Three years ago I embarked on my first solo-travel experience, a nine-day reporting trip to Samoa. I was 23, fresh out of college and eager to see what the world had to offer.
Looking back, I marvel at how eager people were to strike up conversations with me, invite me to an activity or offer tips on a hidden gem not listed in my guidebook. But I also cringe at some of my decisions, like getting in a car alone with two men who offered to show me around the island of Upolu. Fortunately that adventure turned out fine, and overall, my visit to Samoa opened up my eyes to a new way of travelling.
I've since gone on solo trips to Vietnam, Hong Kong, Thailand, Australia and Antigua, and I've learnt to make safe choices while experiencing destinations in ways that travelling with others might not allow.
Meet the locals
Other women who travel alone have similar perspectives. "I find that if I am travelling alone, it is much easier to meet the locals," said Betty Thesky, 46, a flight attendant who has been to more than 30 countries and whose first solo trip was to Jordan and Israel.
She said people assume couples and groups want to be left alone but "you are more approachable when you are by yourself".
Angie Orth, 29, who left her job as a New York public relations executive to travel the world for a year, said travelling solo allows her to be selfish with her time, money and itinerary. But the downside of being alone is she can't trust everyone she meets.
"You just have to be a little more careful when you're on your own," she added.
Orth, who is single, tells people that she's in a relationship as a way to set a clear boundary from the start.
Thesky said she finds there's an unwritten rule among solo travellers that asking another traveller to dinner or coffee in a new country does not automatically constitute a date. In fact, she said, just asking about a destination or something listed in a guidebook can sometimes lead not only to helpful information but to an invitation for coffee or dinner.
"Once you start to realise how friendly people can be, it gets much easier to approach them," Thesky said.
Women Welcome Women World Wide
Elinor Warkentin, 52, of Vancouver, recommends that female solo travellers consider joining an organisation such as Women Welcome Women World Wide. The group connects female travellers with women living in the country they are visiting. Warkentin has met or stayed with more than 100 women this way, and is often met at airports and train stations by other group members.
Safety is also an important consideration for Warkentin. After being robbed of her camera at knifepoint while travelling alone in Chile in 1992, she downsized her camera and routinely uses windows or other reflective surfaces to see who is behind her. She also maps out in advance exactly how to reach her first hotel upon arrival in a new country, and leaves expensive jewellery at home while trying to blend in to the local culture.
She recommends a bus tour the first day in a new place, as a way to get oriented.
Connect on a budget
Thesky recommends hostels and budget hotels for single travellers because they often have common areas where people can meet. Another resource is the website for Couchsurfing, which connects travellers to hosts with free informal lodging as well as offering options for meeting locals for coffee.
On a recent trip to Antigua, I connected with a 22-year-old woman through Couchsurfing who picked me up at the airport, showed me local spots on the island and introduced me to her friends and parents. We bonded instantly over our shared sense of wanderlust and were laughing within minutes of my arrival. We still talk about once a week and often discuss the possibility of travelling together.
So far, though, we haven't done it. We're too busy planning trips on our own.