More and more people are preferring to travel solo and experts predict that the burgeoning trend won’t be dying down any time soon.
According to a 2019 research, over 60% of Americans have either traveled solo already or would consider doing so. And women are leading the charge. A recent survey by Booking.com reveals that 65% of women in the US are going on a vacation on their own. Meanwhile, another study conducted by Visa highlights that one in five women worldwide have traveled solo, with millennial women outnumbering non-millennial females.
While the idea of packing your bag and embarking on a solo adventure trip might seem exciting, even easy (thanks to social media), going on a trip alone for the first time can be a bit challenging. But don’t let your fears hold you back! Just follow these expert-approved tips for a safe and comfortable solo female travel experience:
- Do your homework: Before you set off for your trip, do your research about the place you’re planning to visit. Find out what’s the exchange rate, customs restrictions and visa requirements, how’s their public transportation system, what cell phone plan you should buy, which neighborhoods you should avoid, safety precautions to take, local emergency contacts to save on your phone, etc. For more reliable, first-hand details, chat with fellow travelers and locals online via travel forums like TripAdvisor and Facebook travel groups. In addition, look up their local customs and traditions so you can carry yourself accordingly. “One of the easiest ways to attract the wrong type of attention is to wear clothing and to carry yourself in a very different way than the local women. Avoiding outfits that scream “Tourist!” is some pretty obvious advice,” writes Kiki, a California-based travel blogger and founder of The Blonde Abroad. “I’ve adopted a ‘watch first, speak second’ approach, so that I can show as much respect to the local culture as possible”, says Gloria Atanmo, travel influencer and creator of popular travel blog, The Blog Abroad. In addition, “try to learn a few words and phrases in the local language. For instance, how to introduce yourself, greet someone, ask for directions, etc. It can make a huge difference,” says Hélène Coyan, French travel photographer and blogger who has been to more than 40 countries so far.
- Book In Advance: While it’s a good idea to keep your itinerary flexible, avoid the temptation to procrastinate till the last moment when it comes to booking flights and accommodation. Do your research and make the bookings ahead of time as it’s more economic and convenient. To save more money, “try to catch those ungodly, red-eye flights for the long-haul journeys,” suggests Atanmo. “I always try to save a night’s hotel rent by arriving in the morning or noon and flying overnight so I can sleep on the plane,” she tells. For cheaper accomodation, opt for a solo-friendly B&B or a hostel. “Hostels are an amazing way to meet new people while you’re traveling solo. And they are cost effective as well,” says Tiana Bantis, a Toronto-based travel blogger and photographer who has backpacked through 17 countries till now. “Most hostels organize events at night so you can meet other travelers,” she tells. If you feel skeptical, opt for a women-only hostel as they often have more stringent security arrangements and women-only staff.
- Pack light: To save money (and your sanity) while traveling alone, travel light. Firstly, use packing cubes to store your clothes and accessories. “They’re inexpensive, light and a total game changer in keeping things organized,” says Bantis. “They will stop you from madly sorting through all your possessions just to find a clear pair of socks,” agrees Czech travel influencer and blogger, Sabina Trojanova. Secondly, save space by packing clothes that can be worn in multiple ways. “For instance, a dress that can also be turned into a shirt when you wear it with a long skirt. Or, a scarf that can also be worn as a headwrap or a shawl,” suggests Atanmo. “I also never travel without a big scarf, which can double up as a pillow, head covering or even a blanket,” notes Trojanova. In addition, “you should also carry a day bag in which you can fit all of your important items like your passport, camera, medication, credit cards, smartphone, and other valuables. Whether you’re on a plane or in a bathroom stall, make sure you’ve this bag with you at all times,” says Kate McCulley, a New York-based travel blogger who has visited more than 70 countries so far. Plus, make sure you’re carrying backup copies of all essential travel documents on your phone, computer and in your luggage.
- Share your itinerary with someone you trust: Always keep at least one trusted contact (a friend, family member or a colleague back home) in the loop when you’re traveling alone, suggests Coyan. Keep them informed about your accomodation and flight details, full itinerary, credit card and travel insurance details, etc. In addition, share the front desk number of your accomodation with them for emergency purposes. “Plan ahead of time how you’ll check in and how often. Whether it’s through daily emails, texts, social media updates, or regular Skype chats. Whatever you choose to do, make sure you keep a consistent schedule. Staying in touch is a way to assuage the fears of your loved ones, but if you find yourself in trouble, they would also be able to locate you much more easily than if you had been vague about your whereabouts,” says McCulley.
