7 Tips for the Solo Female Traveler

I recently met up with a friend who commended me for being “brave” enough to travel on my own. I don’t feel especially brave for going on vacations, especially when my options are to either go on solo adventures or stay at home and squander my PTO.

I don’t have a boyfriend (or a girlfriend). I have a ton of friends, but many of them don’t have the time, money or desire to hop around the world as often as I do, and most of them certainly don’t want to do it at the frenetic pace or minimal budget that I do. Therefore, I often end up the solo female traveler.

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I’ve traveled alone to more than 15 countries, including Israel, Turkey, France, Italy, and Croatia. There’ve been ups and downs to going it alone on so many adventures, but I’m rarely lonely. Spoiler alert: I always end up making friends during my journeys, and you can too!

Yes, people have devoted many articles and even entire blogs to this specific species of wanderer, but I’m here to give you some of my top tips for making the best of your stag sojourns.

  1. Stay at hostels. The easiest way to save money and make friends is to stay somewhere that’s going to be chock full of other travelers looking to make connections. I’ve come to prefer staying at hostels over Airbnbs or hotels, as you can usually find places with the same amenities for a fraction of the price. Most importantly, hostels are swarming with potential new international BFFs who are also looking to make fast friends to go exploring with. If you hang out in the common spaces, get a drink at the bar or go on one of the free walking tours, you’re sure to pick up some new travel buddies in no time.
  2. Make the first move. If you’re on a quest to make friends, don’t be afraid to start a conversation! It can be as simple as complementing someone on their shirt or accessories—flattery gets you far in this world 🙂 I’ve had great success at hostels asking to sit at a shared table with people, which is a fantastic way to break into conversations and often leads to new pals. In the same vein, the hostel bar is ground zero for picking up potential buddies….or dates! Alcohol is the best social lubricant, it’s much easier to approach someone after having a beer or a glass of wine.
  3. Bring a journal and a book. Although these are probably on every traveler’s packing list, I find it especially important to be armed with supplies for reading and writing when traveling alone. Reading a book is a stellar way to signal to the world that you’re not interested in being approached, be it at a bar, at the beach or on public transit. Having your nose in a book is the international sign for “Don’t bother me.” Similarly, I always have a journal on hand and find it’s a good way to recount my adventures and pass the time when on trains/planes, at a bar/restaurant, or when back at the hostel.
  4. Don’t be afraid to eat alone. One of the hardest things for me when I started traveling was eating by myself. I had never gone to a sit-down meal solo before I started traveling, but now it’s something I quite enjoy. This is a perfect opportunity to reflect on your day/trip/life, and I like to use the time between ordering and the food arriving to write in my journal. Depending on where you’re seated, this is also prime time for people watching! Ask for a seat with a view of the street, or even better, one on the sidewalk outside.
  5. Pack light. The oldest tip in the books, but one that’s especially relevant for the solo female traveler. First off, you need to be able to effortlessly carry all your stuff. If your bag is so heavy that you can’t easily hoist it into the overhead bin or carry it up a few flights of stairs, you need to lighten your load. Second, the less you bring the more space you have to shop! In addition to getting a few souvenirs, I love being able to treat myself to something fun—a campy t-shirt, a vintage jacket, a locally made hand bag—but you need to be able to fit it into your luggage. Pack light so that you never have to worry about whether you can squeeze your new treasures in.
  6. Trust your gut. Your intuition is always correct, and learning to listen to it is an invaluable skill that will help you in every aspect of life, but especially when you’re hitting the road alone. By and large, I believe this world is filled with amazing, generous and honest people, but there are absolutely a few bad apples out there. Use common sense when you’re traveling by yourself: don’t wear flashy things, try to blend in with the locals, don’t carry a ton of cash, skip any alleyways that give you the heebie-jeebies, and if anyone makes you feel uncomfortable, get yourself out of that situation ASAP in whatever means necessary. I’ve ducked into a gelato shop in Rome when I was being followed, and have literally run away from people who were giving me bad vibes. Don’t be afraid about being nice: be more concerned with staying safe.
  7. Ask people to take your picture and embrace the selfie stick. One of the most difficult parts of traveling alone is getting decent pictures of yourself, but this can be easily remedied! Don’t be shy about asking other people to take your photo, especially at tourist hot spots where many others are doing the same. There’s definitely an art to picking the right person to snap a pic for you—look for someone who doesn’t appear to be in a hurry, is also a tourist, and who has a fancy camera (as they’ll hopefully be a decent photographer!). Another option is the the selfie stick. Know these silly devices get a lot of flack, and I used to be one of the people making fun of them and those who used them….until I got one myself. The difference of quality with a selfie stick is astounding, and gives you a much better picture that encapsulates so much more of the background as well as a better angle. Don’t hate until you try it yourself!

