I don’t claim to be any expert on solo female travel, but people I meet during my travels are often confused/amazed that I’m completely okay with travelling alone. In Hawaii people seemed to think of me as a mystical unicorn genie for travelling alone, and I was even singled out during events (like at a luau). In reality, there are SO many benefits to travelling alone (and not just as a woman): you’re more open to meeting new people, you can work with your own schedule, and you can be as flexible as you like.
So if you’re interesting in travelling alone as a woman, here are some pointers to make things a bit more comfortable.
Other than sightseeing and doing fun things and being culturally immersed when you’re travelling, finding accommodations is one of the most important parts of travel. I personally prefer hostels, because if I’m travelling alone I like to meet people and hostels give you the perfect opportunity to do so. Many of the people I’ve met in hostels have remained my friends over the years. If you prefer to meet locals, Couchsurfing is the way to go.
If you’re not comfortable with hostels, most hotels are safe and secure options for travel, but it’ll drain your bank account quickly. If you’re worried about finding yourself in a shady part of town, just do a quick Google search about the property. Airbnb is another great option for comfortable (and sometimes luxurious) accommodations where you rent a room or space from a person living in your destination. If you’re nervous about doing so, make sure you book an Airbnb with more than five positive reviews. These reviews generally don’t lead people astray.
Personally, one of my favourite ways to travel is by small group tour with a focus on budget travel for young people. You’ll always find a wonderfully diverse group of people on these tours, and since you’re in close quarters all the time, you’ll make friends quickly. This is also great if you’re travelling to an area you’re a little unsure of. Nervous about India, or Asia? A group tour is the perfect way to have your hand held through the whole thing. There’s no shame in this – you’re guaranteed to see all the biggest sites, and you don’t have to worry too much about where you’re going to lay your head or where you’re going to eat. Let someone else do all the hard work.
The downside, of course, is that often you don’t have a lot of flexibility to do your own thing. And since you ARE in tight quarters for so long, it’s easy to get irritated by everyone around you…especially if you need your own space.
When I started travelling Greece last year, I was really intimidated by Athens. Big cities scare the heck out of me, and sometimes it takes me awhile to adjust. So I booked a private tour in Greece with a local guide and had an extremely fantastic day poking into all of Athens’ nooks and crannies. My guide took me to her favourite places to eat, and I learned a great deal about the city in the process. In fact, we even became friends – my guide introduced me to her friends, and even took me out to dinner.
Sometimes it may be a little pricey to hire a private guide but the personalized experience is totally worth it. Not convinced? Read up on why tour guides are better than guidebooks.
It’s not that you want to have a really rigid schedule when you travel, but it’s a good idea to know where you’re staying or where you’ll be in advance. Generally I’ll send my mother an email with all the details so that if she doesn’t hear from me in a few days she can figure out where I am or where I’m supposed to be staying, and she’ll be able to reach me in case of an emergency.
Knowing that SOMEONE knows where you’ll be will definitely give you some peace of mind.
I get annoyed when people offer advice on how to stay safe in a supposedly dangerous place, like when I travelled to Central America recently. You’ll find it’s always general well-meaning advice like “don’t walk down any dark alleyways” or “don’t get too drunk at a bar.” First of all: there’s a bit of victim blaming in such suggestions. Secondly, how is this any different from how I behave in my own city?
Life is risky, no matter where you are in the world. If you’re aware of your surroundings and if you’re staying away from unsafe areas, you’ll be fine. If you get lost somewhere, try to find a restaurant or establishment where you can ask for directions. When you withdraw cash from an ATM, do so on a busy street. Some simple adjustments will really help make your trip easier.
This is a pretty obvious one, but it’s worth highlighting time and time again. Depending on where you’re visiting, it’s important to know about cultural norms beforehand. For example, if you’re travelling in the Middle East, dressing modestly and blending in with the crowd is a must-do. It’s not because you’ll be unsafe, necessarily – it’s more of a sign of respect. But standing out in a crowd can be risky, regardless.
You’ll find that in many countries male catcalling is an accepted norm as well. This doesn’t make it okay in the slightest, but prepare yourself for whistles, comments, and sometimes stares. Central America was pretty bad for such catcalling, in my opinion. But it was mostly harmless and non-threatening, just demeaning and cringe-worthy.
But these issues are relevant anywhere in the world. Believe it or not, a huge number of my friends have had the most problems with catcalling and aggression in Paris – a very modern and westernized city.
If something feels wrong, always trust your instinct. Of course your instinct may not always be right, but I’ve often found it to be dead on. If a travel deal seems too good to be true, for example, it probably is. And you’re not any more likely to get scammed in a developing country than you are in, say, Disney World.
This also applies to certain people you meet along the way. If you feel wary about someone, there’s probably a good reason why. Whether it’s a taxi driver or just a random person in the street, if your gut instinct tells you to run along, you run along.
It seems like a small thing, but dining alone was one of the hardest things to adjust to while travelling alone. For awhile I’d just show up and find a table alone in a corner – which is about the loneliest thing in the world. I found that servers also seemed surprised when I asked for a table for one, or they’d make more of an effort to talk to me, or whatever. But I think dining alone is becoming more normal.
What I do now: I always bring a good book or a notepad and pen. I like giving the illusion that I’m deeply immersed in something (and a good book does help). But sometimes it’s just a great deal of fun to sit back and people watch. You can eat slower and enjoy savouring a good meal. I also LOVE eating at the bar in a restaurant – the atmosphere is much more sociable and welcoming, and you never know what kind of interesting characters you’ll meet! (I once flirted with a professional sailboat racer over a meal. It was great.)
This isn’t always the easiest thing to do, as many cheaper flights tend to arrive late in the evening or at erratic hours. But if you can, try to plan your flight arrival (or however you’re getting to your destination) for during daylight hours. You’ll be less disoriented in a new place, and naturally more people will be around to help you out during the daytime, should you get lost or in trouble.