My name is Jess, and I’m a 30-year-old woman who’s been traveling the United States for nearly a year, hopping from city to city as I please. The catch is, I’m doing it completely alone. Well, technically I have my dog and cat with me, but I don’t have any human companions. And you know what? It’s not nearly as scary or as lonely as you may think!
For those of you looking to make the jump into a nomadic lifestyle, here’s my advice on how to travel as a solo woman.
Be prepared to shock people
Every single time I tell someone I’m traveling alone—or even if I just go to an event by myself—they go into a state of shock. It’s like they can’t believe a woman would have the courage to travel all by themselves. After the shock fades away, they quickly voice their admiration and respect for my decision to live this seemingly “wild” lifestyle.
Then, all the typical questions begin:
“Is it safe?”
“Do you get lonely?”
“How are you doing it?”
“Where do you stay?”
“Do you have a job?”
Without fail, it’s the same process every time.
I’ve contemplated just printing off cards that answer all the common questions I get because they happen so often. But alas, I haven’t…yet.
If you begin venturing out on your own, you’ll quickly get into your own similar routine when these questions arise. I find it always lights a spark inside of me, knowing that I’m doing something others find so fearful and treacherous. It makes me feel pretty badass, and it inspires me to keep going.
The irony of this whole Q&A routine is that it often leads to deeper conversations, and I sometimes end up making a friend in a new city, or they know a friend who lives in my city and wants to put us in touch. Either way, it helps broaden my friend group and connections that I have around the U.S., which is so important when traveling alone.
It’s not as lonely as you may think
As a solo traveler who picks to live in cities where I don’t know a single soul, I’m effectively signing myself up to be lonely. After all, isn’t it hard to make friends as you get older? And won’t everyone in the city already have established friend groups, making it harder for you to squeeze your way in?
Yes and no.
There will certainly be adults who have plenty of friends and set routines that they don’t want to disrupt. But in my travels, I’ve found that there’s a surprisingly large group of adults who are looking for new friends, and ones who are open to welcoming new people into their current friend groups.
When settling into a new city, I immediately start looking for friends. Facebook groups have been a huge help here. Lots of cities have groups dedicated to helping newbies meet up by sharing activities everyone can join or even “ladies” groups for people who want to simply
enjoy the presence of other women in the city. I share a photo and bio about myself and say that I’m looking for new friends. There are always plenty of people who comment and want to grab a drink, or they’ll tag someone they know who’s in the area. It’s a super easy way to meet people!
I’ve also found that there are some regional Facebook groups for fans of varying topics. For instance, I absolutely love the podcast And That’s Why We Drink, and they have a huge fan following. I posted in their subgroups in Austin and Denver and immediately had several like-minded people reach out to me to meet up. This is my favorite way to make friends because I already know we have similar interests since we’re both obsessed with the same podcast.
Going to bars, concerts, and other events by myself has also been a great way to meet new people. For me, it’s as simple as striking up a conversation with the person next to me. Since I’m usually in a major city, the icebreaker is almost always about where we’re from. This leads to my previously mentioned question routine, which spurs plenty more questions between the two of us. If we hit it off, then we’ll make plans to meet up again for another activity. And just like that, I have a new friend! Chatting with strangers or going to events alone hasn’t always been easy, though. In fact, in the past, I would have rather just not go to an event if it meant I had to go myself. But after years of traveling alone, I’ve forced my introverted self to open up and meet people, and now I’m quite the social butterfly.
Don’t get me wrong—I’ve had plenty of terrible, awkward conversations with strangers. But the best part of that is that they are strangers, so who cares? I’ll most likely never see them again, so why worry? For all the bad conversations I’ve had, I guarantee that I’ve had hundreds of positive conversations.
It’s not as scary as you may think
It’s no surprise that a young woman traveling all alone in a major city can spark fear in people. After all, that’s the basis for many horror movies and true crime documentaries. There’s always going to be an inherent risk when traveling alone, whether you’re male or female. But most of the time it’s not as scary as you may think.
If I do find myself in a sketchy situation (which does happen every so often), I follow these rules:
1. Make a phone call
If I’m concerned that I’m being followed or if I feel uncomfortable in an Uber or other transportation, I make a phone call to a friend or family member. I let them know exactly where I am and when I will arrive at my destination. It’s even better if I’m on my way to meet this person, because I can tell them “I’ll see you in 10 minutes.” That way, those within earshot know that I have someone waiting for me to arrive somewhere, and if I don’t show up it will immediately raise red flags.
2. Send a text
If I’m not in a situation where I can call someone or set up a fake call, then I resort to my emergency text. My friends and I all have an agreement that if one of us texts another one the letter “X,” it means we’re in trouble and need you to call ASAP to fake an emergency situation.
For instance, if I texted my friend Molly the “X” text, she would immediately call me and pretend that there’s a situation—my apartment is on fire, my mom is being rushed to the hospital, etc. It allows me to quickly leave an uncomfortable environment without having to make an excuse myself.
3. Pepper spray
It’s always good to have something on hand to protect yourself, if needed. For me, my weapon of choice is pepper spray. I have one in nearly as many places as my chapsticks—and that’s a lot. I keep one on my keychain that I carry with me on drives and when I go on walks. I keep one by my bedside table, just in case that creaking sound I hear isn’t a ghost. I also have one attached to an armband that I wear when I run outside.
Thankfully, I’ve never had to use any of them, but it’s comforting to know that I have protection on me if I ever need it.
In addition to these tips, I also do the following:
Use the Find My iPhone app, which is connected to my friends and family.
Let friends know when I’m going on trips or on dates.
Don’t tell people where I live unless I know and trust them.
Walk and run different routes around my neighborhood.
Use different entrances to get into my apartment.
Use the app Noonlight when I feel unsafe
Take my dog with me everywhere I can (he’s a total sweetheart, but not everyone knows that!)
Where I stay traveling alone
When it came to choosing a place to live, I knew I needed an apartment situation that was flexible and could accommodate my lifestyle. Luckily, I found Landing! They’re the perfect apartment company for digital nomads. Landing offers a nationwide network of fully furnished apartments with flexible leases, so I can hop around the country as frequently and as easily as I want. I’ve been living with them for nearly a year, and I highly recommend them to anyone looking to live the digital nomad life.
Want to learn more about my solo travels around the country? Check out my blog post, “Tales of a Digital Nomad: How I Spent Three Months Living in Austin, Texas.”