12 No Bullsh*t Tips For Solo Female Travellers
“But it’s so DANGEROUS!"
So, you’ve worked your ass off, saved up, and made a BIG decision. You’re about to head off on the trip of a lifetime, all by your sweet self. Girl, take a minute and soak that in – we’re willing to bet you’ve already been intercepted by well-meaning, if irritating friends/colleagues/family members (not to mention scaremongering newspaper headlines) bleating the same messages…
“But it’s so DANGEROUS! I don’t think you should do this.“
“You’re crazy! I bet your parents are worried!”
“Won’t you get lonely?”
“Aren’t you frightened? It's different for girls!”
“What if something goes wrong? What if you’re attacked?!”
“Text me EVERY HOUR to let me know you’re safe!”
Now, we’re not about to tell you that wandering unknown streets in big new cities, jumping out of aeroplanes in the jungle, or drinking with a bunch of strangers in a random bar don’t carry risks. There's no two ways about it, it *is* different for women - but you should never let that stop you. Travel is exhilarating because the coolest things you can do on this planet carry a whiff of danger.
Teaching yourself to anticipate problems, make smart decisions and safeguard yourself from potential issues will ensure you come home with a passport full of new stamps and memories to last a lifetime (or until you can afford your next trip).
So how’d you do that? Here’s what every solo female traveller needs to know:
Do your research
Research is key to avoiding money-making scams and local dangers. Break it down country by country then read up online and in books, asking locals what to watch out for when you first arrive. Is it monsoon season when you’re going to Thailand? Do you know what to do if one hits? Before climbing in a tuk-tuk to the local temple via the driver’s friends travel agency, check with hostel staff/local bartenders/Google that they’re legit - and ask a new pal to come with you.
Stay culturally sensitive – even if you don’t agree with it
Don’t be the woman who bares her shoulders in a sacred temple, or has her profile pic taken on sacred land. Do you know how much skin it’s OK to show in Egypt? Did you know it’s offensive to wear shoes indoors through much of Asia? Why you shouldn’t touch things with your left hand in India? Avoid awkward and disrespectful behaviour at all costs.
If you’re LGBTQ+, this is super important. For example, Angola just lifted a ban on homosexuality, but it remains a crime in countries like Barbados, Jamaica, St. Lucia and Dominica plus much of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Middle East. Gov.uk help outline the facts, and Stonewall offer great advice and support.
You wanted independence, you got it. Now you’re on a 29-hour coach, throwing your guts up, without a partner/best friend’s shoulder to cry on. This part of solo travel SUCKS, but you’ll handle it a lot better if you’ve made friends with people around you and you’re prepared for the worst:
*Always carry a full medical kit and look into a 24/7 medical crisis response membership, so if anything happened to you, there’d be immediate help on the way.
*Set alarms to remind you to take any regular medication needed.
*Read up on basic First Aid, then take a course so you’re prepared for anything. Know the symptoms of common travel bugs and illnesses and how to treat them. Take note of the name and address of local hospitals/doctors surgeries and set reminders to take any medication needed.
*Wear an allergy tag if necessary and be super vigilant with your food’s ingredients.
*Don’t swallow the local water/food washed in local water if you’re advised not to – that goes for brushing your teeth, too!
That includes your mental health!
Stay in touch with people who keep you grounded, care for you and have your best interests at heart. The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT) produce guidance leaflets for travellers with various mental health issues which can be downloaded free, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office can assist with a mental health problem during travel, too. Consider CBT therapy prior to travelling, to help arm you against problems you may face out there – fear of water or flying, for example.
Now, your sexual health
Talk to your GP about the best contraception to take before you go (the ‘belt-and-braces’ method, i.e. the pill and condoms, is always a good idea). It makes sense to pack the morning-after pill too, in case of emergencies. It works up to 72 hours after sex (the longer you wait, the less effective it becomes) but offers ZERO protection from all the gnarly STIs you could pick up worldwide. Available over the counter in the UK, but chat to your GP first. Don’t forget pads, tampons or your Mooncup, either…
Do NOT overshare
Sure, the guy you met on that trek was cute – and it’s 100% right to connect with as many people around you as possible – the more people looking out for you, the better. But he doesn’t need to know which hostel you’re staying in right away (and definitely not which room number). Be careful with how much infor you’re posting on social media, too. Let your pals know you’re living it up in Morocco, sure, but don’t share exact hotel locations, flight details or travel plans. Chat to people wherever you go, make yourself known in hostels and say hi at the traveller's bar/chill out room - it's far safer that way.
Take charge of your personal safety
Next time someone tells you it’s too dangerous to travel alone as a woman, hit them with this list of precautions you've taken...
*You’ll have a personal attack alarm & whistle on you at all times
*You’ve taken a self-defence class
*You’re planning what you can in advance, and letting someone know what you’re doing
*You’re SUPER careful taking drugs or alcohol from strangers
*You’ll make an effort to buddy up with other female travellers
*You’ll only take registered taxis and sit with other women/travellers on public transport
*You’ll travel during the day where possible
Some hostels and hotels are better than others if you’re travelling alone – a cursory look can tell you where’s best for parties or chill vibes (and where to avoid men altogether if you’re channelling Cameron Diaz in 'The Holiday' or doing an ‘Eat, Pray, Love’). Check out Hostelworld’s ‘Hoscars’ commending the best hostels worldwide, with a ‘Best For Solo Travellers’ award added this year.
Adequate rest is vital to have the time of your life, but that can mean letting your guard down. Consider taking it in turns with another traveller to sleep on long journeys – safety is about staying aware of what’s around you. On that note, your bag should have a padlock on it if you can’t see where it's stowed, and you should always wear a cross-body bag to prevent ‘grab and go’ robberies. Never carry more money than you need, and use a different form of ID than your passport.
Tip – use a doorstop/wedge while you nap. Stops strangers opening doors with a key, or drunken teenagers ninja-kicking hostel doors in at 3am. #winning
Get an actual map, dude
Citymapper is available in tons of cities now and it’s a GODSEND – just try not to wander around with your eyes glued to the screen, showing yourself up as an obvious tourist (same goes with paper maps). You’ll be a target for thieves and miss the sights, too! Make sure you have an understanding of where you are at all times – do not blindly follow tour routes with no idea where you actually are.
Stay in touch
Don’t shoot people down if they’re worried about you. It can be tempting to tell your mum to piss off when she asks how you are for the 43rd time, but try to remember that she grew you inside of her for 9 months, squeezed you out and kept you alive for years afterwards, just for fun. Now you’re repaying her by buzzing off thousands of miles away with no idea what might happen. The people who love you want you to be safe and happy, so do them the courtesy of staying in touch when they ask you to – and sending tons of pictures! Catch up at pre-agreed times or create a routine, so if you do go off the radar for a bit, they’ll know when to really start freaking out.
Trust your gut
This one’s easy, but it takes practice. If someone asks you to do something, go somewhere, or buy something that makes you feel uneasy? Don’t do it. If you’re a bit too drunk, head home (in a licensed taxi with friends if possible!). Feeling unwell? Get it checked out. Instincts are a powerful thing and should never be ignored.
Ignore the haters!
You’ve made the most exciting decision of your life. You’ll become more confident, creative and interesting – guess what, some people aren’t going to like it. They’re sippin’ on haterade while you’re swinging in a hammock at sunset. Best response? “Yeah, it’s amazing – why don't you try it too?”
By Amy Everett