Before we go any further, I would be remiss in acting as if traveling abroad alone would never offer any unique challenges to our sister wanderers. I am not that dense. I have my own perspective and tips for solo female travelers, and of course I can rely on the perspective of thousands of gals out there doing it for themselves!
I have met a ton of them out on the road, some of whom are lifelong mates! (So far..they haven’t tired of me yet!) But I can at anytime get their perspective if need be. And be sure this article will pass their eyes as soon as it’s typed! From Michaela who rides bikes hundreds of miles on her own in the US and Asia, to Kim who has lived in Japan, Italy, Brazil, and Morocco (all solo), and hails from the mighty NYC, to another Kim who lived on her own twice in Asia and gives me the perspective from home down under, to my do it all buddy HB (she is secretive!), who went from Canada to the Caribbean to Manhattan to Cyprus,(currently) and knows her way around diy tools better than I have ever been! There is my classmate Q, who does sabbaticals like a pro worldwide!, and my little buddy Della whose search for unique shoes has taken her to Cuba, Belize, NYC, Vegas, and Miami at least in the past year or so. Please don’t tell her there is polo in your town…she needs no more hats! I can go on but no need…I am sure some of you believe me haha!
Tips from Myself and Solo Gals Worldwide!
Do Your Research!
Before you head out to any destination, learn about it like we all do but look into any unique perspectives in that place as a female. Other women who have been there can tell you about local customs and things that you should know as a woman. What may be happening when you are there like the political climate and such. The crime day/night and how life is for local women. Almost every company like Lonely Planet (here) has solo guides and tips as well as sites and pages internet wide! I personally enjoy reading LP guides and making notes in margins. There is information on almost everywhere! Being prepared is everything. For most places similar to your home, the normal precautions apply as always!
Stay Connected/Use Tech
Staying connected to at least “someone” will help people be less worried about you and know how to find you in case of anything. Tech can help you easily share copies of your itinerary with anyone and also give your contact info at the place you are staying. Even if it feels odd to you, if you are going somewhere unusual besides the local shopping zone, let the staff or front desk put a note on your file or in your room mail box about your plans. If family calls and your phone is down at least the hotel can tell them you are on an overnight trip with some other gals from the hostel etc! Keep some info in the cloud so you can get to it from other devices if yours goes down! Everything..all documents..credit card numbers and phone numbers…backed up!
Act Confident/Be Normally Cautious
Exuding confidence even if you are not makes you less of a target. As you do it, it actually becomes real. Just like you do in any new city or place be cautious of things that don’t “feel” right. Use your instinct. If you don’t like something or feel good, move on. What helps this is being familiar with where you are. Get and idea of where you are going in general and keep that map or downloaded map ready. Tips from the staff or landlord or the local restaurant waiters and other business owners that you may bond with will help you navigate and avoid things. Use them. 99 percent of the time they will look out for you!
Talking to the right people is everything if you are a solo traveler trying to build confidence. The other gals you meet in the hostel/hotel or your Airbnb host…they all know something or would sometimes love your company. Take a cooking class locally, a yoga or dance class…all of these things help you meet people who can make your trip that much better and maybe have someone to navigate that nightlife with. Hell this works for guys too, but you don’t wanna see me in yoga gear…
But Not Too Social!
This means things like telling all your business to complete strangers! I have never had an issue but when you meet cool people out and about they don’t usually need your last name and address to chit chat. The cute guy (or girl) you met doesn’t need every detail just yet. And you DON’T need to get drunk with someone you don’t know or are comfortable with yet. For some people, not being able to get smashed on vacation is a non-starter. That is what their vacations are for. I see this a lot and sometimes their girlfriends are sloppy drunk too, so who is looking out for them? Bad stuff happens that doesn’t need to.
You are on this solo trip to Morocco or Bali for YOU! Not to be someone else’s conversation piece and Facebook meme! It is so easy to meet other level-headed travelers who say let’s meet for coffee or check out these bars after a long day and grab something to eat so we don’t get too done. Many times that other lady wandering the antiques market in Marrakech is just like you and would appreciate some company in the markets as they can be a maze. “Hi. I am Jane” doesn’t have to be, “Hi I am Jane Jones who saved a few grand to blow off life for 2 weeks in North Africa and southern Spain, how are you?”
