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Why going solo as a female traveller is so empowering

Working at KE, we’re in a privileged position to have the chance to go solo and join a group at least once a year. Collectively, the women in our ... Read more
Why going solo as a female traveller is so empowering
Working at KE, we’re in a privileged position to have the chance to go solo and join a group at least once a year. Collectively, the women in our team have been on countless solo adventures, from trekking in the Andes to walking along the Cinque Terre and everything in between. Here are their reasons why it’s so empowering – because there’s nothing more rewarding than forging new friendships, discovering mindblowing landscapes, connecting with women from whole different backgrounds, and conquering something you never thought you’d achieve.



Share experiences with women around the world


I think that the majority of my life I have been travelling solo, and when I go abroad and I’ve never felt so alive and free.

It started when I was 17, when I joined my first solo trip to Iceland with a group then called BTCV, building rock steps down to Dettifoss waterfall. Camping, meeting new people, seeing new places, being fed and looked after by the group – it was brilliant. The following year I was doing the same on the Appalachian Trail in Maine as part of ‘The Force’. Our team leader, Lindsay, was hardcore and I was in awe of her. We had a 5-hour walk in, we carried everything for 5 days including the chainsaws, 6ft crowbars, pullies, ropes, tents and food. We moved enormous rocks with the equipment, and I was gob-smacked that Lindsay made a cheesecake from a dehydrated pack on the side of a wet mountain - this was a proper adventure.

I got the bug, which took me eventually into the travel industry, almost 17 yrs ago now. The majority of the trips that I have been on with work have been ‘solo’. A moment stands out on one of my first trips to Morocco. I was sitting with the men in a group in a big family house, and I was the only female. We were in a remote village in a valley away from the busy trekking areas, and I saw the ladies looking at me and giggling...they eventually plucked up the courage and invited me over to them. They took me to the kitchen and we chatted for a good hour – of course we couldn’t communicate in language at all, but with some hand gestures and some laughter we got along just fine – it was a special moment, because I was the only female. Even since then I seek out the ladies for a chat and a moment to laugh with them. In the last year my solo adventures have included going up Kilimanjaro, where it turned out I was the only female in the group and travelling in Rwanda to see Gorillas – for me these trips are never solo because as soon as you meet your fellow travellers you become part of the team, you stick together and look after people who were strangers a few days ago. You are united in the joy of going to new places, seeing the culture and chatting to the women you meet along the way.



You’re never really lost or alone


When I was young I was always reassured by my parents that I would never be lost or alone as long as I had a smile on my face and a tongue in my head! It is this phrase that has always empowered me to travel solo despite being terrible at languages. Don’t get me wrong – I was nervous the first time I had to travel solo, but I was happy to give it a go and was soon reminded of how kind hearted humans are. From the Italian family who kindly insisted on escorting me all the way to my hotel when I was looking at my map with a confused expression in the Cinque Terre to the Vietnamese child and her teacher in Hanoi who invited me to help her practice her English (and in return gave me the inside tip on the best ice-cream shop in the city), the people I met on my solo travels have always been my favourite part of any trip.

This year I am heading off to cycle solo around Lake Constance on our new self-guided holiday. I cannot wait to enjoy the peace of the lake as I cycle along and discover all it has to offer. I know there will be plenty of people along the route and I am looking forward to meeting them too. After all, you’re never really alone or lost!



We always get asked: is it safe? Here’s the answer


Much to some people’s surprise, I’ve always been fairly nervous and lacking in confidence when it comes to travelling by myself – of less surprise to most, I’m also very stubborn and have fought through the fear and gone and done it anyway. However it does mean I understand, better than most, how worrying it can be to be a solo female traveller. Is it safe to travel on your own as a woman is a question that I have both been asked by others and also wondered myself at times and, I’m pleased to say, that despite the nerves and the initial worries, the resounding answer has always been a big, fat, yes!

