Solo Female Travel: Lessons Learned by 33 Expert Women Travelers
Reprinted with permission of Yowangdu: Experience Tibet
If you have ever considered solo female travel, then you have faced the issue of how to stay safe. It doesn’t matter if you are heading to Tibet or Thailand or the Tyrol, there isn’t a woman alive who hasn’t worried about her personal safety.
Critically for us women who travel alone, how do you avoid sexual assault? Or being injured in a traffic accident (the highest cause of death among travelers)? Or a range of more minor mishaps?
And equally critically how do you avoid letting the misperception that a women traveling solo is in constant danger block your experience of the abundant goodness in the world?
There are a lot of women out there with huge solo travel experience, and I decided to ask some of the most expert among them to answer this one question:
What is the one most valuable lesson you have learned about traveling safely as a woman from a personal experience?
The reasonable, actionable wisdom I received from these master solo female travelers is impressive! I’ve listed them below.
May their lessons learned ease your mind and help you have a beautiful, safe, amazing journey of your own!
THE LESSONS LEARNED:
Kristin Addis on the basic goodness in the world
That the world is mostly good and that as long as you approach the world like you do your home – not walking alone and getting intoxicated in bars solo – it’s mostly easy to stay safe.
Nora Dunn on drinks from strangers
I was in Cuenca Ecuador, out for a night of dinner, drinks, karaoke, and dancing with a few friends, including a delightfully cheerful young woman who was on her first long-term trip abroad with her boyfriend (let’s call her Sheryl). Her boyfriend left early, leaving Sheryl, myself, and another friend to tear up the karaoke scene. Afterwards, at a dance club, I noticed Sheryl had suddenly started acting VERY drunk; inordinately so. She was also drinking a drink that she said had been given to her by somebody at the bar.
While I didn’t personally experience this lesson, I was one degree of separation from it and that was enough to solidify one of the most important safety tips for a solo female traveler. Don’t get drunk alone, and never – ever! – drink something that you didn’t personally see poured by the bartender.
Alarm bells went off in my head, and from that moment on I didn’t let her out of my sight. Shortly thereafter I poured her into a taxi and made sure the driver knew where to go. Unfortunately, her boyfriend messaged me two hours later with some grave news; getting out of the taxi, Sheryl tripped and hit her head. They went to the hospital, and while they were stitching her up, they did a blood test and discovered she had some unidentified drugs in her system.
Women (and even men too!) are common targets for being drugged via their drinks and then robbed, accosted, abducted, and worse. Twice during our night out, Sheryl had accepted drinks from strangers, so we couldn’t even pinpoint where or when she might have been drugged. Thankfully she did one thing right: she had friends with her who had her back!
When traveling solo as a woman, it’s important not to make yourself vulnerable, which means never getting drunk alone, and never (ever) drinking something that you didn’t see poured. It may seem rude to refuse a drink from a stranger, but it could possibly save your life.
Shannon O’Donnell on the underlying problem
Most discussions about solo female travel safety focus solely on the tips and preparation women can do to prepare for travel, but that greatly glosses over the fact that the bulk of safety for female travelers comes down to luck and not preparation alone. The fact is, violence against women is an epidemic that you may face in your home culture just as much as a foreign culture. So, preparation can only do so much to combat how women are treated on a global scale. So, be prepared: understand local cultural norms, stay aware of your surroundings, pay for your safety when needed by taking a taxi, use a door stop in hotel rooms—these steps are a good start. But only by maintaining an awareness of the true issues affecting your safety can you adequately prepare to travel safely.
Daphne van der Pol and Tamara Stuijt on preparing consciously
Daphne: That every destination is safe as long as you prepare well and think consciously. When I travel solo, I always make sure to invest some money in my own safety. When I book a flight, I make sure to arrive during day time. When I choose a hostel or hotel, I consider the location first. When I go back to my accommodation during the night, I take a taxi home instead of walking. When I meet new people, I always trust my first feelings. For example, when I was living in Guatemala and my yoga classes ended around 19.30pm (still early evening), I always chose to take a tuktuk home, instead of walking through the dark neighborhood on my own. Also make sure to keep some front-and-back copies of your credit cards and passport saved to cloud storage like Google Docs. It is also smart to have some back-up cash hidden in your backpack or suitcase and to save your important phone numbers stored in a document as well. Make sure to prepare well and always think consciously, and you will be fine!
