At 35, I was fresh off a divorce and a couple of subsequent heart-wrenching breakups. To say that I’d had an emotionally taxing few years would be an understatement. But on top of the end of a marriage and the failed romantic relationships that followed, I had also grown distant from a number of friends. It’s something that often happens after a divorce and a few dark years of doing the emotional heavy lifting of sorting out your life. It’s also something that happens when you’re the first one to settle down and have kids and, likewise, the first one to get divorced.
On the plus side, I was doing work I enjoyed and was becoming financially stable for the first time in my life. My kids were both out of diapers, in all-day school, and with their father 50% of the time—an arrangement I had fought hard for. Parenthood was starting to feel less all-encompassing, and though I was alone more than I’d ever been, I felt fierce in my unmistakable independence, so much so that I wanted to do something to revel in it: I wanted to travel.
The only problem was, I had no one to go with.
After months of scrolling Airbnbs and Vrbos, and lurking in Facebook groups designed for women to share pictures and recaps of their solo travel ventures, I booked a four-night stay in Rincón, Puerto Rico. I opted for a room in a house where the host lived. I figured that since I’d be on my own, I could use some tips, and possibly someone to share a glass of wine with at least once. It was also a total steal at around $45 a night.
My host cooked me dinners, and I chatted with his 102-year-old mother-in-law, who held my hands and spoke to me in Spanish. I lounged on the beach, took a hike with a waiter who had served me beers at the Rincón Beer Company, shopped for souvenirs for my kids, and discovered that the freedom of not being on anyone’s schedule but your own while on vacation is invigorating. When I got on the plane to head home, I knew that I would never doubt my ability, or my desire, to travel solo again.
Online, my algorithms did their thing, and soon it began to look—to me, at least—like solo female travelers were everywhere. But that wasn’t entirely skewed by my new interest. Solo trips are being booked with more and more frequency. Searches for “solo women travel” surged in 2019. Statistics from 2020-2021 by Condor Ferries showed that 84% of solo travel ventures were booked by women, and post-pandemic, searches for solo ventures are up by 36% in 2023, according to Kayak.
I started to connect with those women on social media. Some were nurturing their independence, like me. Others had bucket-list places they wanted to see and didn’t want to wait until they were in a relationship, or until a travel buddy arose. Some were celebrating self-love and proclaiming the trip to be a “solo honeymoon.”
Forty-year-old solo traveler and Durham, North Carolina-based writer Jenn Rice is one of those women. She embraced solo travel after her 2019 divorce as a form of “self-care.” Now it’s a huge part of her life and her work as a writer. Rice, who is currently in Hawaii at the Ioa Valley Inn—which she calls “one of Maui’s best-kept secrets, with incredible, local owners”—says she prefers solo travel to traveling with other people.
“The more I travel solo, the more I don’t want to travel with anyone else,” she says. “I think some people think I’m being rude when I say this, but truthfully, I want to explore at my own leisure and also love dating abroad—so I don’t want to have to kick you out of my hotel room if I meet someone.”
Rice has learned a lot from her years of traveling on her own, like to tune in to her surroundings and her intuition. She’s also learned some ways to enhance her trips, such as taking specialized private tours from companies like Toledo de la Mano in Toledo, Spain, and Ivan Vuković in Dubrovnik, Croatia. She uses HotelTonight to score last-minute deals, too.
Not a group activity, but an opportunity
Within the broader market for leisure travel, solo travel is projected to see the most growth through 2027, according to market research from Astute Analytica. American women have typically ranked first in solo travel—72% take solo journeys, according to a 2014 survey from Booking.com.
Meanwhile, more businesses appear to be recognizing the opportunity to cater to solo women travelers, including new startups like Greether, whose app helps women feel safe by pairing them with a female “greeter” or guide when they arrive at their destination. Vanessa Karel, the founder, likens the guides to “a bestie” who’s there to show you around. Karel was inspired to create the app after finding herself stranded in a Moroccan city that she was never supposed to land in back in 2020.
“I was very worried about how I was going to be able to navigate the country on my own, without speaking the language and knowing the culture,” she says. But there were no greeting services available, which she says led to many “high-anxiety moments” when her safety felt precarious.
Karel isn’t alone in that feeling. According to Greether’s own survey of 500 women who travel frequently, 90% identified safety as their highest concern. But the app, now in more than 500 cities and 90-plus countries across the globe, is helping to change that.
In addition to offering safety, Karel believes it makes sense for businesses to cater more to women travelers in general. “Women are the primary decision-makers when it comes to travel spending, and research has shown that they are the ones who are the most interested in sustainable travel, supporting local culture, and being a traveler, rather than a tourist,” she says.
With more and more companies aiming to make travel safe and enjoyable for solo women, it’s becoming easier to feel like a real “traveler” on your own. And that unencumbered ability to seek and explore is crucial, especially for women on exhilarating journeys where independence is central. For solo women travelers like Rice, that sense of freedom is why she travels solo in the first place.
“Traveling solo gives me the gift of being a wild and free woman,” she says. “It gives me time to sit with my own thoughts and be exactly who I am in a sometimes foreign place.” She says she understands why many women are hesitant to travel solo, but she is utterly “addicted,” and will never give it up.
I completely relate. And on top of that exhilarating sense of freedom, solo travel helps me feel like my most capable self. As a single woman who already navigates so much independently, knowing that there isn’t anything I can’t do alone—and no place in the world I can’t go—is a pretty powerful feeling.