There are multiple ways to know your travel experience will be a positive and safe one. Joining a guided group is, in itself, one way to feel safer – knowing it has been safety checked, being met at the airport, sharing a room with another woman, having readymade travel companions to accompany you round the unknown – all give you the confidence that your travel will be safe. Now, of course, having made my livelihood for the last 20 years out of group travel, I’m bound to say that group travel makes you feel safer, but there are other elements to consider yourself that make travelling as a female alone so rewarding.

I’ve often found that staying safe, is all about fitting in; making sure you learn some basic language (which is all I ever manage as a linguist I am not) so that you can say hello, thank you, please - it’s amazing how much of a difference to acceptance and trust this can make. I always try to fit in with the dress code – this doesn’t have to mean getting myself tangled up tying a sari in India (although if you can work it out they are beautiful on!), but it does mean that I won’t wear shorts or vest tops in Delhi because it’s not acceptable to the men or the women. Knowing when to cover up is so important to fitting in and will remove you from any potential unwanted advances or angry comments that may come should you choose to ignore a head covering in an Orthodox church or long trousers in a mosque. Know the area you’re travelling to as well – learn the scams that can occur, work out where the “dodgy” areas of town are and don’t wander around with “blingy” jewellery flashing or large cameras around your neck. Quite often staying safe as a solo female traveller is no different to just being basic city/street savvy – same as you would in London, Manchester, Liverpool etc.

Travelling on your own, as a woman, can be daunting, but don’t be beaten by your fears – take that first step and, with a few very simple pointers, your trip should be hassle free and safe as houses.



It’s never been easier to go solo


In 2007, shortly after joining KE HQ, I was lucky enough join a group trekking to Choquequirao, Peru. I wasn’t without trepidation; this would be my first solo long-haul journey and my first visit to South America. Of course, group travel means that it is possible to travel solo, without travelling alone. I returned two weeks later with a whole new set of friends who shared my interests, both group members and the local staff, and I felt as if the whole world had just opened up in front of me. Bug well and truly caught.

Solo travel has changed a lot in the subsequent years, but the feeling of empowerment and freedom that comes with each new journey remains. Leaving for Peru I was a metaphorical bag of excitement, carrying an actual bag loaded with phrasebooks, guidebooks, maps, tickets and hotel vouchers etc.... There is sometimes a tendency for adventure travellers to want to escape technology, with people opting to join tech-free holidays and digital detoxes, but for me the evolution of the smartphone has made it easier and safer than ever before to travel solo as a female. It means a smaller bag and fewer worries. On a recent trip to Japan, I was able to connect with fellow travellers from around the world on Facebook before even leaving the country, I took an Uber on my way to the airport, my boarding passes and hotel vouchers were all stored on my phone and there was no need to carry a separate camera. My phone became my map and guidebook, directing me straight to the best ramen joint in town and it also acted as a phrasebook, with Google Translate able to turn the Japanese street signs into English right before my eyes.



As we change, so does the way we travel solo


In my early twenties, I was titanium. I travelled without a care in the world.

I lived on $10 a day, thought cardboard walls in hotels (even with men peering through them) hilarious, thought nothing of safety and believed I was the real deal. But obviously, it was all pretty callow and all about me.

Even without the additional responsibility of a child, I wouldn’t dream of being so reckless but also not seeking out the genuine. Part of the joy of travel nowadays is endless research into where I am going to travel, writing to local people on the ground and making relationships before I go, working out the safest logistics and actually if I want to go solo on each particular trip.

Sometimes it is just too difficult or time-consuming – for instance, KE has just launched a trip in Lebanon and it spends 3.5 days trekking on the Lebanon Mountain Trail. I’m sure I could, with an immense amount of effort, work out how to do that myself, but I’m probably only going to be lucky enough to go to Lebanon once and I would really want it to be spectacular, I want to be guided by passionate local guides and I’d like to enjoy every minute, not worry about the next bit of logistics.

Equally, there’s places where I need expert support. My daughter and I are lucky enough to be going on safari with KE in the summer. I haven’t been to sub-Saharan Africa before, so I know I haven’t got the experience on the ground. Plus there are BIG animals out on safari, which clearly I want us to see, just not too close without experienced safari guides. 