Tamara: That you’ve to prepare very well and know to what kind of destination you’re travelling to. Some destinations are safer than others, but if you prepare well, look up the internet for tips and places you should or shouldn’t visit in the country, it feels better and safer to travel to all destinations. Before I’m planning my trips, I always go to the internet for practical information first. After reading all the important things, I’m going to plan the rest of my trip. I book accommodations which are located in good areas and always look at the reviews for example.
Claudia Tavani on having nothing to prove
One thing I have learned while traveling solo is that I have absolutely nothing to prove to anybody other than myself – and that refers to traveling but also to life more in general. A lot of women push themselves to get out of their comfort zone, and while I appreciate it and do it myself, I believe that part of this need we feel to push is imposed by society and trends. I guess what I mean to say is that women – and especially women who travel solo – should only do the things that really make them feel comfortable and truly happy. After hiking solo for a week, I have determined it is not for me. While a lot of women will say that it is completely empowering, I believe it is boring and at times even reckless to do it. I will leave it to the other more empowered women and continue being my real self and look for others to go on hikes!
Jessie Festa on speaking up
Don’t be afraid to make people uncomfortable or be rude. I think as women it can be natural to want to please others and put the comfort of others before our own, but it’s important to put safety first. I once was sexually assaulted by my tour guide in Chile, who kept groping me and kissing me when nobody was looking — and I didn’t say anything because I was solo and didn’t want to ruin anyone’s trip! This was years ago, but if I could go back in time I would speak up.
Leigh McAdam on trusting your gut
I travel solo about half the time, both in my home country of Canada and around the world. In Canada I honestly don’t give much thought to traveling solo – other than to trust my gut. I would recommend that wherever you go. When I travel internationally I’m hyper-aware of my surroundings – and beat a hasty retreat if I’ve entered what feels like a dodgy area. My advice, based on experience, is to always carry your physical passport with you. Not everyone would agree but it’s your lifeline in and out of countries so I’d rather have it safely on my person. I do leave a physical copy of it in the safe – where that’s an option – along with a digital copy on my computer. Family members have copies of it too. I also avoid drawing attention to myself, which is way easier the older you get. I like to keep my phone charged and now carry a lightweight back-up charger so I have “juice” should I ever get in a sticky situation.
Leyla Giray Alyanak on doing your research
I travel solo 90% of the time and have been doing so for 50 years. I’ve stayed safe – but my actions account for only part of that safety.
I’m tempted to break it down into thirds: 1/3 preparation, 1/3 gender-based violence and 1/3 pure luck.
Violence against women is endemic and (in an ideal world this would not be an issue) we risk facing it wherever we go, across the street or around the world.
Luck? Well, luck is either with us or absent. There isn’t much we can do about that.
But we can prepare wisely for travel and so my single most important lesson learned is this: DO YOUR RESEARCH. Know what you’re getting into. I’ve seen women strolling in bathing attire in highly conservative cities, taking public transport alone in regions notorious for violence, drinking or taking drugs where it was illegal, photographing armed installations despite prohibitions, not securing valuables properly (guilty), not reading up about potential scams (also guilty), walking around alone at night in areas known for attacks, staying in a cheap hotel in a hostile part of town, and the list goes on. A bit of research would at least warn travelers about potential dangers and help them make informed decisions.
Jodi Ettenberg on safety at home vs. abroad
Things – bad things, ugly things, evil things – often cannot be mitigated or planned. I travelled for years and years and never got robbed like I did when I returned to New York for a visit, when my laptop, hard drives and camera were stolen. I spent a good amount of time in the Middle East and North Africa and Malaysia and Indonesia, and yet the single ugliest act against me came from an afternoon in France.
I’ve long encouraged women to travel solo, and have been doing so myself for close to 5 years. I will continue to encourage women to travel solo. It’s a balance between thinking smart and trying to stay safe, and also not succumbing to the fear. I don’t want to pretend that there’s no basis for the fear – that would be irresponsible. But for me, at least, the fear is there at home and it’s there abroad. It has nothing to do with foreign travel and everything to do with existing as a woman in today’s world. (Excerpted from: https://www.legalnomads.com/solo-female-travel/ )
Anna Phipps on not looking like an easy target
I’ve been traveling solo in India for many years and the most important thing I’ve learned to keep me safe is to be confident and assertive. Hold yourself well, look like you know where your going and what you are doing and act confident — even if you aren’t — to avoid looking like like an easy target or a lost, overwhelmed tourist. If someone does hassle you then forget about being polite – make a scene and stand up for yourself and usually a kind local will come to your aid.
