Unpacking Solo Travel with Tiffani Emery

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Tiffani Emery, a high school math teacher in Seymour, Indiana, about her very first solo travel experience.

I spoke with Tiffani just days after her return from New Orleans, and she was full of incredible insights and personal observations. So many, in fact, that I couldn’t figure out how to fit it all into one post.

10 Revelations From My First Solo Trip” is where I have compiled the fantastic self-revelatory comments and observations Tiffani made about her first solo travel experience. Be sure to check these out, but before you do, read on to learn how Tiffani changed my mind about solo travel to New Orleans.

I was specifically fascinated to hear that Tiffani went to New Orleans on her first solo adventure because I have also traveled solo to New Orleans; and while I enjoyed myself, I have often thought I wouldn’t recommend it as a solo travel destination.

Talking with Tiffani changed my mind…

You have done a good bit of traveling -- you studied abroad in England, and traveled to Guatemala and all over Europe, but this trip to New Orleans was your first solo trip. Why did you decide to try solo travel?

The reason I went on a solo trip wasn't because I had something to prove to anybody else. It was because I had something to prove to myself, that I am a lot stronger than I give myself credit for.

I make adult decisions everyday: I own my own home and I live four hours away from my family. Yet, when I am traveling, my mind is in a different state. I am able to grow that way. I needed to prove to myself that I could do it, and I shouldn't let anybody or anything hold me back.

Wow! I love that, but I am curious... how did you end up choosing New Orleans as your destination? That’s a big one to take on by yourself.

My grandparents talked about how they were avid travelers in the 70s and 80s, before I was born. And so I always felt like, "I am going to do that.

"When I was younger, I imagined that my husband and I would travel the world. But I realized very quickly that I wasn't going to get married at 15, as my grandmother did.

I listened to their stories and they always talked about New Orleans, about how pretty it was and how interesting it was.  I stopped thinking about it, though, because I was a broke college kid. I studied abroad a couple times and did what I could ... But then I watched a show called The Originals, which takes place in New Orleans. All the memories of my grandparents’ stories came back, so I started asking people to go with me to New Orleans. For 2.5 years I asked, and for whatever reason no one could. Finally, I just decided I could spend the rest of my life waiting -- but I didn’t want to do that anymore. So, instead, I bought a plane ticket.

Obviously when people think of New Orleans, they think of the nightlife. I don’t imagine you spent a lot of solo time on Bourbon Street. So what did you do?

I researched what I wanted to see and do before I left, and I booked three tours. I was a little nervous and afraid of going out by myself, so my strategy was to have a plan.

I had a to-do list for everyday and made sure I never had to worry about what to do next. I knew that would overwhelm me, and I didn't want to stand on the corner confused, not knowing where I was going and looking like a tourist.

I did a tour of the St. Louis Cemetery, a night time haunted history ghost tour. I also toured the Lafayette Cemetery and the Garden District. I could have done most of that solo, but I booked the tours specifically so I would know I had to be somewhere at a certain time.  I think if I had gone without a plan, I would have gotten overwhelmed and wouldn't have known what to do and would have stayed in my Airbnb the whole time.

Safety is obviously a big concern when you’re a woman traveling solo. What are some things you did to make sure you were safe and what advice would you give to other women considering solo travel?

Don't let the fear of what could happen hold you back. New Orleans has this reputation for being a dangerous city. The way people talked to me about it, you would have thought I was going to a prison just to hang out with all these criminals. Now that I have been there, I don’t believe it is.

My biggest advice is to keep your head up. Don't look down at a map or down at your phone. Have a plan and know where you are going.

I could have stayed in my Airbnb all three days because I was afraid to go out or because I didn't want to get mugged, but I would have missed out on a lot of things I can't experience at home. We have to be smart about who we are talking to and how we are interacting with them, but ultimately, we are going to miss out on a lot of experiences if we let fear hold us back.

Women often ask me how they can stay safe on a solo trip while still meeting new people. What was your experience with this?

I was very mindful of the fact that there were certain people that I wasn't going to tell that I was alone. The first person I met -- my Uber driver, who I am sure is a very nice person -- asked if I was by myself.  I decided that because I didn’t know him, and he was going to have the address of where I was staying, that I wasn’t going to tell him I was by myself. But if people would ask after we were chit chatting for a little bit then I would say "yes." Sometimes they asked why and my answer was “to meet people like you.”

If I were with someone, I would have been completely unaware of the people I met and had conversations with, even if I had been in the same moment. I met an older couple who needed help with the streetcar. Had I been with girlfriends or my family, I would maybe not have noticed them struggling to read the map. But I saw it, and was able to ask if they needed help. They said they were trying to get to the French Market, and I said, that's where I was going, so we went together.  I was proud of myself that I was able to get out of my own little zone and notice that someone else needed help. They told me about their grandkids and the trip they were on, and I told them about my students and my job. These were good conversations I never would have had, had I been with other people.

You’ve shared so many incredible revelations that you had. I know sometimes I am afraid to come home at the end of a trip because I don’t want to lose that thing I just found. Is this something you felt?

I don't know if afraid is the right word, but I did write in my journal that I don't want to forget how I felt when I have to go home and back to the routine. I have felt happier with myself this past week than the weeks leading up to my trip. Some people might say it's because I had a vacation, but I think it's because I was able to take my time and reflect on myself and what I wanted to change about myself and I did.  I honestly feel like I gained a new part of me that I really like and I hope sticks around.

What would you tell other women who are considering taking a solo trip?

Start small, book the ticket, and have a plan.

I wouldn't have been as successful if I went to a foreign country where they speak a different language or a totally different culture. So start small and then buy the ticket, book the Airbnb or the hotel, and be prepared for how to spend your time and what to do in an emergency situation -- just as you should in life.  The worst thing that's going to happen is you aren't going to like it and you aren't going to do it again.

Someone said to me in New Orleans, "If you're having a bad time in New Orleans, that's your own fault."

If you want to do something and you're talking yourself out of it, that's your own fault. Try it and if you don't like it, you don't have to do it again. I sound like a mom trying to get a toddler to eat broccoli... If you don't like it, don't do it again, but at least you know and you won't have to worry about it.

I do have a PSA. Not everyone should solo travel. If you are one of those people who doesn't feel like you are ready for solo travel or have zero interest in it, that's ok; but my challenge for you is to find what would challenge you and get you out of your comfort zone and do that. It could be karaoke or inviting someone from another culture into your home and getting to know them. Whatever that is, you need to do it. Because that's how you push your limits and learn. That's when you grow and learn about yourself and other people.

I want to thank Tiffani for taking the time to share her story with the Her Bags Were Packed community.  If you’ve not yet done so, be sure to check out “10 Revelations From My First Solo Trip.”

If you were inspired by her story and are interested in trying out solo travel, check out the Her Bags Were Packed solo travel guide with 5 steps to ease into solo travel or check out the solo travel support services I offer here.