Travel writer Breanna Wilson has never been afraid to go solo. Whether she’s motorcycling through Mongolia or tasting wine in Georgia, her intrepid spirit has led her on an array of incredible journeys—many of them planned and executed without a traveling companion. With a column in Forbes, Wilson is an expert in traveling to the world’s most remote destinations. Even after breaking her collarbone while traveling through Mongolia, she continued her journey through the steppes, certainly reaching her goal of “finding the world’s most badass adventures.”
What I love most about travel that takes people to less-than-typical places is that it gives travelers a chance to form an opinion of that place and their experience for themselves.Breanna Wilson
Now, she’s helping others to feel the empowerment of conquering new terrains and diving headfirst into new experiences through her tour company, Breanna Wilson’s Tours for Travel Badasses. Eschewing more popular destinations, Wilson is dedicated to highlighting lesser-known spots on the map, including Georgia, Mongolia, and Ukraine. Her tours feature activities like entering the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, driving a tank in Kyiv, and taking a street art walking tour in Ulaanbaatar—activities you won’t find in a typical city guide.
We caught up with Wilson to find out what it takes to go it alone, and how we can all feel empowered on our own personal adventures.
Why did you decide to start documenting your travels? Was there a moment or place that stood out to you?
I actually never intended to be doing what I do today. I didn’t even know this could be a job. I kind of fell into it. I didn’t even start with documenting my travels—I first started in the food and cocktail scene, chronicling my adventures around Los Angeles where I was living at the time, looking for the things that were a little less ordinary. Eventually I started to become known around town because I was always searching, eating, and drinking, the weird stuff—tripe tacos, pork fat-washed bourbon (which became a huge trend), uni linguine, heart and liver yakitori—that kind of stuff.
Because of that—and my degree and background in digital marketing—I finally pitched an online publication and got my first ongoing writing gig. I became the go-to expert on all things food and drink in Los Angeles and it just kind of morphed from there as I got more curious about the world and the cultures where a lot of these foods were coming from.
You often travel alone. What are some of the biggest hurdles you face as a solo traveler, and how do you overcome them?
For one, traveling alone can be exhausting—and oftentimes overwhelming. When it’s just you, you have to do all the research, all the planning and booking, and all the problem solving when something goes wrong, often making decisions without a second opinion on the fly. You get better at this the more often you do it—but I’ve learned the value of travel agents, asking for help, and taking my travels a little bit slower the hard way.
You have to learn what works best for you and what makes you feel the most comfortable when you’re alone on the road—always listen to your gut and your body—they’re usually telling you something for a reason.
What tips would you offer to female solo travelers? What items should they pack, where should they stay, how can they travel fearlessly?
By nature, I’m a very independent person—I’ve always enjoyed being alone. But even though I enjoy my alone time and don’t mind being by myself, traveling solo still gets lonely. So, here’s what I do when I start to feel a little bit down:
I take myself out to eat. I’ll do a little bit of research beforehand and find a restaurant that offers bar seating. Sitting at the bar gives me a chance to get into conversations with the bartenders and waiters, or even other solo diners who know this trick, too.
Never underestimate the power of a phone call or video chat. Just hearing a familiar person’s voice and talking about something other than the basics of who you are and why you’re traveling alone (something I explain at least a few times a week) can do wonders for your soul.
And when it comes to packing, I live and die by the rule that if I can’t carry it (as in, pick it up and walk up a flight of steps), it isn’t coming with me. This means l’ve mastered living out of a carry-on. When you’re traveling alone, you’re in charge of getting your bags everywhere—up steps, onto trains, into cars—so the easier time you have handling your bags, the better. Plus, you realize quickly you don’t even wear most of the clothes that you pack anyways. And if you do—well, most hotels have a laundry service that you pay for by the piece.
Traveling confidently and fearlessly comes as you do these things—you should feel proud about finding a restaurant and eating a meal alone. And getting your carry-on bag up to that fourth floor walk-up Airbnb you rented for yourself.
How does travel empower you?
The feeling when a trip ends—a trip that you researched, planned, and had once-in-a-lifetime, limit-pushing experiences on—nothing makes you feel more badass.
I just spent a few days in Kazakhstan, and when I crossed climbing and bouldering Big Almaty Peak, a 12,000-foot, snow-covered mountain, off of the list of things that I wanted to do while I was there, I felt on top of the world. Quite literally.
What has been the biggest challenge in pursuing a freelance travel career? What do you like about it?
The biggest challenge by far has been balance. Freelance travel writing is the dream career—but there’s an endless amount of competition. I am by no means the greatest writer in the world—I’m well aware of that. My determination and drive have been the sole factors in getting me where I am today.
But that determination and drive means that I’m almost always “on,” and that fear of being replaced means that I’m always trying to stay one step ahead, constantly pitching and coming up with new ways of getting travel stories across as social media grows and channels change.
But that’s also what I love about this career—because I’m constantly pushing myself, I’m constantly surprised by what I’m able to do, and the opportunities that I’ve been able to create for myself. What other career will pay you to channel your inner cowboy and be a part of a buffalo round-up in South Dakota for a few days?
What was your favorite destination this year and why? What should people know about it?
It’s a place where people have a respect for nature and wildlife unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. And a place where nomadic tribes still exist—tribes here still use reindeer and semi-wild horses to get around, living happily with their entire family under the roof of one ger (yurt) or teepee, herding these animals across the remotest and harshest parts of the steppe. Their ability to survive off of the land and thrive in these elements has taught me so much, but it has also put into perspective the amount of unnecessary waste that we’re generating as a population and consequently the amount of irreversible damage that we’re doing to our beautiful planet.
To keep up with Breanna, follow her on Instagram @breannajwilson.