Rachel Heller on the basics
Traveling solo taught me that the ways I keep myself safe while I travel are pretty much the same ways I keep myself safe at home. Conform to local norms in terms of dress and behavior, don’t walk down dark alleys, trust your gut about the people you meet: all of the usual advice. None of this is different than what you do at home; it just can feel more dangerous when you travel because the location is different. It wasn’t a particular incident that taught me this: just a gradual realization as I traveled, and it’s helped me to relax and feel comfortable wherever I go.
Kaitlyn Knoll on standing up for yourself
The most valuable lesson I learned was to always stand up for yourself. If something feels wrong, say something! If someone is giving you the creeps, make yourself clear and tell them to leave you alone. It’s so important to be assertive when you are traveling alone, even if it seems rude. Safety is always more important than the thought of appearing rude. I had an experience in India where a man was following me. He followed me onto the bus and ended up trying to touch me. I had no shame and screamed every insult I knew at him. I think he was shocked, and a little ashamed as everyone around was staring. I would always say to put your own safety first!
Chelsey Schultz on communicating with confidence
Traveling as a woman can come with a lot of doubts and worries, but that should never deter you from pursuing your love of travel. I have been to four continents and dozens of countries since I began traveling, and there is one lesson that has always stood out for me.
Communicate with confidence! In many places around the world, women can be perceived as weak and that they will not stand up for themselves if pressured. Do not fall into this trap! If there is something that you don’t want to do, then don’t do it.
It could be someone offering to buy you a drink, asking you to dance, wanting to take you on a date, trying to talk with you, or standing too close. If you do not want this, it is okay to say “No.”
When you say “No,” it must be clear. Do not impersonate a mouse, or you could be viewed as a victim. You must be loud enough to be heard, but you don’t need to yell. You must be confident, clear, and firm.
Stand up straight, look them in the eyes, and tell them exactly what you want.
I do not want a drink, thank you.
Can you please step back; you are too close to me.
Thank you for the offer, but I am not interested in a date.
If the person doesn’t take a hint, then turn into a broken record. Repeat yourself and progressively get louder until they realize that you are not changing your mind. If possible, you can always leave the situation and go someplace safe.
Traveling as a woman can be scary, but when you portray confidence (even when you are scared) then you will not look like a victim.
Gemma Thompson on knowing where you’re landing late at night
As a frequent solo traveller, the most important aspect of safety all comes down to doing the research before you set off.
For example I’ve been caught out a couple of times in the past by opting for cheaper flights which land late at night. (Of course sometimes a late landing is unavoidable), but I’ve ended up stranded in both Dubai and Guatemala City late at night. Guatemala was particularly worrying as the airport was pretty much empty by the time I left, and the last shuttle bus had gone. My only option was to pay a guy who worked there to drive the 45 minute journey to Antigua. Either that or take my chances in downtown Guatemala City late at night which, at the time was extremely dangerous.
I paid the airport worker and we chatted all the way in Spanish (he spoke no English so thankfully I had learned enough of the language to get by – another key part of research!). This conversation put me at ease and the driver was kind and shared his cookies with me! It makes for a good story now but at the time I was so scared!
It’s not just flight times, research the neighbourhood you’re staying in, the best spots to eat and any cultural etiquette you may need to know.
If you can plan ahead to mitigate as many risks as possible, you can relax and have an amazing time!
Tausha Cowan on not lowballing your safety
The one valuable lesson I’ve learned is to never compromise your safety because something is less expensive or easier. Always put your safety first, above cost or difficulty or whatever else. During one of my first solo trips to London, I didn’t understand the public transportation system at night and went to take the night bus (mostly because I was a student at the time and was thinking of cost first). I ended up getting lost and at that point my common sense kicked in and demanded I get off the bus and get home as safely and quickly as possible, regardless of the cost, so that’s what I did. Since then, I’ve traveled by myself numerous times where I’ve paid more for hotels, tours, etc. but it’s because they’ve been places or activities where I felt safer as a solo female. Solo travel is an incredible, empowering experience that I love doing, but I know it comes with risks (any type of travel does), so doing what makes me feel safe when I’m traveling solo is something I always remember, no matter where I go in the world.
