Wandering among the pews of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Enjoying the gardens at Schönbrunn Palace. Riding on the Great Wheel Riesenrad. I’m in Vienna, a city brimming with history and romanticism. As I sit outside the State Opera House, a family hustles by, ushering their kids to hurry along. A young couple walks past them hand-in-hand, seemingly lost in their own smitten world. And I don’t envy them.
My trip to Vienna took place nearly 10 years ago, when the idea of a woman traveling alone was still somewhat contemporary and slightly disfavored. Admittedly, it was much more socially acceptable when I did it compared to solo female travelers in the mid-90s. These women were the true pioneers of the category.
Fast forward to modern times, and we’ve entered a completely new era where solo female travelers are the norm. Not only are women going it alone, they’re opting for experiences that are far more daring than a walking tour through a historic European city—although that is still a common vacation option.
In a report from Booking.com, 66% of U.S. women polled have taken a vacation without their partner, and half of female solo travel enthusiasts are more likely to take a trip alone than they were five years ago. This bodes well for the adventure travel industry. According to the Adventure Travel Trade Association’s 2014 industry snapshot, 53% of adventure travelers are women. The ATTA also noted an increase in bookings made by women through adventure tour operators over the last year.
There could be a number of factors behind this shift in behavior, but technology and social media are largely driving it. It’s so easy to stay connected these days that women don’t feel as alone when they’re traveling. Mobile devices let them bring a piece of home with them, and that provides a level of comfort that never existed before.
Social media is not only a means of staying connected to friends and family at home, but it’s also a safety net, in a way. If something goes wrong, help is just a tweet away. Even if you decide to unplug from the realms of Facebook and Twitter, it’s smart to have a mobile phone that can be used abroad in case of emergencies.
The other big factor is that women are adapting to a world where they have more power, freedom and financial security than ever before. They no longer have to find a travel buddy in order to go somewhere. Traveling alone is empowering and builds confidence, which only bolsters the number of solo female travelers coming down the pipeline. Businesses that gear their messaging to boosting tenacity, courage and self-reliance are more likely to gain loyal female clients.
There might still be a small stigma attached to solo female travelers, but that is fading with every woman who takes her travel dreams into her own hands and ventures off to parts unknown.
Looking back, my time in Vienna certainly made me a stronger person. I never felt alone or detached. I felt free, alive and excited to explore a place on my own terms and at my own pace. Even though smart phones were in their infancy, Facebook was still only for college students and Twitter had yet to hatch, I was connected. Connected to the city, the culture and to myself.