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This article originally appeared on December 14, 2020, on our sister site, Lonely Planet. Some info may have been updated to be more current.
Traveling solo as a woman is one of the most life-affirming, enlightening things you’ll ever do. There are always risks involved but it’s quite unlike anything else. Just ask these 10 women who each decided that going on an adventure without a plus-one had to happen, be it for self-reflection, discovery, or to finally write that novel. Their stories are sublime, often hilarious, and frequently heartbreaking — they’ll give you wanderlust in the best possible way.
Best female solo travel books
- What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman
- Looking for Transwonderland by Noo Saro-Wiwa
- Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents by Elisabeth Eaves
- How Not to Travel the World: Adventures of a Disaster-Prone Backpacker by Lauren Juliff
- Meeting Faith: the Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun by Faith Adiele
- Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
- Elsewhere: One Woman, One Rucksack, One Lifetime of Travel by Rosita Boland
- Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
- Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1,700 Miles of Australian Outback by Robyn Davidson
- The Valleys of the Assassins by Freya Stark
This is one of the ultimate single-girl travel guides. Having spent much of her 20s and 30s attending baby showers and weddings, Kristin Newman is not ready to settle down. Instead, she decides to travel, falling in love with the world around her (and one or two intriguing locals) along the way. In her day job as a TV writer, Newman pens a lot of comedy, so you’ll laugh out loud more than once at this refreshing and poignant tale of solo travel.
The female solo travelogue genre may have been rooted in colonial exploration by largely British bon vivants, but Noo Saro-Wiwa turns that genre on its head with Looking for Transwonderland, a memoir that blurs the lines between travelogue and immigration narrative.
Though she was born in Nigeria, Saro-Wiwa was raised in England after her father was killed overseas by the Sani Abacha regime. When she decided to return after many years, she found herself challenged by not only how remarkably different Lagos is from London, but also by the complex feelings she has as a member of the Nigerian diaspora.
Eaves’ memoir divided readers. It’s not a typical travel memoir, as she tends to focus more on the people she meets and the relationships she has rather than the adventures themselves. But amidst the romance, travel she does, from trekking through the jungle in Papua New Guinea to navigating the chaos of Cairo. Her writing is engrossing with a melodic quality. She yearns for more — and so will you by the time you reach the end.
It might not seem like a natural choice for the anxiety-ridden, very sheltered Juliff to leave her home in the UK and begin to navigate the world alone, but she goes for it — only it doesn’t turn out to be the adventure she envisioned. Everyone is sure she’ll run into disaster, but she perseveres no matter the obstacle, and you’ll be cheering her on every step of the way. If you feel like you’re not brave enough to go it alone, read this.
What happens when a biracial girl raised in Washington state’s largely white Yakima Valley finds herself adrift at Harvard University and decides the solution is a semester abroad in Southeast Asia? You get The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun, Faith Adiele’s memoir of unexpectedly becoming an ordained Theravada Buddhist at Wat Phra Singh, the Royal Temple of Northern Thailand.
Adiele arrives “slightly hungover, fighting a losing battle with my clothes,” and continues to struggle with 19-hour daily meditations on a single meal a day. The silence at the temple is even more isolating and mystifying than trying to find her place in privileged Cambridge, Massachusetts. And yet Adiele finds a sense of purpose and of self — a journey of discovery that we all hope our solo travels will unlock.
At her lowest point, age 26, and devastated by the untimely death of her mother, Strayed hiked more than a 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from California’s Mojave Desert to the Columbia River Gorge on the Oregon/Washington border. She carries weight, not only in the form of a massive backpack but also the emotional burden and grief of loss. It’s a truly beautiful memoir; she writes about the journey — both physical and mental — while reflecting on her past and present as she attempts to heal her broken spirit. Heart-wrenching and hopeful.
Boland has lived a life well-traveled. From her first solo outing to Australia as a young graduate she had the bug and has since spent the last 3 decades seeking new experiences and adventure on every part of the globe. Documenting nine journeys from nine different moments in time via a series of essays, her words reveal how exploration and journey into the unknown can shape a person’s life. An illuminating, often poetic read.
She’s a self-confessed lazy traveler, prone to dietary woes, and tends to stick out like a sore thumb, but she can make friends with almost anybody, a defining characteristic she hopes will make her journey easier. Her travels have a magical quality; almost every wish and desire she has is fulfilled, but this is a large part of the appeal of what is a heartwarming, hugely likable tale of travel.
In the late 1970s, a young Davidson procures some feral camels, trains them, and walks 1,700 miles across the Outback in Australia. She experiences countless obstacles — the Outback is its own beast — and it’s no easy feat, especially with only camels and a dog for company. It’s a memoir of endeavor, perseverance, and spirit, and has become a revered feminist story of adventure.
Stark is synonymous with solo travel and for good reason. She explored places where few single women would dare venture alone in the 1930s: Syria, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and Yemen. She was a trained geographer and cartographer, which makes her travel writing especially vivid and descriptive. Written in 1934 and still as engaging as ever, The Valleys of the Assassins chronicles Stark’s travels into the mountainous terrain between Iraq and Iran, documenting everything from its people to the land around her.