Angie Orth on complacency
I’m celebrating my 13th year of blogging and world travels this year, and it’s wild to look back on how hysterically over-prepared I was for my first big solo trip around the world. I had every travel-specific safety apparatus you could think of and I’d read up on every scam and travel warning. Gradually as I traveled and grew more confident, I left the money belts and locking mini-safes behind. Mostly it’s been fine to travel without all the gear, but beyond that, I became complacent and over-confident about travel because I did it so often.
Fast forward a few years to planning my destination wedding in the Bahamas. I’d worked on the islands’ PR team for years before I left to travel around the world, so I felt confident I could plan a fun, safe, carefree wedding with my eyes closed.
I let some red flags with the hotel slide, chalking it up to cultural differences. It won’t surprise you that New Yorkers and folks on idyllic Caribbean islands do things at different speeds, so it didn’t seem too out of the ordinary. But my comfort with the destination ended up being a real weakness, and we paid the price when our wedding took place at a dusty construction site on the grounds of a half-closed hotel.
After the wedding, we wrote about our experience so no one else would suffer the same fate, and the hotel had an employee harass me online, try to hack my social media accounts and threaten to harm me. It’s an extreme example that likely wouldn’t happen to the average traveler, but complacency can put you in a bad spot. No matter how much of an expert you are or how many times you’ve visited a destination, you never know when you’re going to encounter a bad egg, or in this case, a bunch of pirates. The lesson for me is that every trip is its own trip with its own circumstances. You never know what you’ll encounter, so best to be as prepared as you can and never get too sure of yourself!
Dyanne Kruger on the safety of befriending locals
On one hand…
Despite 40+ years of ever solo travel to 50 different countries (many decidedly off-the-beaten-youknowhat – Mongolia, I’m lookin’ at YOU!) under my belt, I honestly don’t have any serious safety matters to report. Other than a a few thefts (one such incident – all my pricey camera equipment snatched from the trunk of my car at Pike Place Market in my then hometown of SEATTLE!), I honestly can’t think of a single incident where I felt my personal safety was in jeopardy (well, o.k. aside from a few terrifying rickety bus rides in the Himalayas, but that kinda goes with the territory and beats the alternative of always playing it safe and meeting my maker being crushed in my Toyota by an 18-wheeler on a U.S. freeway en route to the Home Depot, no?)
BUT… that doesn’t mean that after many years of solo travel, I’ve not learned and internalized pretty much every trick in the “Female Travel Safety” book, including many of the wise tips shared here by my fellow solo travelin’ lasses. Avoid arriving in a strange land after dark of course, heed your intuitive instincts swiftly and firmly whenever you’re faced with an uncomfortable situation, don’t get drunk (alone or otherwise) in a strange foreign land, keep a whistle handy when walking alone, don’t rely on technology to bail you out of a tricky situation (um, both batteries and wifi juice reliably fail just when you need them most), ever have a secret stash of cash tucked away for emergencies, don’t wander around aimlessly staring at your pricey phone looking completely lost and vulnerable trying to find your way back to your hotel, etc
But there is one additional true-blue safety tip that I’ve not yet seen folks mention in travel safety articles such as this. A tip that I use faithfully whenever and wherever I roam, and that is:
BEFRIEND A LOCAL.
Indeed, the moment I step foot in a new foreign land – especially one where I don’t happen to speak the local language – I swiftly and deliberately make friends with a local or three. Starting with singling out one of the local staff at my hotel and befriending them with smiles and frequent chatter (even if much of it need be mimed due to language barriers). I ensure that they know me well (apart from the sea of other tourists). And consequently – I’ve found time and time again, that I can then rely on them to help me out with all manner of issues, and I know that they have my back should I ever need assistance with regard to personal safety and/or sudden calamity. So too, do I befriend select locals everywhere I go along the way in a strange land – at the corner fruit stand, the coffee shop, the bus station, etc. In short, a smile and a bit of sincere camaraderie with the locals goes a long way to ensuring a safe and especially enjoyable trip.
Daisy Li on couchsurfing and saying no
As an avid Couchsurfer, I am quite flexible with my living arrangements. From staying in a tent made out of recyclables to sleeping in a hammock out on the terrace, I was grateful with whatever came my way. However, such flexibility didn’t always work in my favor. Once, I was couchsurfing in a secluded village in Southern Turkey. The host and his family had a piece of land with a few beautifully designed wooden bungalows by the mountains. I was told that I can camp out in one of these bungalows for a couple of nights.
