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Roaming Solo as a Woman


Staff member
As my recent posts indicate, I am in the middle of a three-week ski and mountain bike vacation in Mammoth Lakes, CA. It's a grand adventure and has been an absolute joy so far.

A socially-awkward introvert by nature, I can be a comfortable Chatty Cathy on chairlifts and around the lodge. I also carry a technical, outdoor-specific wallet that is transparent and thus reveals my Pennsylvania driver's license whenever I pay cash, and that's been a frequent conversation-starter.(The wallet is waterproof and ultra-light. It's made by a company called "Ziploc").

Anyway, the fact that I've come 3,000 miles to camp, ski, and bike in June by myself often garners some wide-eyed looks of surprise and sometimes more overt commentary. All of the comments have been positive ("Good for you!" "What an epic adventure!", etc.). I have not at all experienced any feedback even remotely discouraging or judgy. In fact, because I'm solo, I've met and skied with many very nice people just from chatting in the parking lot while booting up. I'm honest about my skiing ability and new-ness to Mammoth, and several people have been generous with encouragement and advice. So, I don't feel socially isolated at all.

But the inevitable surprise is sometimes....annoying is too strong a word. Disappointing, maybe? I feel as though if a guy of any age were doing the very same thing as me, his trip would elicit very little surprise and probably zero commentary other than "cool."

So my question is: have Divas who have engaged in solo travel had any notable reactions? If so, what do you think the root cause of the reactions were? Do you have any tips for traveling solo as a woman?

(And by the way, I'm not necessarily saying that there's anything wrong with people being surprised about solo traveling women; we're only a generation or so removed from a time when it would have been inconceivable or unseemly.)

Here are my tips for traveling solo.

1. With strangers, be vague about where you're staying and who with.
2. When camping, get to know the rangers and hosts.
3. Wear a RoadID wristband so that if anything happens, rescuers will be able to notify your family.
4. Carry a Personal Locater Beacon when venturing into less-populated trails.
5. When eating at casual restaurants, go during the off times, either bit early or a bit late, so you don't take up a big table that a group could use, and thereby lessen the gratuity that would go to the server.
6. When driving, a KOA is a cheap and safe alternative to rest stops and random pull-offs when you need to sleep.
7. I wear earbuds when I ski so that I can listen to music or podcasts if I end up on a chair by myself. I take the buds out of my ears if I have company on the chair, just so the person knows I can hear them.

There's probably more, but I'm exhausted from skiing.


Staff member
... But the inevitable surprise is sometimes....annoying is too strong a word. Disappointing, maybe? I feel as though if a guy of any age were doing the very same thing as me, his trip would elicit very little surprise and probably zero commentary other than "cool." ...
That is such a pet peeve of mine. I don't want to get off on a whole tangent here but it's the same tone people take when they find out a woman is a software engineer / scientist / whatever.

That said -- I think people react strongly to solo traveling regardless of gender. In my experience, a lot of people think it's sad, as if the only reason you'd possibly do it is if you have absolutely no one to travel with. Solo travel requires a level of comfort with yourself that many people just never attain, I think.

Your trip looks awesome and I'm so glad you're out there setting an inspiring example. :smile:
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heather matthews

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
Its something I do frequently and its always been heaps of fun. I've met,made friends with and skied with some lovely people.Because I stay in cheap hostel type accommodation there are more often than not other solo travelers both male and female to meet and ski with.Sometimes its not my gender that illicits surprise but my age-and I have been a bit patronised by younger(male) skiers until they realise that I'm an ok skier.That's the thing that occaisionally bugs me as an older woman.Have an amazing time.


Ski Diva Extraordinaire
I agree that people react strongly to traveling solo regardless of gender. There are so many people who won't even go to a restaurant for dinner by themselves so I am sure they can't imagine someone taking a trip alone.

I also think there may be a bit of envy going on. It takes some courage to travel alone and I think many people wish they were brave enough to do it.

Good for you! Enjoy every moment.


Ski Diva Extraordinaire
I can't think of any times I've traveled extensively alone - I've driven to Utah and to Big Sky solo, but in both cases I was meeting people there, which is different.

Interested to see responses from people who travel solo!

(I do hike, ski, and bike solo pretty regularly, but that's all in familiar places.)
I think everyone's right that some people do express surprise at solo travel and probably feel sorry for solo travelers, but I guess I put those people in the same category as people that, I don't know, think vegetarians eat chicken. Like, they are people that just don't get around much and so it's not even worth the energy of being annoyed at them. (I mean really, how boring could one's life and circle of friends be if they think solo travel is weird and pitiable).

