Myths about traveling abroad solo and as a woman

We have all heard myths about traveling at some point or another. This can range from the stereotypical danger warning such as “everyone in [Place X] is a drug dealer” to sweeping statements such as “People in [Place Z] are all poor / racist / illiterate / rude”, to the hilarious “I heard people in [country Y] don’t use deodorant” or to the presumptuous “You must be rich”.

While well-intentioned and even amusing, these travel myths do nothing but perpetuate stereotypes about people or places often spread by the media and regurgitated by those who have never even been to the place they have misconceptions against or who do not travel much themselves.

It’s human nature to worry about the unknown and to make generalizations about entire nations or groups of people as a way to make sense of new information, but we must remember that myths and stereotypes can also be harmful and prevent us from fully experiencing the many benefits of travel

For women who travel solo, these travel myths are extra pervasive. Our community members have all been told at some point that traveling solo is not safe and that they will be raped, robbed or kidnapped if they do so, that they will feel lonely or bored, or that they should not travel without a man.

The truth is that women do need to take into account certain considerations men don’t, and that travel safety precautions are always a good idea, but statistics show that the majority of gender violence originates from someone the woman knows and not a stranger in the street.

While the travel industry is starting to move away from stereotypes and into practical solutions to the needs of female travelers such as women-only hostel dorms, a lot still needs to be done to change society’s misconceptions about traveling abroad, for women and men.

As our Solo Female Travel trends report proves, one of the top-3 requests from women traveling solo to the travel industry and society as a whole is to start destigmatizing travel, especially solo. 

In this piece we want to debunk some of these travel myths with facts, and with the perspectives and help of our team of experts. To find out the most common travel myths, we asked our community to share. Here are the most common travel misconceptions they have heard.

Traveling is very dangerous, especially if solo and as a woman

Safety is the main concern of solo female travelers and so it is not surprising that the most repeated myths about traveling abroad are related to personal safety, especially for women. 

Most of our members said they were told at some point or another that they would be robbed, kidnapping, sex trafficked or that they would be a victim of terrorism or drug cartels.

The reality is that for many of us, the risk to our personal safety when traveling abroad is not higher than the risk of going about our daily life where we live. 

If you live in the US, the crime rate where you live is likely much higher than that of the majority of countries around the world. It is the perceived risk of the unknown that heightens our fears and those of our loved ones. 

Minimize the real and perceived risk by researching and preparing yourself with our expert safety tips. Also, download some useful safety travel apps that will add an extra security layer to your trip. These precautions should not prevent you from having a great time and will mentally prepare you for your trip.

If you are not yet ready to travel solo independently, you can join a female small group tour. Group trips are ideal for women who have never traveled solo and want to work up the courage to do so and they are a great way to break down some of the barriers women face when traveling solo. 

While no situation is ever free of any real danger, you can also minimize the risk to your personal safety by visiting a safe destination such as Iceland or Singapore, where crime rates are minimal, and by avoiding places in conflict or where organized crime is prevalent.

You can find first hand experience on our Solo Female Travel Safety Index, which is a safety ranking of every country in the world, based on up-to-date information by the Global Peace Index, the US Travel Advisory and the UK Travel Advisory.

Anyone can break into your hotel room

Most travelers have heard that hotels are not safe and that anyone can get into your room at any point without much effort. YouTube videos showing how easy it is to break into a hotel room do nothing but perpetuate this fear.

While this is true and the reality is that if someone wanted to enter your room without a key they could with hacks built from materials bought at a regular hardware store, hotel invasions are rare and according to the FBI, only 1% of burglaries in 2020 in the US happened at a hotel or motel while 50% happened in residential homes.

It is important to take precautions, and our hotel safety tips will come in handy, but it is also useful not to lose sight of the real risk or let these travel myths put you in a permanent, and exhausting, state of alert.  

Everyone speaks English

Many travelers, especially those whose native language is English, expect the rest of the world to speak it too

Some arrive at their destination and try to communicate in English with locals, only to be met with strange looks. While English is a generally agreed universal language for travelers, assuming everyone abroad speaks it underestimates the many countries where it is not learned at school. 

