Dear girls of the world: This is how I learned to be a solo traveller

Dear girls of the world,

We didn’t travel much when I was growing up. My family was not well off, and travel consisted only of the 4hour drive to visit my grandparents periodically. I spent hours pouring over our family atlas looking at the world and waiting patiently for the day when I could get to see it.

It was only when I finished university and started work that I had the money to travel. Although I was a qualified professional with a very responsible job, I was timid and shy, so solo travel was never something I considered. While my friends and work peers loaded up their backpacks and grabbed their railpasses, I couldn’t do that. For me, it was a tour bus, a tour guide and suitcases left outside the room door at the allotted time.

I visited Europe three times in five years, doing guided tours everytime. I had a wonderful time and loved every minute of it. Returning from one trip, I would immediately head to the travel agent for brochures (it was pre-Internet!) to start planning my next trip. I saw everything I wanted to see, did everything I wanted to do, met some lovely people and never regretted my travel decision for a moment. Traveling that way built my confidence as well as my experience.

As I grew older, my husband and I started traveling overseas independently. We made all our own arrangements and traveled around under our own steam. It was a different and wonderful experience, and I loved how nowhere was beyond our reach – if we could drive there, we could see it!

I was 45 years old when I took my first solo independent trip, but I was ready to do it. I now travel regularly on my own and I love it. I never get lonely, and I cherish the opportunities to see and do exactly what I want, when I want.

I learned to travel with just one small carry on so I could be even more independent, and keep myself safe (I had been a chronic over packer back in my guided tour days). I decided to leave my more valuable jewellery at home so as not to attract attention to myself, and never leave my bags unattended or where I can’t see them.

I worked out how to find a female friendly hotel. A 24hour reception is a must for me, and I seek out hotels in well to do neighbourhoods (never, ever a hotel near a major railway station) near good public transport and restaurant options.

Out and about I try and stay inconspicuous. I never wander around camera in hand, unless I am taking photos. I dress to try and fit in. I’m a blue eyed blond, so I can’t fit in everywhere I travel. But I dress respectably and respectfully, and have a confident demeanour. I study the local scams in my guidebook, so I know what to look out for.

I keep myself nice. When I’m solo I never drink to excess. I love a glass (or three or four for that matter), but unless I’m with people I know I can trust, I always make sure I have all my wits about me at all times. I watch my drink, just as I would at home, and never give anyone the chance to slip something into it.

I love meeting and talking to people while I’m solo, and I find people do chat to middle aged ladies on their own. I’m always vague about where I’m staying, and always pay for my own meal and my own drinks – that way I don’t “owe” anyone anything.

Don’t let anyone talk you into a travel style or destination you don’t feel comfortable with. While it’s great to get outside your comfort zone, no one has the right to dictate how and where you travel. There is no place you “must” or “should” visit, and no way of traveling you “must” or “should” do – if you are paying, the only person who is entitled to make those decisions is you.

My daughter is very different to me. At 11 years old, she is a confident and experienced traveler. When she grows up, I hope she travels often, and travels well, in just the style she wants to!

Love,
Jo

Jo Karnaghan is the Chief Frugalista of Frugal First Class Travel. Her dream is to be able to travel in Europe full time and to always turn left upon boarding the plane. Jo believes the best parts of any trip are often those that cost nothing and loves seeking out meaningful travel experiences. Jo has a busy career as a medical practitioner, a wife and mother, and student of French. She lives in Sydney, Australia.

Comments

  • February 28, 2014

    Unlike you, Jo, I began my solo travel early, when I first lived in France, at the age of 22, and I hitchhiked – which was possible back in those days. The only time I’ve ever been on an organised tour was to Egypt where it was difficult to do otherwise the first time.
    On the couple of trips I’ve done alone since being married, it has felt really strange initially to be on my own, and I have to really force myself but once I get going, I warm up to it.
    I’m sure your post will be very helpful to those who choose (or have) to travel alone.

    reply
  • February 28, 2014

    Thanks Rosemary. This series of posts is designed to inspire girls to travel and to not be afraid to travel solo. I was delighted to participate. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with Trisha’s readers.

    reply

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