How did you get started traveling?
I’ve always been inspired by travel and it has continually been something of interest to me. I grew up only visiting family in Florida and never saw much of the world as a kid. When my mom passed away from cancer in 2011, I decided to stop dreaming about travel and just go do it. I’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices along the way, but I’d rather be up to my eyeballs in debt and have a map full of pins than have a paid-off mortgage and an empty passport.
What’s your favorite destination you have visited and why?
The Inca Trail in Peru. I love trekking and hiking and my trip to Peru was my first trip to South America. It was a four-day trek from Cusco to Machu Piccu and it was a hike that changed my life. It was amazing to think that I was actually climbing through the Andes on ancient stones that the Incas frequently traveled. It was an exhilarating experience that I’ve found hard to top. Although, climbing Kilimanjaro wasn’t bad either.
Tell us about your first solo trip.
I took a short design internship in London in 2008. It was one of the best experiences of my life. At first I was very nervous to walk around the streets of London by myself, but I quickly made friends with other designers in the office, spent time truly feeling like a local at the pub and became a pro at riding the Tube. By the end of the trip I had met many new people and was confident in traveling around the city at night—which was a necessity because in December London gets dark at 3 p.m.
Tell us about your most interesting solo trip.
Mexico City was by far my favorite and most interesting solo trip. Although I didn’t spend the entire trip by myself, it was quite an adventure navigating the expansive city alone and trying to find vegan food in between my pleas of “No carne y no leche!”
When I traveled to Mexico City, I was told by many friends and family that it was unsafe for me to travel there and to be on the lookout for kidnappers. But after doing a bit of research, I found that Mexico City is actually one of the safest cities in the country. There are 366 police officers per 10,000 people, one of the highest ratios in North America. Were there areas of the city I found a bit sketchy and avoided at night? Absolutely. But I found it no more dangerous than walking the streets of downtown Orlando.
What have you been able to learn from traveling solo that you wouldn’t have by travelling with a companion or in a group?
I’ve learned to become an extrovert. I typically like to keep to myself and find it hard to meet new people. You can absolutely travel solo as an introvert, but I have found it much more memorable to meet local people during my travels. By doing this, I have the opportunity to learn new things and experience different cultures more intimately.
Should women be fearful of travelling alone?
Absolutely not. Proper research of the area you are traveling to will help you determine if it is safe to walk around at night or to travel on public transportation. Unfortunately there are areas of the world that make it harder for a woman to travel solo, but with determination and awareness, hopefully we can change that!
What advice do you have for women who are travelling alone?
Be cautious but not fearful. Whenever I am—whether it be in a parking lot of my local Target or stepping off a train in an Andean village, I am constantly aware of my surroundings. I keep my passport, money, and other documentation in a small pouch under my shirt when traveling on public transportation or when walking through large crowds. I also try to never look lost. Even if I am completely without a clue of where I am, I will never stand on the corner and bury my head in a map. I calmly assess where I am and typically duck into a hotel or shop and ask for directions.
What destinations do you recommend for solo travel?
Anywhere in Europe is a safe bet for solo travelers. Public transportation is cheap and efficient, and the cities are full of fantastic hostels and affordable rooms for backpackers. Even if you are not comfortable speaking another language, European countries are easy to navigate.
If you want to try something a bit more adventurous, I highly recommend a solo trip to Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. Showcasing bit of Spanish and Caribbean vibe, this city is a two-hour drive from San Juan. As a solo traveler, you can experience the local color while still feeling at home with American big-box stores and English directional graphics. But Aguadilla offers you a chance to live like a true Puerto Rican. I enjoyed my time exploring the caves and stunning rocky cliffs of this northeastern island city.
What makes for the best travel memories?
Bursting out of your comfort zone. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would wake up at 11 pm after seven days of trekking to climb nine hours in the dark and summit the highest mountain in Africa as the sun rose over the Savannah. I also didn’t think I could go eight days without showering. It’s amazing what you can do when you step out of what’s comfortable and familiar to you. And it’s amazing what shower wipes can do.
Do you have anything else to add to inspire women travelers?
JUST GO. Life is short, so why waste it thinking about travel? I’m so tired of hearing people complain that they just don’t have the money to travel as they sit and drink their $6 Starbucks coffee. I sold my car and rode my bike for a year in the Florida sun and rain to afford my ticket to Africa. Travel is worth the sacrifice. Which will be more meaningful, that red dress you bought or that amazing night in Brazil?
About Mandy France
Mandy France is the founder and contributing editor of The Responsible Traveler. She is a freelance travel writer and editor. She is also a published children’s author and illustrator. Mandy is an ethical adventurer at heart. From trekking the Inca Trail in Peru to climbing the highest mountain in Africa, she lives for travel and adventure. Having traveled the world as a vegan, she truly understands what ethical travel is and how to be compassionate while abroad.
About Women Who Travel Solo
Women Who Travel Solo is a weekly column that shares the stories of women’s solo travel adventures in hopes of spreading the message that travelling alone is not only safe, but wildly rewarding. Inspire other women to travel solo by sharing your story with Something In Her Ramblings. Email Lauren at firstname.lastname@example.org.