That night, my host told me that there was a change of plans and that they were renting out the other bungalows. He asked me whether he can stay in the same room with me. Despite feeling uneasy, I knew that the bungalow had two beds and enough space. Most importantly, I felt indebted to him and his family, so I reluctantly agreed.
Of course, the night didn’t go that smoothly. He really, really wanted to hold hands (yikes) while we slept, which, naturally freaked me out. My continuous refusal annoyed him and he ended up leaving the room (thank god). I barely slept that night and got out the next day.
For me, the most important lesson was learning to say no when on the road. As solo female travelers, we might find ourselves in compromising situations. But this doesn’t mean that we have to compromise, especially at the expense of our safety.
Sue Davies on the LGBTQ experience
As a women and a LGBTQ traveler, safety is a very important consideration for me. Wherever I travel, I always make sure to research what the laws are relative to the LGBTQ community. There are 76 countries with anti-gay legislation and 8 countries with the death penalty for being LGBTQ+. Laws are one thing. The political and social climate are another.
Egypt does not have laws explicitly forbidding LGBTQ rights (there are public morality laws that can be used against LGBTQ travelers). The social climate, however, is very repressive.
One of my biggest regrets on a trip in Egypt was not doing the dawn climb up to the top of Mt. Sinai. It was a climb that was hard to do without a guide and my male guide was continually hitting on me. He asked if I was married (common question) and I said no. I did not feel safe telling him that I was a lesbian nor did I want to make up a fake boyfriend/husband. We were in the Sinai Desert at St. Catherine’s Monastery and I had already paid for the climb up to Mt Sinai. I simply did not feel comfortable being alone with him in the dark. I decided not to go.
There were two lessons in this experience for me. One, trust my instincts. No experience is worth feeling unsafe. And, second, find another guide if the one you have is making you feel unsafe. It’s a hassle to fire a guide, but it’s not worth being with someone that makes you uncomfortable.
Pashmina Binwani on technology vs. gut instinct
Iran carries a lot of mystery as a travel destination. I was part of the early wave of adventurous travelers who came to discover the land of Persia.
In 2016, I was nearing the border of Armenia and needed a short ride to the next stop. I decided to try my luck with hitchhiking.
Two Turkish brothers who spoke no English happily picked me up. Using Google Translate, I figured out the directions to my next stop. But I was a bit lost.
It was 9.00pm, so I asked to make sure he knew where I was going. He responded using short Farsi slang, which Google translated to, “I know you are blood.”
Then I started to panic. I literally was plotting ways I could jump out of the car. But I kept thinking, did he really mean that?
I decided to ask again after a few minutes. This time, he wrote it out in long-form Farsi, and it translated “I know where you live, I’ll drop you there.”
These Turkish men were nothing but kind souls who went out of their way to help me reach my destination. They even invited me for evening tea the next day with their family.
Beyond this little act of kindness, I realised that technology is a useful tool, but don’t let it overrule your gut instinct when you’re travelling alone.
Lisa Eldridge on shouting, screaming and saying no
In all my twenty plus years of solo travel, there are times when I have felt vulnerable but I’ve only ever felt seriously scared once.
I have been spat on in Mongolia, nearly mugged and also followed in a car in Bali but nothing bad had happened to me until I went to Little Corn Island, a Caribbean island in Nicaragua. I was walking across the island on a trail that led to the beach when I heard somebody running. I stopped to let the runner pass but the wild-eyed man who stopped and stared back at me wasn’t on a morning jog. He was running after me and me stopping had thrown him off track. Long story short I thought I was about to be sexually attacked. He was half-naked and I’ve never felt so much fear running through my veins. I shouted at him to go away but he didn’t move and just stood there staring at me. I swore at the top of my voice and he moved. As he moved, I ran in the opposite direction back to where I had come from until I reached a large open space and was sure that he was no longer behind me. I can’t tell you how scared I was. Even though nothing actually happened it could have; and it changed the way that I travelled. I had become too complacent and let my guard down. As a woman travelling alone I am used to men’s advances. I’ve stood up to myself after a waiter in Nepal offered to show me around then tried to invite himself back to my hotel. I realised the importance of not being so friendly and how Western women can be perceived in certain countries, but I had never thought I would ever be attacked.
This was the most valuable lesson that I learned. Shout, scream, say no. Don’t ever let yourself feel threatened. And learn some self-defence moves. When you are travelling solo, you are the only one who can look after yourself so embrace your inner strength and your inner travel goddess and stand up for yourself.
