5 inspiring stories from women who travel solo

Sep 19, 2021

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I travelled solo internationally for the first time when I was 25 years old.

Like most second-language learners, studying or travelling abroad was inevitable but something most students did when they were younger than I was at the time. As a graduate student studying Spanish, I was excited to travel alone to Costa Rica to teach English and have what I thought would be this transformative, life-changing experience — which it was, but not how I’d imagined.

With my first step into the airport, I was almost immediately terrified and regretted my decision to go so far all by myself. San Jose wasn’t the cosmopolitan city I’d made it out to be in my head. I didn’t feel safe the first few days that I was there, and my accommodations weren’t what I expected. Looking back, I can’t believe how naive I was.

But, I spent two weeks getting lost in San Jose, surprising myself at how comfortably I communicated solely in Spanish. I even took a bus to the coastal town of Manuel Antonio on my free weekend. Everything about my trip was harder than I expected, and I wanted to give up and come home every other day. But the trip emboldened me to be brave in a way that I’d never had to be before and I was changed forever.

I wanted to share the stories of other brave women of varying backgrounds whose lives had been transformed through travel. So I asked the women of the TPG Women Facebook group to share their stories for this article. Through solo travel, these women found community, paths to their future and, most importantly — though undoubtedly a tad cliché — themselves.

Here are just some of their stories.

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Lisa Tsering, editor

Taj Mahal in India
India’s Taj Mahal. (Photo by Kriangkrai Thitimakorn/Getty Images)

Lisa Tsering’s story begins in 1992 when she travelled to Northern India on an award ticket on Pan Am. She had just enough miles for one free ticket and India was the farthest she could go.

Though this trip to India wasn’t Lisa’s first solo trip, she admits that travelling solo to India was a challenge. She told herself to trust everyone — something she admits was a strange idea — which ended up making her experience that much more special.

Lisa felt so at home in India during that first trip that she ended up travelling there 10 more times and working as a journalist for the Times of India for 17 years. She was the first non-Indian to cover Bollywood for Indian readers and even became a Bollywood movie reviewer for the Hollywood Reporter.

Lisa’s story of how her decision to be open and trusting of strangers encourages us to be more open to others when we visit new places.

Related: How to travel solo — and why you absolutely should

Miriam Magnuson, nonprofit fundraising

Schönbrunn Palace Vienna Austria
(Photo by emperorcosar/Shutterstock)

Miriam Magnuson’s first time travelling solo was for a friend’s wedding in Vienna. Her significant other was unable to attend but she decided to spend a few days in Prague by herself.

Miriam remembers that she didn’t have anything in particular to do — she wandered the streets, saw the sights and ate delicious food.

She tells the story of how, one day, she was sitting on a park bench near the castle, people-watching and enjoying the day when she thought to herself that she should probably get going soon — but she actually didn’t have anywhere to be. In fact, she was free to do whatever she wanted and so she spent four more hours that afternoon enjoying the park.

Miriam writes, “I didn’t set out with some kind of goal of ‘becoming the kind of woman who travels solo if she wants to because she can,’ it was just something I did that on reflection showed me I was (already) that kind of woman.” For Miriam, travelling solo didn’t change her so much as reveal who she already was.

Related: Why you should visit Prague as a solo traveller

Julie Olum, travel writer and digital content creator

The view from the top of Table Mountain via the Aerial Cableway.
(Photo by Chiara Salvadori/Getty Images)

Julie Olum was born and raised in Kenya and has been travelling full-time for the last six years. Her story began as an undergrad at university in South Africa, where she studied to be an architect before embarking on a month-long trip around Europe in her last year.

At the start of the pandemic, Julie was visiting Uganda on the first stop of a longer trip through Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia. When Uganda closed its borders at the end of March 2020, she decided to stay and wait it out, living and working in a hostel for seven months. But this seems right in line with the type of traveller Julie is — she makes the most of every moment.

Travelling as much as she has is what changed her trajectory from professional architect to travel writer — following a passion that was awakened as she explored different places around the world. Despite only ever travelling alone, Julie balances traveling solo with building community and says that she values collectivism and community in addition to individualism.

Related: 4 reasons why you should visit Cape Town, South Africa

Alexa Cayce, engineer

Snow capped Norwegian mountains in the background. Lake in the foreground.
(Photo by Kolbjørn Hoseth Larssen/Getty Images)

Alexa Cayce studied abroad in Norway while studying engineering in college in Texas.

She describes herself as a typical introverted engineer in college but quickly realised once she was settled into her new school — and living alone for the first time — that she was going to have to make friends or her experience wouldn’t be much fun.

Alexa was able to step out of her comfort zone for the first time by making friends with whom she would eventually travel to Oslo, London and Copenhagen. Everything about her study-abroad experience was new to her, she said, even taking public transportation for the first time. At the end of her study abroad in Norway, she travelled solo to Stockholm before returning home.

Alexa’s trip transformed her into a more confident person, something her dad says he could see the minute he picked her up from the airport when she got home from Norway. She adapted to her environment in a way that she hadn’t had to before. Alexa said that she “grew up” during her time travelling solo to Norway.

Maria Neve

A Paris street sign.
(Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy)

Maria Neve was dreading the first anniversary of her husband’s death when she decided she needed a break. She booked a last-minute trip to Paris, where she stayed with family and spent most of her time exploring the city.

As she was sitting at the base of the Eiffel Tower, she came to the realisation that she needed a fresh start and a second chance; Maria was feeling trapped by her memories and unable to make decisions.

Maria says that her solo time in Paris freed her mind to make a transition she didn’t know she needed and that that trip set the stage for her life today. After returning from that trip, she moved to a new state, started a new job and began to feel alive again.

In a way, Maria saved herself by taking that trip to Paris.

Recurring themes

As I read through all of the stories that women were sharing in the TPG Women Facebook group, I was inspired to know that so many women find solace and safety in solo travel.

One woman told the story of learning Arabic after Sept. 11 and even though she is now married with children, she’s only ever travelled solo in the Middle East and has felt safer there than in some American cities.

Hillary LaReau, a travelling nurse, writes about a time she was dining alone in a fancy restaurant in London.

“I used to think I had to wait for a partner to do amazing things,” she writes. “But I finally realised that doing them alone was the most amazing part.”

Feature photo by GaudiLab/Shutterstock.com

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