Have you always dreamed of travelling the world but never had anyone to tag along with?
Might I introduce you to the wonderful concept of SOLO FEMALE TRAVEL – the idea that you don’t need a friend, a partner, or a sarcastic Disney-esque animal sidekick to travel the world and thrive. Shocking, I know!
There are two big reasons solo female travel still needs to be talked about:
- Women are often discouraged from things that are seen as traditionally or typically male hobbies (like travelling).
- Solo travel is more dangerous for women.
I’ve always been that kind of a weirdo that marches her own path. Solo travel was always going to happen for me, so it surprised me when people told me I was “brave” to travel alone. I thought I was just having fun.
Well, it’s been almost nine years since my first lone stint around the globe and my crystal ball tells me there are another nine (or ninety) years of solo travel up ahead. If you’re just starting out, buckle up – here are my best tips for solo female travellers: what to consider, where to go and why you’re going to have a kick-ass time.
Why You Should Travel Alone as a Woman
As a female-identifying person, you’ve probably gone your whole life hearing snide little remarks about things you shouldn’t do just because you’re a woman. So when you started planning your gap year and people reacted like you were going on a suicide mission, it’s understandable that you got a little freaked out.
Solo travelling as a woman is actually dope as hell, and it comes with many benefits that fearmongers will never mention.
Sure, us female travellers need to take some more precautions than male travellers but being the (allegedly?) fairer sex comes with its own advantages. It’s annoying that women are still viewed as the weaker sex – regular old damsels in distress. But because of this, women are viewed as trustworthy and unthreatening, and people are often more willing to offer help without even asking. It definitely makes backpacking on a budget easier!
Because backpacking alone as a woman is still somehow considered dangerous and a deviation from the norm, there are lots of wonderful online communities dedicated to giving advice and support to other solo female travellers. Girls supporting girls is dope, and I’ve often heard my male traveller friends say that they wish they had similar support groups.
To top it off: it’s almost impossible to travel alone and not feel the invigorating You-Go-Girl energy overtake your body. When you’re told that you can’t or shouldn’t do something, proving naysayers wrong comes with extra spicy bonus empowerment. It’s time to push fear aside: you should start travelling NOW.
People love to ask solo female travellers: ‘What if something happens to you?’
Well, what if you have the time of your life? What if you come back so wild and empowered that you’re inspired to book your next trip, disown traditional gender roles, pierce your nose, and lead a feminist revolution?
I promise it’s definitely going to be the latter, give or take few things.
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Is It Safe to Travel Alone as a Woman?
The number one question about solo female travel is always how do you travel safely as a woman.
I find it really hard to talk about female travel safety. Balancing between precaution and fear is a tough act: I want to encourage all girls to go out there and travel but I also want to be realistic about the potential dangers of travel. I don’t want to scare you off but I also won’t lull you into a false sense of security.
I’ve heard many of my male friends say stuff like, “Bad things happen to everyone, and I’ve done a bunch of stupid stuff that has put me in danger too!”. Sure, buddy. But travel safety for women isn’t as much about what YOU do as much as it’s about what others might do to you. Travelling alone as a woman, there’s always a risk of harassment and assault.
The truth is, travelling is still more dangerous for women than it is for men. On top of having to worry about overall general travel safety (traffic safety, making your money last, not losing your passport or your mind…), women also have to worry about their physical safety. This is why many first-time solo female travellers try to pick safe places to travel alone as a woman over any other criteria.
Travelling Alone as a Woman Might Be Safer Than Staying at Home
Sure, travelling as a lone woman is not as safe. But neither is life at home.
Travelling somewhere foreign and far-away is freaking scary if you’ve never done it before. After all, stranger danger is instilled in us from a young age, and if you haven’t travelled before, your knowledge of other countries can be quite hazy and based on stereotypes and horror stories.
But what if I told you that travelling might be actually safer than staying at home? The safety ranking of countries by the Global Peace Index shows some countries in, uh, less than great light. Australia is at number 13, the UK is at number 45 and the US all the way down at 121, ranking even lower than such countries as Uganda and Honduras.
