If you have the heart of an adventurer, traveling alone is an excellent way to see the world on your terms.
But it can also be scary, particularly if you’re a woman concerned about her safety while exploring far-flung corners of the globe without the comfort and security of a company.
So how do you plan your first solo trip? What’s the best way to feel secure in a hotel room without a companion? How to feel safe while hopping in a taxi at night? Find the answers below, and bon voyage!
1. First Time Traveling Solo? Ease Into the Waters
If you’re about to embark on your first international trip, make it easy on yourself and go with a semi-organized tour, such as Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, Stray Travel, or EXO Travel—between these, there are a zillion different options to choose from.
Another plus? These companies don’t charge you extra for traveling alone and, instead, will pair you with another solo traveler. (Though you can also choose to pay a supplemental fee if you want your own room.)
Yes, you can plan trips for less than what it costs to join a group. But, again, it can be money well spent to have the first two weeks of your trip planned out with instant friends, instant roomies and someone showing you the ropes of travel, such as how to get a train ticket when you’re not fluent in the local language.
Think of your first organized trip as training wheels. In a few weeks, you’ll be cool to take them off, have your confidence up, and may well have even met some friends to travel with next time.
2. Already There and Feeling Uncomfortable? Join a Day Tour
Day tours are a perfect compromise if you’re feeling like a fish out of the water, but don’t want to commit to an itinerary for your entire trip.
Lonely Planet (both online or in print) lists day tours and activities for almost every destination. If you don’t have access to either, check the front lobby area of hotels or hostels, as they’re usually flush with brochures advertising activities.
Depending on where you are and personal interests, you may be more interested in an adventure tour such as zip lining. My preference is to take a cooking class since you often go as a group to purchase ingredients from the market.
Doing so gives you a chance to observe how your instructor goes about shopping, haggling, and picking out options for cheaper eats throughout your trip.
3. Cover Up and Dress Conservatively
When you’re traveling solo, it’s especially tempting to wear your summertime best (be it strapless sundresses or cut-offs and crop tops) for selfies. But outside western countries, these outfits aren’t necessarily appropriate.
It’s an uncomfortable truth, but how you dress while traveling makes a big difference in your comfort and safety—as well as what cultural activities you can participate in. If you don’t look like the locals, wearing revealing clothing will only elicit catcalls, staring, glares and maybe even groping.
What to pack? If you’re heading somewhere warm, embrace thin fabrics that can keep you cool while providing full coverage. I stick to long pants, maxi skirts, three-quarter length tissue t-shirts, a scarf (dresses up any outfit and hides your chest) and flats.
See Also: You’ve Been Packing Wrong All Along
4. Walk With Confidence
When you’re walking around a new city, it’s tempting to toddle along, looking from your opened guidebook to the street signs, pausing to peruse the market goods, stopping to soak up the ambiance of this new place.
Which you should totally do! But, when taking your usual route or going to a particular destination, you should walk there briskly and stalk the streets like you’re a force to be reckoned with.
If you’ve got to reference a map in your guide book, make a copy of it (or just rip it out of your book) tuck it into your pocket and reference it when you’re in a cafe or bathroom, not standing on the street corner looking confused.
Hold yourself like you’re not someone to be trifled with, and people will respond accordingly.
5. Stare Into Middle Distance
This is a slightly depressing one. But, if you’re visiting a place where locals have been exposed to years of western media and western women’s very sexualized image, it’s been my experience that some men will feel more comfortable being forward—and downright disrespectful.
They’ll probably stare at you, they’ll probably talk about you, and they might yell at you or make super disgusting noises in your direction.
You have no obligation to smile or make eye contact. You’re not culturally insensitive by feeling disgusted. Instead, don’t look at them. Don’t talk to them. Don’t make eye contact.
It took me several uncomfortable interactions to learn, but in lots of cultures, smiling and making 15 minutes of conversation indicates a degree of romantic interest.
When you’re walking past a group of men that look dicey, try to position yourself out of arm’s reach. Restrict your smiles and small talk to boys below the age of 10 and women.
At the same time, if you’re hiking to a Nepalese village, try not to be creeped out if people stare. They’re probably intrigued because you’re something of an oddity and would be just as likely to stare at a sheep dressed in a bowler hat walking down the road.
6. Be Vague About Where You’re Staying
Sometimes a casual conversation will lead to a question about where you’re staying, or where you are headed next.
It’s wise to stay purposefully vague or have a (faux) backup hotel in mind for those situations when you’ll be asked and need to answer off the cuff.
See Also: Romance Scams That Target Solo Tourists
7. Money Solves Almost Any Problem—Use It
Does your hotel give you the heebie-jeebies? Upgrade to different accommodations.
