Posted: 11/1/2018 | November 1st, 2018
Kristin Addis from Be My Travel Muse writes our regular column on solo female travel. It’s an important topic I can’t adequately cover, so I brought in an expert to share her advice for other women travelers to help cover the topics important and specific to them!
The first time I went overseas alone, I was 21 years old and terrified. Everything was an unknown. Would I meet people? Would I be safe? Did I have what it took?
I had landed in Taiwan as a language student and finding a place to live, opening a bank account, and setting up a cell phone all seemed like insurmountable obstacles. I spent my first three days on the road hiding in a hotel room, afraid to emerge, and fumbled at a language I barely knew.
But, eventually, I met my new roommate via a forum online, made friends with her friends, and grew to love everything that traveling solo entailed.
That positive experience was the start to a journey that had me quitting my job to travel around the world at twenty-six.
Traveling solo in my twenties was fun and social. Staying in dorms made meeting people easy. All I had to do is walk into the dorm room, say hello, and, usually, I had a few built-in friends right off the bat. As anyone who frequents dorms knows, they tend to be party places. Almost every hostel has a bar and a common way of experiencing the freedom of being abroad is to do so with a drink in hand. My main objective back then was to go for as long as I could on the money I’d saved up and to have as much fun as possible.
As I crossed into my 30s I suddenly found that – without ever really realizing it – my travel style changed. I stopped wanting to stay in hostels, I stopped having as much interest in bars, I started to really like sleep and having my own room.
When I geared up to go backpacking again this year, I began to worry, am I going to be a weird girl who is in between, not staying in dorms as much anymore but still wanting to be social? Is traveling solo going to get tougher? Will it get harder to meet people?
I found that a lot has changed about how I travel now, but traveling in my thirties is proving to be much more fulfilling than in it was my twenties.
I can afford better accommodation.
For most gap yearers and twentysomething travelers, it’s all about going for as long as possible on a tight budget. One of the easiest ways to do that is to stay in cheap dorms. They’re great for meeting others, and for two solid years in my 20s, I adored them. But for all of the benefits, there’s one big problem with dorms: They’re not so great if you actually like sleep.
Getting older has meant making a bit more money to spend on accommodation. I’ve been in my career for longer, have figured out budgeting a bit better, and have shifted my spending priorities. I now prefer staying in an Airbnb or a hotel over sharing a room with five other people and waiting in line for my turn to use the bathroom. So my dorm days are behind me. Gone are the days of suffering through someone snoring or gyrating in the bunk above me.
Though this means I have to work harder to meet people than just walking into a dorm room and asking someone where they’re from, this has pushed me to meet people in other ways. This leads me to the next big change:
I establish deeper connections with the people I meet.
Traveling in my twenties came with a pretty standard way of socializing: dorms and bars. I’d meet people where I was staying and wouldn’t worry about using other avenues. These connections were fun, but they also felt like the movie Groundhog Day. Someone was always leaving; someone was always arriving. Someone was always asking where I was from and where I’d been. I still made deep connections, but now I tend to spend more time with fewer people because I simply don’t meet as many, so I can give more individualized attention to those I do meet.
These days I use tours and activities as a way to meet people, like a snorkeling day tour in Siargao, Philippines, or a cooking course in Chiang Mai, or a yoga class, a meditation retreat, a hiking trail, a diving trip, or a day at the beach. I find that when I’m in a position to meet people with similar interests, it gives us a chance to bond over a shared activity we’re both passionate about. By already having a shared passion, we have a common ground other than partying and can often have more meaningful connections this way.
I hang out with more locals.
When I was living the dorm life and hanging out in backpacker zones, that’s exactly who I was surrounded by — other backpackers. That was what I wanted back then – it was fun and easy – so I didn’t push myself outside of it.