Now let’s talk about country-specific crime stats. Most crime in any given country is usually not aimed at tourists.
For example, Turkey is a harrowing place to live as a woman thanks to the lack of legislation protecting them and rampant domestic violence. But for a female tourist, Turkey is a relatively safe (and amazing) backpacking destination.
Even though common violence and disrespect against women can cultivate certain sexist attitudes towards travelling girls too, as a backpacker you’re more likely to just be welcomed warmly as a guest to the country.
Having said all that – obviously nothing fun in this life is entirely without risk (sadly), and as female travellers, you do need to pay more attention than other travellers.
How to Travel Safely as a Woman
Most of the precautions to take while travelling as a woman are the same as at home: be aware of your surroundings and don’t put yourself in stupid situations. (For example, if you’ve lost your friends, money, and phone, you’re lost AND you’re drunk, maybe don’t accept a ride from the guy in a white van. It’s a small miracle I’ve never been murdered even a little bit.)
Your two best friends on the road are street smarts and your gut. I used to think intuition was only reserved for the hyper-enlightened – all my gut ever told me was that it was craving cake. I learned quickly that gut feelings are not an urban legend but absolutely real.
Humans are equipped to pick up subtle clues when shit’s about to go down. That feeling that something is off feels different to nervousness or everyday anxiety, and when you feel it, follow it. It could literally save your life.
While asking for help is cool, don’t let it show that you don’t know what you’re doing. Were you told as a kid that lying is naughty? Forget all about it because you’re about to become the naughtiest kid on the block.
- If someone asks if you’re alone, say you’re meeting a friend.
- If a random guy asks if you have a boyfriend, you definitely do, and he’s very handsome and ripped like The Rock.
- And when you get asked if it’s your first time in the country or city in question, just tell them no, you’ve been there before.
These precautions are not only for your physical safety. Scammers and robbers usually target people who look lost or otherwise gullible but they’re more likely to leave you alone if they feel like you’re a difficult target, i.e. if someone is expecting you and/or you’re familiar with the area.
Weapons and Self-Defence
This is something I’ve seen new solo female travellers talk about a lot: what to carry to keep yourself safe. (I once saw a girl on a Facebook group ask about carrying a small gun on her while interrailing in Europe, to which I say: America, calm yo tits.)
I’ve never carried a weapon on me while travelling. The thing about weapons is that if you don’t know how to handle one, you’re more likely to hurt yourself than a possible attacker. Even that old keys-between-the-fingers trick can actually backfire and hurt YOU if you hold the keys the wrong way.
Let alone the fact that in most places, carrying a weapon is massively illegal. In many European countries, even pepper spray is classified as a weapon and illegal to carry, hard to buy, and/or requires a special licence.
- You can call an Uber instead of walking back in the dark…
- You can keep track of where you are…
- You can even share your location with friends and family!
- You can download safety apps for your phone (and some phones also have a loud SOS alarm available).
The Experience of Backpacking Alone as a Woman
Travel is one thing, but adventuring while broke is a whole other game. Honestly, everyone should try budget backpacking at some point. It takes you off the beaten trail and into some weird-ass sitches.
There will be odd moments with strangers, nights sleeping in funny places, and hitchhiking! (I hope – hitching is dope.)
It’s in these adventurous activities you’ll find the most reward travelling by yourself as a woman. Solo female backpackers get the best adventures.
Staying in Hostels as a Solo Female Traveller
I freaking love a good hostel – and this is coming from an introverted Finnish girl with a natural aversion to talking to people. It’s just such an awesome atmosphere and a sure-fire way to meet other awesome lost souls on the road.
Many first-time solo female backpackers have a weird distrust of sleeping with strangers (in a dorm, gutter-mind). But let me assure you – most of the time, the hostel experience is completely safe.
Many hostels offer special female-only dorms. They tend to be a tad more expensive than a regular dorm bed but it’s a good option if you feel uncomfortable sleeping around unknown men. (Plus sometimes female dorms come with cool girly stuff like hairdryers and make-up mirrors!)