A great tip when traveling to a country with a different language is to learn some basic phrases in the local language, which shows respect and interest in the culture. Locals are more likely to be considerate and kind to you when they see you’re making an effort to respect their culture instead of imposing yours.

If you want to learn or practice a new language, we recommend apps like Duolingo, Rosetta Stone and Babbel. Also, we partnered with Mondly and you can get a 10% off here

And if all else fails, Google Translate can be a great travel companion and we have had more than one conversation with Chinese and Japanese speaking taxi drivers through the app.

You’ll be eaten

That’s right, one of our members was told that she would be “eaten in Africa”. Perhaps the person had read one too many cannibalism stories.

While this sounds quite preposterous, did you know that cannibalism ceased only in 1960 in the tribes of Papua New Guinea? Don’t worry, your chances of ending up in a big pot over an open fire are quite slim.

Solo travel is lonely

Perhaps the second most repeated travel myth is that if you travel solo you will feel lonely, what this myth gets wrong is that alone is the same as lonely. 

What most solo travelers will tell you is that, not only can you learn and enjoy your own company, but that when you travel solo you are in fact never alone.

Our member Diana shared: “When I say I am by myself they give me looks like they are sorry for me because I have my own company. I tell them straight up that I love traveling by myself. Not to feel sorry for me”.

Being by yourself is enjoying your own company. It is a great opportunity to spend time with yourself, reflect on things, pay more attention to what’s around you, or meet interesting people you would have otherwise not noticed. 

Traveling solo makes you more approachable and it’s more probable for a solo traveler to be invited into conversations with strangers than it is for a couple or family. 

Our Co-Founder Mar shares, “When I was traveling across 6 of the South Pacific islands, someone would always invite me over to their table at meal times. I wanted to take the evening time to write in my journal and reflect on the day, so I often had to resort to avoiding eye contact with everyone to escape all the friendly invitations from locals, families, couples, etc.”

But even if you don’t meet people at all, traveling solo means getting a chance to know and love yourself better. Being comfortable on your own is fulfilling, rewarding and in fact, the opposite of feeling lonely. If you learn to love your own company, you will never feel lonely again.

Eating by yourself is scary / embarrassing / boring

Another common travel stereotype is that eating by yourself is intimidating, embarrassing or scary; that it may be awkward and strange or that others may look at you with pity, shame or sadness. 

It is a valid concern and a typically mentioned myth of traveling alone as a woman, even though for many of us, eating on our own is something we do every day.

We go for breakfast to the local cafe, grab a sandwich on the go and sit at a park during our lunch break; We then get takeaway or cook dinner at home after a day at work and sit in front of the TV to devour it. 

Most of us eat alone everyday and never spare a moment to notice the many others who do so around us, yet, when we visit another country, we assume people there never eat by themselves.

If that is you, we have many tips to help you enjoy eating alone:

  • Change your mindset: do not worry about what others think. When you walk into a restaurant and ask for a table for one, and you notice people staring, just remember you don’t know them and you will never see them again. Remind yourself of your worth and value, you don’t need anyone’s validation and you are your best lunch companion.
  • Look for sol-friendly eating establishments: search for restaurants with communal tables where it’s easy to chat with strangers or locals. Street food markets and food trucks are great options to meet people or enjoy a casual meal. Use apps like Yelp or Tripadvisor to find amazing options in your destination. Better yet, make it a tour by joining a food tour where you get the extra learnings about the place through food and share a meal with strangers. 
  • Bring a distraction: if you think you might get bored, bring something you can entertain yourself with. Above all, we recommend observing the atmosphere and learning from the experience, but if you find yourself bored you can carry a journal and write about your travel experience while eating a delicious meal. You could also use social media and use this time to chat with friends, or send pictures to your family. 

And remember, when was the last time you noticed someone eating alone at a restaurant when you dined out? Did you look at them with pity? Or did you realize they had the best company ever?

You don’t have any friends if you travel solo

“Your real issue is you have no friends”, said a family member to Natalie when she told them she was traveling solo, and how wrong they were. 