Jo Fitzsimons on safety as a habit
My most valuable lesson about safety as a solo female traveller is to make it your priority until it becomes a habit. What does that mean? It’s the simple things like – before you go out for drinks with a new group of friends, make sure you know where you’re going and how to get home if you find yourself alone; before you land in a new country in the dead of night, research how you’re going to get to your accommodation; before you blow your budget on a skydive, will you still have your ‘safety budget’ for taxis or the extra few dollars to stay in a safe neighbourhood. If you get into this mindset from the outset, you’ll hopefully avoid the small but avoidable everyday safety risks that we ladies unfortunately face wandering the globe alone.
Martha Lueders on wearing expensive jewelry
Keep expensive and sentimental jewelry at home
Whenever I travel abroad, I’m always eager to blend in with the locals. I love mimicking how they dress and want to experience what makes their lives so different in this part of the world. Travel is an immersive educational experience for me. For women, jewelry is also something you should consider. Jewelry after denotes status, so it’s important to consider whether you want to wear expensive jewelry on your travels such as engagement or wedding rings. This might also mean determining the amount of sentimental value the piece of jewelry has. When traveling, I understand that whatever I bring with me is at risk of being forgotten or lost. These simple tips and tricks I use on every trip to help me feel safe and comfortable while traveling alone.
Lauren Juliff on looking like you belong
The most valuable lesson I learned was to put my all into appearing as confident as possible. Upon leaving to travel, I quickly realised that if I looked nervous and lost in an unfamiliar city, I would immediately be preyed upon by touts and scammers. So, I started looking up rather than down at my feet, I walked with purpose, and I attempted to give the impression that I belonged; that I was an expat living in my adopted city. Once I did this, I started to run into less scammers and felt far safer in the places I was visiting.
Jen Morilla on being aware of your surroundings
The most valuable lesson I’ve learned from traveling as a woman is to be aware of your surroundings. There are certain things that actually happen, in which there’s nothing you can do and it’s out of your control. But for the most part if you’re aware of your surroundings you can stop things. For example, if you’re coming out of a bar at 12 o’clock at night — well, first of all don’t be wasted! — you shouldn’t be a hero and walk home just to save an extra 5 dollars, because it’s not worth it. What could happen could be so much worse. So my advice and lesson learned is to have common sense and to be more aware of your surroundings. Don’t be afraid to look around. Don’t be afraid to pay attention to who is looking at you. That’s just how it works and it’s important that you maintain that awareness. I come from New York City and I feel like I’m well aware of my surroundings, so it’s something I’ve picked up that has been really good for me.
Flora Baker on heightened senses and backing out
The most valuable lesson I’ve learned while travelling solo as a woman is to trust my gut. I think your senses become heightened when you’re travelling alone, and there have occasionally been situations which didn’t quite feel right – and when I’ve immediately backed out of them, it’s always been the correct decision.
Kirsty on not being defined by bad events
A decade ago I was travelling alone in South America. I was in my mid-twenties. A seasoned traveller with over 40 solo adventures under my belt. I was cautious. I was prepared. I was experienced.
Alighting a long-distance bus journey one evening wearing grotty old sportswear, I jumped into a metered taxi to take me to a pre-booked hostel and boom… my life changed. Two men jumped into the backseat with me and the next 8 hours became a nightmare of robbery and abuse.
This was the moment that I learnt that being organised, sensible and prepared isn’t always enough. S**t happens. Anywhere, anytime. My hidden purse was found, my lies uncovered and my life threatened. No amount of preparedness could have prevented this situation. For years I blamed myself. Analysed what I was wearing that night. Could I have bought a more expensive safety purse? Travelled on a different bus?
Finally I accepted that life’s most dramatic ups and downs cannot be predicted. That being robbed didn’t define my ability to travel well. It didn’t make me any less of a traveller. Be as prepared as you can be but if everything goes wrong it’s not your fault – it’s just life. The good and bad. Be kind to yourself and keep moving.
Since that traumatic night, I’ve carried on travelling. I’ve been to over 100 countries now, many with my kids in tow. Don’t let one negative outshine all the positives that travel brings!
