If you’re a first time traveler and female, you may feel overwhelmed by your decision to travel alone. Knots in your stomach. Doubts racing like horses through your mind. Mumbles of “am I crazy?” under your breath. It’s easy to fall into the trap of self-doubt. Is the world safe for solo female travelers?
Ladies, I feel your pain. I have strolled in your shaky shoes many, many, many times throughout these last couple of years. I’ve experienced judgement from people in my life, and questioned my own sanity regarding solo travel. Was I foolish? Would I look like a loser who had no friends or (worse still) no significant other? Was I making a mistake?
You’re not making a mistake! Stay strong. As for me, I debated venturing to Scotland on my own for weeks, but going on the trip turned out to be one of the best things for mending my self-esteem.
So I decided to compile a beginners guide to solo female travel to help everyone who’s just starting to dip their toes into this amazing, amazing, amazing world. Enjoy!
Why is it important to travel alone as a woman?
As a female who travels alone, you’re breaking gender stereotypes like crazy, and even though it’s not necessarily your responsibility to change people’s minds about equality, your impact still means a lot. It’s also important that women of all races, sexualities, ages, sizes, and nationalities see the world. I can only write about my perspective, which obviously doesn’t speak to the experiences of all women. The more boundary breaking information available, the better.
Furthermore, as women, at least in the United States, we’re told to think about other people before ourselves, and to remain cautious at all times. We’re told not to take risks. Perhaps not explicitly, but comments like “won’t your boyfriend be mad?” or “what will you do when you have kids?” play into unfair mindset.
Stomp that nonsense into the ground.
Further Reading – Why All Women Need to Travel Alone
What essentials should I not forget?
When I think of “essentials,” I don’t think “beauty products” or a “cute pair of shoes.” I love my makeup too, but you won’t fail as a traveler if you forget to pack your mascara. I’m referencing stuff that will either ruin or cancel your trip. Never head to the airport without the following necessities …
- An up-to-date passport if you plan on international travel. Even if your passport doesn’t expire for another six months, still check out your destination’s entry and exit requirements. You may need to renew.
- Applying and paying for visas if applicable. Visas aren’t fun, but they’re part of the world of travel. Take care of any applications and fees in advance. Sometimes the visa process consists of a quick online application, but other times, it requires an in-person interview at a consulate or embassy.
- Medical prescriptions. See your doctor if you need medication on your travels. Depending on your destination(s), you may want to check CDC’s travelers’ health website before you go. You could need extra medicine, like anti-malarial pills, or vaccinations. Lastly, renew prescriptions for birth control if you’re traveling long term. Access is very limited in some countries.
- A good backpack and suitcase. Find luggage that’s lightweight and suitable for multiple weather conditions. Here’s some more information on choosing the best women’s backpacks.
- Travel insurance. No, this isn’t optional. If you fall off a mountain ledge and need a helicopter to take you to the hospital, you’ll need to win the lottery to pay off those bills. Honestly, if you’re not willing to pay for insurance, you probably shouldn’t travel. I use World Nomads for my trips.
- A phone call to your bank. Let you bank know about your travel plans, or you may have a nasty surprise when you can’t withdraw cash at the ATM machine.
- An extra credit card. Let’s say you bring one credit card that gets stolen or lost. Can we say SOL? Bring another card. Keep it safely tucked away in your suitcase or locked in your hostel/hotel.
Further Reading – 10 Important Things to Know Before You Travel Solo
What safety precautions should you take?
It is true women have to travel differently than men. The risk of sexual assault always lingers in our minds – which sucks. However, we take a lot of precautions at home, too. Our world isn’t one-hundred percent equal, and I don’t know about you, but I’d rather exercise caution someplace new and exciting, like London, Prague, or Tokyo, instead of a boring suburban town in the middle of nowhere. Just sayin’.
Besides, solo female travel isn’t nearly as dangerous as the media and concerned family/friends make it out to be.