Doing one or more big solo trips was such a big thing when I was in my 20s that that may have normalized the idea for me. You stay in hostels, you make great friends and have romantic flings; I did 6 weeks in Italy, Austria and Switzerland. Really you had to do 6 months in India by yourself before anyone would be impressed, because every did a long solo backpack trip. That really sold me on the idea of solo travel and I've done a few other solo trips of different kinds--road trips around the West, one to Spain that included a week of horseback riding in a group, then travels before and after. I also travel for work alone, as so many people do; sometimes to cities, sometimes to the backcountry of national parks, and I've spent extra time on some of these trips, traveling by myself. I am bossy by nature and love to plan and travel so going solo works great for me, since I can see and do anything I want without having to accommodate anyone else.

I do think it's a little easier or maybe just more fun when you're younger and have that instant camaraderie that you find staying in a hostel.

Rick Steves has a quote about travel where he says that it is "life intensified." With solo travel boy is that true. The highs are really high and boy are the lows low. But learning to deal with that was the absolute best thing I could have done in my 20s. It doesn't seem that impressive now but that one solo Europe trip was a defining time in my life.

There's a ton of literature out there by women about solo travel. I remember one story by a woman in a wheelchair who flew to Australia and hitchhiked around by herself. If she can do that...


Ski Diva Extraordinaire
I traveled solo in Argentina when I was in my late 20s. My own relatives (who are from there) told me I couldn't do it, but I did anyway. I took a bus across Patagonia, in the middle of the night, and then spent two weeks exploring towns in the Andes, and then went to Mendoza. From there I took a bus into the mountains to get close to Aconcagua. I met lots of people, and many asked where my husband was. It wasn't tourist season, so I didn't meet many other travelers. I did get lonely after awhile, but it was a great experience.

My youngest sister, when she was 22 and just out of college, did a solo bike trip down the coast from Washington to San Francisco. She said she had to do it to prove something to herself. We were all quite worried about her the whole time she was gone (she was also camping alone), but she survived.

One thing I've always wanted to do, but have never done is take a solo backpacking trip. Something about being alone out in the wilderness appeals to me.


Angel Diva
I traveled solo to Japan in 1992, with $200 in my pocket, my violin on my back and enough Japanese to buy a train ticket and ask where the bathroom was. I spent 11 weeks in a small town, staying with a Japanese family while I went to school where all instruction was in Japanese. I was forced to communicate with my limited language, pantomime, and lots of drawings. At one point I was so lonely and missed hearing English so much that my host brother shared his VHS player and English language copy of Hunt for Red October with me. I watched that movie more than 20 times...just to hear English.

I eventually met another American student, and we made a pact to go to the grocery store everyday, buy something, and eat it. Since all the packaging was in Japanese, and much of it packaged without photos on the wrapper, this was a bold dare.

1992 was well before the age of cell phones and the internet. I had no contact with anyone at home for the entirety of my trip. When I look back at this, I realize how incredibly ballsy it was for me to go. At the time, I think I was just naive.


Ski Diva Extraordinaire
I spent a summer in Europe. Part of it was 2 law school courses. Most of the students who came together, hung out together. I ended up hanging out with the people that came alone and made many new friends.

My luggage was lost for about a week (pre cell phone, internet). I learned alot and realized that independence was a beautiful thing. I met great people in restaurants and did whatever I wanted. Very liberating.


Angel Diva
My niece is going to Germany this summer for a five week language immersion class. And she's stopping in Stockholm first, to meet an internet friend IRL. She's 19, and my sister is having a little difficulty with it . . .


Ski Diva Extraordinaire
Can I just say that although I travelled solo extensively from 18yrs-35 yrs, I am guilty of assuming @SallyCat was travelling with her SO. I have no idea where that idea came from, but there it was. Something for me to think about.


Staff member
@mustski I think that was a perfectly reasonable assumption given my age and the general demographics of people in their forties and fifties. I bet if I'd been in my early twenties, you wouldn't have assumed a SO. This is perhaps to Heather's point that what surprises people might be age as much as, if not more than, gender.


Ski Diva Extraordinaire
My niece is going to Germany this summer for a five week language immersion class. And she's stopping in Stockholm first, to meet an internet friend IRL. She's 19, and my sister is having a little difficulty with it . . .

I had a stipend to spend one college summer doing something cool - just had to come up with it. I thought it would be cool to travel around Europe in hostels, with some excuse or another - I mean, one person had traveled around to experience roller coasters - this scholarship wasn't strict at all.

My mother, who is European herself and very anxious, expressed so many concerns that I basically ended up not doing that just to not freak her out. It's something I regret. I wonder how it would have changed me. Instead I used the scholarship to take private Taekwondo sessions so that I could get my second degree black belt - which would be great, except I really think that trip would have done me worlds of good.

