A few things have inspired me to put this post together. Firstly, lots of you are searching for topics like ‘how can I be more adventurous?’. Ah, the eternal question! Secondly, I had a lovely Facebook message from a reader, thus: “Hey! Inspired by your blog and want to do the same thing as you. I don’t know anyone who is like me and I’ve been too nervous to get out and travel alone. What would you suggest I do?”. I feel ya, sister. So I asked lots of adventurous women for you and thought up some of my own advice. Here we go!
How to travel alone and find adventure buddies
There are tons of ways to find adventure and people to enjoy it with on your doorstep.
1. JOIN A CLUB
Search out local groups for the sports you’re into or that you’d love to try. This is admittedly much easier if you live in a city – I’m a member of the Bristol Surf Club, for example, which organises social events and weekend trips. If you’re based in a rural area, see what local towns can offer by checking online and in the paper – my amazing mate Jill moved to deepest Snowdonia and set out to make new friends by joining the closest rowing club, above. Queue instant social life in a new place.
Sports clubs usually have regular socials and pub nights on, which is a great way to see if you like the vibe. Turning up alone the first time can be pretty daunting, but force yourself to talk to a few people there and I’ll bet you’ll have a whole new outdoorsy gang by the end of the evening.
2. POST ON EXPLORERS CONNECT
A fantastic tool for travellers and adventurers, Explorers Connect is a community site where you can see fellow member’s planned adventures and join expeditions, find team mates for trips in the UK and abroad and even find a new adventurous job. Click on ‘Join a team’ and then search by your location to see who is near you.
2. POST ON GUMTREE
Gumtree’s community page is definitely worth a look. Why not post an advert and see if there are fellow outdoorsy men and women in your area looking for buddies? Sports clubs often post here too, advertising for new members – a quick search in Bristol turns up women’s football and hockey clubs looking for new members and a mixed running group. Look at this lovely female footie team in Clapham looking for girls to join (above) – that’s 13 instant new mates. Lizzi also recommends trying Meetup. I’d recommend only posting an email address in an online advert, though, and be savvy about meeting up in person with strangers.
The Good Gym is an amazing initiative running across Britain, with established groups in London and Bristol and new groups country wide. They organise activities that help you get fit and do good at the same time. What’s not to like? You could be running to a community farm and doing some digging, sorting donations at a food bank or helping older people in your community. Just researching this has inspired me to sign up to my local group.
4. SEARCH FOR FACEBOOK GROUPS
When I lived in Cardiff I was desperate to surf, but had no friends interested in submerging themselves into the freezing Welsh sea in the winter! I found a Facebook group called ‘Cardiff Surf Meetups’ and posted asking if any other beginner ladies fancied joining me on weekends. Enter Vero (bottom left), a fearless and fun German student who became my surf buddy. We’d head off to Porthcawl every few weeks to mess about on boards. Vero turned out to be an experienced climber too, and took me on my first ever bouldering session. Result!
Travelling alone is scary. But it’s also immensely rewarding and fun, I promise. Here are tons of ways to go abroad solo, plus lots of smart advice from fellow female travellers.
Whenever friends ask me about heading abroad for an extended period I immediately start waxing lyrical about the International Service. A UK government-run international development organisation, IS sends young people abroad to work in disadvantaged countries for three months at a time. You gain incredible experience, make a real difference to a community and find lifelong friends in a new country. Plus, everything is paid for (although you’re expected to fundraise £800 for your cause). I spent three months working in an orphanage in La Paz, Bolivia – one of the best things I’ve ever done (above). Spending a few months based in one place really helps you integrate with local people and culture, too – whilst volunteering we were invited to take part in a local festival on the Island of the Sun, stayed with a tribe on the Amazon and even went to a wedding.
There are, of course, a zillion volunteering options out there, but I’d advise staying well away from any you have to pay for – search out free schemes instead. WWOOFING (working on organic farms across the world) is great for solo travel – you get bed and board in exchange for farm work in a beautiful rural location, and there are usually lots of other Wwoofers to make friends with. If you have a specific skill, search for organisations in need of it – knowing a bit about horses means I found a ranch in Kenya to volunteer at this autumn.
2. ERASMUS AND OTHER SCHOLARSHIPS
Still at university? There are amazing opportunities to travel solo whilst you’re studying. If you’d like to try an academic year abroad you could apply for an Erasmus grant and study at another university in Europe for a semester or a year. I studied Italian in Rome and had an immense time eating gelato and drinking Moretti beer with other students from all over the world (plus occasionally going to lectures).
Alternatively try searching for scholarships in your chosen field. I researched summer schemes when studying journalism and got a place on a foreign correspondence scholarship course in Finland. I spent a month meeting reindeer, skinny dipping in lakes and hiking in forests with budding journalists from all corners of the globe (above) and we’re still friends today.
3. SPORT HOLIDAYS
Travel lover Cat recommends: “book a learning holiday – that way you’re all on the same level. I booked a learn to surf holiday and made lots of friends.” There are plenty of female-only trips about if you’d like a just-girls environment – the wonderful ladies at Girls For Sail offer sailing trips everywhere from Cowes in the UK to the Caribbean, or meet surf-loving Chicks on Waves in the gorgeous Portuguese Algarve. Solo Holidays organise walking and trekking trips around the world, and Cold Fusion specialise in solo skiing trips.
