I can still remember the most afraid I’ve ever felt when traveling alone. I was waiting in a stopped subway car at the end of the line at night on my way home from drinks with friends. You know when the train sits for a few minutes before it departs again in the other direction? I was the only person in the car when three guys sauntered in, looked straight at me and started with the whole “oh hey baby…” Before I knew it, they came right up to me and blocked me in my seat and tried to put their hands on me.
However, I’ve learned how to read situations, and my only response was a very loud “oh HELL no,” pushing and shoving, and I was out of my seat and running out of the car faster than you could blink, sprinting down the platform until I found another car filled with people. Squeezing myself in the middle of a group, I sat shaking for the ride out of the city, watching at every stop for those guys to get off before I felt any sense of relief.
This wasn’t in Egypt or Bangkok or Peru or Paris or anywhere else that people might tell you it’s dangerous to travel alone as a women. This was literally in my backyard in Washington D.C. where I grew up. I know all too well of the gun violence and gang related crime there, and my instincts told me to run like hell.
It’s been a long time since that moment on the subway – in fact, in some ways it feels like another life. I can’t remember if I have ever shared that on here, but I decided it was time. It’s been way way waaaay too long since I’ve delved into the topic of solo female travel tips on the blog. In fact, I just realized that I am coming up on a decade of solo travel, whaaaat?
I feel like once you start thinking back in decades, you’re old. Does this mean I am getting old? Fuck.
Tangent. Anyways, I have lived and breathed solo female travel so much and for so long it’s second nature to me to the point where it hadn’t even occurred to me to write about it recently. Oops. Sorry about that!
This is a post I’ve been meaning to put together for a long time. I’ve been traveling alone (as a woman HA!) for years and years. I think you could count my very first solo female travel trip way back when in 2007 when I got on a plane alone to Spain to study abroad for a year in Salamanca.
A few months later I booked my first trip alone, a weekend in Paris. Our study abroad group had talked about going and no one wanted to commit, so I just went ahead and booked a flight on my own. I screwed up spectacularly on so many levels on that trip but it didn’t even faze me. I got my first proper taste for travel independence and not having to compromise and I was hooked! In retrospect, Paris probably wasn’t the easiest place to venture on my own but I learned, nothing seriously bad happened and I grew up.
So after thinking long and hard about it, I’ve put together my best tips from almost a decade of traveling alone for you in the hopes that it’ll inspire you (man or woman) to travel solo! Enjoy my solo female travel tips!
1. Trust your instincts
I think the absolute best tip I could give regarding solo female travel is the most vague – trust your instincts. A phrase so common and casually tossed around, it seems almost meaningless, but for me, it has been a lifesaver. Basically I have an unwritten rule that if I feel uncomfortable in any way, shape or form, I’m gone faster than a Twinkie at a weight watchers meeting.
I’m sure it’s different for different people, but I truly like to believe the best in everyone and I’m really open and trust worthy, or gullible as hell as my friends would say. But I’ve learned to listen to the voice in the back of my head if something just doesn’t feel right, and I think that came from years of experience. My advice is always play it safe. And don’t be a dumbass.
2. But take everyone’s advice with a grain of salt
When I decided to go to Turkey on my very first blog trip solo, everyone told me I was crazy and to cancel the trip. I know how sensationalist people can get, especially in the US, about places like Turkey and I took it all with a grain of salt. I checked facts; I did my research, and it seemed perfectly safe to me, especially after all the years of solo travel I had under my belt in Europe and northern Africa. I was ready.
I found Turkey to be one of the friendliest places I’ve ever visited. In fact, it was one of those countries where people went out of their way to help me, even when I didn’t ask. I explored on my own and I never felt threatened, not once. I made plenty of friends while I was there and even now when people ask me where my favorite country is, I often reply that Turkey is at the top of the list.
3. Take baby steps
Thinking about traveling alone but not sure where to start? In my opinion, it’s a good idea to build up your experience levels because your instincts and good decision making skills will come from experience. I’d start by not jumping off the deep end with a month long solo trip in Iran and potentially going away for a weekend on your own somewhere close by. Or head to a place with an established tourism industry that can support you or choosing a destination where you can speak the language. I definitely recommend building up to bigger trips and working on gaining experience first.
