Alexa West, founder and CEO of The Solo Girl’s Travel Guide, is a bestselling travel author and hotel reviewer. Alexa splits her time between Seattle, Mexico, and Southeast Asia, where she spends her days doing what she loves most: writing, exploring, and playing pickleball. No matter where she goes, Alexa is on a mission to change the way women travel the world: with less fear and more fun.
In 2011, Alexa West sat on her bedroom floor, packed her life into a backpack, and got on a one-way flight with just $200 in her pocket. She turned that $200 into over ten years of full-time travel. She went from budget backpacker to solo female travel expert — and now teaches thousands of women how to travel alone and make money from anywhere.
The One-Way Ticket Plan reveals her decade’s worth of lessons, regrets, embarrassments, love stories, shortcuts, and problem-solving strategies — all packed into a hilarious page-turner and actionable plan for a total life makeover. From real-world advice on how travel can lower your cost of living to guidance on traveling safely, using strange toilets, avoiding tourist traps, dealing with unfamiliar foods, and coping with friendships, romance, and loneliness, Alexa provides the tools and inspiration to turn even the most inexperienced traveler into an expert explorer before ever leaving the couch.
* I heard that you lie a lot when you travel, is that true?
It’s true. Mostly to men. And especially in more conservative cultures. For example, let’s say a taxi driver starts asking me questions like, “Are you married?” or “Are you traveling alone”? There’s a chance that he’s just making friendly conversation but there’s also a chance that he’s hoping to get freaky with the foreign girl traveling alone. So, I lie. When asked personal questions like this, I make up a fake husband and say he’s at the hotel waiting for me. I might even pretend to call him on the phone when I get in an Uber and say, “I’m in the Uber hunny, be there in ten minutes. No, I love you more!” There is no shame in my safety game.
* Do you ever get nervous traveling solo?
All the time. And nervous is good! I always say that “nervous” means you’re about to do something big and exciting and outside your comfort zone. So yes, I get nervous but maybe a clearer question is, do I get scared? Yes, also. I’m scared of flying, I’m scared of boats, I’m scared of a lot of things. But I try to decipher when my fear is or isn’t rational. Is it rational to get scared every time I’m in the air on a plane? No. I know that airplanes are safer than cars so, that is a fear I need to work through. But when I feel fear walking down a street alone, interacting with an unsettling character or sleeping in a hotel with a weird vibe – I listen to that fear and investigate it. Never try to be “fearless”. You need your fear. Rather, try to decipher the difference between being nervous and being afraid. When you’re nervous, persevere. When you’re afraid, pause and assess the situation.
* Why do you write for just women who travel, why not men too?
My secret to writing is this: I write for younger me. The girl who didn’t have a positive female role model growing up. The girl who struggled to find her purpose. The girl who traveled the world alone without guidance. I write to solve the problems of younger me and in doing that, I end up solving the problems of millions of women like me. So, it’s not that I want to exclude men in my writing, it’s just that I am on a mission to help heal and guide little me. However, when men do end up buying and loving my books, I am so beyond flattered.
* What advice would you give young women, in high school or college, who want to pursue a life of travel like you have?
Read my book. I wrote it with young women in mind. It’s the book I wish I had back in high school so that I could have been more certain about what I wanted to do in college – or if I wanted to go to college at all. It’s the book I wish I had when I was younger so that I had a complete understanding of my options in life no matter my budget. Read that book and when something excites you, highlight it. If you read the phrase “seafood in Taiwan” and your heart skips a beat, pay attention. There’s something there, even if you don’t know it yet. Listen to your emotions more. I know that us women are taught not to be “too emotional” but us women have a superpower and that superpower is our intuition. If something excites you, no matter how strange it may be – like making prosthetic mermaid tails or grinding black pepper – explore it. Do not follow the crowd. The weirder you can be, the better. My motto in life is “be weird, have fun”. That motto has led me not only to happiness, but also to money. And that’s pretty cool.
* What makes you such an expert in the world of solo travel?
Over a decade of full-time solo travel experience makes me an expert in the world of solo travel. With the exception of a few boys along the way, I’ve traveled the world on my own since the age of 22. I didn’t grow up as an adult in the US. I grew up on rickety trains in Thailand, navigating snowy streets in Bulgaria, learning foreign languages everywhere I went, and solving problems on my own every day. Solo travel is all I have ever known as an adult. I don’t drive on the freeway in the US, but I can ride a scooter through crazy Bali traffic. I’ve never worked in an office, but I know how to find the best internet cafes in The Philippines. I’m not great at small talk, but I can make friends with anyone, can haggle in markets, and I know what to do if you ever get a bug stuck in your ear. Solo travel is my default setting.
* How much money does it take to set off on a one-way ticket adventure?
As much money as you’ve got in your pocket. I left the states with just $200 in my pocket. I was able to do that because I joined a volunteer program that paid for my travels. If your savings account is struggling, the key to traveling on a budget is finding opportunities that will pay you or pay for you to travel. Opportunities like volunteering, housesitting, trading work for accommodation or finding a job abroad. There are tons of these opportunities out there that many people don’t know exist. Chapter 2 of The One-Way Ticket Plan lays out all the ways I managed to travel for free or cheap for nearly 6 years, and then some.
* Is it true that you feel safer traveling than you do at home in Seattle?
