As someone who has been fortunate enough to be able to travel on and off for seven years, seven years of predominantly solo travel I should add, understandably one of the questions I get asked the most is about safety for solo female travelers.
Most of the time it’s the ladies asking these questions, and considering violence against women knows no borders, is completely understandable.
“I am thinking about traveling on my own but I am not sure how to go about it, and to be honest, I am a bit nervous.”
But for me, and I suspect for many solo female travelers, that’s a separate issue. I always consider myself a traveler first and foremost, oh, and I just happen to have two X chromosomes. I try not to let the term ‘solo female traveler’ define me, but I am also not going to ignore that it’s a necessary category nowadays. I’ve even written a manifesto about it.
To travel alone in a foreign country is a big step outside the comfort zone. You are in a new place, which is totally awesome but also daunting, and you have only yourself to depend on.
That being said, solo travel is a great way to see the world, and can give you experiences, be rewarding and teach you things that can be hard to encounter otherwise.
When I first started traveling on my own, it didn’t even occur to me to be concerned about not having someone else with me. Call me naive, but I just wanted to go to Paris and all my study abroad friends had other plans.
Pretty much everything that could go wrong, did go wrong that weekend, but I returned home filled with a whole lot of new lessons under my belt and an urge to try again.
The world is a forgiving place, and it’s much safer than people and media make it out to be.
I’ve almost never been in a situation overseas where I felt scared or threatened. Twenty minutes from my parents house in Washington D.C.? That’s another story.
Thinking back, sometimes I ask myself what are things I wish I had known before I started traveling. What could I have done differently?
Here are 4 key questions I ask myself before embarking on a solo trip:
1. Have I done my research?
I am a big advocate of researching where you are going, even just a little bit, so that you are as prepared as possible.
For me, spontaneity is one of my favorite parts of travel and I like to be surprised. This means I don’t plan out every moment of every day, instead leaving a rough outline of what I want to accomplish, see, do, and most importantly, eat while traveling.
But for solo female travelers, and all travelers really, it’s important to do a little research into the culture of where you are going.
- Are they conservative?
- Do women cover up?
- Are there certain behavioral traits you can downplay to avoid problems or confrontation?
For example, in many countries smiling and looking men directly in the eyes can be seen as an invitation that can lead to trouble. Do you need to dress a certain way to visit places like a mosque or church?
I am not here to argue about the ethics behind this or women’s rights around the world, but for me safety is number one, and that means if adhering to a country’s unspoken rules will keep me safe, then I am doing it.
Doing a little Googling before you leave can save you a lot of hassles once you’re on the road. However, I think it’s also important to take everything you read or hear with a grain of salt.
I can’t even begin to count the number of times I say I am traveling to a certain place only to be cautioned against it or questioned by people who haven’t even been there.
Or it’s important to understand that incidents or problems that have happened in the past are not necessarily indicative of levels of safety for women.
Try to read unbiased reviews or talk to women who have firsthand experience of where you want to travel. Just because something happened there doesn’t mean you should avoid it at all costs.
2. Does where I am going match my level of experience?
I am a big fan of building solo travel experience over time.
Personally, I feel like I take away something new on every trip, and I love that. While shit can happen anywhere in the world at anytime, some places are more prone to it than others.
If you are new at travel or solo travel, I recommend starting somewhere “easy” and then working your way up from there.
Countries like Iceland, New Zealand and Canada are considered some of the safest places in the world, and they are a good place to start because you won’t have to be on edge a lot of the time, and you will likely encounter plenty of other solo female travelers on your journey.
While experience comes with time, maybe some of these places don’t rank high on your bucketlist and you want to jump in feet first into some crazy adventures.
Go for it, if that’s your dream, just be smart about it. Go back to step 1 and do your research, be prepared.
3. Am I prepared?
Whether you are traveling on your own or in a group, it’s important to be prepared for all manner of situations.
I don’t consider myself to be extreme in my preparations, but there are a few simple rules I follow on the road and key things I can’t travel without.
I am very open and friendly on the road because I really love meeting new people and having those kinds of travel experiences, but I am careful about revealing too much information, like where I am staying or even that I am alone or single, depending on the situation.
I always travel with a doorstop for hotel doors so that they can’t be opened or kicked in, a whistle, and I make sure that I have access to a phone or internet and have jotted down the details of where I am headed to next, eliminating the need to show up in a new place without any information.
4. Can I trust my own judgement?
One of the hardest things about traveling alone is something you can’t buy or research in advance – common sense, that’s one of the big reasons I vouch for building up your solo experience over a period of time.
While you can be prepared as possible, if you have no common sense or don’t behave in a smart way on the road, you won’t have another person to help you out and it can be asking for problems.
Personally, I think many travel mistakes and problems that happen come from not having any common sense about a situation, something that can be learned over time and with experience.
The second part is about trusting your instincts and not second guessing yourself.
If you are uncomfortable or nervous, get yourself out of whatever situation you are in as fast as possible.
Don’t think twice. Don’t worry about being weird, rude or potentially upsetting/offending someone.
At the end of the day, your personal safety is number one, and your instincts can be a lifesaver!