Sisterhood of solo travellers

Ms Katrin Nagel (above, with a child in Myanmar) on her experience with meeting fellow solo women travellers on her trips
Ms Katrin Nagel (above, with a child in Myanmar) on her experience with meeting fellow solo women travellers on her tripsPHOTOS: KRISTIN NAGEL, PRAMILA GANYE
Ms Pramila Ganye, with a fellow hitchhiker she met in Scotland.
Ms Pramila Ganye, with a fellow hitchhiker she met in Scotland.PHOTOS: KRISTIN NAGEL, PRAMILA GANYE

Thanks to a growing number of apps and websites, solo women travellers can now connect with one another over meals and activities while on trips

Experiencing another culture at your own pace, on your own terms, can be an incredibly fun and insightful adventure.

While such a sojourn is liberating, some worry about safety and solitude in unfamiliar territory.

Now, solo women travellers can easily find a plus-one before and during their trips with the help of mobile applications and online communities.

These apps and sites have become must-have portals that provide real experiences and tips in real time, using an identity-verified network.

Think of it as the Tinder of solo travel - minus the romance.

Tried-and-true methods include apps that help the solo woman traveller find company for meals, social activities, guided tours or homestays.

As Mr Michael Klumpp, founder of the German-based Tourlina travel app for solo women travellers, says: "Solo women travellers find that having a female partner on their travels can help with many things, from breaking down of costs to safety to forging new friendships.

  • Connect with other solo women travellers

  • APPS AND WEBSITES 

    1. Find a travel buddy

    What: Tourlina app (free to download, with in-app purchases)

    How it works: It displays a global list of solo women travellers looking to meet for tours and dinners - ahead of their planned vacation. To find your herd, fill in your age and travel itinerary on your profile page (for more accurate matches). Next, contact your potential travel kakis.

    2. Airbnb-esque for women

    What: www.sheswanderful.com

    How it works: Similar to Airbnb. Type in the city you are heading for to throw up a listing of homes. Next, complete a five-minute video verification before you are allowed to book. Join the site's Local Chapter events, such as barbecue outings and pub crawls.

    3. Women-only tours

    What: www.thesolofemaletravelernetwork.com

    How it works: Choose from an array of land tours happening this year and next year. Fill up an online booking form and you are all set to travel with a small group of women from around the world.

    WHERE TO STAY

    Here are some new women-only hotels for your next vacation, solo or otherwise.

    1. Bliss Sanctuary for Women, Bali

    What: www.blisssanctuaryforwomen.com

    No children or couples and only a handful of women allowed at any one time so they can experience serenity and exclusivity. The newly renovated villa offers five-to seven-day packages that include meals, with unlimited massage and spa treatments.

    2. Supershe Island, Finland

    What: supershe.com

    Wake up on an island to the gorgeous view of the Baltic Sea. Start the day with meditation after breakfast and have a facial at the spa right after.

    Since the luxury resort's opening last year, this off-the-grid vacation spot has become an oasis for professional women to connect with one another over leisure activities.

    3. Josephine's Guesthouse, Zurich

    What: Lutherstrasse 20, Zurich, Switzerland

    It feels more like a cosy home than a three-star hotel. A breakfast buffet is served at a large table every morning for everyone and there is an open kitchen and laundry room.

    The recently spruced-up rooms with minimalist interiors are popular with leisure and business travellers.

    4. Hotel Zen, Tokyo

    What: www.hotelzen.jp

    The latest capsule hotel looks like a craftsman's workshop on the outside. Inside, expect minimalist wood panelling and traditional motifs.

    Choose from five types of rooms - each equipped with a lockable box and free Wi-Fi - from single-to semi-double-bed ones, and rooms with tatami mats that provide more floor space.

Becoming friends with strangers, dining with them and experiencing a journey together have been very fulfilling. 

MS PRAMILA GANYE

I never felt lonely though I was travelling alone, because I met many wonderful women who were smart, funny and courageous... My main goal was to make new friends. 

MS KATRIN NAGEL on her experience with meeting fellow solo women travellers on her trips

"Users have to create a profile by logging in through Facebook, so the app administrators can verify that the user is really a woman and not a fake account."