I love a good mixed dorm so there are other things I look out for when I assess how safe a hostel is.
First of all, if I can help it, I never stay anywhere that doesn’t have safety lockers. I also always carry my own padlocks when packing for the hostel: often you don’t get a padlock from the hostel but you have to buy one.
I prefer combination locks since I’m a bit of a space cadet and don’t fancy losing the keys to my lock. Trying to pick your own lock in a dark dorm in the middle of the night feels very undignified…
I also look at the reviews. Obviously, they tell you about the cleanliness and vibe of the hostel life but I make sure that there are reviews from girls in my age group too – if a 40-something male traveller calls the hostel safe, that doesn’t mean anything to me. Women stay at good hostels for women – not men.
It’s also good to make sure that the hostel is in a good area and near public transportation hubs so that getting there is quick and easy even in the middle of the night.
Psst! Heading to a hostel? Don’t forget to pack a padlock! It’s well worth having one so you can secure your locker and protect your stuff!
Hitchhiking as a Solo Female Traveller
Travelling by hitchhiking, in general, bears more risk than more normal forms of travel. You’re quite literally putting your life in the hands of strangers, and as a solo female, you’re more vulnerable to getting picked up by creeps than a solo male traveller. Even though nothing horrendous has ever happened to me, I can’t say for sure that hitchhiking is 100% safe.
Counter argument: the people who have picked me up while hitchhiking have been some of the loveliest folks I ever met. They are usually the kind of people who are willing to go out of their way to help out a poor little backpacker and who just want a little company for the ride. My adventures wouldn’t have been the same without my tales of thumbing rides.
As a solo girl, it’s often easier to get a ride. I’m viewed as non-threatening so people don’t hesitate to pick me up, and finding space for one rider is always easier than for multiple.
What can you do to stay safe, then? The number one thing is to TRUST YOUR GUT. If something feels off, it probably is. I also try not to put my backpack in the trunk of the car. Make sure you have all your valuables on you, for example in a cross-body purse or bum bag, in case you need to get the fuck outta dodge quickly.
I don’t believe in only getting in cars with women or families. They are less likely to stop for a hitchhiker – even if you’re another woman – so finding rides gets more difficult. In a lot of places where hitchhiking is a common method of transportation, like when backpacking in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, there are also fewer female drivers.
Camping and Hiking as a Solo Female Traveller
Oh yeah, that’s another thing that raises eyebrows every time I tell someone I enjoy hiking alone as a woman. Many people seem to picture all sorts of strange threats: wild forest men breaking into your tent in the middle of the night, wild forest men jumping you on the trail, and wild forest men stalking you on the way… You get the gist.
In my experience, wild forest men are very, very rare. Depending on where you go, you either meet very few other people, or there are so many other hikers that there is safety in numbers. There aren’t many human dangers you need to worry about out in the nature. Instead, any beginner’s guide to hiking can tell you to avoid wild animals, bad weather and precarious cliffs. In a word, the same dangers that male hikers would encounter out in the boonies.
Maybe solo female hiking is considered more dangerous because people are simply not used to girls doing cool ass shit like that. Let the haters hate and smash the patriarchy one trail at a time. Brush up on your wilderness survival skills, know what to pack for hiking, and make sure you’re savvy enough to take care of yourself in the wilderness.
Otherwise, there isn’t any real reason why camping or hiking alone as a woman should be any riskier than for anyone else.
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Sex & Romance
I’m not saying that one of the best parts about backpacking is the fast-and-loose hook-up culture that prevails on the road… But women, unfortunately, face lots of nasty judgement for “sleeping around” at home. This is why backpacking girls find it very liberating to let their freak flag fly without having to worry about getting a permanent reputation.
When you’re dating and having sex while travelling, you have to keep in mind all the normal precautions that you would while dating at home. On top of that, you might encounter some spicy cultural differences. Mostly these differences are fascinating and harmless – sometimes they’re downright disturbing.