Where you go is entirely up to you. You should pick a place that calls to you, where you can experience the kinds of things you’ve dreamed about. It’s your trip after all. But if you want my advice for safe first-time solo spots for women, I would add places like Iceland, New Zealand, Finland- these are all countries with great safety records.
4. Bring a doorstop
I’ve carried a doorstop in my pack since 2011. Why? While not an obvious safety tool, it keeps hotel room doors from being opened (if someone has a key) or ninja kicked in. Also it goes without saying, don’t tell strangers where you are staying. Doop.
5. Also carry a rape whistle
This one is more obvious. Thanks Legal Nomads!
6. Always tell people your travel plans
Even now my mom has all of my flight plans and itineraries. If I don’t post on Instagram for more than a day, I get an “are you alright email.” This doesn’t keep me from going off the grid, but it’s nice to know that someone always knows where I am. Generally.
My dad has also gotten me a personal locator beacon for my birthday, mostly for my missions into the wilderness in New Zealand, a place I like to visit alone. Now I know that if something bad were to happen, I can always call for help and hopefully get my ass rescued off a mountain. If you’re like me and enjoy going off the grid anywhere in the world, PBL’s are lifesavers. Literally.
7. Respect the local culture and law – even if you don’t agree with it
This lesson took a while for me to learn – and only after I was basically accosted in Egypt 5 years ago for wearing a dress that showed my lower legs. Whether or not I agree with covering up or being modest, ultimately I enjoying visiting places around the world that sometimes have a stricter dress code for women. Hell yes it’s unfair, I was raised in a liberal place and I feel like I should have the right to walk around in my underwear if I wished to. But that’s a conversation for a different day. When I am in a conservative place, I dress the part. Long loose pants, long sleeves, no boobs, and scarves even when it’s boiling outside. After numerous trips to the Middle East, I find long loose clothing more comfortable in the heat anyways.
There is safety in blending in.
In some places it’s ok to dress more western unless you are visiting a temple or a church. Familiarize yourself with traditions like this before you leave and if you aren’t sure, check with a local or someone who has more experience with the place. And don’t forget to behave in a way that won’t get you in trouble with the law. No sexy times on the beach in Dubai or criticizing the government of Indonesia on social media.
8. Be careful about how open you are
I’m also careful to tame down my chatty side with men. This is just a fact, but in some countries speaking with men openly as you would do back home is considered an invitation. While it absolutely shits me to say it, it’s true. The same with eye contact. I’ve become accustomed to making eye contact with people to show that I am engaged and focused, or when I walk down the street I am used to smiling at people and making eye contact sometimes. But I found that in some countries, like Egypt, doing that was basically a “come at me boys” call. No idea why, but it was for me. Took a couple of days for me to stop it, and things eased up.
This also means keep your mouth shut about things that could lead to trouble. Like I never tell people, especially men, where I am staying and I certainly never let anyone come back with me or follow me. When I post about hotels on social media it’s always after I have left. Be smart.
9. But don’t be afraid to meet the locals
Again, this is a lesson that just comes with experience and learning to read situations and being able to trust your gut. One of the absolute best parts of travel are those moments and conversations you have with locals that you meet, and if you are scared of everyone or don’t want to open up, you’ll miss out on them. What a shame.
Be openminded. Be cautious but open to meeting new people. I’ve had many a great dinner with someone’s family because of that and taking a chance and I’ve made lifelong friends from backpacking around the world. I know I am contradicting myself here, but ultimately it all relays back to my main message of just trust your gut.
10. Don’t let people tell you that you’re selfish for wanting to travel alone
My final tip for solo travelers is one that I haven’t heard very often. I have no idea why, but somehow we have come to live in a culture that often tries to bring people down when they want to venture off the more established life path. And for some reason, most of the criticism I personally get from it comes from other women. I don’t understand it, why can’t we be more supportive of each other?
The most frequent thing I am told is that I am selfish. Selfish to leave my family and to follow my dreams. Crazy to want to see the world alone. When am I going to get a real job? I’m sorry but I am sick of it. Encourage me, don’t bring me down.
Traveling the world solo is one of the best things you can ever do. It opens doors and empowers at the same time. You meet people in ways you never would have otherwise. It’s very rewarding, trust me.
Have you ever traveled solo? Do you have any tips of your own to share? Spill!