Victoria Brewood on trusting your instincts
On the whole I’ve always had positive experiences when traveling solo but I have learnt to always trust my instincts. I’d say I’m quite a good judge of character, so if something doesn’t feel right or I feel uncomfortable in any way then I remove myself from the situation immediately. I’m usually quite a trusting person and I am always willing to chat to strangers – that’s part of the fun of traveling, making friends. But, I also stay vigilant. If I feel like I’m being followed then I cross the street and I walk as fast as I can to try and lose the person. I avoid quiet streets at night where possible and I always make sure I have offline Google maps in my phone. I’ll happily chat to locals but if someone seems dodgy and approaches me in the street then I try to avoid eye contact and not engage with them. Whenever I travel to a new country I give my friends/family the address of where I’m staying, my flight details and any info about who I’m traveling with. And if I’m meeting a guy I don’t know well for a date I tell my friends the person’s name and the bar I’m going to. There will always be guys who will try to hit on you while traveling. But if you’re not into it, it’s OK to say “no” and signal that you’re not interested. My last trip abroad was to Cuba and what I wasn’t prepared for was the amount of cat calling, hissing and whistling from the men in Havana. One day a guy started to follow me and asked me about my camera. I awkwardly answered his question, but then he started following me trying to asking me more questions. I made sure I walked to a really busy main square – it wasn’t the direction I was going in but I wanted to be around people. He kept insisting he could “show me around’, but I kept politely and firmly saying “no”. Eventually he got the hint.
Vanessa Schade on taking practical precautions
Although I am in a longterm-relationship I often travel solo. While I love traveling together with my boyfriend I also highly enjoy traveling alone. It gives me a feeling of freedom, independence, strength and that I can achieve everything that I want. I love to dive deep into the culture of a country, mingle with the locals and sleep in original accommodations like yurts, longhouses, in monasteries and at homestays of local families. I also highly enjoy to try the local food and visit the places a country has to offer.
I started traveling solo at the age of 15 before I even had my first boyfriend. So far, I have traveled through more than fifty countries on five continents, did language courses in English- and Spanish-speaking countries and in Italy, lived with a US-family in Spokane, in the State of Washington in the United States for three months, in Costa Rica and in Santiago de Chile for two months each and in Beijing, China for half a year.
While I felt quite invulnerable and didn’t think too much about safety issues when I was younger I started taking precautions when I got older especially after being robbed in Hanoi eight years ago. Two guys on a motorbike approached me while I was just concentrating on taking a photo and snatched my camera away from my face although I was holding it tightly with both hands. It happened at lunchtime in one of the best districts of Hanoi. As a consequence, I bought a safety belt for my DSLR which cannot be cut through after I got back home. However, I also got my purse stolen in my home country three times. Regardless of these incidents, I did a self-defense course when I was 17 and a Krav Maga training a while ago and I would suggest doing something like this to every female no matter of her age and if she is traveling or not.
Before planning a trip, I always read the safety instructions of our ministry of foreign affairs and I listen to the advice of the locals. Both, at home and abroad, I always try to be and appear as confident as possible and I speak out my mind when I feel harassed. Sometimes, when traveling solo in a certain destination is either too dangerous or too difficult to realize logistically, I either take a local guide or a small group tour with a sustainable company or agency which supports local communities.
However, I often feel a lot safer when being abroad than at home. Bad things can happen everywhere in the world no matter whether we are at home or abroad but there are many more goods than bad things in life. A bad experience should never keep us away from doing what we love and should never stop our travels.
Inma Gregorio on common sense
It can be seen on all safety for solo female travel lists out there, but does this safety measure actually work? Unfortunately, using a wedding ring – whether married or not – so that men leave you alone in some destinations, do not stop them from harassing women traveling alone. So if you fall into this category, do not rely on this tip alone and use your common sense to assess every situation you find yourself in on a case by case basis. That’ll pay off way better than showcasing a piece of jewelry.
Lavdi Zymberi on experiencing places for herself
I always get that curious look when responding to people’s question of who I traveled with to X country with “Solo”. They immediately show their concern, worry, fear of how a woman could be so brave to travel solo (in particular to certain countries that have the image of unsafe countries). But are we actually safe anywhere in the world? Crimes happen everywhere, more in some than other countries – that’s true; however, when traveling one should always get informed about zones, neighborhoods, or cities which could be risky.
Prior to traveling to Ethiopia I was reading through other people’s stories and if I had to decide based on those, I’d never step foot there. But, I’m a believer of experiencing it on my own so I went. I believe every person experiences a country differently based on too many factors that I’m not going to explore here.
