Not only have I traveled extensively during my life, I come from a long line of travelers. My great-grandmother crisscrossed the Atlantic in the late 1800s, and both of my grandmothers were fans of the Pan Am round-the-world tickets. You could definitely say travel is in my blood. Here's some of what I've learned as a woman traveling solo, with a partner and with a group.
1. You must be able to comfortably lift your bags and luggage off the floor and move them some distance without assistance. If you can't, you are bringing too much. Mail heavier items to your destination so you don't have to carry them.
2. Bring fewer pairs of undies and socks by simply washing the same two or three pairs in the sink every couple nights. If you pack a bunch of clean underwear, you are just going to end up carrying a bunch of dirty underwear home. What's the point in that?
3. Keep your jewelry and any other valuables (important medication, travel documents) in your carry-on bag (and not one that could be checked curbside).
4. Scarves are key for dressing up, covering up, keeping warm, sun protection, absorbing sweat, as a towel and as a pillow. I carry two at all times; one a very light, very thin cotton, and the other either a thick cotton (for tropical adventures) or a pashmina (for cooler climes).
5. Learn a few words in the local language. At the very least, "please," "thank you" and "Where is the bathroom?" should be in your repertoire. You'll be surprised how glad people will be if you make an effort.
6. Long hair that can put up neatly in a bun — or very short hair — are the easiest to deal with while traveling.
7. Never compromise your safety because you're afraid of being rude to a man in another culture. Keep safe first.
8. Always keep a cheat sheet of currency conversions in your bag, or on a card in your pocket where you can easily check it.
9. You only need one lipstick; choose wisely and lighten your makeup bag (if you wear makeup at all).
10. Don't worry about making a fool of yourself; we all do when we travel. It's actually the best time to get used to the idea of being wrong, confused or a little out-of-control. It will happen, whether you like it or not.
11. Walk as much as you can, wherever you are. In cities, you will pick up far more about the culture and neighborhoods by walking than through any other mode of transit. In the country, you will notice and understand how the natural world has impacted the culture where you are.
12. A pair of leggings will keep mosquitoes off, legs comfortable on chilly boats and planes, and you can sleep in them (and handwash them in a sink). They also roll up super-tiny.
13. You might not be treated the same way as you are at home because you're a woman. It's OK to be angry and frustrated about that, but it's a reality. Before you go, it's smart to think about how you'll deal with that once you get there.
14. Say yes to everything as long as your gut/safety check OKs it.
15. Follow your nose and the locals when it comes to where to eat. If people are standing in line, that's a good sign. If something smells good to you, eat it.
16. Sleeping in a train/bus depot or airport isn't pleasant, but it won't kill you.
17. If you want to cry because you're frustrated, homesick or hungry, go ahead. You'll feel better afterwards and crying while traveling is totally normal, even if you're having a great trip.
18. Ask for directions when you are lost. Have a pen and paper ready if your language skills in that place are not strong. Maps are universal, and a hand-drawn map from a local makes for a great souvenir years later.
19. Stay in cheap places for five nights so you can splurge for two nights rather than choosing middle-of-the-road accommodations for a week. Memories are not made in average places.
20. Solo travel can be the best travel. There are very, very few places that are genuinely "too dangerous" to visit. Every time I've gone someplace I was warned against, the people have been the friendliest.
21. Bring a tiny package with your feminine hygiene products, just in case; your period might come early or late if your body is thrown off from travel. Take condoms and lubrication too. Sure you can buy whatever's local, but there's almost no other place in the world that has the variety and specificity of products that the U.S. does. Tracking them down at night or during weekends can be impossible in places where 24-hour drug stores don't exist.
22. Carry a pack of tissues in your bag at all times. Most bathrooms in most of the world don't provide toilet paper, and you'll need them for the inevitable spills/messes of travel, too.
23. You don't need to plan to "do" something every day when you're traveling. Sitting in a cafe with a coffee for a few hours, writing postcards, people-watching or looking at maps of the city are all completely acceptable activities.
24. Learn how to read a paper map because you may not be able to rely on your phone, even if you think you'll have coverage.
25. Dance to the local music, or sing along with the local songs. Dancing and singing in public are much more common activities in most of the world, so join in!
26. Go check out the touristy things — or forget all your guidebook "must-sees." It's really up to you. This is your trip and your experience. Do what you want to do, whether that's everything you can get to or almost nothing. For example, I went to Paris and never really left the Marais district; I wanted to relax and eat good food and see my father and sit in cafes. I'll visit the Louvre some other time ... or not. Nobody can see everything in the world, so make sure what you experience is what you care about.