Finally, I’ve never really enjoyed eating dinner alone, though I have coping strategies and am fine to do it. So I do value a spot of company and KE travellers are cracking good fun. Every so often it is brilliant to travel with incredible people who are curious about the world and adventurous and like to have a flipping good time. Eventually, sometimes it just comes down to the ‘craic’ and knowing that with any KE group, it’s going to be the best.



Overcoming your fear


The first trip KE asked me to travel on was Walking the Islands and Volcanoes of Sicily, a wonderful trip and not too far to go – however at this point in my life I had only ever flown once. As the trip got closer the nerves grew, nerves mainly of the unknown and of course of doing this on my own! After a week of walking with strangers who became friends it was evident that all the worry was worth it - and doing this alone made it all the more important, resulting in a true sense of enjoyment and empowerment. My next destination was Morocco. As I walked around Marrakech I ended up haggling for mint tea glasses, I think one of those small, but mighty moments, as I realised ...I can do this!

I've worked at KE for quite a while now and I go out on a trip (on my own) about once or twice a year. Don’t get me wrong, the nerves are still there each time I travel, but they are now a healthy mix of respect and excitement. In recent years these have helped me trek the Annapurna Circuit and Sanctuary (pictured), hike and snowshoe on Svalbard and complete the full GR20 trek in Corsica. And to think, this all started with a short-haul trip to Sicily. Now, where to next...


It’s the perfect way to make sure you experience everything you want to


One of the best parts about travel for me has always been taking advantage of connections I'd made from around the world. I visited a number of places, from China to Madrid to Sweden, via friends, which meant I didn't actually go solo until just after university, that period where people's lives start to change and we're all a little less able to drop what we're doing and go adventure. Since then I've enjoyed weekends in Berlin and various US cities and national parks to myself, which was where I started to realise the benefits of going on your own - no little arguments over the order of the day and the freedom to roam where you please, something we all need once in a while. It also offers you some welcome introspection and the chance to work out what you're made of when left to your own devices. Heading out to Morocco last year was a real eye-opener for me. I joined a group on my own for the first time, which felt a little daunting at first, a different kind of flying solo. But it soon offered me everything I thought I would get from a solo adventure; I met some like-minded people, gained real insight into another culture, and still offered me the chance to prove what I could achieve, even alongside a group of people too. 



Even if it doesn’t go to plan, support is there when needed


Having skiied to the magnetic North Pole across 280 nautical miles of frozen ice and years hiking in the fells of the Lake District, I thought getting myself to Everest Base camp would be a doddle. A big Bucket List trek of mine since I was 4ft tall, I finally booked the Ultimate Everest Trek in Nepal.

In the past, the idea of solo travel to me was finding a cheap plane ticket, chucking some essentials in a backpack and venturing off somewhere very few people had heard about. However, as a female traveller I sometimes found this overly daunting but it never even crossed my mind to consider a group holiday. To be honest, I didn’t really know they existed. I’ve done about 6 KE holidays now and I still get nervous just before joining the group. But like with every trip, within minutes of arriving, you realise that everyone else felt the same and there really was nothing to worry about.

So there we were, trekking to the top of Gokyo Ri at 4am for sunrise over Everest, Makalu and Lhotse. A magical experience. However, I was a little unlucky as I had a chest infection and it started to get worse. I did manage to trek over the Cho La pass to Gorak Shep – within touching distance of Everest Base Camp – but the decision was then made by both me and my attentive crew not to continue any further.

I have never in my life not achieved my goal, but at that moment in time, when I was so poorly I could hardly even get out of bed and each cough felt like a rib-cracking experience – I was thankful for the expertise of my leaders and trek crew who arranged for me to descend with medical help. Had I been ‘doing it alone’ it would have been quite a complicated, albeit scary experience.

Nowadays, I relish going solo in a group. Of course, I still sometimes love the peacefulness and serenity of going it alone, but when it comes to big trips that need a lot of planning, destinations that are maybe a little less stable or times when I just want someone else to do the work – that’s when group travel has its perks.

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