Did you map out a walking route that looks scary, now that you’ve arrived? Hail a taxi.
Does the town that you’re touring have a different, sketchy vibe at night? Skip the street food and order room service.
Even if you’re not traveling on a shoestring budget, most of us hate spending when we could save. But money can always be earned back—your safety can’t.
Whenever you get that feeling in your gut that signals caution, don’t be afraid to say “This isn’t working.” Then, whip out your wallet and fix the problem instead of forcing yourself to remain uncomfortable.
8. Share a Calendar of Your Expected Itinerary
I use Google Calendar, but there are plenty of date-setting apps that allow you to write out where you’ll likely be on which days. Or, you can even write it down in an email!
Just make sure to share with at least two or three people: your parents, significant other, and best friends are a great start.
Sure, you might find that you stay a little longer in one place, or leave another early. But, at least by sharing, those who love you will have a rough estimate of where you’ll be during any given period.
9. Make a Fake Phone Call
Hopping in a taxi is an inexpensive and convenient way to get around in many countries. But taking them at night, especially on your own, can be a bit dangerous.
Instead of installing unnecessary fear by relating horror stories, I’ll just share a smart solution that a Mexican friend taught me.
If you find yourself out late and in need of transport, flag down a taxi and jump in. Once you’re settled in the back, take out your cell phone, pretend to dial and say to the imaginary person on the other end and say:
“Hi, Mom. Yes, I’m on my way home, I’m in the taxi now. His registration number is... and his name is.... Yes, I’m sure it’s fine. See you soon!”
Of course, you could actually call someone, but if you haven’t got a local cell phone or anyone to call, this is a good stand in.
Don’t have a phone on you? You can even pretend that your digital camera is a cell—it's dark, they’re not going to notice!
10. Install a Tracker App
Not big on sending emails to check-in? If your travel plans include multiple days where you’ll be by yourself and loved ones are concerned about your safety, consider downloading a tracker app.
Glympse and Life360 Family Locator are two that allow you to share real-time locations or check into a predetermined spot.
Life360 also has a built-in “panic” option that sends out an emergency beacon to designated emails, text, and phones with the exact location of your GPS coordinates. Both are available for iOS and Android.
11. Learn Some Choice Phrases
“Leave me alone,” “I have a boyfriend,” “Stop!” and “Help!” are always good to know in any language. (But then you can also accomplish a lot with pointed glares and rolled eyes.)
12. Allow Yourself Some Downtime
Traveling can be exhausting, even at the best of times. And traveling on your own is even harder.
It’s important that you allow yourself the occasional luxury of sitting in your hotel watching Netflix, hiding out in a cafe for hours at a time, or eating at the totally overpriced chain restaurant from home.
See Also: 10 Tips To Beating Jet Lag
13. Make Friends With Locals
Not only will the locals clue you into safe neighborhoods and good restaurants, but they can also explain local customs, teach you slang, and maybe even teach you to samba. What’s the point in flying halfway around the world just to hang out with other backpackers, right?
Additional Tips and Must-Pack Items for Females Traveling Alone
The most important thing to carry with you as a female traveling alone is the knowledge that if someone or something is giving you the heebie-jeebies, get out of there.
You don’t need to explain yourself, make excuses, or worry about making them feel awkward. Just leave.
Beyond the confidence to trust your gut, here are a few final tips that I’ve found invaluable when traveling alone:
If you are going to a country for more than a few days, register with your local embassy. Most consular services do include registration for citizens abroad, and it is very helpful in the event of an emergency (or even natural disasters).
Pack a doorstop. Cheap and lightweight, doorstops are an effective way to keep your room secured at night.
And a safety whistle. Attract attention if something is wrong, ward off packs of monkeys, get assistance if you’re stuck in a bathroom—unexpected problems arise while traveling and whistles are a handy tool in many situations.
Get one of those money belts and keep your passport, credit cards, and big bills inside your clothes all the time. Or, get a scarf with a hidden pocket.
Final Tips for the Solo Female Traveler?
Lots of people are intimidated by solo travel. The media (and some well-meaning family members) would have us believe that it’s dangerous or difficult.
Yes, safety is a concern for solo female travelers heading to certain destinations. However, 95% of situations can be avoided by using common sense, knowing which scams to watch out for, and remaining aware of your surroundings.
And yes, it’s often pleasant to have someone to share the scenery with when exploring new destinations. But, at the risk of sounding a little cheesy, never underestimate the glory of traveling alone.
You’ll get to be open to experiences, make friends, and gain a sense of confidence simply by stepping out of your comfort zone and being willing to explore.
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