This post was written by Alexis of The Soul Traveler Diaries, a solo female traveler and expat currently living in Indonesia. It’s an honour to feature her on my site, since she has traveled to all 7 continents, 51 countries, and even circumnavigated the globe by ship in 4 months… and she’s only 23!
She is the true definition of a beautiful, empowered woman who is living out her dreams, and inspires others with her slogan, “Your story is worth sharing.” Here, Alexis writes about her first solo trip and what it taught her about herself and being a solo female traveler.
“Are we there yet?!” I practically screamed out loud.
I squirmed in my 18” x 30” square jail cell the airlines so nicely call “economy class.” I crossed one leg and then the other, juggling my weight from one butt cheek to the other, and then back again. I even went as far as sitting cross-legged in my cushionless piece of Hell. Nothing would do it.
I was sleep-deprived, hungry, antsy beyond belief, excited, and just about fed up with being in the air. Adrenaline pumped through my veins, giving me that familiar fuzzy feeling. I was dying to begin my grand adventure, and I was ready to jump out of the plane just to do so.
I was high.
No, not on weed or a drug of any kind! No. I was high on travel.
Every traveler knows this sensation. We live and breathe it every day. It’s why we travel. It’s why we explore and why we continuously seek new adventures.
If you have yet to experience this sensation, your time will come. And then, in that moment, you will understand the pure addiction of travel.
To be honest, my bold and ambitious nature never ceases to amaze my parents (or even myself for that matter), especially when I made the decision to go on a solo backpacking trip. Many travelers usually start out slow and small, like a 10-14 day trip to a nearby country or region to test the waters and get a feel for solo travel.
Nope. Not me.
I decided to go big.
Inspired by my travel partner at the time, I decided to go on a 2-month solo backpacking trip across Southeast Asia and Oceania. My main goal was to road trip through New Zealand and I ended up building an entire trip around it!
8 weeks, 7 countries, 2 road trips, 1 me.
Was I crazy?? Most definitely, but I was going to do it anyway.
Now, I have been a traveler all of my life. I immigrated to the United States when I was three, traveled to Italy with my family, went on numerous road trips across the U.S. as a kid, traveled through Europe, and even circumnavigated the globe for four months on a ship as a study abroad experience (seriously, this experience changed my life).
However, nothing could have prepared me for my solo trip and everything I faced as a solo female traveler.
Here are 5 lessons my first solo trip taught me about myself and being a solo female traveler.
1. Embrace Your Internal Compass
My mom’s sixth sense (apart from having eyes in the back of her head) is navigation. She has an internal compass and an amazing sense of direction I have yet to find in another human being. You could put her in a city she has never been in before, and she could find her away around without a GPS. Her navigational skills were goals and something I thought I would never come close to having.
But travel challenged that belief. Big time.
I don’t usually purchase SIM cards when traveling. They can be expensive and an unnecessary cost when traveling on a very tight budget. Why purchase data when you can just as easily pop into a cafe or McDonald’s, quickly steal some Wi-Fi, then continue on your way?
While exploring the mesmerizing streets of Singapore, Bangkok, and even Kuala Lumpur, I trained my mind to map out the city streets and pay attention to major landmarks and even the most subtle details.
Sure, from time to time I would check Google Maps, and I kept it active just in case of an emergency.
But where was the fun in completely relying on it to get around? To this day, I can roughly navigate through 30 cities without a map because I learned to trust my internal compass – and read the street signs, of course!
Think of all the things you miss when you are so focused on getting to your next destination with your eyes glued to your phone.
Put your phone down and challenge yourself to follow that internal compass.
You’ll be surprised by what you pick up and learn.
2. Get Lost at Least Once a Day
I remember driving through Sicily with my dad. We had just finished a day of exploring the city of Agrigento and he asked me what I wanted to do next. I responded with a smile on my face, “Turn off the GPS, and let’s get lost!”
Getting “lost” has been a huge travel mantra of mine for almost a decade now, and my solo backpacking trip was no exception. In fact, it only made it even more meaningful and necessary in my life.
The need to get lost has led me down some very interesting paths while traveling on my own. I would have never come across the boutique stationery shop in Singapore where I bought my first travel journal. I would have never found the beautiful Catholic church in Suva, Fiji, where I prayed and talked with my Nana and Opa. Nor would I have come across a local night market in the back alleys of Bangkok where I had the spiciest Pad Thai in my life. I drank my entire 32-oz. water bottle and had to ask for a large glass of ice water and a box of tissues – it was that spicy!
During those 8 weeks, I intentionally got “lost” at least once, if not four times, a day. Occasionally, I actually would get lost and had to ask for directions, but it all worked out in the end and I met some wonderful people along the way.
Get lost in the city or place you’re traveling in, and get lost in yourself.
Let your curiosity drive your experiences. Let those little objects and details in your peripheral vision catch your attention. You will learn a lot about yourself when you pay attention to what attracts your curiosity. You will meet the most interesting people and discover hidden gems that aren’t listed in your travel guide.
You never know where your curiosity will take you.
3. Sunrises and Sunsets are the Best Times for Self-Reflection
I have been told by many people that I have such a wise, old soul. I have been my parents’ confidante, my best friend’s guidance counselor, and even a previous partner’s anchor to this world. I don’t think I truly understood or identified with the compliment until I was sitting alone on a beach in Fiji lost in the sunset, reflecting on my own personal journey.
