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Part 1 – Anatomy of a Solo Female Backpacking Adventure: Choosing a Destination

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I’ve been writing about solo female travel for more than a decade, much of it in the form of advice, with an occasional peek at my own travels.

Five weeks from today I’ll be off for a month to Central Asia and rather than the usual ‘do this and do that’ I thought I’d share my preparations in real-time, my actual A to Z of getting ready for a month on the road.

My decision was propelled by wanderlust, by a deep need to get back on the road after months of (welcome) stability required by work and life. The symptoms began manifesting themselves slowly… loitering near the guidebook shelf, watching National Geographic reruns, hanging out in travel forums.

I know the feeling well and when it strikes, I need to go somewhere, on my own, for more than a short week. Don’t get me wrong – I had a wonderful vacation in Venice with my partner recently and I was thrilled with every minute. But that was a holiday. What I’m in need of is more of a journey.

And don’t ask me what the difference is because I have no clue. Planned versus unplanned. Short versus long. Accompanied versus solo. Cheap versus expensive. Travel vs tourism. It probably wouldn’t matter in the least if it weren’t for my Taurean compulsion to categorize things (and pin colour-coded labels on them when I can).

The urge started discreetly and snowballed, until the need to go somewhere became stronger than the need to stay put. I began plotting my escape.

Sometimes I have a specific place in mind – Andalusia, Sicily and Argentina are on my most recent list – but other times I’m ready to fly with the wind. This is one of those fly-with-the-wind moments.

September is the one month I can get away so I quickly checked the best times to travel. September is a perfect travel month for…

  • North Africa (I was in Morocco last year so I can wait a bit before returning)
  • North America and Europe are ideal September (my brother lives in Washington DC and I live in Europe so I need to go further afield)
  • Australia would be nice – but beyond my immediate budget…

Given my nomadic ancestors, I’ve always been drawn to Central Asia, despite my forbears’ inclination to rape and pillage their way towards Europe. That said, I was ignorant of the various countries in the region. My ignorance lumped them together as ‘the Stans’, much as some people do with ‘Africa’.

Wikipedia to the rescue, a few hours later I tentatively narrowed my search to Kyrgyzstan, a small-ish landlocked nation whose main claim to fame is its extraordinary landscape. As someone who despises dislikes heights and is about as athletic as a restaurant reviewer, this may seem like an odd choice. But wait.

Kyrgyzstan doesn’t require visas from French nationals (which I am) and we all know how complicated and expensive visas can be. That’s a plus.

Then there’s cost: Kyrgyzstan isn’t particularly expensive, with homestays averaging US$10-15 a night and simple meals for a couple of dollars. Flights, too, aren’t exorbitant out of Geneva, my nearest airport. I suspect Turkish Airlines isn’t unhappy about the extra business after the recent terrorist attack at Istanbul airport and the attempted national military coup.

Kyrgyzstan has a nomadic culture, which calls to me in a way I cannot define. It feels right, just as a desert feels comfortable and open water doesn’t (I can’t swim and have almost drowned before).

From the moment I saw the first photograph, I was hooked: the vastness of it all, hints of air as clean as a cloud and skies so blue every building looked like a cut-out. If I could only find my way between those mountains, I’d be fine.

mountains-813415_1280mosque-567805_1280kyrgyzstan-567127_1280kyrgyzstan-544089_1280Kyrgyzstan it is.

Part 2: Coping with the Unexpected
Part 3: Security Concerns in Central Asia
Part 4: My Central Asia Travel Budget
Part 5: Breaking the Central Asian Language Barrier
Part 6: My Central Asia Itinerary
Part 7: Travel Health Considerations
Part 8: Researching Central Asia
Part 9: Tools of the Trade
Part 10: Finding a Place to Stay in Kyrgyzstan
Part 11: Packing for Central Asia


  1. linda lappin on July 24, 2016 at 12:08 pm

    Enjoyed this very much. What exciting adventures you have had. Glad you changed your destination to Uzbekistan. Bit worried about Turkey these days! Safe travels.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on July 24, 2016 at 3:39 pm

      Well… I’m going to both! 🙂

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