Stephanie Lee is the author of The Art of Solo Travel, a guide for “un-average girls” (as she puts it) who wish to travel the world by themselves. Stephanie has lived in Malaysia, San Francisco, and Australia (where she studied architecture at the University of New South Wales). Six years after she earned her degree and had established herself in her chosen profession, Stephanie did something that might seem radical to most people: She quit her job, sold her house and everything in it, and left Australia to travel for a year to 20 countries and three continents. Alone. She began writing about her travels and launched a new career for herself as a travel writer, publishing articles on the Indie Travel Podcast and Brave New Traveler. Eventually, she realized her experiences as a solo traveler might benefit others and, with the assistance of Craig and Linda Martin of the Indie Travel Podcast, wrote and published the e-book The Art of Solo Travel.
I have read The Art of Solo Travel and reviewed it here on my blog, and you may have noticed I have affiliate links to purchase this ebook here on my site. I do this because I feel it’s a good resource (at a good price) for newbie solo travelers headed off on long-term travel. Yet, I’ve never actually had a conversation with Stephanie. How strange is that? So I was very excited when Craig Martin connected me with Stephanie recently so I could ask her a few questions about her solo travel experiences.
SF: What did you do to prepare for the solo aspect of your round-the-world trip (in terms of safety, loneliness, etc.)?
Stephanie: When it came to safety, in most urban cities I was never very worried about it in the day as there were always lots of people around me. In countries with reputations for theft and crime, it’s a good idea to join tour groups and also to meet other single travelers. Always walk in the opposite direction of traffic if possible so someone on a bike can’t come behind and surprise you. Try to meet up with other solo travelers at night for company and safety’s sake. You can find them on Travbuddy or one of the local couchsurfing groups.
I kept a blog to combat loneliness. Words were an outlet for all the emotions of the day. Of course, since I was couchsurfing so much, I always had a friend in almost every city so any feelings of loneliness were quite short-lived.
SF: Excellent segue to my next question! I know you’re a big fan of couchsurfing and you were able to save a lot of money by traveling this way. First, for those of my readers who don’t know what couchsurfing is, could you describe it?
Stephanie: Couchsurfing is a form of connecting with locals by literally ‘surfing’ their couch. This basically means locals offer travelers an opportunity to sleep at their home – for free – in exchange for friendship and learning about culture from one another. The ‘couch’ could be your own room, a pull-out sofa, or a sleeping bag. For me it didn’t matter. I traveled using this as my only method of accommodation for well over six months, and in the process I made many lifelong friends I would never trade for the best hotel in the world even if I could afford it. As a solo female couchsurfer, the one-on-one connection with my hosts (50/50 male and female) was my main reason for traveling this way as it is like having an old friend in every new city I visited. You can read more about my couchsurfing experiences on Matador and read more about the Couchsurfing Community’s Safety News on their website.
SF: What advice would you give female travelers who are nervous about the concept of staying with strangers while traveling?
Stephanie: Traveling solo is a big adventure, especially for females, and I completely understand the apprehension when it comes to staying with strangers in a new country. The couchsurfing community is based on trust and a reference system, so try to approach hosts who have hosted other people before and have good feedback from their guests. However, even reference systems are sometimes flawed, so I think at the end of the day, you just need to trust your own intuition, and if the first night with your new host feels uncomfortable, leave.
SF: Do you have any fun stories of things that happened to you that you realized even at the time, “This never would have happened if I had been traveling with someone else?”
Stephanie: I got stranded at Cairo Airport in Egypt, which was one of the most chaotic airports I’ve ever landed in. I was supposed to be picked up by my new couchsurfing host but I couldn’t find him and couldn’t contact him by phone. I ended up being very fortunate as I met an American expat who kindly gave me a lift to the suburb my host lived in and even spent an hour trying to locate him with me. We didn’t find it and I crashed in his flat for a while before managing to contact an English couchsurfer who offered me a room at her gorgeous home instead. So if I was traveling with someone else, I would never have hitched a ride, never have contacted the English couchsurfer, and never have ended up being driven around by her personal chauffeur in Egypt! I was completely spoilt!
SF: Is there anything you would have done differently, if you could do it over again?
Stephanie: I made the journey of my dreams and I have no regrets. Though in hindsight, I should have gone during summer instead of winter as I froze for many months! No fun traveling solo in wind, snow, rain, and zero-degree temperatures!
SF: How did your solo travels change you?
Stephanie: I was always an independent and confident person but my solo travels verified that I could do anything my heart set out to do, no matter how hard I thought it would be.
SF: What advice would you give women traveling solo to your home country of Australia?
Stephanie: Jump onto the local couchsurfing groups and start meeting locals and travelers to explore new places with. We have a wonderful local couchsurfing family who regularly organize barbeques, festivals, and general meet-ups.
SF: I’m headed to Paris soon for the first time. That was your first stop on your round the world trip. Got any tips for me?
Stephanie: Learn basic French words! People are extra friendly and helpful when you start with ‘bonjour!’
SF: Are you traveling now, and what are your future travel plans?
Stephanie: No, I’ve been home in Sydney for just over a year, and would like to stay put for a while to focus on work and career after neglecting it for so long. I am planning to visit New Zealand, Fiji, and perhaps South America very soon, I hope.
Many thanks to Stephanie for sharing her experiences with round-the-world solo travel with us here and in her e-book. Be sure to check out Stephanie’s Art of Solo Travel Facebook page and “like” it!
Photo credits: Stephanie Lee.