Traveling on your own is rarely the lonely or scary process that it’s made out to be. I much prefer solo travel, as you get to choose exactly what you do and when you do it without having to appease a partner or group. That said, it’s always possible to make friends on the road! Whether picking up pals for a few days of adventures or simply connecting with someone in a brief encounter, solo travel does not ever have to equate to solitary.

Now, go find a cheap flight to somewhere you’ve been dreaming about and make it happen! Life is too short to wait for the perfect partner to come around so that you can indulge in your wanderlust.

Prague: Bohemian Wonderland

Though Israel was a sunny paradise, I decided to break the cycle of my Tel Aviv lifestyle (beach all day, party all night) and head into Europe.

The cheapest ticket I could find using Skyscanner, my favorite airfare app, was Prague!

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Two of my favorite Prague buildings are located in Old Town Square: the astronomical clock tower and the Church of Our Lady before Tyn.

Both were built in the 1400s, and are impressive feats. The church is a classic example of gothic architecture and dominates the city skyline. The clock is the oldest functioning astronomical clock in the world. Who cares about the latest iPhone?

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The Prague Castle, Pražský hrad, is officially the world’s largest castle and dates back to the ninth century.

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This is a breathtakingly beautiful city. Twice the capital of Europe, the historical capital of Bohemia, and now the capital of the Czech Republic, Prague is a city of two million people that feels like the place Belle would call home.

The architecture is an array of styles that span the history of time. Romanesque, baroque, gothic, art nouveau, cubism…it’s everything at once, but it works.

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Street Art: Tel Aviv edition

I’m a sucker for street art.

When I was younger, I dated a guy who used to tag a lot, and was introduced to a beautiful back alley world of art unlike anything I’d ever seen. The thrill of sneaking into places where the best pieces were, recognizing people’s tags around town and throwing up a few of my own: it was love at first spray.

The streets of Tel Aviv (especially Florentine!) are plastered with everything from tiny stencil tags to whole walls of enchanting works. I spent many hours simply strolling side streets and snapping pics of the pieces that spoke to me.

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Florentine, for One

In order to slowly ease into my solo voyage, I took baby steps in parting from my large and loving Birthright family.

After we said tearful goodbyes to the bulk of the group heading back to the States, the 10 of us remaining rented a killer penthouse apartment blocks from the beach in Tel Aviv on vibrant Ben Yehuda Street.

The view from one of our two balconies!

After a wild night out on the town with the group, three of us girls moved into a cozy Airbnb rental half a block from the crazy and crowded HaCarmel street market.

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It was a much-needed chance to rest, get some girl time and play with Alice, the cat. Feline lovin’ is so therapeutic!

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When it came time to say goodbye to the girls (Becca was heading home, Teel to work on a Kibbutz), I braved public transportation with my pack and headed to the Florentine Hostel.

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A Whole New World

In America, some of the oldest historical sites we have date back a few hundred years. In Israel, the history you can see stretches back thousands of years.

One of the most exciting, exhausting and emotional days of the trip started with a sunrise hike to the top of Masada.

Despite staying up partying the night before (drinking Arak and Tubi 60, two fairly awful Israeli liquors), we got up at 4 a.m. and took off for the ancient mountain fortress of Masada.

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Jerusalem: Underground to the rooftops

First of all, slichah (excuse me) for the lack of posts. This program runs us ragged! Most mornings we’re up at 6 a.m. and have jam-packed days that run until late into the night. Here’s a long overdue post about one of our days in Jerusalem!

On Sunday, we were up early as usual and headed for the City of David, an incredibly old part of Jerusalem that is a national park and still undergoing archeological excavation.

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Irad, our rough and tumble trip guide, took us to a beautiful vantage point where we had incredible views of the city. He explained the history of the area, including the many churches and mosques in the area. To sum it up, this is the most holy land in the world and Jesus’s old stomping grounds.

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We also had a good view of the Western Wall, which we had visited Friday evening for Shabbat, and would be returning to later in this day.