Women don’t travel solo just because they have to, they travel solo because they want to. Our Solo Female Travel Survey shows just that. The number one reason women travel on their own is because of the flexibility it affords them to do what they want without having to compromise. Secondly, they travel solo to get away from routine and, thirdly, to challenge themselves. 

Women choose to travel on their own because they can’t be bothered to let others’ availability or inability to commit, holding them down.

It can be hard to find a travel buddy who is willing to travel on the same dates, spend the same budget and choose the same destination. Even harder to find a travel buddy you actually enjoy spending time with. And when you finally have a trip all set with a family member or friend, they may opt out at the last minute because “something came up”. 

Traveling on your own does not mean you don’t have friends, it just means you put yourself as a priority and you won’t be waiting for someone else to do the things you love. Let’s scrap this narrow minded myth of traveling abroad, shall we?

Vacations are a waste of time

This travel myth is just FALSE, everyone needs a break and a vacation from time to time and many, including ourselves, think that you will learn more when traveling, solo or with others, than in a classroom. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re doing a weekend trip within your country or traveling for 6 months across the world, research shows that new experiences are good for you and for your brain, they create new neurons and new neural connections, which ultimately make you a smarter person. 

Traveling also increases your creativity, because it challenges you to solve problems in different ways and expand your awareness. Having a multicultural experience exposes you to new ways of thinking and widens your perspective, giving you new tools to approach new situations.

Along with this, solo travel helps you build up your confidence. It makes you trust yourself and your abilities, it educates you and helps you grow. 

“I’d say it is both brave and confident to travel solo, because those two things are the things that would prevent someone from taking the leap. I take a lot of pride in being able to do this because I never thought in a million years I could, but I finally found the courage and confidence and I’m going on my third solo trip next week”, shared Carrie on how solo travel has changed her. 

Traveling alone will undoubtedly change you in many positive ways. 

You’ll be bored

This is a myth about traveling abroad that affects both solo travel and travel with others but that is repeated over and over to solo travelers, as if our own company was not interesting. 

We find ourselves pretty fascinating people and don’t know many others as fun to be around. We also find other cultures and destinations to be enriching and great learning opportunities, and how can this be boring? 

Solo travel, in particular, gets you out of your comfort zone and forces you to get creative. You get to make all the choices; what to do, at what time, where to go, how to get there, and so on, it is the antidote to boredom, because you don’t have to meet others’ needs and desires, you get to be free and do whatever you feel like. 

When you’re planning your trip, research the best things to do in the destination you’re visiting. Also, join Facebook travel groups and ask locals for cool spots which are not very known by tourists, these are hidden gems you can add to your itinerary. Specify what you like, how much time you’ll be there, your budget, etc.

You are not solo if you join a tour

This is a common myth and one we love to debunk. 

We define solo travel as heading off to travel on your own, without anyone you know, so whether that’s entirely solo for the whole time, or whether you choose to join a small group tour of strangers, we’re all for an inclusive definition which empowers everyone to travel in whichever way they feel most comfortable. 

So, we consider joining a small group trip as traveling solo as long as you left your home on your own. 

Make your own definitions, don’t let others’ do so for you, after all, who cares! 

A visa guarantees your entry

This one may come as a bit of a surprise, but having a visa doesn’t guarantee entry to another country, it just gives you conditional approval that a border official will have to confirm at the port of arrival. 

As stated by the US government, “while having a visa does not guarantee entry to the United States, it does indicate a consular officer abroad has determined you are eligible to seek entry for that specific purpose”. 

In the end, it’s the responsibility of the country’s customs inspectors to allow or deny entry to travelers based on what they see in front of you and the answers to the questions they may ask. It’s important to keep this in mind and have a plan B in case a situation like this arises.

Travel is not productive

This myth mistakenly associates travel with laziness or unproductivity, and it’s completely false. Travel actually boosts your productivity, you can go tell your boss, because this is a fact backed up by science

Taking a vacation helps you detach from work and be productive in other areas of your personal life. What is more, traveling alone can be an ideal time to learn something new that you may be distracted from if you travel with others. 

