In the past, solo travel wasn’t a hugely popular pastime. Moreover, it wasn’t considered to be widely available to people who don’t easily pass for straight, cisgender men. But that’s rapidly changing.
Roughly one in four people said they would travel solo in 2018, according to a survey by MMGY Global. The number of Google searches for “solo women travel” increased by 32 percent in 2017, 59 percent in 2018, and 230 percent in 2019 (though you can visually see that trend bottom out in March 2020, for obvious pandemic-related reasons).
Things get especially interesting when you take a look at who’s striking out on their own. In a 2017 Solo Traveler World survey of 1,000 people, 85.7 percent identified as female. The site compared its data to the Solo Travel Society Facebook page, which has a considerably larger sample size of 226,000+ followers. Out of these, 63 percent are women and 36 percent are men, with another 1 percent who don’t identify as either.
When polled about why they like traveling on their own, 46 percent of Solo Travel Society’s female members said it had to do with freedom and independence, and 22 percent said they weren’t willing to wait around for other people to join them. Another 15 percent said solo travel is about challenging yourself and gaining confidence.
The group also came up with a few answers to the question of why women travel solo more than men do. Among these are that women are generally restricted by their responsibilities more often in their lives than men are, and that solo travel offers a break. Another possible reason: women are more adventurous than men, and also more comfortable being alone.
Of course, women are not a monolith, and they share a demographic overlap with the queer and trans community — as well as certain safety considerations to be mindful of when traveling alone. The potential dangers that a straight, cisgender woman might experience on the road are often considerably different than the risks associated with being gay, transgender and/or nonbinary in a foreign country, but they all share an implicit threat of violence.
In spite of this, the terrain is expanding for these demographics, and so is the old, dusty definition of “adventurer.” Bani Amor, a queer travel writer who blogs about the decolonization of travel culture, started a POC Travel Book Club that spotlights travel writers of color and challenges the stereotype of “travel as a white boy’s club,” which has all kinds of troublesome roots in European imperialism.
Though many parts of the world are still considered unsafe for women and LGBTQ people to travel to (alone, or even in a group), bloggers and influential travelers are leading by example and walking through doors that were previously assumed closed. As pointed out in the 2017 Second Global Report on LGBT Tourism by the United Nations World Tourism Organization and the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association, there was once only a small number of vacation destinations in America and Europe that were considered safe for openly LGBTQ travelers. Today, LGBTQ-friendliness is less of a consideration for travelers setting their sights on a destination. A 2015 global study conducted by Community Marketing, Inc. found LGBTQ-friendliness was one of the least important factors for younger Gen-X and millennial travelers when selecting a hotel, and that 68 percent of parents ranked child-friendliness as more important in a vacation destination — up 10 percent from 2012.
That this is something one can reasonably expect to pull off does not always lessen the bittersweet nature of such experiences.
Taylan Stulting, author of The Trans Traveller, wrote in their account of traveling to Dubai: “In Dubai, I felt like there was nothing I could do to sacrifice my identity in order to blend in — leaving my safety in constant question. In some ways, this has turned me off from traveling to other places in the Middle East. But in other ways, I now more than ever want to see what it’s like because despite the horrible challenges I faced, I did love Dubai.”
Though it’s important to thoroughly research your destination and understand the associated risks, more and more people are finding out for themselves how entirely worthwhile it is to not let fear guide their choices. We spoke to a handful of influential travelers to get their stories and advice — and we also put together a few handy phrases you might want to keep in your back pocket. Here’s our official solo travel guide.
Click here to read the stories, mistakes and acquired wisdom of solo travelers.
Click here to learn how to ask about cab safety, negotiate consent and ask for someone’s gender pronouns in 9 different languages.