The support networks available through social media have seen the number of solo female travellers soar in the past five years.
Globe-trotting has taken off among women in the era of social media. Having someone to go travelling with is no longer seen as a necessity when constant contact with family and friends via social media is possible.
Three-quarters of women surveyed by British Airways for the Global Solo Travel study are planning to travel solo in the next few years. The study found that over half of female respondents had already taken trips overseas on their own.
Though travelling alone as a woman was initially a daunting prospect, Megan Hobson is glad her original plans to travel with a friend fell through. “You have more independence, you can choose what you want to do, you don’t have to cater for anybody else. It’s great,” she said.
Maddie Wallace had a similar introduction to solo travel when employment overseas didn’t line up with that of a friend she planned on travelling with. “I was a bit nervous because I didn’t originally want to be doing it by myself, but I decided I still wanted to go overseas and that I would do it anyway,” she said.
“When you’re travelling by yourself you only ever have to think of yourself which is so nice.”
The unexpected experiences that come with travelling solo were some of Wallace’s fondest moments. A week she spent staying in a Slovenian hostel and hiking around Lake Bled with new friends was completely different to the week of relaxing alone she had planned. “I ended up not spending any time by myself. I was doing all these things with the friends I’d made which was really good,” she said.
The absence of family and friends when travelling alone can become isolating, Hobson said. She often turned to social media to contact her support network from home. “It was something that I relied upon for my emotional wellbeing, knowing that I had that support if I had any problems or if I needed someone to talk to. I always had a way to connect with people,” she said.
The importance of being able to contact family was crucial for Hobson after she dislocated her elbow horse trekking in Mongolia. “Having social media as a way to contact my family was absolutely critical to my experience while I was over there,” she said.
A number of groups have emerged on social media platforms to create global support networks for women travelling alone. Girls Love Travel was created in 2015 and now has over 700,000 members. Female travellers are able to post travel related queries, stories from their own travels and even ask for help.
Having this additional support network was reassuring for Hobson. “It was great for when I was travelling in terms of safety, knowing that I had a massive group of people that if I did come into any problems, I would be able to post something up and there would be people willing to help me,” she said.
“It was absolutely fantastic. I used the Facebook group quite a few times to connect to other travellers and see what people were up to.”
Meeting up with other female solo travellers was possible through social media groups like this, Harriet Fitt said. She had planned on attending a festival in Berlin alone until another traveller posted in Girls Love Travel in Berlin to ask if anyone was attending. “I messaged her on the second day of the festival and linked up with these two other girls,” she said.
Discovering places off the tourist trail was also possible using the hashtag function of social media platforms, Hobson said. “You get photos come up of people who have gone to really niche or places off the beaten track that you would never really be easily able to find just Googling it,” she said.
There is an abundance of advice for solo female travellers on social media, Fitt said. The reviews on certain transport areas were helpful for her when she was arriving late at night.
“I would really research if I was coming in late to somewhere. I had to use the train when I was travelling from Rome to Florence and people were saying to avoid the train station at certain times of the night,” Fitt said.
The safety risk is still associated with travelling alone as a woman. Wallace said while it is important to look after yourself, it shouldn’t put women off travelling alone. “Women shouldn’t be afraid to go by themselves. It’s not as scary as everyone makes it out to be,” she said.
The lack of safety in numbers can be disconcerting at times, Hobson said. “You generally just make sure that you’re not putting yourself in difficult situations,” she said. Horror stories do exist of travellers being taken advantage of or assaulted, but Hobson says most travellers she met had pleasant stories about travelling alone.
“If anything, there were really positive stories and people mostly said, ‘you don’t have to worry so much!”
Moving to Hong Kong to study next year, Hobson is planning on catching up with a friend she made while horse trekking in Mongolia that she keeps in contact with over social media. “You really do form some interesting networks and friendships while you’re travelling solo,” she said.
Solo female travel enables a great sense of independence, Fitt says. “You can decide where you’d like to be in two days or in a week’s time, you can do whatever you want,” she said. “You get these moments where you just look out and no one’s around you, you don’t have any responsibility and you just feel a sense of freedom.”