You could travel and practice a hobby at the same time. There are many specialty tours focused on learning something new or practicing existing hobbies, like the ones offered by Flavours Holidays, a UK company that does unique learning tours for solo travelers. You can choose between cooking, painting, pilates, language and photography holidays. 

Nobody will marry a traveler

As solo female travelers, we’ve heard this more than once: “Men don’t like a woman that’s too independent.” A group member received this comment from a family member and this was her response: “If they aren’t going to like who I am, I’m glad they’re going to stay away!”.

And we agree! 

Nobody should adjust to anyone’s expectations, especially when they limit your growth. 

If you’re an avid traveler or if you want to give it a try in the future, being in a relationship or marrying a man shouldn’t stop you from doing it. The person you marry will love you and respect your interests and passions and if they don’t, it’s a sign you should find someone else.

Solo travel is only for single people without responsibilities

“People tell me that I’m a terrible mother for leaving my children while traveling solo”, shared our member Robin. 

Sadly, many of our members that are in committed relationships or who have children, hear similar accusations of being selfish for prioritizing themselves. 

It’s about time we do away with the stigma associated with mums traveling. Traveling is a fulfilling experience every woman deserves, regardless of their relationship status. When was the last time you heard your male colleagues say that they were selfish for going on a business trip?

Taking time to invest in yourself and traveling solo does not make you a worse partner or mom. You can’t pour from an empty cup and if you don’t take time for self-care, you and those around you will suffer. Travel is a great way to replenish that empty vessel and come back home fully energized.  

As Connie, one of our members, said, “You are a better mother when you are fulfilled”, and we couldn’t agree more.

An airport visit doesn’t count (or an airport visit counts)

We all love the feeling of checking off countries from our bucket list or scratching them from our world map. But there’s a tricky part when we have a layover and we stay in the country’s airport for a few hours. Do airport layovers count as visiting the country? 

Some people say: “If you go to the airport only, it doesn’t count” and others may say “If you stepped in the country, even if it was just the airport, you can count it”. There will always be different opinions, even the number of countries there are in the world is something people can’t agree on.

The bottom line is, there’s no right way to count, so count the way you want! Whatever you want to consider as visiting the country is great, as long as it makes you happy.  

Travel insurance is not worth it

This travel myth is completely false and if you still think this way you should consider yourself lucky, touch wood and buy travel insurance, immediately. 

There are so many situations where travel insurance can actually save your life, and you don’t need to be an adventurer, or even someone who likes to take any risks, a simple beach vacation can end with a broken leg if you slip by the pool, a harmless horse ride along the beach can end with a broken shoulder if you fall on your camera, and a bad step can twist your ankle and end you in crotches and needing a stretcher, a bad case of traveler’s diarrhea can lead to time in the ICU and an asthma attack in a remote area can end up with a helicopter ride running in the hundreds of thousands. All of these, and many more, are stories that have happened to friends of ours, or to ourselves, don’t risk it.  

Now more than ever, given the current global travel restrictions and various COVID considerations, we suggest you use an insurance comparison site like Travel Insurance Masters to compare policies and coverages and pick the right travel and/or medical insurance for you. An additional $50 can save you from bankruptcy or from the added stress of a hospital refusing treatment.

Hostels are for the young

Staying in a hostel is a great option for anyone traveling alone regardless of age, whether they are backpacking, want a budget-friendly accommodation or are looking to make new friends abroad. While hostels are not for everyone, our community’s female travelers from all ages have enjoyed staying in them.  

Hostels often offer a lively experience, and they are awesome places to meet people while traveling. Many hostels also have a variety of fun activities you can join to immerse in the destination and share with fellow travelers.

“I’m 41 and still love hostels (and couchsurfing). I have absolutely no plans on changing anytime soon. Relax, be yourself, interact with the other guests (if you feel like it). Nobody cares about your age in a hostel, if anything the youngsters will think you are cool. In Madrid, I stayed in a very nice hostel with lots of activities you could join”, shared Margunn on her hostel experience. 

Our group member Christine keeps rocking hostels: “I’m 72 and plan to stay at a hostel next week”. 

Traveling is expensive

Our member Lora was told: “You should invest your money, not blow it!” To which she responded: “I’m investing in myself, my mental health and well being”.