Tourlina has more than 10,000 downloads from 110 countries. The app's newly released version also has a user chat function.

MAKE NEW FRIENDS ON THE ROAD

Ms Katrin Nagel, 26, an executive from Munich in Germany, found travel mates through Tourlina when she took a six-month break from work a year ago to travel across Asia, visiting Thailand, Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, the Philippines and Bali.

Of her plus-one experience, she says via e-mail: "I never felt lonely though I was travelling alone, because I met many wonderful women who were smart, funny and courageous through Tourlina.

"My main goal was to make new friends. By listening to their life experiences and adventures, I got to know so much about their dreams, lives and passions."

She adds: "I met female travel companions who were with me for days and even weeks. In Bangkok, I met a Norwegian traveller to celebrate New Year's Eve together.

"Sometimes, my travel mates and I chose the same accommodation, went on tours together or just met for coffee. I now have friends if I should ever visit their home countries."

The avid solo traveller got to know the best tips for food and hidden attractions from the companions she met. She is planning her next trip to the United States, where she intends to explore Texas and Florida, then run the New York City Marathon, before heading for Colombia and Panama.

"I used the Local Search feature frequently while travelling. I contacted the women who were closest to where I was staying. I found that female travellers on a 'local tag' always have great travel advice," she adds.

LOOKING OUT FOR ONE ANOTHER

Alternatively, solo women travellers can plan meet-ups for land tours with travel website The Solo Female Traveler Network (SFTN). Founded by Australian Amanda Black last year, the network started as a private group for her travel-loving friends and people whom she had met on her travels.

She says of her vibrant Facebook group: "This (group) will be an encouragement to watch out for each other online, on the road.

"It's a space for female travellers to come to for not just travel advice, but also to ask questions if they encounter anything creepy or cultural, get support for homesickness and show off amazing travel pictures and stories."

The network has since grown into a 269,000-strong global community of women travellers and now organises Global Meetup Tours for women only. These trips range between eight and 14 days, costing from $3,800 a person, excluding return flight tickets.

On its 2019/2020 itinerary: Egypt, Bali, Morocco, Iran, Antarctica, India, Jordan and two hugely popular cultural events in India - the Pushkar Camel Fair and the Holi festival - to choose from.

With company and tours come homestays via www.sheswanderful.com to complete the all-girl travel experience.

Founded by entrepreneur Beth Santos in Boston, the site has a global community of 40,000 women travellers and it works just like Airbnb. The difference: Find, meet and stay only with women.

SOLO WOMEN ADVENTURERS: A CAPTIVE MARKET

Indeed, the once-emerging community of women travellers has blossomed into an international sisterhood, proving that this has become a multi-billion-dollar market for the global travel industry, thanks to a more affluent and connected society today.

Besides the slew of online travel services tailored to women, developers have been rushing to build more women-only hotels and resorts in recent years to boost tourism in the Middle East, Zurich, Japan, Spain, Bali and Finland.

Soon, Kerala will have India's first women-only guest house - Hotel Hostess - a project initiated by the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation.

And solo travelling for women is on the uptrend.

According to a survey this year by travel and entertainment portal Culture Trip, which polled 10,500 respondents in Britain and the US, 93 per cent of women who have recently travelled alone want to learn new things, while 74 per cent want to explore different world views, beliefs and cultures.

And they are heading to women-friendly destinations, says the survey by business magazine CEO World, which polled 85,000 solo women travellers and 9,000 travel agents in 82 countries.

Among the favourite destination cities, Malaga in Spain came up tops for its food and cultural offerings, and Tokyo for its friendliness towards women travellers.

A positive experience is what solo traveller Pramila Ganye is looking for. She has hitchhiked from Amsterdam to Berlin, and London to Scotland, with an Australian woman traveller she met online.

"Becoming friends with strangers, dining with them and experiencing a journey together have been very fulfilling," says the 25-year-old Singapore teacher.

• This article first appeared in the September 2019 issue of Her World magazine.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 27, 2019, with the headline 'Sisterhood of solo travellers'. Print Edition | Subscribe