But when I returned to some of the same places in my thirties, I realized that I was more likely to hang out with actual local residents or expats, since I was going to places like yoga studios or small cafés, or local cultural events I’d seen on flyers, and striking up conversations. To find local events, I often look on Facebook for regional groups of activities I enjoy, like Ecstatic Dance, or meditation, or even a workout class (I’m into pole but there are other activities like Soul Cycle, or aerial yoga, or rock climbing, depending on your pleasure).
Things like this often give me a better insight into the places I’m visiting because I am doing what the locals are doing and not just what travelers are doing. It’s not that this couldn’t happen before. It just didn’t as much before because I was so comfortable in my little bubble.
I care more about having nicer meals.
I knew street food was delicious in my twenties — and it’s still true in my thirties. I still love having a cheap bowl of soup — but I also love turning around and spending triple that on a latte, or going for a 5-star meal that you can only get from that chef in this place.
There were many times I had to give a one-of-a-kind dining experience a pass in my twenties due to budget constraints. I think I still could have made it work sparingly back then, but my priorities were different. I preferred a night out partying to eating more expensive food, and I now realize my mistake. Food is one of the best gateways to understanding a culture, and while street food can provide that gateway, it’s only one of many.
For example, I recently ate at a kaiseki restaurant in Japan, which is a multi-course meal that typically costs a bare minimum of $150. Weeks later, I’m still thinking about how creative the meal was, and how unique of an experience it was to sit across from the chefs as they made the food and presented it to me. That was an experience I’ll probably never forget, and though I love cheap noodles, I don’t often think about them the same way weeks later.
Sometimes being an (older) adult is awesome for joys like this.
I’m more comfortable with me.
I spent my 20s feeling serious FOMO if I wasn’t out enjoying the social aspect of traveling. I also spent way too much time worrying about what other people thought and I didn’t have a very strong sense of self. Traveling, especially solo, forced me to spend more time with myself than I ever had before, made me realize how resourceful and capable I am, and set me up for a more confident next decade.
Now I relish the time that I spend alone. I’m seeing a whole new world that was missing from my twenties, like the sunrise every day in Thailand, the first surf in Kuta, Indonesia, or the cenote in Mexico (a limestone sinkhole or cave with crystal clear water at the bottom) that doesn’t have anyone else around because they’re all sleeping off tequila hangovers, because they couldn’t handle the FOMO.
I thought that my twenties were the decade when I was supposed to be super energetic and that I would be old and decrepit in my thirties, but it turns out that since I am making healthier choices and setting different intentions with my travels, I actually accomplish so much more!***
Though the changes have been slow and unconscious — there was never a pivotal “aha!” moment — I’m a different traveler now. Although I don’t have any more stories about late nights out or neon paint on the beach, there’s more purpose to my travels now instead.
And I’m ok with that.
I feel that the perks of being older and wiser keep compounding, and at an even quicker rate than they did in my twenties, when I was less sure of myself and where I wanted to go, both figuratively and while on the road. The confidence that came with more life experience has translated to even better trips abroad.
None of this is to say that traveling in one’s twenties is somehow inferior or less genuine, or that this is everyone’s travel progression. We’re all on our own personal journeys.
But for me, like a fine kombucha, traveling seems to just get better and better with age.
Conquering Mountains: The Guide to Solo Female Travel
For a complete A-to-Z guide on solo female travel, check out Kristin’s new book, Conquering Mountains. Besides discussing many of the practical tips of preparing and planning your trip, the book addresses the fears, safety, and emotional concerns women have about traveling alone. It features over 20 interviews with other female travel writers and travelers. Click here to learn more about the book and start reading it today!
Kristin Addis is a solo female travel expert who inspires women to travel the world in an authentic and adventurous way. A former investment banker who sold all of her belongings and left California in 2012, Kristin has solo traveled the world for over four years, covering every continent (except for Antarctica, but it’s on her list). There’s almost nothing she won’t try and almost nowhere she won’t explore. You can find more of her musings at Be My Travel Muse or on Instagram and Facebook.