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Israel Outdoors

The Birthright program, also known as Taglit (Hebrew for “discovery”), has a variety of trip providers. Each organization has a different way to expose young Jewish people to the world of Israel: some are very religious, some party hard, some focus on the food.

I chose to travel with Israel Outdoors, which takes us hiking, biking, swimming, camel riding and rafting through Israel.

On our first full day in the home land, we jumped into things with a hike in the Golan Heights, which is in the northern part of Israel.

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Gorgeous waterfalls and lush foliage lined the way, and the group bonding continued as we trekked through the humid day.

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After our hike, we drove up to Mount Bental and perched on a hillside with some UN soldiers and a view straight into Syria.

Less than two miles away, mortars exploded below us and we could hear the pop-pop-pop of machine gun fire. It was unreal to watch plumes of white smoke curl into the sky, knowing a civil war was raging so close (don’t worry Mom, we were totally safe).

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An introduction to Israel

Our 24 hours of travel were as painless as a cleaning at the dentist. I snagged a window seat for the first long flight, the kosher airplane meals were surprisingly tasty, and they didn’t ask me a single question at customs. No one had their luggage lost, which I consider a major win for a group of 30!

Hummus, eggplant, “BBQ” chicken and dessert!

Once we arrived in Tel Aviv, we got our Israeli cell phones, exchanged some dollars for shekels, and loaded up on our bus with our new staff.

Our Israeli tour guide for this trip, Irad, is a tough old bird who looks like Crocodile Dundee. He speaks at least four languages (that I’ve heard so far), served in the IDF for 20 years and has been teaching us Hebrew words and Israeli customs (hint: don’t use manners here).

The bus driver, Razor, looks like an aged drummer for a punk band. He sports greased, grey springy curls down to his shoulders and a pair of mirrored sunglasses. He is constantly smoking cigarettes and doesn’t speak much English, but he’s rad and hasn’t crashed yet.

Rafi is our security guard (and medic). A young buck of 25, he also served in the IDF and comes equipped with a 9 mm and Band-Aids. He is not very proficient in English, but we’ve becomes friends and communicate via hand gestures and the Google translate app.

The first night at our hotel (a decent three-star place in Tiberias overlooking the Sea of Galilee) included a buffet dinner of grilled veggies, tilapia, lamb sausages and rolls. We did another round of icebreakers on the roof, then all crashed hard.

Our bus (#bus447) and the view from our hotel.

Bon Voyage!

Here’s my last update from American soil!

After packing my bag last night, I had to take out a good bit of stuff to make everything fit. I can still barely carry all my stuff at once, and look like a giant turtle when I’m all strapped up.

After a sad taxi ride out of New York (something about crossing the Williamsburg Bridge made it SO real), I made it to the airport and have met the rest of the Birthright crew: 30 kids from across the country (a lot of California friends!) who are just as stoked and scared about their travel plans as I am.

Found two other vagabonds who will be trekking without a plan after the 10 days in Israel is over, and hope to befriend them especially well.

I have a middle seat for our cross-Atlantic flight, and am praying for no babies or obese seat mates.

Wish me luck, and stay tuned for a post from Tel Aviv!

3, 2, 1….

I’m freaking out, man.

I leave in three days. I have yet to pack up my room in Brooklyn, pack up my backpack (this itsy-bitsy 40L pack is making this a struggle), or unpack all my emotions into comprehensible words.

Screen Shot 2014-08-29 at 2.28.54 PMI have SO MUCH STUFF. No one needs as much clothing as I have. Even though I gave away three big trash bags full when I moved a month ago, I still have two complete wardrobes—one at my boyfriend’s house in the East Village, and one at mine in Greenpoint. I have oodles of purses (despite my collection being stolen during a move in Bushwick last year). I have more cosmetic products than a Walgreens, and more shoes than Imelda Marcos.

I still need to download books to my new iPad, find my travel sewing kit, sell my bike, donate another few bags of stuff, and pick up the photos I printed (it’s nicer to hand someone a pic of your family than your iPhone). I’m not sure what to give my boyfriend as a going away gift. I still can’t decide what sort of jacket to bring.

All my Amazon purchases have arrived safely. My dad sent me a bunch of genealogical info about the McCourts who came from Ireland. I have poured over a few paper guidebooks and every single travel blog on the Internet. I downloaded all the top-rated free travel apps. I tested out my towel.

It’s exhilarating and terrifying to know that in a week I’ll be in Israel, and in three weeks, I’ll be….somewhere in Europe.