Have you ever been told that traveling is expensive? Did you also think that? Do your parents think that you should invest your savings wisely instead of spending them on a vacation?

Possibly one of the most common misconceptions of traveling for those living in the Global North is that it is expensive, or that it is an expense instead of an investment. But that is not true. Traveling doesn’t have to be expensive and for those living in that part of the world, it is most likely cheaper than staying where you live. 

It’s true that while traveling alone you don’t have anyone to share costs with and you may have additional expenses due to accommodation’s single supplement, for those living in most large cities in Western Europe or North America traveling is cheaper than staying where you put. 

Let’s break it down.

Living in New York, London, Paris or Los Angeles can easily cost $1,000 in rent, $500 in food and $500 in other items, that is $2000 for an average lifestyle without too many parties or shopping sprees. That amount of money can go a long way if you are traveling and staying local in many cities in Europe including most of Spain, Italy, or everywhere in Southeast Asia.

Flights are one of the major travel expenses, you could spend less if you get flight deals on websites like Scott Cheap Flights. Set up for alerts from deals sites (or sign up to their email lists) so you receive notifications when certain destinations in your bucket list have special deals. You can also try to find coupons online for hotel chains on sites like Travel Coupons and Groupon

Many accommodation sites also have attractive loyalty programs, like Hotels.com, which gives you 1 night free for every 10 nights booked. 

Another way to reduce your travel expenses is to travel during the off-season, when demand is low and prices are cheaper. If you don’t want to spend a lot, avoid traveling in peak seasons, which often means sky-rocket prices. Off-seasons and peak seasons vary depending on the destination, find them here.

Travel slowly and take buses instead of flights, or couchsurf and stay with locals, or find other ways to find free accommodation, we promise it’s possible. Travel does not have to be expensive.

If you are from the Global South, traveling can feel too expensive and hard to afford but you can still do it if you find ways to work while traveling or can land a job in the travel industry, or one that you can do from anywhere to be able to travel longer.

Stranger danger 

The fear of something bad happening and not having anyone to take care of you when traveling alone as a woman is also one of the common myths about travel, as if the world was a cold place devoid of any compassion. 

“You’ll get sick in India and who will look after you?”, Gillian was told, “You’re completely on your own if something goes wrong”, they told Samantha. 

“This hasn’t been my experience. I always know where my country’s Consulate is in every country I go to and I google their phone number beforehand just in case. Police, transport staff, airline staff, shop assistants have all helped me over the years from directions to when my passport was stolen or when I was catching 3 flights really close together and one was delayed, so as a result I missed my connecting one. Strangers (I generally only approach women) are more than happy to give you directions when your phone stops working. You’re never completely on your own if you are willing to ask for help when you need it”, she adds.

This has also been our experience. 

The world is a compassionate place full of kind strangers willing to help out through language barriers and skin color. 

Have you ever helped someone you didn’t know? Extended an umbrella in the rain to a stranger? Given a hand to an elderly crossing the street? You are not the only one, we have stories to fill the pages of many books about the kindness of strangers. A smile can go a long way.

It’s cheaper to book via a third party

Many third party websites offer attractive cheap deals, but they may not always be that cheap and convenient. 

You should always review what’s included and what’s not and verify if the deal covers everything you need for your trip, to avoid getting lots of extra charges and end up paying a huge amount of money because of taxes and tips not included and amounting to 30% extra, resort fees that need to be paid at the destination, or prices that look heavily discounted versus rack rates but are in fact higher than via the hotel’s website.

Always double check directly with the airline or hotel website, and ask about any extras that are not listed on the price. 

We also generally prefer to book directly with the airline’s because they can respond more effectively to unpredictable situations, and they may help you with reimbursements, plan changes or cancellations, whereas with third party sites, that process can be more complicated and they may charge you an administrative fee. 

Taking a solo trip will change you

This myth of traveling abroad is partially true.

Indeed, solo travel will have a huge impact on your life, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be this hard decision you put lots of thought into and need years to practice and prepare for. 

If you need to get ready for it, you should take it, as much as you need, but you don’t need years of preparation for a first solo trip, a day trip or a weekend getaway within your own country is a great way to start. 

