Solo travel: alone but not alone
has been travelling the world since 2008. In that time she's set foot in more than 60 countries, and she has chronicled her journey on the award-winning travel blog,
Jodi is also one of the contributors to
G Adventure's Looptail blog
, where she writes about travelling the world and the people she meets along the way, which apparently happens easily when you decide to travel the world on your own. Jodi is a native Montrealer, which means of course she knows food. Just last year she published
The Food Traveler's Handbook.
(Stay tuned for that blog post). We asked Jodi for her insights and thoughts about women travelling solo.
Canadian Living: Can you tell us about the first time you travelled solo?
The first solo trip I took was in France in 2001. I had moved there to study. I forced myself to the train station at dawn one day and asked for a ticket to the next stop on their departure list that was "very far away" from where I was living in the south of the country. The women thought I was nuts, but still sold me a ticket to the Swiss border, a town called Annecy. I stayed at a hostel for the first time, met fellow travellers and realized that perhaps I could see the world on my terms, even if others didn't want to do so with me. Of course, in the last six years of travel I've met some incredible people who have remained my friends, some of whom I've traveled with at length. The idea that solo travel equals being alone is false; in reality, it means setting your own boundaries and retaining ultimate flexibility in planning, while still meeting and sharing with other travellers.
I've read that 65 per cent of
's solo travellers are women, a number that has increased 148 per cent since 2008. Why the
increase in women travelling
Despite the fact that there have been media stories of late about the dangers of solo female travel, women have rightfully seen the world as more accessible in 2014 than in prior years. Technology exists to share stories and meet like-minded people, from meetups to niche trips and many other options. The Internet has enabled people who perhaps wanted to travel solo but didn't know others who were doing the same. I get emails from women of all ages, from 17 to 60-plus, all asking about solo travel and about my past experiences. I'm grateful that technology has addressed fears with practical answers, and it's always rewarding to see women setting out to explore.
With small group travel options such as those offered by G Adventures, do you have any advice for a woman who's joining her first-ever group travel excursion. Should she ease into the group slowly? Make a best friend right away?
It's important to meet everyone in a group on an equal footing, to get to hear their stories and discover what drives them to be there before you latch on to one or more of your new travel companions. On my trip to
Morocco with G Adventures in 2010
, I met a lovely woman named Alexandra and while we both got along well with everyone, we quickly realized we had a lot in common in the way we saw life (even though we had lived our lives differently). So by the end of the trip, we had logged many hours of girl talk on the bus, many conversations about life and love and goals -- and of course we've been friends ever since. You never know who you are going to meet on group trips, and people's first impressions might not be who they really are, as everyone is usually gauging the rest of the participants. Jumping in with a relaxed mindset and being open to hearing about the others is a good way to ease into a group dynamic more smoothly.
Are there any challenges unique to female travellers vs. solo male travellers
? Jodi Ettenberg:
I think the security issue is the only challenge for women specifically. The other challenges– planning, splitting costs/budget, concerns about getting sick on the road–are gender neutral, and apply equally to men and women.
Keeping in touch via social media is one safety measure for women who are travelling alone — but what about disconnecting when on the road? Do you have any thoughts for those women who want to turn off Twitter and Facebook and just get away from it all?
I can't say I relate to that as I wouldn't want to worry my family, and were I in the parents' shoes, I'd want updates from my kids as well! I don't use social media to update my family, but I do send emails when I take off and land, every time I go to a new place, and I also ring them along the way using my computer. I never travelled to get away from it all, but rather to learn and share what I can along the way. So, for me, disconnecting is something I do in waves, but not done in order to disappear, more to recharge. If social media/technology is impeding your enjoyment or understanding of a new place, yes, by all means disconnect for a time. But don't forget to keep the people you love at home updated in the process.
You've travelled a lot on your own, but you've also experienced group travel. Have you discovered any surprising benefits about group travel, advantages that you hadn't perhaps considered before?
I don't think people realize how exhausting the base logistics are as a traveller, especially for countries where chaos reigns. My mum and I went to India together and having someone transfer us from airport to Delhi made the arrival very smooth, something she realized only later when we returned to the city on our own and had to wrangle transportation. No doubt it's doable, but it makes a big difference when you are jetlagged and hopping off a long-haul flight to know that you can get to your accommodation safely and easily.
What would be your advice for a woman who wants the security and ease of small-group travel, but who is more on the introvert side. She wants (okay, perhaps needs) her quiet time, without a lot of engaging.
I think most people do need the occasional quiet time, and when throwing together a group of people on a trip you're bound to get some on all sides of the introvert-extrovert spectrum. I can be the occasional social curmudgeon too (I did win the award for Most Easily Embarrassed in high school; I'm probably a friendly introvert). On group trips I've had no problem during the free time we are allocated saying "Hey, I’m just going to wander alone". Or, if paired with another traveller in a room, I've declined a night out in favour of relaxing with a book when I need some alone time. It is certainly easy to book quiet time if needed, and conversely if that's not your thing you've got an easily accessible group if you want it.
Single travellers, of all genders, often have the option of
sharing a room
with someone of the same sex on a group trip. What's your response to someone who's worried, as a friend of mine was recently, that she'd be "paired with an insane roommate?"
Happily that has never happened! My roommate from the Morocco trip is still a friend, and on other excursions I've met great people in the same context. Same rules apply as with staying in a dorm with strangers: be respectful of personal space, try to keep relatively tidy, if you snore loudly bring earplugs for your roommate. It's all part of the adventure. Stay tuned as we'll talk to Jodi very soon about her tips for eating on the road while overseas.