Solo Adventures: More Women Now Choose To Travel Alone
In a group of travellers on a game drive at Maasai Mara or a camel’s search in China’s Desert of Death, there will probably be a woman. And she will introduce herself as a solo traveller. In recent years, more women have sought out solo adventures than ever before.
The Travel Industry Association and Google revealed last year that searches for “solo female travel” had increased by 131 percent compared to 2018. Another study by Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) suggests that more than 60,000 women have travelled solo between 2018 and 2019. The same study says that of the 47 percent of travellers registered with OAT, the majority are women.
On social media platforms, tens of “only women” travelling groups are being created to enable women to share their favourite destinations, offer tips, and network. Locally, travel companies are getting more inquiries from women seeking to explore the world.
The shift in the human psyche and to an extent, gender norms have contributed to the steady surge of solo travellers, travel experts say.
Muthuri Kinyamu, the company’s managing director of Turnup Travel, a travelling company he co-founded was birthed with the backdrop of offering these bespoke travel experiences. “We get these calls every day. Some women travel solo for cultural enlightenment while there are those looking for vacation spots,” he says
No matter the reason for travel, one of the most obvious questions that women travelling solo get is, “how did you fund for your travel?”
Wangechi Gitahi, in her 30s, is a confessed solo traveller who is keen on learning about other cultures and runs a travelling company, Wangechi Gitahi Travels. She considers travel to be so personal that sometimes, she doesn’t remember to take photos. “I have been to 11 countries in Africa, nine in Asia, and tens of towns in Kenya. Each year, I visit at least one international destination and a new location in Kenya. I don’t own an oil field, I save for my travels,” she offers.
Growing up, Wangechi shares that travelling was part of her family’s lifestyle. “It did not matter that we were going to the coast or visiting a relative who lived kilometres away from home. Also, we had piggy banks that my siblings and I saved a portion of our pocket money. They inculcated financial discipline in us while still young. While in my early 20s, I got my first job and in that same year, I started saving and managed to travel to South Africa, a dream destination since I was a pre-teen. Travelling has made me more confident and open-minded like never before,” she offers.
Wangechi runs an award-winning travel blog wangechigitahitravels.com where she shares all matters of travel and customises travel experiences for other travel enthusiasts.
Another keen traveller is 40-year-old Lois Eva Adongo. The digital financial services expert and a travel blogger has been to over 80 countries with a dream to visit all the 193 UN recognised countries. “I stopped counting the countries I have visited because I have been to some of them multiple times. When you have visited the same country more than once, does that count?” she poses.
Intentional travelling, she says, is a culture that was inculcated while she was still young. “I have been traveling since I was a little girl because of my dad’s job. He’s an engineer so we always moved around to where he worked. But the first place I ever visited on my own was Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe while I was at Solusi University in 2002. Since then, I have not stopped traveling,” Lois says.
After her graduation in 2004, Lois worked in Kenya for about two years before hitting the road again for work in Afghanistan, Haiti, Myanmar, and Pakistan which allowed her to traverse the Caribbean islands, South East Asia, and Australia. “After visiting all those countries, meeting different people and experiencing their culture, I cannot look at life the same way. When I lived in Afghanistan for instance, we used to have electricity for a total of five hours max, in a week. And mark you, winter used to go for up to six months at a time and in some places, the snow would be up to 3 feet high. That experience alone changed my wardrobe preferences such that all my clothes are crease-free, and blackouts in Kenya don’t bother me anymore,” she says.
These experiences have shaped her perspective on life. “For the last three years or so I’ve been moving towards a minimalist lifestyle and focusing more on my expenses on experiences. I have also become a spontaneous person who goes with the flow. For instance, it no longer bothers me if I miss a flight,” she says.
‘How is she able to afford her numerous travel?’ I prod. To afford travel, Lois starts with thorough preparation and careful itinerary selection that matches her wallet. “I follow the deals. I’m always shifting my schedule to travel on cheaper days, like on a Tuesday – supposedly the cheapest flying date of the week. I don’t mind traveling on red-eye flights, when prices may be lower or get on flights with multiple stops to save on airfare,” she shares. Lois says that the more flexible you are and the more trade-offs you’re willing to take, the more affordable your travel expenses. In her experience, Asia and Europe are good for dirt cheap budget air, train, and ferry travel options. “To make the most of my travel time and money, whenever I find myself in any of these continents, I country-hop as my life depended on it,” Lois says.
She is also subscribed for Google alerts on terms such as “error fares” and to deal with websites such as Secret Flying which makes sure she doesn’t miss out on any travel deals.
Lois includes a travel line on her budget just the same way people plan and budget for rent, food, beer, and utilities. “I mostly travel alone, but I occasionally travel with my husband and children,” she says.