Drive 1 hour away to a nearby town and spend a full day by yourself, see how you feel, and go from there.

We have compiled a lot of tips for a first solo trip which we hope will help put it all into perspective. If you don’t have the savings yet, there are many ways to save some money for travel within your possibilities. 

Only weird people travel solo

Oh, have we heard this misconception about travel over and over!

When our co-founders started traveling solo, 20 years ago, it was not as commonplace as it is today, but we can thank Instagram for spreading the word about this travel style as a common, growing and ever popular phenomenon.

Don’t feel judged by others who have not tried it yet, they don’t know what they are missing out on. Ignore their opinions and focus on your desires and dreams. 

Many of our members put it best. “You aren’t weird for traveling solo, they are just uncomfortable with you being independent and strong”, says Aline. 

Don’t define your life by what others may think, take the leap and travel solo, it will definitely change your life in a positive way. 

You are running away from your problems

Running away from our problems will not make them go away, but traveling can help you heal from trauma. 

A vacation will improve your mental health, and is a great way to aid in the grieving process by taking you away from the environment that reminds you of that loss or trauma. By getting away, you gain perspective and give yourself space.

One of our members, Zibbi, shared: “My dad said ‘if you’re sad and alone at home, you’re still going to be sad and alone in Italy’. Turned out to be not true at all”. 

Plus, these effects remain after you return, with stress proven to be lower several weeks after a holiday.

You should always take advice from others

It’s easy to take advice from nearby family members or friends, but they may not have up to date information from reliable sources. It’s better to do your research, and spend some hours carefully planning your trip. This will give you peace of mind and ease the process of navigating an unknown destination. 

Look for information regarding local culture, language, transportation, safety, accommodation, etc. The more you know, the better you can respond to unpredictable situations and have an easy going trip. 

Only young, white and pretty people travel

Travel should not be exclusive to a group of people regardless gender, age or ethnicity. Travel is an inclusive industry that thrives on a diverse range of points of view and celebrates diversity. 

But it’s not always that way. 

The travel industry has lacked the ability to represent various groups of travelers such as minorities. This can be observed in the images included in travel media where stories of communities of color are missing.

A survey done by Accenture, reported that “more than half of travelers (56%) say it’s important that the company they book with is committed to inclusion and diversity practices, such as providing advancement opportunities for underrepresented groups within their organizations”.

It’s our responsibility as travelers to be aware of this and try to spread values of inclusion which create a safe space for everyone who wants to travel the world. You don’t have to be young, white and pretty to travel, the world is open to everyone!

You need a degree to work in the travel industry

Some of the jobs in the travel industry do require degrees and specialist education, but not all of them. There are many travel jobs or remote jobs which have minimum skill requirements and can be learned through online courses.

Your mom / dad / sibling / friend knows what’s best

Would you take medical advice from your parents or loved ones? Probably not, unless they are qualified doctors. Then, why do you take their advice on travel if they are not well traveled or their definition of a vacation is an all-inclusive resort they never leave for the duration of a trip?

The best travel advice is found between the pages of a passport, as the travel saying goes with stories. 

Your loved ones want the best for you but they also have a vested interest in their peace of mind. You will give them more of that if you stay put than if you decide to go on a three month road trip across Africa.

Take advice from others like you, from those who have one thing you want to do instead of those who have no real experience in that realm. If you want to take the Trans-Siberian railway, ask those who have been. If you want to move to a different country, speak to expats living there, and so on.

Don’t take advice from those with no experience, it will just be a compilation of stereotypes, misconceptions and the media opinion, never an unbiased one.

A gap year will look bad on your resume

Some people say gap year is a lost year, but it will be a year in which you gain so much. Contrary to this myth, a gap year gives your resume lots of value, because it talks about personal growth and acquisition of unique abilities that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise. 

Living abroad has lots of benefits, it makes you develop your problem-solving skills, gain confidence, helps you confront your fears, find creativity and challenge yourself in many ways. 

When you have a job interview, share what you learned in your gap year, and how these findings helped you grow and become a better person and professional.

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