Melissa Believes In Pushing The Boundaries Of Solo Female Travel & She’s Doing It With High Heels And A Backpack
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GAFFL
25th May | 12 min read

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    At GAFFL, we love to publish inspiring travel stories from adventurers around the world. You can connect with adventurers from 170+ countries on GAFFL, meet up, and explore destinations together.

    In this post, we are featuring Melissa, a full-time Travel Blogger from the UK who now lives in Athens, Greece. She manages the popular solo female travel blog High Heels And Backpack and she recently started another Athens-specific site Untold Athens. Be sure to also check out her adventures by following her on Instagram and Facebook.

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    Why I Started Traveling Solo

    I've been obsessed with travel for as long as I can remember. When I first started traveling alone, it was more out of necessity than anything else. I would spend a really long time planning trips with friends and we would finalize pretty much every detail. Then at the last minute, people would pull out one by one. They didn't want to leave their boyfriend for a few weeks, they wanted a new car, etc, etc. 


    So I went by myself otherwise I'd be waiting forever! I actually love traveling solo now because I have the freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want, and being alone makes it much easier to meet new people

    I Travel A Lot

    Right now I'm on a really long solo trip around the Balkans by myself. I spent 6 weeks traveling across Croatia and I've currently been in Belgrade, Serbia for almost a month.

    I'm really into nature and outdoorsy stuff so I will often go hiking or mountain biking. Separately, I love learning as much about the history and culture of the places I visit as I can. So I'll make a big effort to meet and hang out with locals, take walking tours and cooking classes, etc.


    How I Choose Where To Travel Next

    Honestly, it's all pretty spontaneous for me. I write extremely detailed, meticulous itineraries, travel guides, and travel planners on my websites but when it comes to personal travel, I often just get an idea in my head of a place that interests me and dive in. (I write these detailed guides so people can follow them and travel more efficiently, based on my experience and testing the waters). 

    I usually prefer to slow travel and really get to know a place. If somewhere is expensive or I'm doing a super hectic/physical itinerary then I will spend anywhere between 10 days and 3 weeks there.

    Because I work remotely, I'll often just base myself in a random city for a month as I'm doing right now with Belgrade, Serbia. Then I will take day trips out from there to explore that country. 


    In terms of planning, I will choose a destination, and then research all the things to do there using travel blogs and vlogs. I'll map out a rough itinerary and book my flights and perhaps the first night or two of accommodation. I don't like to stick to a strict itinerary as my schedule is always flexible so sometimes I ask locals what places they really like and end up changing my route or spending an extra few days here and there. 

    How I Pack For My Trips

    I pack pretty light and can usually fit everything I need into a 10kg suitcase. Right now I've been traveling around the Balkans with the same case for three months! 

    Clothing varies depending on where I'm going but I usually don't pack a ton of outfits and pack things that I can repurpose or wear in different ways. Comfortable hiking sandals are a must for me. I know they are not the most attractive footwear but I wear them even for exploring cities if I'm going to be walking around for a long time.

    How I Meet People While I Travel

    I usually stay at hotels or book entire Airbnb apartments so that isn't as social as staying in hostels. But regardless, it's still easy to meet people. 

    I use Couchsurfing to find events in the places I'm traveling to and I also use their hangout function a fair bit, which uses GPS to find other travelers and locals in your area so you can easily find someone nearby that wants to grab lunch. Meetup.com also has a lot of good events in major cities. 


    If I am somewhere and there are no events, I often host my own. I am not a massively extroverted person but even so, I find that I often meet people just by striking up a conversation with a random person on a bus, a plane, etc. 

    I used to live in South Korea but before I moved, I took a trip there in 2015 to see if I would like it. I got chatting with a Polish guy that was sitting next to me on the plane (now my good friend Lukas). When I got to the place I was staying in Insadong, Seoul, I was unpacking my bag in my room and I heard a familiar voice. Oddly we were staying at the same guesthouse! We explored Seoul together and then he ended up being my travel buddy for a lot of my Korea trip. 

    When we got to Busan, we found a really sweet local girl on Couchsurfing who ended up dating Lukas and they moved to London together. I was able to catch up with them again in London and then again in Seoul a couple of years ago. 

    Another story is about my friend Meiji who I met in Tokyo, Japan. Our Airbnb host had a three-bedroom apartment and Meiji was in one room and I was in another. We got along so well that it was like friendship at first sight (Is that a thing?) We went to a food festival together and since then, we have met up in London, Paris, and Hong Kong! 

    How I Decided To Move To Greece

    I booked an Airbnb for two months in Athens in early 2017. My original plan was to make Athens the first stop on a new digital nomad lifestyle but actually, I completely fell in love with the city. I extended my stay and extended my stay, and suddenly I blinked and four years went by! 


    Not going to lie, part of the reason I stayed so long was because I met and fell in love with a local guy. We ended our relationship but I fell completely in love with Greece, Greek food, culture, etc. 

    Now the pandemic situation is improving, I want to start traveling a lot more again. But I will always spend a portion of each year in Greece. 

    What Makes Greece Such A Lovely Place

    Greece has hundreds of gorgeous islands and yet, most people just seem to visit the same few: Mykonos, Santorini, Zante, Crete. These places are beautiful but they have been horrible victims of over-tourism and the number of crowds here during the summer is just unbearable. 

    Skopelos is a beautiful island. I lived there for 7 months during the pandemic. Despite it being the filming location for Mamma Mia, it does not see an abundance of tourists - perhaps because it's slightly tricky to get to. 


    There are tons of gorgeous beaches, cute villages, and hiking trails. It's one example of a sleepy Greek island that hasn't been over gentrified by tourism. 