Honestly I still am infected by my mom's anxiety about my safety. I'm turning 40 this November. *sigh*


Angel Diva
I'm insanely jealous of her right now! Enough so that I looked up adult learning language immersion to see if it was a thing I could do someday. When I was her age the opportunity never came up, but I didn't do anything to make it come up, either. Don't know why, I had a friend do a summer semester in Vienna, so it's not like I didn't know it was possible. But I'd have been too - nervous, anxious, whatever - to do it alone.


Ski Diva Extraordinaire
I also carry a technical, outdoor-specific wallet that is transparent and thus reveals my Pennsylvania driver's license whenever I pay cash, and that's been a frequent conversation-starter.(The wallet is waterproof and ultra-light. It's made by a company called "Ziploc").
I literally LOL'd at "Ziploc" (the real literal, not the new definition of the word), fantastic description. Sounds like an awesome trip...looking forward to, maybe (?), seeing a full trip report once you return.

It's amazing how much you learn about yourself during solo travel, and how you become more comfortable in your own skin by pushing your comfort levels. Just like people, comfort zones come in many shapes and sizes. Everyone's will be a little different and no two are the same. And just like your own skin, the only way to change it is to push it's limits. I remember years ago thinking that going to a restaurant by yourself was a bold thing to do. Even now, when I'm by myself in a restaurant, I'm a lot more comfortable sitting at the bar instead of requesting a table for one. I generally enjoy talking to the bartender and/or other patrons, whereas at a table you're by yourself. Although, honestly I've never asked for a table for one...maybe that's one part of my comfort zone that I need to explore further.

I had the opportunity to study abroad for a semester in college. While I did go with a number of other people from my university, they were people I didn't know well (or at all) when I left the States, and many of them became lifelong friends. I think I learned more about myself and about the world in those 4 months than I had learned in 20 years prior. I think, partly, it's the freedom to be 100% yourself, 100% of the time. You meet people that you have never met, and you may never see again...so there's zero pressure to try to live up to who they know you to be or think you are. As @Skier31 mentioned, independence really is a beautiful thing...there's nothing quite like doing everything YOU want to, without having to compromise or take someone else's opinion into consideration.

@Tvan, I can definitely sympathize about missing English (but not quite to the same extent)...When you order (in Hungarian) what you thought was a fried chicken sandwich and end up with fried cauliflower, it opens your eyes to how much you miss your own language pretty quickly.

@bounceswoosh - Maybe a trip to Europe for a 40th birthday present, to yourself, from yourself, is in order?


Ski Diva Extraordinaire
@bounceswoosh - Maybe a trip to Europe for a 40th birthday present, to yourself, from yourself, is in order?
Ah, well - sharing rooms in hostels no longer sounds *quite* so attractive.

To clarify, going to Europe per se wouldn't be terribly exotic - I grew up in Germany, with family vacations in Holland and then-Yugoslavia. It would have been more about being somewhere and figuring it out without my parents. I've long since managed that one ;-) TBH, after being in the Boulder Bubble for so long, the amount of cigarette smoke everywhere in Europe is a pretty major detractor. I get grossed out when the car in front of me on the road has someone smoking a cigarette ...

It was a moment in time.

You know how I mentioned my mom's anxiety? When I was in my early 20s, we visited my grandmother in Germany (a location in ex-East Germany). Tiny village; two bedroom apartment, built prior to a lot of modern amenities. My grandma insisted that we stay there, certainly not in the beautiful B&B in walking distance, so my mom slept with grandma in grandma's bed (with miniature poodle walking on top of her) while I slept in the cot in the spare room with the fridge. Which is all fine, except -

It was claustrophobic and rained the whole time. I was accustomed to mountain biking every day, so I was losing my mind stuck in a small space with two anxious people, a yappy dog, and no outlet for exercise. My mom was afraid of kidnappers (to this day I have never figured out if there was any remotely rational explanation for this), so while there were beautiful hiking everywhere, she would only let me go if she were along - and she didn't have any reasonable gear and was good for maybe a mile.

She also wouldn't put me on the rental, so she drove everywhere, and got so stressed out leaving Frankfurt that she knocked the plastic off the side mirror swiping by a barrier ...

Wow. I am suddenly realizing how crazy this all was/is. Her anxiety has only increased with age =/

While I realize it's not my job to keep her from experiencing anxiety, there's definitely a part of me that just automatically defers to "Oh, no, I couldn't do that - it would upset mom too much" for certain things. Because it's easier.

It's weird, because my mom is a staunch feminist in a lot of ways. But she's also in her late 70s and grew up during WWII, experienced her village being bombed, saw all sorts of things that a little kid should never have to see ...

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