In many countries, Western women might be viewed as promiscuous – local men might have only ever seen white women in movies and porn – and because of this, they experience harassment and fetishisation. Backpackers also come with an (unfair?) reputation for being down with the dirty. From Brazil to Australia, I’ve encountered men who thought it was OK to be completely inappropriate just because I was a foreigner and I must be “easy”.
And then there are babies because our bodies are just thusly inclined. If you’re planning on staying somewhere for a while, I’d encourage you to check out the abortion laws in that country.
Because what happens when all precautions fail and you’re stuck somewhere where abortion is totally illegal? Being currently stuck in Indonesia with a mortifying fear of getting pregnant, I praise my IUD every day.
Bottom line is, a smart gal always carries and uses protection.
Top Safety Tips for Traveling Alone as Woman
- Be aware of your surroundings – Ah, so simple, yet so effective… This might include boring stuff like avoiding getting too drunk when you’re around strangers and sitting with your back towards the wall at restaurants.
- TRUST YOUR GUT – That bitch knows what she’s talking about.
- Pay attention to your body language – Research shows that people who seem confident are less likely to get hassled, whether that’s harassment or robbery. Channel your inner Ronda Rousey and square your shoulders, lift your chin, and walk with purpose. If you act like no one could kick your ass, you’re more likely to be left alone.
- Find another woman – If you do get into a hairy situation, you can usually always count on getting help from another woman, whether that’s another backpacking girl or a local grandma with a purse as a weapon.
- Hide your money well – Never keep all your cash in the same stash, and through your feminine wiles, you have many nifty hiding spots to choose from. The bra works but if you don’t want any sweaty boob money, roll up some bills in an empty lipstick container.
Another great hiding place is a box of tampons or inside a pad because (allegedly?) a male robber wouldn’t think to look there.
- Solo travel doesn’t have to be lonely – Hostels, Couchsurfing, volunteering, Facebook groups, and even Tinder are all great places to meet other badass travellers – solo females or otherwise.
- Learn to say no – Women are socialised to be too nice, so here’s a tip: you don’t have to be polite to strangers. You don’t owe them anything.
If a taxi driver asks for your Instagram, it’s okay to lie that you don’t have one. When a group of smirking teens asks to take a photo with you, it’s okay to refuse if it makes you feel uncomfortable. Kindness is a virtue – but politeness is not a given.
And The Last Safey Tip: Get Insured!
No matter how safe you stay – shit happens. The best travel accessory you can buy is not a foldable water bottle or a funky beach sarong, it’s a comprehensive travel insurance policy.
On the road, anything can happen. Did a monkey steal your brand new iPhone? Did you sprain your back falling down the hostel stairs after one too many pints at ladies’ night? Maybe you woke up one morning realising that the pad thai you had last night liked to fight back…
I thought I didn’t need insurance when I first started travelling but my mum made me get it, and then I just forgot about it and kept paying for it.
Then, on a fateful snorkelling trip to the beautiful reefs just outside of Hoi An, Vietnam, I was swimming back to the boat when the captain decided to do a blind backflip off the edge and landed right on my neck. Yikes! My neck was sore still weeks after so I got it checked up, just in case I might be slowly dying.
Luckily, there is no dramatic plot twist unless me being a bit of a hypochondriac counts as one. The doctors didn’t find anything wrong, but insurance saved me some 2,000 bucks for that reassurance.
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Best Places for Solo Female Travel
Where to travel alone? Here are some safe places to travel alone as a woman and my thoughts on why “best destinations” is kind of a bad concept.
Why “The Best Solo Female Travel Destinations” is a Misleading Concept
Most lists of the best places for solo travelling as a woman are always framed in the context of safety.
Here’s the thing: I’ve travelled solo in Asia, the Middle East, South America… all the places people usually say girls shouldn’t go by themselves. And I’ve been fine. More than that: those trips have been some of my favourites.
Safety is not necessarily as much of an issue as you think – but some places are definitely more difficult to travel as a woman. In Iran, even foreign women have to follow strict rules about clothing and behaviour, including wearing a headscarf and not riding bicycles. In India, men would often straight up ignore me when I tried to talk to them. In Brazil, I couldn’t get in an Uber without being hit on.