    Another place to consider is Paxos island in the Ionian. This is one of the least commercial Greek islands and it is quite upscale and sophisticated. Even so, the prices here are no more expensive than places like Skiathos or Zante. Even Morgan Freeman comes here on vacation! 

    Why I Started My Blog

    When I was in South Korea, I went to stay at a temple for a few days with some Buddhist Monks. I had to shadow the life of a monk which included everything from getting up at 3 am to chanting and doing 108 prostrations (bows) to Buddha. My friend Sally said that I was always doing obscure and interesting things and I should maybe start a blog. 

    I started it as a hobby initially, just for my personal memories. I then started improving my writing and began to use my blog as a portfolio so I could get other writing work. But it all went full circle and I learned how to monetize my own blog so now that is my full-time job! 


    I try to give my readers insider information on Greece, specifically Athens, that nobody else could ever provide without having lived there. I update everything periodically so I am sure that they always have the most relevant and up-to-date information. 

    This blog triggered a real entrepreneurial spirit I never knew I had. It inspired me to branch out and buy, grow and monetize more travel websites. In the coming years, I plan on continually expanding those to create a multi-six-figure business. 

    My Advice To Anyone Looking To Travel Full-Time

    I think that good money management is essential. If you are going on a long trip, it can be tricky to budget. Always have an emergency fund set aside for things like - if you miss a bus and have to get an expensive cab, or you get sick and don't want to be in hostels while dealing with days of Montezuma's revenge. That way you can afford to pay for a little extra comfort in a hotel that day. 


    Try to make mindful decisions about your money when you are on a long trip, particularly if you are not remote working/don't have a source of income at that point in time.

    For instance, try and cook some of your own meals instead of eating out all the time, buy fruit and vegetables at farmers' markets, eat street food, walk as much as possible, watch your drinking, etc. 

    My Travel Budget

    I would say that I travel with a mid-range budget. I don't really like staying in hostels so I usually pay for a mid-range hotel or Airbnb. I really like to have my own space!

    Sometimes I splurge on luxury hotels too, particularly if I have had a really long journey or I'm coming to the end of an exhausting trip. 


    I save costs by pretty much walking everywhere, cooking a lot for myself, being mindful of my food budget, and looking for free alternatives to paid activities. For instance, I would never pay to go to the top of a tower and see a view in a city, but I would hike a hill to see an alternative viewpoint.

    Countries I’ve Traveled To 

    I've been to 50 countries so far. One of my favorite destinations was Uzbekistan. I traveled solo across the country in 2019 and visited Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva.

    I was quite fortunate that my travel dates tied in with a festival (Silk & Spice) that happens every year in Bukhara. Musicians and Performers from across Central Asia - Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, etc had traveled to Bukhara to perform. 


    I visited Khiva which was pretty isolated and far away from other major Silk Road cities in Uzbekistan. To get back to Tashkent, I had to take a 17 hour night train from Urgench. 

    I was like a celebrity on that train! Uzbeks were so interested that there was a random tourist woman on the train. I got invited to two Uzbek weddings in Fergana Valley but sadly I was leaving from Tashkent a few days later. People kept coming to my cabin to chat with me and a sweet family invited me to have dinner with them. 

    How I Manage Work And Travel

    I make a lot of passive income so I can afford to take weeks (months?) off without it having too much of a detrimental impact on my earnings. Generally, though, I try to maintain a routine as I would with a regular job. 

    So, for instance, whether I am at home in Greece or I've based myself in a random city for a while, I will work Monday to Friday and then take the weekends off to explore.

    My job is quite creative so if I am having writer's block or something, I might take a random weekday off and work on the weekend. 

    How I Think GAFFL Can Help Travelers

    I think GAFFL is a great way to meet people to explore destinations with. For me, I don't mind sightseeing alone but it's at mealtimes, etc that I miss having company so it's nice to be able to have an interesting conversation with someone over coffee, dinner, etc.

    You never know what people's travel plans are either so you might meet someone to have lunch or go to a museum, only to find out you're both heading in the same direction, and then you've got yourself a travel buddy!

    My Advice To Other Solo Female Travelers

    Honestly, the world is not as scary a place as people would have you believe. I have never let my gender, physical appearance, or anything else stand in the way of doing something I love. 

    Just use basic common sense as you would at home - no walking around on your own after dark, be wary of over-friendly strangers.

    If you meet people off apps designed for travelers or even online dating platforms, check their profiles to see if they have positive reviews. You can get a good gut feeling from just reviewing someone's profile. 

    Travelers are friendly people but these are still complete strangers you are meeting off the internet. Similarly, always watch how much you drink at events catered for travelers as some people do go to them hoping for a hookup. 

    What I Wish I Had Known When I First Started Traveling

    I just wish there had been more female influencers and travel writers when I started traveling ten years or so ago.

    I remember my first few trips to the USA, Australia, and Thailand, and people making comments about why it was silly I traveled with makeup, or I packed girly clothes, etc. 


    What you wear and how you choose to present yourself is no reflection of your ability to travel, hike a mountain, etc.

    Sometimes you do encounter opinionated travelers who tell you that you should be doing this or going here, or they get into bragging wars about the countries they have been to. Remember that travel is a personal experience for everyone. Just do what makes you happy, whatever that is. 

    Another thing I have learned is that travel burnout is real. If you are traveling long term - several weeks, months, or longer, you can't keep up the same pace all the time.

    Sometimes you might arrive in a city and feel so exhausted after weeks of travel that you just want to eat tacos in your hotel room and watch Netflix. Listen to your body and don't feel guilty taking a day off every once in a while! Get the rest you need so that you can continue your onward travels!

    Tired of traveling alone? Connect with users from over 170 countries to plan trips and travel together!
    Try GAFFL

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