I love self-reflection. Even when I hate it, I love it.
Taking the time to reconnect with myself and look within was such a huge step in my personal growth. I wrote in my travel journal every day while backpacking across the two continents. It kept me going when things were tough.
I struggled with things I didn’t know how to cope with: loneliness, travel anxiety, restlessness, fear, unwanted male attention, being away from my family and my partner, and my relationship with myself.
I would take out my journal – the same one I bought in Singapore – and pour my heart and soul onto the pages in front of me. I wrote about the day’s events, my plans for the next few days, and most importantly, my emotions and feelings.
It was liberating to share things with myself and to care for myself in that way. I had never paid so much attention to my own mental health and personal struggles in my everyday “non-traveling” life. But, traveling on my own challenged me to make time for myself that I desperately needed and deserved.
And I discovered that the best times for self-reflection were always when the day was most precious: sunrise or sunset.
I challenge you to wake up a little early and stay out a little later to catch these mesmerizing moments.
The beautiful sky is for you – enjoy it, revel in it, and breathe in the fresh air. Bring your journal and a pen, and let your heart pour onto the pages.
These moments are nothing short of amazing.
4. Trust Your Gut
As a woman and solo female traveler, I cannot stress this point enough.
When I was in high school and university, I was a victim of sexual assault and unwanted male attention. I knew the feeling of discomfort and pain all too well; to completely freeze, unsure of what to do or how to get out. I wished to never be stuck in those situations ever again.
Before my first solo adventure, I had always traveled with someone else. Whether it was with my family, friends, or a travel partner, there was always someone with me or not too far away. I never felt like I needed to worry or watch over my shoulder. I felt safe and cared for, and knew that nothing bad would happen to me.
Sadly, my experiences with unwanted attention and assault only increased when I traveled on my own. I was three weeks into my solo trip when I was preyed on not once, but twice, within a span of two hours by two completely different people in various parts of Bangkok.
I heard the alarm bells going off in my head both times. I felt trapped, alone, and scared. When I was finally free and safely back in my hostel, I didn’t want to continue on my journey. I wanted to quit right then and there.
I wanted to go home.
However, after many mental breakdowns, long hours of crying, lots of journaling, and the loving support of my partner and family, I decided to not go home. But that was the closest I had ever come to never wanting to travel again.
To say that the attention and assaults have decreased over the years would be a lie. And to say that I have gotten better at managing the pain would also be somewhat of a lie. But, over the years and after those unfortunate experiences, I’ve learned to blindly trust myself and my intuition.
I listen to those alarm bells even more closely and try to fight the first instinct to freeze. I also try to steer clear of things and people who make me feel extremely uncomfortable. I am more than just a statistic, and I know I am not alone in my struggle.
My stories are lessons learned that empower me to be even stronger and to fight back.
I never want you to feel like you cannot have fun or feel safe when you travel. Empower yourself and let others, like me, empower you to keep going and moving forward.
Trust yourself. Trust that uneasy feeling in your gut and listen to those alarm bells. You are never at fault.
Take back your pride and strength and own it like no one can stop you. You are not a statistic, and you are never alone in your struggle.
For resources on sexual assault while traveling, see these pages here.
5. Your Freedom is Your Anchor and Your Wings
This is one of my favorite things that solo travel has taught me over the years. It’s one of the most powerful lessons to be learned as a solo female traveler.
I’ve struggled to earn my own freedom my entire life. I grew up as a third parent, I was my parents’ confidante, and I played counselor to friends and family alike. Even though I had the power to choose, I still felt like I was not living my life, but rather someone else’s.
I got my first taste of freedom when I moved out of state for university (like many of us do), and it was addictive. I loved feeling in control of my decisions and life. And I loved the power of opportunity and adventure that came with it.
Traveling increased my freedom tenfold.
And solo traveling? Well, that was the freest I have ever felt in my entire life.
I first felt this pure, unlimited sense of freedom while road-tripping across Maui, Hawai’i. It was officially day one of my solo trip, and let me tell you, it was a sensation I’ll never forget.
I yearn for this feeling on every adventure.
I had just finished a 7-hour solo hike up the infamous Haleakala. I hopped back into my little red Jeep Renegade and hit the road. I remember “speeding” along the winding path of the Road to Hana with the wind blowing through my hair as the music boomed from my speakers.
In that moment, life felt unreal. I felt like I could fly.
I had nowhere to be, and no one to tell me what to do. Just me, my backpack, and the world… literally at my fingertips.
Let that sense of freedom burn brightly inside of you. Let it fuel your passions and drive you to continue traveling. And let it anchor you to your soul and help you soar across the world.
When I first set out on my journey to solo backpack across Southeast Asia and Oceania, I never knew that I would come back so alive and empowered. I was scared shitless stepping onto the plane to leave.
And eight weeks later, I dreaded getting off the plane when I landed back home.
Throughout my first solo trip, I faced hardships, mistakes, financial struggles, depression, anxiety, unwanted attention, and pain.
But, I also gained love, self-respect, intuition, passion, drive, introspection, and learned to cherish the little things and the importance of living in the moment.
They say that you should do something that scares you at least once a day. Make solo travel the next thing you do that scares the shit out of you. Trust me… it will leave you empowered and free beyond measure.
The world is waiting for you to explore. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you cannot do it, especially not even yourself.
You were made for this.