Of course, sometimes planning on finding a like-minded group doesn’t always go to plan, but there are ways to make your experience positive, like Elena of The Healthy Veggie. “When I set off for my surfing holiday I thought I’d make lots of friends in the shared house I booked myself a room in. It turned out that I was the only person in the house during that week…! Did I cry? No. Was I disappointed? Initially, yes. But then I realised that I had a whole house to myself, 10 minutes from the beach, for a whole week! It was the most relaxing and free holiday I’ve ever had. I surfed in the morning, lounged on the beach and devoured ice cream in the afternoon and ate whatever I liked in the evening. I even took myself out for dinner twice. It was a completely different holiday from what I expected, but I did enjoy it – it was a much needed break from everything and everyone.”
4. TRAVEL ON A TOUR
A no-hassle way to explore and makes friends. I explored Israel (above) on a cycle tour, which was the perfect way to gallivant about on two wheels with other bike-mad travellers. My friend Elsie is currently mid-way through a group tour of Europe, and has already made friends for life with her travel gang as they hop on and off trains around the continent, riding bikes around Paris and partying in Amsterdam.
5. WORK ABROAD
Use your skills in another country and get paid for it. Bypass gap year company cons and find a legitimate job by searching for skills-specific roles – you could teach with the British Council, use your medical training with the BMA or put your social skills to good use as a rep on a ski season.
Florence is a biologist and used her wildlife knowhow to land herself a three-month job on safari in Botswana (above). She says: “I remember the moment I got on the plane and thought – what have I let myself in for? I arrived a safari camp after a five hour drive from civilisation and there was no electricity or running water. I immediately had food poisoning for three days and really wanted to go home! But then as the weeks became months I absolutely loved where I was. Elephants wandering straight through the camp in the morning and we watched leopards at waterholes at night with infrared lights. We had to trek for 30mins to a baobab tree at the top of a hill to get any phone signal to call home, and it was really hard to describe to my family what remote African life was like. At home my mum checks which train I’m getting and what I want for dinner, but out in Botswana I was driving a safari truck through herds of elephants and sleeping in a tent with a spitting cobra under the bed!
I’d absolutely recommend working abroad and travelling alone. When you arrive somewhere new on your own you definitely make friends more easily than when travelling as a couple or with friends, and you meet amazing people from all around the world. Around the campfire in Africa we could be speaking 13 different languages.”
6. PROPER SOLO TRAVEL
And so we arrive at the biggie – no-frills, no-mates travelling alone. Firstly, it’s totally okay to be nervous about heading to a new country on a ticket for one. You are BRAVE. Now do some research, so you’re aware of the realities of getting around in your destination – there are myriad guides to staying safe and happy as a solo female traveller online, and lots tailored to specific destinations, too. Guidebooks usually also list specific information and tips for lone ladies.
When it comes to taking the plunge, what I always do is book flights as fast as possible before I chicken out, and worry about the fact that I’m heading off on my own later down the line, when it’s too late! I always book myself a decent-looking hostel for the first night, so I’ve got a safe base when I first arrive. If it’s your first trip alone, take baby steps – why not book yourself a weekend city break and see how it feels? If you’re not a fan then you’ll be back home in a jiffy, but I’m willing to bet you’ll have a blast.
Some sage advice from travel-wise women on the highs and lows of solo travel.
Mary cycled alone around Germany (AND played gigs in the evenings. Wonder woman): “I’d say that being in charge of your own agenda and adventure is an advantage to going to alone. You can go when you want, stop and rest when you want. It’s also easier to meet new people. I was very nervous before I left, and although I’d planned my route I gave myself plenty of time to get lost! I stayed in hostel dorms to save money but actually met lots of other travellers that way – we’d hang out in the evenings and bond over cycling and they’d soon feel like old friends.” Anni and Anna also both love staying in hostels as a way to meet people – Euston, we have a top tip.
Fearless Clemmie jetted off to Australia and Japan on her gap year and says: “Travelling by yourself initially seems terrifying, but you’ll be surprised by how many people chat to you if you’re smiling and open. Even in Japan, where no one spoke English, people were still interested and eager to have a natter – although those friendships were mainly built on smiling and nodding!”
Intrepid Jessica says: “My tactic is usually to just talk to every single person I meet! Just go with the flow… Don’t be scared of changing your plans if you find someone you click with and want to travel with.”
British adventurer Anna McNuff has cycled through 50 US states and just ran (yes, ran) across New Zealand. She says: “Just know that camping on your own gets easier. Fear gets boring, and you learn to tame your imagination!”
Probably the most stylish traveller I know, Lucy of The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, has these final wise words to impart: “Don’t think of travelling alone as: ‘Who will I talk to? Will I feel pathetic eating on my own?’ Instead think of it as 100% your time. Whether it’s three days in a fast-paced city or three weeks in a beachy paradise, you don’t have to work around anyone else. Want to get up at 6am and do sunrise paddleboarding on the Hudson? No whiny boyfriend to cajole out of bed. Want to hide under your duvet from a tropical storm, eat Massaman curry in your PJs and watch Thai reality TV? No ‘I should be out and about’ guilt. You can plan, not plan, or scrap plans and just see where the day takes you.
Longer trips alone really make you think. You’ll confront issues previously put aside for wall-to-wall social plans and small talk. You will, inevitably, ponder whether you’re really happy with the direction you’re going in, whether you like your own company, how you come across to strangers. Expect a wall of boredom at some point, if it’s a long trip. Don’t get on Facebook and desperately share your view for likes and responses – embrace the isolation and recognise that travel isn’t just a series of indulgences and activities; it’s a change of scenery and a bit of space to breathe, think and get inspired.
My top tip is: sit at the bar, people-watch and look friendly. You’ll make new friends, get the best local tips – and, in some cases, maybe even a free drink from a cute barman.”
What’s your experience of travelling alone? Share your thoughts and advice and I’ll add them to this post.
Now please excuse me, I’m off to eat Massaman in my pyjamas.