the truth about solo female travel
This is a guest post from Grace Terry of Native & Well, where she shares her wellness and sustainability tips, as well as recipes for functional health. It’s also her platform to promote awareness of chronic disease. All these photos (and words) are hers!
I caught the travel bug at a pretty young age.
I was raised by parents that fostered my love of travel all throughout my childhood by sending me on community service trips in places like Costa Rica and Fiji, letting me travel with friends to Europe, and taking me on trips themselves.
I distinctly remember the moment I decided that traveling was my “happy place.”
I was traveling with Global Business Brigades in a remote village in Panama helping the villagers optimize their farming by streamlining their agricultural process and making the most of their land.
Despite feeling greasy, having frizzy humidity hair, and being covered in mosquito bites during the Zika virus outbreak, I consciously realized that my heart burst with happiness and that the perspective gained from travel was absolutely priceless.
A couple years later my dad and I travelled together to New Zealand and Australia, and this is the trip that sparked my love of the outdoors.
Leading up to the trip I ordered my first ever pair of hiking boots. We hiked a trail on the South Island of NZ called Roy’s Peak, and it was one of the most challenging hikes I’ve been on. Mostly because I wasn’t mentally prepared for hiking to be so difficult, but also because I was naive enough not to break my hiking boots in before that trek.
I remember saying to my dad, “I had no idea hiking could be so hard. Why do people do this!?”
But then we made it to the top, and I think I answered my own question. The work was most definitely worth it, and from that day forward I was hooked.
I spent the next few months going on lots of solo hikes and camping trips in Southern California.
I made a point to get outdoors at least once a week. I was a last semester senior in college with a light course load and a part-time internship, so my free time to explore was plentiful.
Friends, peers, and strangers alike both judged me and questioned me for exploring the outdoors as a solo female; but judgement from others only fueled my fire to prove them wrong and to inspire women that solo adventures can absolutely be safe and fun.
On Traveling During Spring Break
A few weeks before spring break I started looking into flights.
I had some money saved up and I had the itch to go somewhere. The two destinations that were in my budget were Vietnam and Peru. Because getting to and from Asia with only a week off seemed a bit extensive, my heart became set on going to Peru to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
I had never travelled alone before, so when I told my parents I wanted to book a flight to South America by myself they initially weren’t all that thrilled by the idea. In fact, they even offered to pay my way to go somewhere that was “safer.” After lots of research and planning they ultimately supported my decision, so off I went!
To say Peru was incredible is an overwhelming understatement.
It challenged me physically, mentally, and emotionally; but it left me with an enduring love of solo travel.
Solo travel is quite different than traveling with friends, family, or a group. I had done it all, but nothing compared to the feeling of freedom in a nonnative land on my own. I suppose that level of independence might sound daunting and unappealing to some personalities, but I would still urge anyone to give it a shot.
While in Peru I spent time in Cuzco and Lima, and I hiked the four day trek on the Inca trail to Machu Picchu.
I met amazing humans that I still talk to two years later, ate amazing authentic food, made friends, went surfing with locals, and started getting comfortable with the discomfort of navigating a foreign place on my own.
For the record, I am about as introverted as they come. Asking a local for directions and sparking conversation with fellow travelers at my hostels certainly did not come naturally to me. I couldn’t rely on friends, family, or technology to get me where I needed to be or to order my meals for me. The unfamiliarity of these simple nuances initially sparked panic for my introverted soul, but I quickly embraced being out of my comfort zone.
On Traveling Post-Graduation
Upon returning from Peru, I decided I wanted to take the summer after graduation to travel a bit more. I planned a three month long trip throughout Europe and Israel, and I took a red eye flight out of Boston Logan the same night as my commencement at Boston University.
Most of my peers had jobs lined up and career paths set in mind, but I had a 45 liter backpack and a one way ticket.
I felt nervous that I was making a bad decision by taking a path less followed. In retrospect, I wouldn’t change a thing. I started my travels in Iceland, then moved on to Israel/Palestine, travelled through Northern Europe with a girlfriend I made along the way, hiked the first 100 miles of the Camino de Santiago in Spain, and spent the last few weeks of my travels hitchhiking my way through Portugal.
The longer I was away, the more comfortable I became with being uncomfortable and with the path I chose for myself. I met the man that is now my boyfriend, life partner, roommate, and favorite human along the Camino de Santiago. The universe works in mysterious ways.
I could glorify solo travel all day long, but to say it is a breeze would be deceptive.
Being alone in an unfamiliar place with buses to catch, train stations to find, having all of your belongings on your back, and not knowing the language absolutely poses predicaments. Plus, being a fair-skinned, blonde-haired female definitely made me a target in some places.
I’ve been asked countless times if traveling alone as a girl is scary.
The simple answer is no, it is not scary.
However, keeping your “wits” about you is a must because people will take advantage of you if you let them. Sometimes it might be as innocent as a street vendor talking you into an overpriced souvenir, but it could also be a seemingly charming guy trying to talk you into dinner at his place. In these types of situations you have to trust your gut.
From dodging animalistic, cat-calling men in Bethlehem, to kicking away a perverted older male army crawling under me to look up my skirt in Lima, to talking my way out of a home cooked meal with a self-proclaimed economist in Lisbon that had been following me around the city, I’ve certainly dealt with my fair share of unideal situations while traveling.
All of these circumstances left a sour taste in my mouth, but in no way do these unfortunate experiences outweigh the enormous personal gains.
I’m sharing these lows from my because not acknowledging them would be misleading, but when you stop and think about it these types of experiences can happen anywhere. I think all the ladies reading this can agree that they’ve faced similar experiences in their hometown.
So, yes traveling by yourself as a female has its risks. But doesn’t everything in life?
We are all at different stages in our journeys.
Today I am writing about my solo travel journey while riddled with chronic health issues that would make this type of adventure pretty impossible.
Long-term travel doesn’t have the same enticing ring to it like it once did for me, but that is just an example of the ebb and flow of life. The idea of living in one place for any length of time used to give me anxiety because I wanted to experience as many places as possible.
Now, I crave having a single place to call home, routine, and people and things to ground me in one city. I miss traveling every single day in an incredibly heart-wrenching way, but I am finding that the challenge of growing roots is likely going to be more beneficial for me long-term.
Traveling will always be something I prioritize.
Our society tends to glorify consuming items over experiences, but in the end all we are left with are our memories. For now, pushing myself outside of my comfort zone will entail solo hikes around the Pacific Northwest, starting a career as a nutritional therapist, and raising a puppy.
To some this may just seem like I’m finally “settling down,” but trust me when I say once you have tasted freedom it will always call you.
Grace Terry is a Boston University graduate (I met her when we were both college students in Boston!), fellow SoCal native, world traveler, and yogi. She’s passionate about wellness, sustainability, and functional health, and even more so after being diagnosed with Lyme’s disease in 2018. You can follow her journey on Instagram here.