 weeks, staying with deaf friends along the way. Had a blast! All the best with your future travels and good luck getting into the Record Books! I envy you!!!

    • Thanks so much Pete, I am glad to hear that and your story makes me giggle because I know so many people like that girl. Good for you and good luck!

  34. Can totally understand your point of view on solo travelling, Right now i’m on course of searching information for my first solo travelling experience. I have travelled solo, but not for vacation purposes: i’ve been in Scotland for 1 year of study, and now i’m in Congo for about 6 months for work, and i am from Romania.
    However, with all that, I have a tough time deciding where should my first experience take place: the popular choices I’ve saw are SE Asia, Australia etc, But due to time and weather constraints they are not viable. A
    Anyway, good luck on your further travels and keep up the good writting, Your description of places and experiences really puts you in place.

  35. I’m an American woman, travelled through Europe alone 20 years ago and people thought I was crazy and/or brave. No cell phone or email, just a travel guide and a plan! Like you advised Lee, don’t draw attention to yourself, know your surroundings and everything will work out fine. Not only will you learn about your destination but about yourself as well. Solo travel can be very enlightening.

  36. I am a woman and I’ve traveled alone, and it was ten times–no, make that 50 times–more exciting than traveling with other people! It’s so dreadful when you want to explore something, to stop and look at something that catches your eye, step inside a shop because you’re curious about what they sell, linger in a place you like, and take all the pictures you want–but there are others with you and they have their own schedule in mind and you try to avoid a fight and cater to their wants, and end up leaving behind whatever it is that caught your eye without even a photo of it. So sad. Never again.

  37. SpeedyGonzalez says:

    Wow, i thought americans were pioneers, specially us women. That said, i kind of feel proud of the fact that i went solo on my trip too, it explains why people gave me the odd look when they knew i was american and completely alone. Im as shy as they come but Lee said it, it either forces you to grow or to close up more.

  38. Cassie Simmons says:

    I recently returned from a 3 month backpacking trip around Oz, and as an 18 year olf Canadian girl fresh out of highscool, I found the majority of people I met were beyond shocked that I was travelling alone. Personally, I never once felt unsafe or threatened. It really does come down to common sense, and making safe decisions. A very high majority of people in the world are living their lives just as you are, and want no trouble either! I found that travelling solo was the best decision I could have made. You meet so many more people, and learn so much being on your own. Awesome article! Props on trying to convince those to travel solo. Clearly some people are just too closed-minded to even consider it!

  39. CLT on the road says:

    Chiming in for solo American women travelers! My first solo journey was a school exchange to Germany. They left me off the flight with my classmates. At 15, I was terrified to fly alone! As my Dad says, that’s all she wrote. I made many friends and had a blast. Second major solo trip was to Europe before grad school. I spent two months in Europe having the time of my life. Sundays everywhere are wonderful, since families come out to play and everyone’s relaxed and friendly. Kids love to watch juggling. For every creep out there, I’ve met 1,000 wonderful souls. Now I travel for a living and hate when someone asks to tag along. No thanks! There’s a world out there for me to meet! CLT

  40. Danny Delnison says:

    Solo or with somebody? i don’t care! Just only i think about interesting.
    However, that’s the view of each person. No comment for it! You can go alone or happy with family, friend. That’s only important: you like it. Yes, no problem with anyone!

  41. I really enjoyed this blog; it makes me a little less nervous about my solo trip starting this January. Several of my friends have told me I’m crazy for going to Africa. I’m starting in Western Europe for 4 months, really want to go to Norway and then flying to South Africa for 3 months. My parents are really nervous about me going solo but none of my friends can go, plus I definitely prefer to have free reign on what & where I want to do & go. I was starting to get nervous about traveling alone for my first time overseas but this makes me feel a bit better because so many women I know said that going alone to Africa was crazy. Forget that, I’m more excited about Africa than Europe. Can’t wait to go bungee jumping ! I’m looking into supplementing my housing budget with looking into work away to save some money in exchange for some manual labor. I’m going to Ireland and most of Europe in the off season so I want have to deal with the tourist frenzy. Nice to hear encouragement on solo travel and see comments from other women who do it all the time. Safe Travels Everyone!

  42. Nice article, Lee. Came on a little too strong, but then the conviction too has to be strong. I am from Delhi, which has now almost officially been labelled as the rape capital. Women, whether alone or with male companions, have had fatal experiences here (the latest being last December’s gruesome rape and murder). Talk of travelling solo by a young female gives rise to a mini storm in a Delhi home.

    But. And there’s a big but. Women of the city haven’t stopped living their lives. They travel solo. They live alone. They wear skirts. The length of the skirts might be two inches more, the doors might have an extra lock, the travel bag might have a bottle of pepper spray. But it is being done.

    If for fear of being harmed, we stop living, we are doing greater harm to ourselves.

    I travelled solo for the first time last year, and realized how absolutely liberating it is. Here’s an account of the journey — http://www.weareholidays.co.in/blog/two-men-and-a-little-girl-in-pondicherry/

    Ever since I have been itching to cover as much land as possible, alone.

  43. I totally love this blog and can totally relate having done a few solo trips around North America in the past. I think of what I might have been able to do otherwise had someone else been there with me, but what really made me feel more confident about doing those solo trips is being scared by the fact I may never find the right person to go with me and then just totally regret something I could have done later in my life when I am too old and physically weak to travel. I guess that is what Iran was like for you, Lee.

    Will be interesting in a couple of years when I am settled down with my Girlfriend and do the whole “Marriage and Kids” thing. I still have the drive to go off the beaten path, but wonder how other readers handle the “flack” of traveling solo while leaving your family behind on these trips? Fortunately, my Girlfriend has similar interests in some of the countries I still want to see. But, not all of them, so I know there will come a point in time where I will want to go on a solo trip to achieve a dream. She’s cool with that, but in North America, people would consider you extremely selfish if you travel without your family.

    Wondering how other readers handle that flack where they travel alone because their significant other doesn’t want to go there and your kids are just too young to bring along?

  44. Chris Grazan says:

    I’m totally shocked that anyone would NOT enjoy traveling alone. I’m 62 and have been traveling alone since I was 17. Yes, I’ve traveled with others, and those trips were enjoyable for the most part but compromise was always a part of it. Traveling alone involves no compromising on anything. I talk to people when and where I want and have quiet time to myself if that’s what I want. And I got over eating alone in restaurants YEARS ago. All I can say is I love it. Not to mention very few of my friends can afford to travel or have my same interests. So if I didn’t travel alone, I’d have to stay home. No thanks!

  45. I’m a Canadian woman who has been travelling mostly alone since I was 17. I did all of Central America alone and even started a new life in Colombia and opened a business ALONE. It’s my life, my chance and it’s all up to me. Travelling alone has taught me how strong I am and that I can count on myself. I’m no genius and I don’t have to be. Being me is enough and I am so happy to be this way. Many people told me I was nuts. Guess who’s laughing hysterically now. ME, the crazy solo traveler.

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