- Act like you know where you are and what you’re doing: Try not to look scared, lost or confused when you’re going somewhere as it makes you seem vulnerable. If you think you’ve lost your way or feel uncertain, seek help from someone reliable. “The key is confidence, especially when it comes to safety. Even if you’ve no idea where you’re going or feel unsure about the route, keep your head up and act like you know exactly where you are headed. This way, you’re less likely to look like a potential target,” says Bantis.
- Trust your instincts: When you’re traveling alone, it’s crucial to stay cautious and read situations in an instant. If something feels off, walk away from that place or person immediately. “When you travel solo, you and your needs are all that matter,” says Jackie Nourse, founder of adventure travel and lifestyle blog, Traveling Jackie, who has been globetrotting on her own for over four years. “Always trust your gut. You’ve every right to change hotels, get out of a cab, fly to a different city, or walk away from someone or some place if you feel the need to,” adds Nourse. “When I was in Tallinn, Estonia, I woke up early one morning to take pictures outside. It was around 7 a.m. and there were very few people on the streets. About five minutes into shooting, a man walked up from behind me and went to stand in front of the church I was taking photos of. He just stood there at the back and kept staring at me. I got a little nervous, so I grabbed my things and moved to the other side of the church. When he followed me again and tried talking to me in broken english, I politely greeted him and left the place immediately,” tells Bantis. “I learnt from that experience that I need to always stay alert and leave the area immediately if I ever feel uncomfortable or unsafe there,” she adds.
- Keep an eye on your belongings: Always keep your most important personal belongings (like phone, passport and wallet) within reach and take them out of your bag only when necessary. Stay more vigilant in crowded spaces. “Never put these items into your general backpack. Also, don’t put any of those items into your checked luggage on a plane or in the luggahe hold of the bus. If you let them out of your sight, there’s a fair chance that they could be taken away from you forever,” suggests McCulley. “I was hanging out one night, while on a solo trip to South America, and realized that my phone got stolen from my bag,” tells Coyan. “I remember crying the whole night and asking myself why I was so careless. I learnt from that experience to be more careful and carry only a limited number of personal belongings with me. And to never keep all the stuff in one place,” she says.
- Prioritize safety: If possible, opt for day tours. Even if you’re exploring on your own, travel during daytime. Plus, “avoid walking by yourself late at night,” suggests Trojanova. And carry a safety whistle or pepper spray (if it’s legal in that country) at all times. For commuting, “I personally prefer using Uber, Taxify, Grabr or any other app that provides the driver’s details,” says Atanmo. You should also have local emergency numbers and your accomodation details with you wherever you go (and never ever share the latter with anyone you meet). Also, even though it seem obvious, buy a travel insurance. “We sometimes think we don’t need it, but you never know when things could go wrong,” says Coyan. “I was involved in a shipwreck in Indonesia in 2011. The boat hit a reef in the middle of the night and we had to jump out and swim to shore. I survived financially because I had slept next to a dry bag with my debit card and phone in it, and was able to swim with it,” tells McCulley. “As harrowing an experience as it was, it taught me so much. Now, I always travel with a dry bag. Also, I no longer take boats at night in developing countries and I always make friends when in tour groups so someone will be looking for me if things go wrong,” she adds.
- Don’t get wasted: It might seem obvious but getting blitzed drunk while you’re traveling alone is a big no-no. “I always make sure that I limit my alcohol consumption to two drinks and make sure that I’ve someone to go back to the hostel with at night to avoid being a target on the streets,” says Bantis. And of course, “never leave your drink unguarded”, adds Trojanova.
- Spend extra money on staying safe: It’s important to budget extra money toward staying safe. “It means that if your flight is scheduled to land in a rough city late at night, you should spend more money on a guesthouse that will pick you up right from the airport instead of taking a bus into town and trying to find a guesthouse on foot. It means paying more to stay in a central neighborhood with lots of lively activity instead of a cheaper, quiet residential area where you feel isolated. It means you should choose the dive school with the stellar safety reputation and hundreds of positive TripAdvisor reviews instead of the rough-around-the-edges dive school that will do it for much cheaper,” explains McCulley. “Build an extra financial cushion into your trip and use it for situations like these — ones where you could be a little bit safer if you spent a little more,” she points out.