In some countries, women are expected to stay at home rather than socialise outside. Visiting Singapore was strange because I felt completely safe, however, there were very few women on the streets and that left me feeling on edge. There is something comforting about seeing other women around, and in some countries, the street view is dominated by men.
Emphasising the dangers of a certain country for female travellers enforces stereotypes which are often untrue. There are some spots, though, which I especially recommend for the solo girl gang.
Side note: India is still the ONLY country on my personal blacklist. I travelled around India with a boyfriend, not solo, and even though I could feel feminism leaving my body every time I found myself happy to have him around, I was happy to have him around.
I’ve heard some solo girls have had wonderful experiences solo trotting India, but it is still one of the most dangerous countries for female tourists. On the other hand, solo female travel in Pakistan seems to be picking up…
Top Destinations for First-Time Solo Female Travellers
When it comes to solo female travel, there are some destinations to rule them all.
For the most freaked-out female wayfarers, you really can’t go wrong by travelling to literally the safest countries in the world.
Travelling in Scandinavia is a totally unique experience. Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland consistently rank on top of all international peace and safety indexes so they are secure picks for female adventurers travelling Europe alone. Because gender equality in these countries is better than average, female travellers experience minimum harassment.
The downsides? The high standard of living means that travellers need to dish out some serious cash money, and hostel culture isn’t as well developed as in the rest of Europe. That’s fine – you came to stretch your solo wings anyway, right?
The backpackers’ promised land is the gateway to the joys of budget travel for most budding globetrotters.
While backpacking Southeast Asia is massively overplayed at this point, it’s still the top choice for first-time backpackers for a good reason: it’s the perfect balance between adventures and comfort.
The sheer popularity of the region makes it the best possible pick for solo travellers who are new to the game and still a lil’ unsure of themselves. It’s very easy to make friends and you’ll never be alone – there’s safety in numbers.
Because the tourist trail is well set up, travelling around Southeast Asia is super duper easy while still offering adventures aplenty. (Don’t forget to venture off the beaten path too, though; check out Myanmar!)
While backpacking around South America gets a dodgy reputation, it’s a proverbial treasure chest of awesome experiences for the adventurous (and feminine) souls.
For less experienced solo female travellers, Peru and Bolivia are an excellent introduction to the nether Americas: they’re safer than Colombia or Brazil, and way cheaper than Chile and Argentina.
And just to put this marketing spiel into hyper-drive, these two countries also have the most epic, emblematic adventures South America has to offer!
The backpacker trail snaking from the Bolivian salt flats through La Paz, Cusco, and Machu Picchu is like the Southeast Asia of Southern America, meaning that you’ll meet tons of other cool-ass travellers.
First-time backpackers might be seeking a bit of comfort over crazy adventure. This is where Europe sashays onto stage. Adventuring around Europe has been one of the top gap-year experiences for literally ever.
If you’re looking for city culture, and old town romance, the Old Continent is seductively whispering your name.
Party centrals Krakow (Poland), Prague (Czech Republic) and Budapest (Hungary) are household fixtures on the European backpacker trail. You barely even have to try to make friends!
And for a single woman travelling alone, the cobblestoned streets and old buildings are a perfect backdrop for a little holiday romance (or romancing yourself, for that matter).
This one might be a bit surprising – but I felt totally safe backpacking in Iran. It’s definitely not a pick for a first-time backpacker, but for gals craving something different, Iran is absolutely awesome.
Despite strict dress codes that even foreign women can’t avoid – e.g. having to wear a headscarf and covering your ankles and elbows -, travelling in Iran felt super safe. I was welcomed with hospitality and curiosity anywhere I went. I even met tons of other solo female travellers in Iranian hostels – they outnumbered solo male travellers!
From a feminist perspective, it’s also interesting to see female lives under oppressive legislation like the one in Iran.
Feminist advocates on Instagram have been arrested and silenced, and although many young Iranians live a life much like ours – complete with booze and Tinder – they have to do that all underground.