Don’t Be Too Flashy
Looking like you are a Hollywood starlet is fine in Positano. Many gorgeous ladies love it there. But walking the streets of a less affluent place looking like you have a million dollars can be too attention grabbing. Try to be a little low key. You don’t need those thousand dollar earrings on while taking a bus from Cartagena to Medellin. Do you need your bejeweled $800 dollar smartphone, and $2000 dollar laptop out on the table of the cafe in a small town in Cambodia, while you chat away with friends back home? If you need these things on a trip like that versus say, a trip to Amsterdam, it may be good to reflect on why you are, where you are. A trip to a place just like home is a far different reason to travel to a developing place to see and experience things we never dreamed we would.
Try to Travel During the Day
Some folks have never traveled by long distance bus before at home, and suddenly they are traipsing around in other countries on long distance buses. That is fine but, try to arrive where you are going by daylight. You want to arrive if you can, when you can see what is around. It is different arriving at a major airport at night, but in small towns and villages arriving at a local bus or train depot is not always in the nicest place.
Don’t take overnight transport unless you are going with the group you met that you feel comfortable with, or you booked a private car in the train and you looked up safety concerns online with others who have been there, done that. 99 percent of people are fine but just be careful versus saving 5-10 dollars. The high class trains and buses are usually better, and in some poorer places they are everything that keeps some riff-raff out. Even so making some noise always helps! A noise maker with a flashlight is a good investment! Vigilant has a popular one (here)!
Again, when doing night travel, girl up! There are usually other people going where you are going. Getting a seat with or near others going your way is always helpful. In Bangkok, you are NEVER the only one taking the night train to Chiang Mai, Koh Samui, or a bus to the Cambodia border. I find that when fellow travelers chat and become a little familiar, they usually look out for each other and their things. So hello to the Dutch girls may be a good thing! I had an Australian girl hang out with me for literally 2-3 days in Phnom Penh from a 2-minute meeting getting off of a bus into a throng of aggressive touts. I am not saying go that far..but…it is funny because after a couple of days she was running around town like a pro! It is all based on your own comfort level.
Be Prepared for Conversation
No matter where you go, you will run into someone (or many) who speak English. You may not be the most social person, and that is fine. People will try to talk to you and you will learn a bit from others that will help with your travel confidence while on the road. You may only travel for 4-5 days and never become a several weeks or more traveler, but you will be different in trip 5 than you were in trip one! You will be stronger, better, smarter and find it quite easier to navigate conversation with people you don’t know! Try to learn some basics of the local language. The hellos, goodbyes, thank you’s and pleases go a long way.
Even if you start a trip with a sister, friend or boyfriend, there are side trips and day trips that you can take on your own to dip your feet in the solo water. Send your boyfriend or girlfriend home a day or two before you if you wanna test yourself. You can do it. I don’t claim to know everything that can go wrong as I am not a solo female but I have met too many kick ass gals on the road and I know it can be done. They have far exceeded anything I have done and taught me a thing or two.
Remember Your Feet
There are blogs all over the place dedicated to ladies out there doing their thing solo. Some I love because they look real! No posed shots in every place with just the right hair, make-up and sun and animals. Short trips are different than longer ones in the fact that you are living out of a bag or two, for a bit more time. So pack light and pack right! You won’t look picture perfect when you are spending time trying to immerse yourself and see all you can and experience all you can. You won’t have 10 outfits to change into and you won’t want to. You will want to be out there, doing the darn thing! A trip to the nice clubs of Milan is a far cry different one from that overnight desert trip after exploring Fez! Be prepared with the right clothes that can be part of more than one outfit and always, always have the proper footwear for the journey. I will never forget the hike to the waterfall near Kanchanaburi and the girl with the high heels. Sigh! She was cute though..I wonder how her feet felt.
As a little bonus the good folks over at Karl Watson: Travel Documentaries on Youtube let me borrow this great video for you! Full of road warriors who did it for themselves. Hope it encourages you to check out some inspiring places and go!
Thanks for hanging out! Leave a comment below if you can!