The 7 helpful tips for women to travel solo
Sometimes people say to me, " I would love to travel alone but I would have no idea where to start! You're so brave!"
I don't actually think of it that way. For me, it was mostly realizing that if I waited for others to go with me, I probably wouldn't be able to go anywhere! However, I think before I ever did it I probably thought like that too or thought I wouldn't be comfortable or have fun by myself but nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, it's actually about being confident in your planning, figuring out what you want, and some street smarts that everyone can learn. Yes, safety needs to be a top concern and in my opinion planning is the best way to do it.
Traveling alone can be one of the most wonderful and empowering experiences a woman can have. I started traveling alone 24 years ago and have never looked back. While I also love traveling with a partner, a friend or a family member, I have learned more about myself, my strength, and the world through the wonderful adventure of heading off alone into a foreign land.
"When you're (traveling) with someone else, you share each discovery, but when you are alone, you have to carry each experience with you like a secret, something you have to write on your heart, because there's no other way to preserve it."— Shauna Niequist (Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life)
So how did I start traveling alone? Well, there is a saying that if you wait for others to travel with you, you'll never do it. That's how I moved to Mexico. And kept going :D Over the years I have made plans to meet up in other places with people or people wanted to do a holiday away some where. But the truth is that life happens and sometimes people don't have the time, money, or flexibility to do it. For all those who doubt, traveling alone can such a wonderful experience! It's a time when can focus 100% on yourself and be a bit selfish even on your holiday :D. Want to sleep in? Do it! Want to hit up 3 museums in a day? Do it! Want to stop at a cafe and spend 4 hours people watching and reading a book? Do it! You have the chance to explore new places and full immerse into new cultures at your own places while reconnecting with yourself. So, if you're a woman traveling alone, how do you do it in a smart, safe, and fun way? You can find tons of resources on this but here are some of mine.
"Traveling solo is an incredible – life changing – journey, which I can recommend anyone to undertake. It’s the fear of being alone that prevents many people from daring to take the step to go on that journey. But as with many things, within that fear you’ll discover the greatest triumphs."— Jellis Vaes
Here are 7 most important things for women to consider when they travel alone:
#1 Safety first
First and foremost, as a woman traveling solo, this is one of my top rules I have learned over the years. Are you arriving late to a new country with luggage and your hostel is only a 20 minute walk versus 20$ on a taxi? Just take the taxi. Get to your hostel or hotel safe and orientate yourself. There are many times where arriving tired can get you lost or wandering around areas you wish you weren't in. Just spend the money and budget for these types of situations when you need to get back to your hotel easily without worrying. Spend the extra money for a hostel in a central area where the reviews say the area is safe and well lit. Make a little budget you can use for these kinds of things always. Planning ahead will help you avoid situations where you have to suddenly use this (more on this coming up).
"Never sacrifice your safety to save money," Andrea Hunt.
Secondly, be aware of your surroundings and check where you're going in advance on Google maps so you know where you are, be careful to ask anyone for information or to show yourself with the map in hand. Observe the place and the people around you. You can always ask people at the hotel about the area and also where to eat, but if something tells you not to trust it, don't. Change street or area and look for a more welcoming place.
Thirdly, pay attention. This might sound like a no-brainer but many times, we're busy wandering around looking at our phones and not really aware of what's happening around us. I think as a female, being aware of your surroundings is one of the most important things. Look around you. Do you see women alone, do you see families or just men hanging around? Having a good eye and trusting your gut is really important because you want to avoid situations where you're not paying attention of your space or your valuables.
Here are some helpful places to start if you're trying to plan a trip alone and want to find a safe destination:
#2 Research, plan ahead & book things in advance
There are so many ways to plan ahead these days and tons of forums and FB groups where you can get helpful tips from people on destinations, visas, transportation, routes and itinerary, and even best places to visit or eat a great meal.
There are many guidebooks available in paperback or online. Lonely Planet has been a favor of mine for around 20 years and they do good job of giving you an overview of the city, history and culture, accommodation recommendations, prices, restaurants, etc. Lonely Planet also has a Facebook group as well so you can ask questions about places to go, things to see, money, visas, etc. I find these groups super helpful and people are nice and you can really find some hidden places you could have missed otherwise.
Trip advisor is really helpful for searching specific destinations, restaurants, bars, activities, and best places to see.
Viator is awesome for activities and you can find cool stuff like cooking classes, food tours, wine tastings, adventure activites, etc., depending on the destination. '
Booking.com is my personal favorite for hostels, hotels, apartment rentals, etc. I like that you can book more than one thing in advance then cancel what you don't need later on by a certain time. I love this option and have stopped using everything else. I like the reviews as well and have found that typically if it's an 8.5 rating or above it's good. Check all the reviews and see what people say. I love the honesty as people will tell you: fun, loud place, great location, bathroom is not very nice or clean.