Yes, I often feel safer traveling than I feel at home. In The US, we deal with gun violence, drug epidemics, and untreated mental health issues at much higher rates than many countries where I choose to travel. Not to mention, The US literally has the most serial killers in the world by far! There’s a lot to be afraid of here so when I moved back home to the US from Southeast Asia, I had a hard time adjusting. I can’t just go out at night in Seattle and grab a bite to eat at a food stand at midnight alone. But I sure can do that in Thailand. Or South Korea. Or Spain. And even in parts of Mexico. When I travel, I choose destinations where I feel safe. I choose to place myself in environments where I am statistically safer. Simple as that.
* What is it like to date or find romance as a solo traveler that’s always on the move?
Oh, I fall in love everywhere I go. There’s something thrilling and romantic about being on the move and bumping into a stranger who’s on a similar path as you. I say that travel acts like a dating filter. When you meet someone you’re attracted to on the travel path, odds are that you already have some things in common. You both like to travel, you both are adventurous and you both are looking to live life to the fullest. No mama’s basement dwellers out or unambitious slugs are going to make the effort to fly to the other side of the world and do something different. Or maybe you fall for a local who shows you a world you’ve never known and speaks a language that sweeps you off your feet. In my experience, falling in love while traveling is easier than back home. Staying in love or nurturing that love into a solid relationship while traveling, however, takes intention. When you’re on the move, there’s no time to take things slowly or play games. If you like someone, you’ve got to make it known. You might have to cancel flights or change plans or take big risks – but why not? I once signed a one-year lease in Taiwan with a British guy that I had only spent a couple of weeks with in person. That relationship worked for a long time, beyond the one-year lease. When it comes to dating as a traveler, you must throw out the rulebook and follow what feels right. No games required.
* Where did you get the idea to write a travel how-to for women?
My company, The Solo Girl’s Travel Guide, is a collection of destination-specific travel guides for women. And over the years, I’ve seen an evolution in the trips these women are taking. Back in 2017 when I started my company, women were taking shorter trips and vacations. But nowadays, women are buying a one-way ticket to Mexico City to work from their laptop or packing everything up to move to South Korea and teach English. The vision of a “perfect life” for us women has changed.
Today, women are getting married later, having fewer children, and making more money than previous generations. Instead of settling down, women are yearning to pack everything up, fly to a foreign country, fall in love, try new foods, talk to strangers, and just what it’s like to wake up happy instead of stressed. That is the life I have been living for the past decade. I have lived an incredible life of travel. And also a stupid one. In all these years of travel, I’ve made so many mistakes and learned tons of invaluable lessons that turned me into a person that I really love. And I want this for my readers. This is what The One-Way Ticket Plan is all about.
* What are some safety tips that you can give women who are thinking of traveling solo?
There’s this alarm called She’s Birdie. I carry with me everywhere and even sleep with it in my hand or under my pillow if I’m in a sketchy area. It’s an alarm, that when yanked apart, sounds this ear-piercing noise and flashes a light. It’s not pepper spray or a weapon, but it will surely startle any creep and get the attention of those around you. I recommend carrying it and no, I don’t get paid to say this.
Another tip is to never be afraid to ask for help or support. One time, in Cambodia, I had a stalker. He showed up to my hotel. I was terrified. I called a friend who she rushed over. While I was sitting there frozen in fear, she burst into the riverside restaurant and started screaming, “Where is he?”. Immediately, once the other men in the restaurant heard that this stalker was here to terrorize me, these men turned into pit bulls. Wanting a piece of this asshole. The stalker left. I realized that all I had to do was walk over to one of these men and ask for help. People want to help you when you’re lost, scared, in danger or in need. Ask for help. Oh also, don’t post your whereabouts on social media in live time. Post after you’ve already left the hotel so stalkers can’t find you.
Riding elephants. Swimming with captive dolphins. Volunteering at orphanages. Taking pictures with tigers. Mainly, any trend that involves women, children or animals as tourist attractions should be canceled.
Also, overtourism. Overtourism is an unethical trend that most of us aren’t even aware we are taking part in. This trend involves an excessive number of tourists overwhelming popular destinations that can’t sustain that many visitors, leading to environmental degradation, increased waste, and disruption of local life. Places like Machu Picchu, the ancient city that was built to sustain around 1,000 people – but receives well over a million tourists per year traversing the Inca trail and overwhelming the areas around it. Big cruise ships also contribute to overtourism when they dock at a beach or island and release thousands of sunscreen tourists into the waters, leaving behind pollution, rubbish and little economic value to the majority of the community. I could go on and on. My message here is this: go somewhere else. Avoid the crowds not only for your enjoyment but for the health of the environment and local economies. Instead of the #1 most popular Instagram destination in a city, get creative and go on a food tour in the #5 most popular city. Not only will locals be happier to have you, but your experience is likely to be more meaningful than your selfies with tons of sunburned tourists in the background.
*What’s the appeal of the digital nomad movement?
There are currently over 35 million digital nomads worldwide who have taken their job remote while traveling or living abroad. Many of these people have left in search of a more meaningful existence. Many of these people have realized that they don’t need to suffer through high costs of living and low quality of life. $3000 to live in a shoebox in downtown Seattle? Trade that for a luxury beach villa in Bali for $1500 a month. $12 on Chipotle plus an $8 delivery fee? No way! $1 Pad Thai is hot and ready in Thailand! Dead-end jobs that suck the soul out of your body with no remorse? Done with it! Working remotely from a beach bar in Mexico sounds way more fulfilling. With the 9-5 slowly dying, we are sure to see an increase in digital nomads spreading around the world in search of a much healthier work-life balance.
The One-Way Ticket Plan: How to Find and Fund Your Purpose While Traveling the World
Pub date: September 12, 2023 • Personal Growth • $19.95
Trade paperback • 288 pages • ISBN: 978-1-60868-870-8
Also available as an ebook