My trip to Ethiopia, as short as it was, was a lovely memory. All that hassling that people were writing about on internet didn’t happen to me. There was one case when on the way to Danakil Depression some kids had blocked the way as to stop the car and, probably (from what I’ve read) to ask us for money and then threw some stones after our driver didn’t stop; there was another case – only one case – when walking through Mekelle – that a kid asked me for money and I smiled and said “I don’t have” and moved on and nothing happened. On the other hand, there were some little girls that approached me and asked to take a picture when I was visiting the Emperor Yohannes IV Palace and another group of teens who just wanted to talk to a foreigner when I was visiting the Martyr’s Memorial; and another local guy who accompanied and helped me to find the Ethiopian wine I was looking for which took about 40 minutes due to scarce availability.
Nevertheless, my experience doesn’t mean it will be the case for everyone. One should use common sense, precaution, be informed, and always be attentive of the surroundings.
Kate Green on your hotel as an advocate
Stay in clean safe hotels so if you need help while traveling you have a trusted advocate. Your hotel will help when others can’t. One hotel helped me get medical attention, emergency care and even an evacuation. Another helped me arrange my next hotel on my trip at a great savings. Your hotel is more than a place to stay, they are your advocate and a great booking agent for local tours and hotels.
The Thelma and Louise community
Ana: In my experience, make sure your phone works overseas and find a good data roaming deal before you leave especially if you are looking to explore and sometimes like to get lost like me
Do You Have a Lesson Learned?
What an amazing collection of useful advice! It’s beautiful when women help women out in the world, and when our collective wisdom can help new solo female travelers. Whether you are a novice or a pro, we hope you have received benefit from these lessons learned.
Do you have an experience of your own to share and help other women?
What is the one most valuable lesson you have learned about traveling safely as a woman from a personal experience?
Let us all know by leaving a comment below. Thank you!
And here’s my own bonus lesson learned:
Yolanda O’Bannon on safety with drivers
The closest I have ever come to getting seriously injured while traveling was on a visit to Tibet in 2015. I was actually with my friends Marty and Annick on that trip but the lesson holds true for solo female travel as well. It was the end of a long day early in a 30-day overland journey in Kham and Amdo, and we were driving in darkness way the hell out in the boonies, rushing to get to Darlag for the night. We were winding down near the bottom of a fairly gradual mountain road, nothing dramatic compared to many roads in Tibet, but it was very dark and the road was dirt or gravel, and I thought our driver Pema was taking the turns pretty fast. I held my tongue, thinking it would be rude or presumptuous to comment on his speed.
In an instant, one of the turns caught him by surprise, sharper than the others, and he lost control of the the car. Terrified, we screamed as it skidded sickeningly sideways across the sharp curve, stopping with the tires literally at the dirt edge of what we later realized was a drop off down to a river below. The car was tilted precariously toward the edge and we all sat still for a moment, not sure if it would go over, or if moving would cause it to slide more. It didn’t go over, thank god, and by a feat of amazing bravery and skill, our driver backed the car off the dangerous edge. We couldn’t see the river below in the pitch darkness, but the car would have surely rolled and the drop was clearly enough to have injured if not killed us.
For me, there were a few lessons learned. 1) I should have asked him to slow down. As others here have said, it makes no sense to be polite if you feel you are in a potentially unsafe situation. 2) The skid made me realize that our driver had been driving waaaaay too long that day. We were trying to make it to Darlag for some logistical reason (or maybe to hit a certain altitude to prevent altitude sickness), but I’m embarrassed to say that we never factored in how many hours the poor guy would need to drive.
If I’m being driven somewhere, I’m aware now of how long the driver is on duty, and make sure that he or she gets enough rest, for their sake and for mine! 3) I avoid being driven at night on trips now if I can, especially if the conditions are less than ideal, like a mountain road. The risk for all kinds of badness rises after dark. (I have another story, but will save that for another day.) 4) Bonus tip: After multiple road trips in Tibet, I’ve learned that a surprising number of drivers drink a fair bit at the end of the day, out of boredom, or whatever. I plan to request a driver who doesn’t drink, with a good safety record next time I’m on a journey that needs a driver. There’s no way to guarantee this, but at least I can try to get the odds more in my favor.
Now it’s Your Turn
There you have it: lessons learned by 33 expert women travelers.
Now I’d like to hear what you have to say:
Which strategy from this list are you going to try first?
Or maybe you have your own lesson learned?
Let me know in the comments section below.
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Updated on August 15, 2020. First published on July 30, 2019.
The post Solo Female Travel: Lessons Learned by 33 Expert Women Travelers appeared first on Solo Trekker.