“For your first solo trip, maybe head to a place that’s considered an easier destination, where they speak the same language, have a small population or are very tourist-friendly, like Iceland or New Zealand before working on to places that can be more challenging, like India or Egypt,” suggests Liz Carlson, a travel blogger who has been solo traveling for more than seven years.
Additionally, download apps like TripWhistle, MAP.ME, bSafe and TripLingo on your phone to make your travel experience more safe and hassle-free.
The pros far outweigh the cons
Traveling to parts unknown on your own can be challenging and intimidating, but the end result is worth the risk.
“Solo travel isn’t too dissimilar for men and women. Yes, women sadly have to face some additional challenges. But I believe dwelling on our differences doesn’t serve us well. The rhetoric often puts so much emphasis on safety that it acts as a deterrent,” says Trojanova. “Would I advise against visiting an active war zone? Yes, of course. It’s important to do your research. But, for the most part, the world isn’t some terrifying place only the bravest of the brave can explore. Most countries are full of regular people just going about their daily lives. If it’s good enough for the locals, it’s good enough for me,” notes the travel blogger.
Moreover, “from my experience, people usually go out of their way to help solo female travellers stay safe. This is doubly true in places that don’t get many visitors,” she says. “For example, a rural town in Ethiopia can be a safer place to visit than many neighbourhoods in London or New York,” Trojanova explains.
Here are a few more reasons why you should consider embarking on a solo trip:
- It gives you freedom to travel at your own pace. “I love that I can do whatever I want, when I want. I can make my own schedule for the day and really focus on the things that I love doing without compromising with another person and maybe missing out on an activity I really wanted to experience,” says Bantis.
- It helps you reinvent yourself. “We spend the bulk of our lives trying to be the best in whatever roles we play in our lives — best mother, best daughter, best sister, best girlfriend or wife, best co-worker, best boss, etc. And in the midst of it all, we forget the most important role, and that’s being the best ‘You’. As a result, we put our personal development and needs on the back burner,” says Atanmo. “Solo travel allows you to overcome that obstacle by helping you rediscover and reinvent parts of yourself that you’ve silenced for the sake of fulfilling your professional and personal responsibilities,” she explains. “Whether I am prepared for it or not, every solo trip takes me on a journey inward as much as outward. I have learned more about who I am and what my purpose is through traveling the world by myself than I ever possibly could with someone by my side,” adds Nourse.
- It makes you more self-reliant. “Traveling solo teaches you how to be self-sufficient, especially in challenging situations,” says McCulley. For example, when you’re trying to navigate public transportation in a foreign language or when you’re trying to figure out the right route to a place in an unknown city.
- It helps you forge new friendships. “It’s much easier to make new friends when you’re traveling alone because you are more likely to push yourself to meet new people and step out of your comfort zone,” says Coyan. “I used to be extremely shy as a person. Traveling by myself made me work on multiple aspects of my personality — like building confidence to talk to others, learning to stay calm even when I’m surrounded by strangers, etc.,” she adds. “I’ve made life changing friendships in some pretty unlikely places while traveling solo — a refugee camp in Northern Greece, a hostel in Malawi and a university dorm in Russia, to name a few,” tells Trojanova. “And if you happen to be a single solo traveler, you can enjoy dating around the world as well. It’s never been easier!” adds McCulley. “The key is to have an open mind, be humble and strike up conversation with people who are different from you,” Trojanova points out. “A few great ways to meet new people include staying in a hostel, joining a free walking tour, participating in a daily tour or simply going to a bar,” suggests Bantis.
“Some of my most memorable solo travel experiences are actually negative, but I share them to remind people that any isolated experiences you might have in a country shouldn’t dictate your entire opinion of those people, that religion, or the nation altogether,” says Atanmo. “I’ve been denied service at restaurants in Brazil and the Czech Republic, but Brazil remains one of the most vibrant atmospheres I’ve ever experienced, and Czech Republic has one of the most gorgeous towns I’ve ever seen called Czesky Krumlov,” she tells.
“Oftentimes, people’s curiosity with my skin color, hair, or style is simply their lack of exposure to it. So, I find myself more often than not, on the teaching end of some hilarious encounters,” says the travel influencer. “Like for instance, when I was being chased down by a Russian man for an autograph who assumed I was Serena Williams!” Atanmo recalls.
Bottom line is, anything can happen to anyone anywhere, so don’t let fear of the unknown hold you back, says Nourse. “Be smart, be aware and be deliberate. And don’t let the fear of safety stop you from enjoying possibly the greatest experience you could ever gift yourself,” notes the solo travel expert.