Hannah Gasper was born with a traveler’s heart.
So, it’s a bit of an irony that the 24-year-old Dubuque native doesn’t credit abundant trips in her youth as part of what stoked that fire.
“My family was always busy with the sports we were involved in as kids,” Gasper said. “So, I didn’t grow up traveling. I took my first plane ride in college, and it was so cool that I decided I wanted to do more of it. I started traveling with friends to places like California and Colorado.”
But it was studying abroad in Rome, Italy, during her senior year as a graphic design major at Iowa State University that really changed the tide.
“Every week, I would travel to another city or country — from Rome to Paris and back,” Gasper said. “Pretty soon, I had visited 10 countries. It opened my eyes to different ways of life. Having that kind of view of the world helps you to know what you want in your own life. It also makes you want to experience more of those kinds of things. It was fulfilling and brought me so much joy, I wanted to continue to make travel a priority.”
Despite returning from Italy to the COVID-19 pandemic — which put travel on hold for nearly everyone for two or more years — as well as postponing a trip to Barcelona, Gasper has made good on keeping that priority.
She recently returned to traveling, taking her first solo trip to New York City for one week in October 2021.
That seems to have lit yet another flame in Gasper, speaking to a trend that continues to grow.
According to a 2022 survey, 32 million single American women have traveled alone at least once in the past year, with one in three traveling solo five times or more. Of the women surveyed, 59% of those travelers said they would travel alone again in the next 12 months, with 86% saying they are not afraid to travel alone.
Furthermore, the search volume for “female solo traveler” has increased by 62% across all search engines in the wake of the pandemic.
For partnered women, 65% report having traveled without their significant others, with 80% of travel decisions being made by women with families.
Those statistics have led travel companies to ramp up their women-only focus by approximately 230%.
Gasper said traveling solo has its “highs and lows” but, for the most part, the perks far outweigh the hesitation one might experience.
“At first, it was a little stressful dealing with everything alone,” she said. “But it also was a huge confidence-builder knowing that I could handle it by myself. I also liked knowing that I could set my own agenda and do what I wanted to do from day to day and in the moment, without rigid plans in place.”
Some of those activities included visiting Times Square, taking in Central Park, seeing three Broadway shows, hopping aboard the Staten Island Ferry and catching views of the city from high atop Rockefeller Center.
“It was amazing,” Gasper said. “I could go to New York everyday. It’s the perfect city for solo travel because there is just so much to see and do.”
Planning your trip
Gasper recommends using web tools such as Expedia to compare and book flights and hotels. However, local travel agents also can help plan and book for you if you’re not quite sure where to get started or if you’re feeling overwhelmed. They are well-versed on the latest travel deals, as well as determining the easiest course to take.
Gasper also suggests packing appropriately for your destination.
“In New York, I was probably walking 18 miles per day,” she said with a laugh. “So, pack appropriate shoes. Pack for comfort. Pack what you know you’ll actually be wearing, and see if you can rewear clothing.”
She also advised bringing a reusable water bottle.
“Most cities will have public places for you to fill up,” she said.
Playing it safe
Despite the popularity and increase in solo travel, safety precautions should be taken.
Travel experts advise anyone planning a trip on their own to do their homework before traveling, knowing about where they’ll be, what they’ll be doing and what they should expect.
Gasper said her experience traveling alone and with friends has shown larger cities to be accommodating.
“Stay in well-populated areas,” she said. “And especially if you’re traveling alone, act as though you belong and know what you’re doing. Walk with your head up, be aware of your surroundings and be confident. People will be less likely to mess with you.”
However, Gasper added that the ideal trip will look different for everyone.
“Some people might feel safer in more secluded areas and enjoy something like hiking in nature more,” she said. “Different people will have different ideas of what travel experiences feel right for them.”
Gasper also said that travel experience, more than age, plays a role in determining what kind of trip is best for you.
“Age is just a number,” she said. “It really comes down to maturity. There are some younger people who maybe have had a lot of experience traveling and feel as though they can navigate their travels with confidence, while someone else who is older has maybe only taken two trips in their entire life. The main point is don’t let your age deter you. Go by how ready you feel.”
On the horizon
When not traveling, Gasper is a graphic designer for Cottingham & Butler’s HealthCheck360. She also practices yoga, loves reading, and is a coffee and plant enthusiast.
Close to home, she plans to spend some time this summer in Maquoketa, Iowa, at her family’s cabin, a location her grandfather bought and fixed up for the family years ago. But she’s always planning for her next great adventure.
“I’d love to explore more of the Northwest, like Portland,” Gasper said. “I think my next city overseas will be Budapest. Travel is just something you have to go out and do. So, if you want to, don’t wait for the opportunity. Just do it.”
Megan Gloss writes for the Telegraph Herald.