I’ve been fascinated with everything India for as long as I can remember. As a born and raised Jewish valley girl from the San Fernando Valley, I don’t know where this fetish came from. I’ve sated my appetite with Mira Nair movies, books like A Passage to India and Holy Cow and countless plates of chicken korma and naan bread. photo courtesy of Lena Osterholm
Most of my friends and family associate India with filth, poverty and Delhi belly, so the idea of traveling to this colorful country was always a dream to me, one I feared might never become a reality. Who would go with me, first of all? All my girlfriends are deep in the trenches of child rearing, juggling work schedules, or simply busy reinforcing their bunny lines at the mere suggestion of an Indian escapade.
About a year ago, I got serious about traveling and did some deep Google diving to see if I could find any travel opportunities for women around my age to visit the land of vinyasa yoga, tikka masala and mendhi. I stumbled onto the website of The Solo Female Traveler Network. On the homepage, it calls the Network “a 400,000+ strong online community connecting gals of all ages with wanderlust in their hearts and stamps in the passports.”
I felt like I just came home.
This expansive network unites women from every corner of the globe in a few different ways. The main community can be accessed by joining one or more of their Facebook groups, which are categorized by age, sexual orientation and more. As soon as you become part of one of these groups, your FB feed will populate with posts from women voraciously sharing their travel conquests, desires, as well as asking questions and offering travel advice to whomever is willing to listen.
Upon joining, I got sucked into a time warp ogling over strangers’ breathtaking photography from trips to far off lands like Nagarkot, Nepal, the African tundra and Chefchouen, Morocco. Man, did this make me envious. I traveled Europe extensively when I spent a college semester abroad and then again that time I lived in London right after graduation. Once I got married, had kids, a career and a mortgage, my dreams of traveling the world got put on a 20 year hold. However, the more I scrolled and read and ogled at these posts, that envy was soon replaced with courage and empowerment.
The second part of the Solo Female Traveler Network is made up of “Meet Up” tours—curated vacations designed for women who want to travel in a group, but still alone…just like me. All the tours seemed meticulously organized with jam-packed itineraries made up of a mix of must-see tourist attractions and off-the-beaten-path adventures. All the hotels and meals are taken care of, too. This was no family trip with whining, teenagers. This was ahhh-maz-ing.
They just happened to have a 15-day India “Holi Festival” tour that included excursions throughout Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Udaipur in March—the perfect time of year when I could duck out of my familial and work responsibilities and experience some true ME time.
That time I joined the band during Holi in Jaipur, Rajasthan
Without writing an entire book here (hoping that comes later), I took that Indian tour and it was incredible. I sat on the Princess Diana bench in front of the Taj Mahal, rode a rickshaw in Old Delhi, got chased by monkeys in the mogul ghost town Fatehpur Sikri and enjoyed a delicious meal at a family's home in Jaipur. Nothing could have put a damper on my trip, even a world pandemic...which in the end, cut my trip several days short when President Modi put the country on lockdown, giving me hours to literally leave on a jet plane.
While I’m itching to go back and resume my Indian travels when the world becomes more stable, so many of my recent conversations have been centered around this amazing organization that propelled me to experience this long-lived dream of mine. Being an inquiring mind, I reached out to the founder, Amanda Black, to learn how she started it.
Amanda Black, founder of The Solo Female Traveler Network, relaxing along the Egyptian coastline
The Solo Female Traveler Network was born in 2016 after Amanda, an American twenty-something was robbed blind while traveling solo in Mexico. (Ok, not exactly how I had envisioned it.) Amanda was enjoying a cerveza around the corner from her hostel, and when she returned to her room all of her belongings had vanished (money, computer, camera, clothes, you get the idea). If only there were some sort of safe Facebook group for solo female travelers that she could have gone to for help, perhaps her situation would have been different. Upon returning home to the states safely, Amanda created one.
“I knew that in Cancun, Mexico, there were plenty of people around me who would be happy to help me out,” she says, “but I just didn't have a way to connect with them.”
Whether you want restaurant recommendations in Venice, Italy or need an emergency ride to the local police station, the FB group idea started off being a way for a community of like-minded women to always have one another’s back. Little did Amanda anticipate, this FB group really took off and the followers just kept coming. Hundreds of thousands of them.
Soon, members were asking about recommendations for female-only organized trips to exotic destinations like Bali, Egypt and India and asking Amanda to create some. Being a self-described traveling nomad, Amanda couldn't think of a reason not to, and before long, she also added modern-day travel agent to her CV, customizing affordable meet up tours that kept selling out. One after another.
SoFe Travel Meetups in Egypt and Bali, photos courtesy of @solofemaletravel
While women have been globetrotting for years seeking adventure and a global perspective, Amanda believes the “Eat, Pray, Love” phenomenon seriously encouraged this generation of women to think, “Oh, I could do that, too.”
“Travel is transformational. To see how other people live. It’s humbling and inspiring and it changes you,” Amanda says. “When you do it solo, it’s just adds all these new elements. You navigate by yourself, solve issues by yourself, and it makes you learn about who you are and what you want. You have more time to observe yourself. I think that’s an element that’s so important, but most of us miss it in our everyday lives. When you travel alone, it’s so rewarding, if you allow it to be.”
Listening to Amanda talk about travel during this time when we’re all stuck in our homes indefinitely without the ability to plan our next adventure can be incredibly frustrating. But until the travel industry returns with a vengeance, the Solo Female Traveler Network can be soul food for any travel junkie. This tight-knit community of like-minded women offers an environment of empowerment and global education.
This downtime has actually been a welcome opportunity for Amanda and her dedicated team of twelve to roll out the next phase of the Solo Female Traveler’s Network—a member’s only community outside of Facebook that offers virtual workshops and courses such as photography, international cooking, travel writing and more from carefully selected experts. There are book clubs to join, happy hour zooms to chime in on and even regional events to connect with members in your own backyard.
For anyone out there like me who spent years dreaming about traveling to their ultimate bucket list destination, check out the Solo Female Traveler Network. You may not be able to add any stamps to your passport for the foreseeable future, you can certainly make some new friends, and prepare to hit the ground running when the world starts opening up again.