Why we prefer solo travels
Wangechi chips in that she also loves taking solo trips because she can be whomever she wants to be wherever she is at. “I like the anonymity of solo travel. Travelling is very personal to me and I don’t dwell much on titles or status. Taking a trip alone also allows me to explore places at my pace. You want to sleep in or chase the sunrise? It is totally up to you. Also, on most occasions, all I have is a shell of the destination and I fill it in on the go,” she says.
Another traveller, Irene Ojiambo alias Rheen Ruby, 25, who has travelled across East Africa and runs Backpacking East Africa by Rheen swears by Solo travels. She saves religiously to afford the travel. “I have a mantra that life is not to be lived in one place. So far, I have visited five countries of the East African Community, and having done group travels a couple of times, I prefer solo travels and only opt-in for group trips with my close friends or when I am the one organising. I live at my parents’ house where I don’t have any monetary responsibility,” Irene says.
Irene says she opts to travel alone because she goes by her rules. “There is no wastage of time, typical among group travellers. However, sometimes it can get lonely and you will have to depend on strangers or a timed camera for photos,” she says.
For Lois Eva, it is the freedom and peace of mind that comes with travelling alone. “Waking up and deciding to go to some faraway place without having to consult with anyone is bliss. I am a straightforward and tell-it-as-it-is kind-of-person which most people would pass as arrogance. Then the other thing is that my travel life is also weird in that I make sure to wake up for sunrises and stay for sunsets, and also love to take pictures, which might not mesh with most people,” Lois shares.
Lois also says that it’s hard to get people who share in her nomadic passion. “It’s not easy to find people who share similar sentiments. Then I’m fortunate that my main hustle has options for remote working. On the side, I have like 10 hustles which are a mix of business entrepreneurship, technology, and operations. They not only supplement my income but also partly pay for my travelling expenses,” Lois who before Covid was doing 10-15 international trips a year, says.
Security for solo travellers
Women face unique safety risks when travelling alone. It happened to Irene on her solo visit to Uganda. “I was walking when a man groped me. Terrified and angry, I fought him and he fought back. I remember going home with swollen cheeks and eyes. Whenever I travel, you won’t find me in crowded places. There were times I used to walk around with a pen knife but I stopped after I realised that it used to bring me a lot of trouble at the border. I have since learnt the art of using basic items like pens and pencils,” she offers.
For Wangechi, it’s prayers, being street smart, and aware of her surroundings. “Security is top of my mind when I travel so besides praying for my safety, I follow the rules of whatever place I am visiting, engage the locals, and make security personnel my friends. Since I sometimes sleep in hostels whenever I travel (I prefer maximising on experiences than on accommodation and meals), I will put something that could jingle on the door or in my bag so I am alerted whenever anybody touches them,” shares Wangechi. She also has a travel insurance cover and keeps her loved ones updated about her moves.
Covid- 19 pandemic
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, many travel enthusiasts have been limited to the places they can travel to. With the various countries restricting entry to tourists, Lois has been travelling domestically since March. “The pandemic has brought its fair share of blessings in disguise as I got an opportunity to explore Kenya. I have never toured around the country as I have in the past nine months. However, I miss international travel. I used to save a lot on my travels abroad compared to here where prices are exaggerated, overrated and in some cases, you don’t even get value for your money,” says Lois.
Lois who was a hotelier before founding her travel company has been moving a lot. “I recently backpacked the coast for almost two months and I have been organising travels for people who want to experience that part of the country,” Lois shares.
How to save for your next travel destination
Besides saving for your travel, there are other ways to go around it:
1. Travel competitions
Wangechi says, “In 2012, I won a travel competition with Taiwan’s Youth Ministry and I got to travel to Taiwan for one month. All I had to prepare was an itinerary and a budget. Lois says,” I have been fortunate to win a fully paid trip to Norway. I maintain a travel competitions page on my blog that I regularly update.
2. Brand sponsorships and collaborations–
If you are big on social media and have a popular vlog or blog you could benefit from brand sponsorships from the travel industry. This will however require that you have a portfolio that would interest the other party.
3.Volunteer There are many organisations such as Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) that work through volunteers and posts them to different countries.
This is a digital platform that enables you to experience cultural exchange, working holidays, and volunteer in 170 countries in exchange for accommodation and meals.
5. Combine countries
Lois says, “I always combine at least two or three countries and sometimes more. For example, if you are in the Schengen territory you can visit several destinations because countries are a few hours apart. You can do this by either rail, air, or road.”
By LILYS NJERU
Solo Adventures: More Women Now Choose To Travel Alone