Hostelworld.com are two hostel specific sites that are really great and now they come with more options for downpayment and cancellations. Also, hostels can still be great even if you're older if you're looking to meet new people as many of them have single rooms if you want a bit more privacy and space. Since COVID-19, I only stay in my own room and I know many people who just like to have more space and quiet instead of sharing dorm beds. The cool things about hostels is that they usually have common areas, kitchen, laundry, and sometimes a bar or restaurant as well as social activities.
It is always useful to plan your trips in time in order to reduce the possibility of unforeseen events. In general, I try to avoid arriving late at night but if I do I organize my transportation ahead of time (I use Booking.com to book taxis as well). Book taxis online in advance, check to see if there are shuttles to take you to the center of the city and how far the walk is to your hostel or hotel. Before each move, check if there is any last-minute information and if you really have the correct information and have checked-in, confirmed flights, etc. It's a good idea if possible to have things also written down in case your phone dies or your mobile network doesn't work. I found especially in countries where I can't write the language or might have trouble saying the name of a place, get someone from the hotel to write the address of where you're destination in case you need to ask for directions and are unsure of your pronunciation. In China, I can't tell you how much this helped!
For different languages, the Google translate app is fabulous. You can use the AR feature to read a menu in another language or products at the supermarket - this is a life saver, especially when buying things like shampoo versus conditioner or body wash! Or wanting to know if that's a carton of milk, yogurt drink, or buttermilk! Also, this is a life saver when you're in a place and can't ask for what you want. There is a speaking feature where you can say what you want and it will translate it immediately. Used this all the time in Greece not sure how I would have managed without it :D.
#3 Check your cards and be smart with your money
This is a big one so make sure you have several sources of money: cash, bank card, and a credit card. In order to avoid surprises on vacation, before leaving, let your bank know you're leaving the country and where so they don't block your card while you're abroad (no fun!) Make sure your card is enabled for transactions from the country you are going to and check withdraw fees to avoid nasty surprises (sometimes up to 7 euros/dollars). Also, if you plan to withdraw cash with your credit card, make sure you know the PIN number, which not everyone knows since they might only swipe their credit card or use it for online payments.
I always change or withdraw a bit of money at the airport so I don't arrive into the city without money (bad idea if you're alone and you can't find a bank open or ATM). As a forewarning, be aware that airport ATM fees and exchange rates are really horrible so I usually just take enough out for my accommodation for 1-2 nights and a meal. Try to start with some cash in the local currency already or find out if it is customary to pay in euros or dollars.
It is not possible to pay by credit card everywhere, so make sure you have enough cash to get you through the day. Many times, I try to pre-pay hostels and hotels online beforehand so that I only need to take out what I'm going to use that day on food and activities. Everyone has different ways of doing this but this is just my preference.
Remember to keep your belongings in a safe place, better then to have cash and credit cards in separate places. Having a small spare budget and a photocopy of your passport in a secret place (shoes, bra) can prove to be a vital backup plan. I usually use a hidden travel pouch that goes under my clothes but then I lock it up in a safe once at the hostel or hotel. There are a million arguments for carrying your passport versus not and I am in the camp that doesn't want to risk anything happening to my passport outside the hotel so I lock it up there. I always bring my own padlocks for my bags as well. These are helpful if you want to padlock your bag to a bed, radiator, whatever if you feel more comfortable. I personally do not recommend bum bags, or fanny packs (depending on where you're from!) as they're easy to steal.
#4 Be careful with your personal items
I personally try to blend in and don't use flashy jewelry and expensive bags, etc. That's just me and you have to do whatever you feel comfortable with but I generally think that the more it looks like you could be flaunting money, the more you could attract unwanted attention from the wrong kind of people. If you might be one of those people with a brand new mobile phone who doesn't notice if you're bag is open, it might be time to change that habit if you're traveling alone.
Especially if you are on the other side of the world by yourself it's good to have a purse that goes across your chest (my personal opinion). Every country has its own rules and some might require you to carry your passport while most of them allow you to have a photo copy (good idea to take a good quality photo copy and laminate it) so you can easily show them in case of need but at the same time safe. I lock up my passport now as I've met people who've lost theirs or gotten their stolen. This is one of the biggest arguments by new and seasoned travelers so you have to figure out what feels good for you as there is no such thing as 100% safe for anything!
Here are some articles so you can read more:
So, here's my own story: I got pickpocketed in Rome on a tram and also Beijing walking by the subway in the morning because I was not holding my purse because I was tired. Dumb. I've been to 36 countries and those were the only two times that happened, but still. Expensive lesson.
