13 Tips for Solo Female Travelers
Traveling the world by yourself is the easiest way to rocket outside of your comfort zone and truly immerse yourself in another way of life. It’s also one of the fastest ways to learn about the person you are and the person you wish to become.
But for women, it’s not always an easy decision to hop on a plane by yourself and venture into the great unknown. Safety is still a big concern for women in many parts of the world, and the fear of loneliness can be a deterrent from setting out.
I’ve been a solo traveler for nearly 10 years, exploring Southeast Asia, Mexico, Europe and South America as a woman on her own. And I’m here to tell you that traveling solo as a woman can be the adventure of a lifetime.
To ensure a safe and exciting trip, just heed these tried-and-true tips.
Expanding your network is a great way to meet people before you head off on a solo journey. And chances are you’ll find a lot of other solo travelers who are looking to connect.
Search certain hashtags on Instagram that pertain to the destination you’re about to visit, or those popular among female travelers (like #girlslovetravel #girlsabroad and #citizenfemme, to name a few). Send direct messages to the other women you find who are also heading to where you’re going. You can also post on Facebook prior to your trip to see who might already be there or have plans to go.
Before my first trip to the BPM Festival in Playa del Carmen (a large-scale house music festival on the beach), I posted my plans to Facebook only to immediately receive a message from an old friend in London whom I had met in Malaysia two years prior. I had only planned to be in Playa del Carmen for two days, but after meeting up for a round of tequilas with my then-acquaintance, I immediately changed my itinerary. What started as a two-day pass-through on the way to somewhere else ended up being an epic road trip of Southern Mexico, and the discovery of some places I still consider to be my favorite in the world.
Embrace Your Inner ‘Joiner’
If you’re considering the idea of solo travel, it’s likely because the idea of group travel makes you cringe. Tour buses and slow walkers are not for you. That said, tours can be a great way to meet other solo travelers, especially if the tour is recommended in a guidebook or organized through your hostel.
On a solo trip to Merida, Mexico, there were certain places outside the city I had on my bucket list. Uxmal, for example, is one of Mexico’s more impressive ancient Mayan cities, minus the hordes of tourists. Instead of taking a very expensive taxi out to the jungle site, I opted for the cheaper tour bus option (and one that included lunch).
I signed up through my hostel, thinking I’d listen to my headphones and keep to myself. But fate had me share a seat with Amandine, a lovely French woman who came to Mexico following a breakup with her boyfriend. They were supposed to take the trip together, but after the relationship ended she decided to make the trip a solo adventure. After a day exploring the ruins together, we kept meeting up in Merida during our time there for breakfast, drinks and day trips to the nearby beaches.
Dress Like a Local
Dress more conservatively than usual. Solo women travelers are already magnets for unwanted attention, and the sad truth is that what we wear can make the situation even worse.
I try to dress in local clothing, or wear long skirts and t-shirts, depending on the weather and what's in my suitcase. It’s never a bad idea for a woman to have a go-to sarong. Not only is it lightweight and easy to pack, but sites in many countries won’t let a woman enter with exposed shoulders or legs, like the Blue Mosque in Istanbul or Wat Pho in Bangkok. I purchased my travel sarong outside a temple in Bangkok and it has served me all over the world.
Be a Barfly
Dining alone is an activity that, due to outdated misconceptions, is fraught with anxiety. One way to get over this fear is by eating at the bar, which can help you see that eating alone at a table really isn’t a big deal. Plus, at the bar, you’ll always have someone to talk to (the bartender), and you’re likely to meet other people who are there by themselves, as well.
On a several-day stopover in London en route to Germany, I found myself at the bar attached to my hotel for a few drinks and a decent meal. After a glass of wine I began chatting with the bartender, who was new to London from Poland. We ended up talking through her entire shift and when it ended she took me to her favorite pizza place in London for a taste of New York and a lovely nighttime view of the Thames.
Take a Retreat
Retreats are not only for yogis who want to drink green juice (though they can be, and there’s nothing wrong with that!). There are retreats for surfers, language immersion, aspiring bloggers, and experiential travel — all designed exclusively for women.
These provide a wonderful way to meet people with similar interests in a safe setting.
Get on Tinder
No, this is not a joke! Tinder can be a fantastic way to meet locals or other solo travelers, and not just for dating or whatever else you might use Tinder for. The app has the setting to meet men, women or both, and you can be very clear in your profile that all you are looking for is friendship or to meet someone local. Keep it safe and agree to meet in a public place in the daytime — solid Tinder advice even if you’re on your home turf.
My first solo visit to Puerto Vallarta, I thought it might be fun to meet other solo travelers. I got on Tinder and ended up matching with a very handsome Canadian man who had relocated to Puerto Vallarta full-time. While we didn’t meet up on that particular trip, we stayed in touch for months and the next time I went to Puerto Vallarta I already had a friend to visit. Note: We also ended up dating for a while.
Stay Someplace Social
To travel like a local does not mean you need to stay “off the beaten path” — there is no shame in staying in the tourist areas, which truth be told, are often popular for a reason. They are packed with things to do and, crucially, tend to be relatively safe.
Moreover, they are social. By staying in a fun neighborhood, like 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen or Bairro Alto in Lisbon, you will be right in the heart of the action and easily able to meet other travelers as well. You can also meet new people by using Airbnb to book a spare room in a house.
Share Your Itinerary
It’s a freeing idea to go off the grid, and definitely something every woman should try at least once. But just because you’re on a soul-searching adventure, or disconnecting from social media, does not mean that you should disappear.
Sharing your itinerary with someone back home is a smart way to cover your bases should something happen. Plus, if you aren’t cutting ties with social media, posting regularly is a nice way for loved ones back home to feel like they can take part in your adventure with you.
I’m 31 years old and I still send my mother a copy of my flight information and hotels whenever I hit the road, and post on Instagram every day when I’m traveling.
Allow Room for Improv
A journey should be just that — a journey. And not all journeys go according to plan. While it’s a smart idea to do research and pre-plan, you also want to leave space for the spontaneous. If you stumble upon a place you love...stay there. If you decide you’re not interested in going somewhere on your itinerary...don’t go.
Just know that if you do make last-minute adjustments, you should tell someone back home so they know where you are.
Listen to Your Gut
Above all else, remember this: You know what feels right to you. And if something doesn’t feel safe, you’re probably correct to listen to that.
If you feel like you’re one too many drinks in, make your next beverage a glass of water. If a street seems too deserted and unlit, avoid it. Take risks, of course...but ones that challenge your comfort zone, not your safety.
This is just good life advice. You know yourself and you know your limits, so listen to them. Have a cocktail to enjoy yourself, not to get wasted. Don’t roam quiet neighborhoods at night - advice you’d adhere to in your own city.
In 2015 I was backpacking across Southeast Asia. I got food poisoning and had to cancel a three-day trek in Myanmar because my body was too dehydrated to take it. Instead, I took a taxi to the destination I was meant to end up in, but along the way the taxi driver got lost. We stopped at a local restaurant to ask for directions. The restaurant owner looked me up and down, looked at my taxi driver, and said he’d take me himself to my hotel, as he was friends with the owner. Feeling unsettled about that whole scenario, I asked him the owner’s name. He stuttered and stammered, flustered by the question, before eventually giving me a name that I knew to be incorrect. I took one look at my taxi driver and he motioned for me to get back into the cab. Always trust your gut.
A version of this story will appear in Far + Wide.