The solo female traveller
Not afraid to go-it-alone. If we travel smart, we’re free to enjoy a holiday without hassle.
Safety in numbers. Itʼs always there in the back of our minds when booking a trip. Solo travel, as a woman, requires navigating new territory in more ways than one. As daunting as it may seem, it can be extremely liberating to the lady whoʼs willing to go-it-alone.
I decided to take baby steps. A city break to Oslo, Norway seemed perfect. Thereʼs very little crime and has never been flagged as dangerous ground for women. What could go wrong in forty-eight hours? Turns out, nothing. Careful planning made me confident and I found myself quite at ease when my journey began on that cold, autumn morning last November. My birthday was a mere four days away so it was, in fact, a not-so-little gift to myself. The idea of a solo adventure had always intrigued me so I dove right in. I think the trick was to relax. Easier said than done, perhaps, but thatʼs exactly what I did. I planned well and stayed calm about my prospects.
My first thought was to arrive by day. It may seem like an obvious one but the appeal of a cheaper and/or shorter night-flight might lure the budget and time-conscious, like me. Sometimes solo-female-travel requires choices that may cost a few quid/euros/dollars more. In my case, it didnʼt. I got lucky. Peace of mind, however, is something we just canʼt put a price on. A daylight arrival means more visibility, more people and more potential to seek assistance if using public transport which was a money-saver. A taxi remains the easier route, especially if youʼre not travelling light. All I had was a carry-on; another story for female travellers. But yes, I managed to fit everything I needed into one tiny piece of hand-held luggage – a feat indeed – and my decanted beauty essentials never got messy. A carry-on was enough so I opted for a train to the city-centre and spent pre-boarding in a most pleasant conversation with a local woman, originally from Spain. Our fifteen minutes together included a quick but very useful lesson on the Norwegian transport system. So handy! It all began with an “Excuse me, sorry to bother you but am I on the right platform for Oslo Central Station?” And away we went!
Luckily, in my experience, everyone in Oslo spoke English. It was not the case in Rome though so as a tourist, I do the courteous thing and learn a few key phrases in the language of the country I plan on visiting; how to say hello, please and thank you, at the very least. Google translate comes in handy here too!
Locals appreciate the effort and some may even take the opportunity to practise their English with you. A win-win.
Flying to an airport that was closest to my hotel also made things simpler. Oslo city-centre was less than twenty-five minutes away and I was there in no time. As it was my first city-break alone, an affordable, centrally located hotel felt like a better choice than staying on the outskirts. In Oslo, itʼs so easy to walk to all the major sights – Akershus Castle and Fortress, The Royal Palace and Parks, Frogner and Vigeland Sculpture Park; Oslo Opera House, to name a few. Saving money on transport? Check!
Returning to my hotel before nightfall was also key to my peace of mind. If staying outside the city-centre, itʼs important to consider transport access, duration of the ride, cost, and most importantly, safety. Exploring nightlife was not out of the question for me but definitely depended on location, location, location! Alcohol consumption on any night out was minimal to non-existent. Keep your wits about you, as mama always said. At any rate, it’s not exactly cheap to drink alcohol when dining out in Oslo so there’s an added deterrent, if needed.
As backup, I asked the concierge to recommend a taxi service. It may be uber-easy to use an app but a reliable, go-to taxi service thatʼs hotel-endorsed is best. If you happen to make ‘friendsʼ on a night out, itʼs wise to politely refuse any offers of a ride back to your hotel. No matter what I was doing, I always let someone back home know what my plans were, just in case. A simple message was more than enough. No phone-calls. Solo travel is great me-time. It can replenish a tired mind. It also taught me that I can navigate a brand new city all on my own, and more efficiently than with a group (no offence travel buddies!) and dining alone in a foreign country is not the end of the world as I know it!
So there I was, with nobody casting pity-glances at me for flying solo. I was meeting new people every day too. Turns out some of the best chats are the random ones. Itʼs a great way to get to know the people, culture and culinary offerings of your home away from home. Thereʼs only so much a guide book can tell you. Reviews and recommendations from locals are priceless! After all, it’s their turf. And if told about a place that was not on my itinerary, I simply used GPS. Donʼt leave home without it! Data roaming costs next to nothing now and sometimes that GPS can save a lot of time when catching the sights.
I did not get too carried away with all that Internet access though. I was keen to soak up every precious moment of my trip. My head would not be buried in a phone. As tempting as it was to occasionally share real-time updates of my new experiences on social media, I did not. Thatʼs what the ‘latergramʼ hashtag is for when youʼre back at the hotel at night with less to do. I must admit, however, I could not resist the odd post moments after leaving the sweet spots. That still counts as real-time … sort of. The one thing I never share, and this remains true whether or not itʼs a solo trip, is the location of my hotel. This increases your chances of being followed by someone with bad intentions. One look at a public Instagram page, via a hashtag search, and predators can easily tell if youʼre a solo traveller so I save the hotel photo credits and any other kudos for post-check-out. If your page is private, then post away!
Bad things can happen anytime, anywhere, so I tried not to flaunt the tourist factor. I left the fancy DSLR camera at home and used my phone instead. Thank goodness for high-res! Taking a small digital camera that can fit snugly in your handbag is ideal too; itʼs not constantly on show. As for the latter, I left the designer tote at home. No target here. A sturdy, simple handbag with zippers and compartments kept all my essentials safe and stayed close to my person at all times. Backpacks should be locked. Pickpockets are a savvy bunch. Donʼt let an unsecured backpack or handbag distract you from the beautiful city sights.
The same rule applies to jewellery. Low key is best. On a girlsʼ trip to Santorini two summers ago, I donned my best gold-plated, statement pieces only to find that the local tradesmen considered me very rich. I had to explain they were not solid gold! Iʼm still not quite sure if those bargain prices they gave were actual bargains or not! The Greek/EU referendum was a hot-button issue at the time and it was an economically unstable period for most. Many businesses dealt mainly with cash. Credit or debit cards could only be used when spending upward of twenty euros. It really stressed the importance of staying informed about the political climate of any destination country. I always research its cultural and religious practices too so Iʼm prepared and never in violation of any laws or customs. All in all, despite their troubles, the people were lovely and Santorini remains one of my favourite places. Those Caldera views and sunsets are well worth the hype.
Now back to solo travel. About money. A friend of mine advised that I carry some in my shoe. I laughed; but itʼs not a bad idea unless youʼre wearing sandals! Iʼm a big fan of those travellersʼ money cards though, as I donʼt have to walk around with too much cash or risk losing my bank cards. I always keep a standard amount of local currency in my purse though and never spend it all. Solo travel or not, I exercise discretion when accessing cash in public. Flashing wads of cash is considered vulgar anyway so letʼs not be that girl! I try to blend in when it counts. Iʼve been blending as recently as a fortnight ago and loved every minute of it. It was my second solo trip and Iʼm planning another later this year. Iʼm eager to speak with other solo, female travellers and learn about their experiences. Insider knowledge can never hurt. And I do love a good adventure story.
So, if you love to travel as much as I do, your partnerʼs or friendsʼ hectic schedules neednʼt stop you. Just do it! If we travel smart, weʼre free to enjoy a holiday without hassle.