#5 Pay attention to the culture of your destination
Before leaving, study the culture, customs and habits of the country to visit, especially as they pertain to religion. There may be times when your normal casual outfit simply isn't really appropriate in another country (flip flops, low tank top and cut off shorts in a fancy restaurant, for example). Other times it might not be really inappropriate per se, but it might attract unwanted male attention in many places in the world.
In many houses of worship such as the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican and also many cathedrals and churches in Europe, Hagia Sofia Mosque in Istanbul, Buddhist Temple, and Jewish Temples and Synagogues.
Find out if there is a dress code to follow such as:
-hiding your hair with a scarf (bring your own but sometimes they have them.
-wear shirts with long sleeves, or long pants to cover shoulders, knees, chest, legs.
It's a good idea to know certain cultural aspects such as taking your shoes off when you go inside a shop in Thailand at the beach, or knowing when it's polite to handshake people, or go topless at the beach or not.
Read up a bit to learn certain things such as table manner etiquette so you don't accidently do something that could be considered rude. For example, in China, if you stick your chopsticks into your bowl of rice, it symbolizes incense at a funeral and is really rude to do if you're out with Chinese locals who've just invited you to eat with them!
#6 Do activities to meet other travelers
One of the biggest questions I get is, 'but what if I get bored alone or feel lonely?'. Truth is, there are so many activities to do if you're alone so you can meet people and other solo travelers are much easier to meet than groups. I always start in a new city with a free walking tour. I love Sandeman's free walking tours are all over Europe and I know they also have one in NYC and they have them many big cities. Personally, I used to hate tours because my parents dragged me around and as a kid I didn't like standing there, but walking tours are so much better because you have time to walk, stand and listen to cool stories about history while meeting other people who are there from all over the world. Pretty cool.
There are also tons of activities to do. Viator is awesome for activities and you can find cool stuff like cooking classes, food tours, sangria and wine tastings, adventure activities, etc., depending on the destination. ' I've done everything from cooking classes, food tastings, wine or beer tastings, and pub crawls (I admit I cannot handle this anymore but there was a time!).
There are also day trips in most places like catamaran dolphin seeing in Madeira, Portugal, sunset boat rides in Split, Croatia, music evenings in Dublin, tapas tours in Barcelona and flamenco shows in Andalusia, group boat rides in Albania, just to name a few. I've found this is a great way to meet people to hang out with in the evenings. I found this article about 'the people you meet while traveling' and really enjoyed it.
#7 Take time to enjoy your own company
This is actually a big one. Being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want can be really freeing and quite empowering. Often, we have so many commitments and responsibilities to other people and this is the one time when you can do exactly what you feel like. At the beginning of your journey it's natural to not feel 100% perfectly comfortable and you might feel a little vulnerable. Yes, it can feel like a lot at first to be in charge of all the organization on your shoulders, the thought of not losing anything, remembering where you have everything, understanding the exchange rate with the local currency and at the same time feeling confident.
It is normal to feel a little disoriented at first, so this is why I go directly to check into my hostel, hotel, B&B, etc., settle in, take a deep breath and get out there and take in the experience. If you feel better, stay right by the sites or certain areas so you can go outside and wander a bit around the neighborhood to get your bearings before trying to tackle the subway. Then let yourself explore a bit, go watch the sunset, grab a coffee in front of the Pantheon and people watch.
Don't forget your mindfulness activities: keep up your morning meditation, EFT tapping, or get some good stretches in first thing to start every day from a good place.
Remember, you've decided to travel to see another part of the world, so don't lock yourself in the room, go out and explore even if you need to just walk around the block a few times and stick to the same streets! :) Breathe in the smells, taste the local food, keep curious and an open mind and have fun! If you need some guidance and you want to learn more tips and tricks on how to travel alone as a woman, you can count on me!
If you've been wanting to travel solo and don't know where to start fitting more travel into your life, book a coaching session with me here. Get more clarity on what you want, adjusting your mindset around confidence and independence and to get the confidence you need to make things work when traveling alone.
ANDREA HUNT - Online Transformational Life Coach & EFT Tapping Practitioner based in Munich, Germany
I'm an accredited transformational life coach from Animas Centre for Coaching UK and a member of the International Coaching Federation. I'm also a Level 2 practitioner in EFT Tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique) and a member of AEFTP (Association of Emotional Freedom Technique Professionals).
If you're not sure where to start transforming your life, you can download my free ebook on How to Start Your Personal Growth Journey.
Are you ready to change your life, let go of old beliefs, empower yourself for a mindset shift to move forward? Mark Batterson says: You're always one decision away from a totally different life. Learn more about my coaching package click here.
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