Packing as a Solo Female Traveller
You’ve probably heard the phrase: when packing, take double the money and leave half the stuff.
That’s the best advice about packing you’ll ever hear, but it’s something that you will only learn after you’ve made the mistake of overpacking yourself. (I should have known that walking across the Balkans with 15 kg on my back in an ill-fitting backpack would be… not fun.) Often you can get away with travelling with just one bag!
Paying attention to the weight of your backpack is especially important for solo female backpackers. Now, I’m not calling girls weak… I’m just saying that personally, I have often struggled to hoist my toddler-sized backpack on the overhead rack on trains and buses without help. And, it’s difficult to continue being a badass solo female backpacker when you have back problems.
All backpacks are not made equal. It’s important that the weight you carry is distributed evenly, and many standard or unisex backpacks might not be a good fit for a girly frame. Most brands have a range of awesome backpacks for women. The friendly folks at your local outdoor store can also help you measure yourself and find you the perfect backpack.
What to Pack as a Solo Female Traveller
Now that you’ve stripped off most of the unnecessary things from your pack, let’s go and add some real essentials. These are some items I have wished I’d added to my backpacking packing list back when I was a newbie:
- Sanitary products – In many non-Western countries, finding period products is surprisingly difficult. Tampons? I don’t know her.
On shorter trips, you can stock up, but during longer runs, a backpack full of period products just sounds like a punchline to a weird joke.
I highly, highly recommend getting a period cup, and it’s reusable for years so it’s environmentally sustainable. (Get it a few months before the trip though to practice… there is a learning curve but I promise it’s worth it!)
- Beauty products – Many backpacking girls decide to go without make-up which is great. I personally don’t – and if you’re like me, you’ll want to make sure your make-up is sweat-proof!
Other travel toiletries to pack are dry shampoo and skin cleaning products. In Asia, almost every facial cleanse sold in stores is marketed as “whitening”, which, uhh… let’s just have the discussion about how problematic that is some other time.
- Birth control – It sucks, but you have to think about this. But if you’re going on a longer trip, you might have trouble filling up your prescription on pills since the same brands are not available everywhere. Pick up a packet of condoms from home as well: in many places, it’s impossible to find big ones. (And a smart gal is always prepared, even if her partner isn’t!)
- Appropriate clothes – Depending on where you’re going, you might need to pack skirts or trousers that cover your ankles or shirts that cover your shoulders and cleavage. Getting a lightweight sarong is a great idea since it can be used to quickly cover up your legs when entering a temple or swung onto your shoulders and head when going into a church.
- Bikini and underwear – Mid-trip shopping is all fun and games until you go pull up XL sized bikini bottoms and get it gets stuck mid-thigh. Asian sizing is TINY, so if you’re headed to Southeast/East Asia and are anything above size 0, it’s best to do your bikini shopping at home.
Solo Female Travel – Dangerously Empowering
Despite what some people might say, it turns out that the world, after all, isn’t a bad place. Actually, it’s pretty dope, especially for badass girls who fearlessly go against ill-informed nay-sayers and fearmongers. Growth begins at the edge of your comfort zone.
Travelling solo has literally been the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s become a big part of my identity and even shaped the career I went into – anything digital just so I could keep travelling till I dropped. Sure, I had fun when I was traipsing around with a handsome English boy or touring ancient ruins with a global group of rascals I met at a hostel, but the best moments for me have always been with myself.
There is beauty in being alone and learning that it’s fine. You don’t NEED another person to travel the world; the only things you need are your own hunger to see more things and a teeny tiny bit of courage.
And when you realise that you can do that -you can just go out there and travel the world alone, that is such a fucking empowering feeling. Suddenly there isn’t anything you can’t do. The confidence boost that you get knowing that your own little hands are enough to carry you is incredible.
Once you learn that, there is nothing holding you back. That kind of power is almost scary.
When so many people tell you that you shouldn’t travel alone and then you prove them wrong – it feels like some epic superhero tale of an underdog rising up as a champion.
So pack your bags and go out there. The whole world is waiting for you, so why would you wait for anyone else?
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