Disclaimer: I know none of these safety tips provide a guarantee against some jerk who wishes another person harm. I know a woman (or anyone else) doesn’t “deserve” to fall victim of a crime because of time, place, or dress. Like most sane individuals, victim-blaming makes me sick. However, these suggestions could help you have a more relaxing and enjoyable trip.
- Be more aware at night. I’m not gonna tell you to never leave your accommodation after the sun sets. That’s just ridiculous. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing a city aglow? When I traveled alone to Paris, I took an evening walking tour in Montmartre that was lovely. However, you should still remain aware of your surroundings and take a cab if necessary. This tip is also location dependent. Large international cities, like New York, always have people wandering and laughing in the streets. Therefore, walking at night is usually fine. Just research neighborhoods and crime rates ahead of time. Speaking of which …
- Familiarize yourself with crime rates. Most cities have areas that aren’t great safety wise. Know them ahead of time. But what if you’re unsure? Or get lost? For me, if I’m in an area I’m unfamiliar with, I usually scan for little kids and young mothers. Why? I figure if young children are around and unbothered, then the neighborhood can’t be that bad.
- Dress modestly. Argh, this tip pisses me off, but sadly dressing a certain way in certain countries will lead to stares, cat calling, and other stupid rage inducing forms of harassment. You might as well make things easier on yourself and err towards modesty, especially if you’re visiting more traditional parts of the world.
- Know the address of your local embassy or consulate. This is especially handy if you lose your passport or have a serious emergency.
- Leave your itinerary with friends and family. I always leave a rough itinerary behind. It’s simply good sense.
- Don’t flash your valuables. I really don’t care if your fiance bought you the biggest engagement bling ever, or if you just splurged at Saks for a “super cute” Chanel bag. I love fashion and jewelry, too. Perhaps too much, given the state of my closet. But save yourself the trouble and leave that crap at home. Valuables make you a target.
- Use common sense. Don’t think I need to elaborate much here.
Further Reading – Scared to Travel? Book A Tour
How should you reassure your loved ones?
Odds are, you’re gonna have friends or family expressing their concerns. Too many people think the world is not safe for solo female travelers. Listen to them. Even if you think their reasons are overdramatic and silly, you’re not going to score any points if you respond using anger or sarcasm. Here’s my advice for combating concern.
- Show them all your research. Use Lonely Planet and Rough Guides, as well as current information from travel blogs to compile a small research packet. Then calmly answer any questions.
- Promise to stay in touch. Get a phone plan and contact your family every day. A quick text can work wonders. I still text my parents every day that I’m away. Is it excessive? I don’t think so. It takes two minutes and makes everyone happy.
- Go anyway. If you’re paying for your trip and are no longer dependent on parents, then you need to do what’s best for you and go.
Further Reading – 5 Ways to Reassure Worried Family and Friends About Traveling
How can I make friends?
Solo travel doesn’t mean you’ll never speak to a soul in your new destination. Actually, it’s hard NOT to go a day without interacting with someone. There are many ways to meet other people. Staying in hostels immediately offer a built-in circle of friends. Be selective when picking a hostel. Read reviews. Be sure your hostel has the amenities that you’re seeking.
Book day trips or walking tours, and you’ll come into contact with other solo travelers looking to make friends. Use Couchsurfing’s city forums to meet people for coffee or lunch. Just weed out the creepers. Have a travel blog? Post in facebook groups and meet other bloggers. If you’re at a hostel, chill in the common room and make conversations. The possibilities are endless.
Also I haven’t tried Bumble BFF for traveling, but might experiment with it on my upcoming spring jaunt to Austin in April. For those who don’t know, Bumble BFF is a phone app that helps you connect with other women who are searching for friends.
Further Reading – Nervous Girl’s Guide to Meeting People when Traveling
Are you a solo female traveler? What’s your experience been like? What other information would you add to this guide? Also, some links are affiliate links, because such is the cost of webspace, haha.