There was a moment, the last time I traveled alone, when I was stumbling through the lit streets of London’s SoHo district, intoxicated from hours of authentic Thai food, vivid conversations, and pints of hard cider, that I thought, “This really was the best idea ever.” This experience was just three weeks ago, and it was my first time traveling in a foreign country solo.
That moment of clarity continued for the next week of my trip, embarking on some Eat, Pray, Love realizations. I found myself feeling empowered as a 20-year-old: planning out my days, staying in a centrally located hostel that I picked out, discovering new cafes and museums on my own, and meeting other adventurous, solo female travelers. Before London, I was staying in a hostel in Paris for two nights by myself, and by choice. When male travelers at my hostel seemed baffled that I was traveling solo and asked me, aren’t you scared of traveling by yourself and are you really only 20 years old, when my response typically was, “Yes, I’m a young woman traveling alone, and no, I’m not scared.”
In the past six years, there has been a 230 percent increase in the number of women that travel alone. Approximately 32 million American women travel alone at least once in their life, according to the Travel Industry Association. “The travel industry is just waking up to the economic power of women,” says Gutsy Traveler.
I’ve been quite a traveling enthusiast in my life: I lived in New York City for three weeks during a fashion magazine program at the age of 15, I spent four months in Boston studying journalism at Emerson College, I’ll drive my car along Northern California alone for a weekend. But taking this leap of traveling to two foreign countries recently was much different. My family and friend’s adverse reactions to a second-year college student solo traveling abroad made me even more inclined to embrace my youth and independence, rather than make me feel skeptical.
Some people think that women have to be single to travel alone, or have recently experienced a break-up. But in fact, most people are in committed relationships when they travel solo. Women hold the strings when traveling, and sometimes, they don’t want to see the same things that men want to. Women get to do exactly what they want to do when traveling solo.
Despite my on-and-off fears of being picked up by men and feeling unsafe in an unfamiliar city, traveling solo for women doesn’t always equate to being “alone.” Of course, when it comes to safety, you have to be smart and trust your instincts, but if you stay in the right hostels, you’ll bond with people instantly. My hostel in Paris, Three Ducks, accommodates men and women backpackers of all ages. Instantly, I bonded with two young women from Germany who traveled to Paris alone, for the first time. At my London hostel, Astor Hyde Park, I met a 21-year-old woman from Japan who taught me how to say “Independence is beautiful” in Japanese. As translated, インディペンデンスは美しいです.
Traveling alone might seem scary or dangerous at first, but don’t let bystanders hold you back. Young women are the trending solo sojourners of the century. Salaries for women have increased by 31 percent, whereas salaries for men have increased by 16 percent, according to Bureau Labor of Statistics. There are more independent women today than there’ve ever been, and it’s time for us 20-somethings (and everyone else!!) to leave a print on history.
So, to all the 20-something women out there who’ve never traveled alone, my tip for you: Please, go outside and see the world! Whether it’s a solo trip to the movies, a train ride downtown, or a plane ride to Paris, independence is a beautiful quality to own, so go out there and show off yours.
Photos via Gabby Catalano
More from BUST
Gabby Catalano is a Mass Media student attending Arizona State University and is an expert in the fields of media marketing and editorial writing. She's an Editorial Board Member of thefbomb.org at Women's Media Center and the Music Editor at Coastal Beats Media. Gabby's writing has been published in LA Canvas, FOAM Magazine, The FBomb, Emertainment Monthly, and In Parantheses Magazine. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and coastalbeatsmedia.com.