Yes, women travel solo. A lot!
Why are there more women traveling solo than men? That's a question for speculation but one study found that “72.4% of women are likely to travel alone, compared to just 27.6% per cent of men.”
So what is it about women and solo travel? Why do women go? If you're a woman, why should you travel on your own? And then also, where should you go, what travel techniques are particularly valuable for women solo travelers and how should women stay safe on the road solo?
This is a long post that covers all those questions. To guide you through it, here's a table of contents:
- Top Reasons for Women to Travel Solo
- Best Destinations for Women Traveling alone
- Our Best Solo Female Travel Tips
- Solo Travel Safety for Women
Top Reasons for Women to Travel Solo
- Discover yourself as you discover the world. In your day-to-day life people have expectations of you. Conforming to these expectations is a common response. When you travel by yourself there's no one around with such expectations. You can discover who you are when no one is looking.
- Do what you want to do when you want to do it. Sleep in our get up early, it's your choice. Spend all day in a coffee shop or hit three museums, it's up to you. Save money on this but over-spend on that. Take in activities to meet new people or find ways to be totally solo. How you spend your money, and every minute of the day for that matter, is all up to you.
- Have a last hurrah before you have children. Nature has tied women to their children through nine months of pregnancy and a long period of breastfeeding afterwards. A week or two on a solo trip, a solo babymoon, is great way to energize before a period of deep nesting.
- Refresh and return to caregiving. According to AARP 60% of caregivers are women. And according to Caregiver Health, between 40% and 70% of caregivers are clinically depressed. Protect your mental health, stimulate your mind and return to caregiving refreshed by taking a solo getaway.
- Build confidence. Whether your natural tendency is to be timid or you're bouncing back after a divorce or loss and feel a little vulnerable, traveling solo can build your confidence as you find out just how capable you really are.
- Stretch your boundaries beyond your comfort zone. I don't tend to try new things, difficult things in my mind, except when I'm on my own. That way, whether the result is success or failure, the story is mine to tell. Read: Another Hiking Humiliation and Then… Redemption.
- Eat dessert first. As you travel solo you can do anything you want to do without being judged. You can even eat dessert first!
For more reasons to travel solo read:
Best Destinations for Women Traveling Alone
Most of my recommendations for women traveling alone for the first time are places where English is spoken, or at least, it would not be surprising to find someone who speaks English. Being able to communicate in your own language is helpful – especially if you are a newbie. But there are many destinations where English is not spoken that are easy and safe for solo female travelers.
- London and the Lake District: 12-Day Itinerary – if you are at all outdoorsy – or even if you’re not – the Lake District is a fabulous place to visit for it’s natural beauty and local charm. It’s easy to see why this area was the inspiration for much of Wordsworth’s poetry. Walking by day. A pint at the local pub by night. It’s a perfect solo travel destination.
- Chicago – I love New York City but it is almost too obvious for a list like this. I recommend Chicago for it’s fabulous downtown, waterfront, architecture, great use of the river, cycling, arts scene, blue/jazz scene, sports traditions… and they have a wonderful free greeters program to introduce you to the city as well.
- Amsterdam – Amsterdam is a city rich in history, fresh with pop culture and on the leading edge of social change. It is a place where women, pedestrians and cyclists are all respected. Yes there’s the red light district but it’s also very family friendly. Unlike Paris which is a city to look at, Amsterdam is a place to infiltrate – at least that’s how I felt when I was there.
- Western Canada – Western Canada offers some of the most spectacular scenery in the world as well as a currency that makes it afforable to most who are outside Canada. Read my 12-day luxury and budget itinerary for Western Canada with costs plus my top 12 things to see and do in western Alberta and British Columbia.
- Patagonia, Chile – This is an adventurous trip but also one on which I met lots of solo travelers which made it quite easy on the ground. The challenge was in the planning which is why I wrote “How to Travel Solo to Patagonia: Top 10 Tips“. It's easy for female solo travelers but it likely shouldn't be your first destination solo.
- Sydney, Australia – Natural beauty, ocean, beaches, culture, food… Sydney is a fantastic destination but it comes at a price. It tends to be quite expensive Here are budget Sydney tips to make this city affordable.
- Kauai, Hawaii – I adored Kauai. I was there for two weeks and absolutely loved it. But I must say, it’s expensive. I did it on the cheap. I stayed in a hostel and ate inexpensively for the most part and yet still, it was expensive. You can read what I did and what I spent here: Solo in Kauai: What I Spent.
For more solo travel destination ideas read:
- Best Budget Destinations for Solo Travelers: the 2018 Shortlist
- Our Destinations section on the site.
- Best Solo Road Trips for 2017: Solo Traveler Tested
My Best Solo Female Travel Tips
- Have patience. Even as an experienced solo traveler, every time I start a new trip it takes me a day or two to get solo stable – to shed those initial nerves of being out there on my own managing all the details, logistics and documents. Be patient. You’ll find your strength.
- Be cautious, especially if you’re young. Now some women may object to me suggesting that young women have to be more careful than older women but I’m afraid it’s true. I’ve traveled solo in my twenties and in my fifties and I can confirm that I received a lot more attention, appreciated and otherwise, in my twenties. If you are a young woman you need to be more careful about unsavory characters than us more mature women. Please, PLEASE read Solo Travel Danger: Caught in a Con Game.
- Pack light. You’re going to save money and be more mobile if you pack light. It requires a bit more planning to have a wardrobe that stretches from hiking boots to high heels but it can be done. Choose a base color (black, brown, beige, navy), a contrast color (white, beige…) and a color or two to accessorize and pull it all together.
- Dress conservatively. Maybe revealing tops and short skirts should be fine but, in reality, they can get you into trouble in many countries, including North America and Europe. You are always more vulnerable when you’re off your home turf so compensate by dressing conservatively. Read 10 Tips to Survive Culture Shock for more on this topic.
- Don’t make your hair an issue. Before I left on my long term trip I had long hair that was colored blond. It took too long to dry and the roots showed every five weeks. It was going to be a hassle that I didn’t need so I had it cut less than an inch long and let it go gray. Your situation need not be this extreme but it is worth having easy hair options so your travel time is not consumed with such a mundane task as your hair.
- Plan your first night well. At minimum, have a place to rest your head on the first night and plan to arrive by mid afternoon. It’s important to have the time to find your hotel or hostel in daylight and time to change your accommodation if you determine that this is not the place for you.
- Choose your purse carefully. While a day pack designed with security features is ideal for travel you may prefer to carry a purse. If you do I recommend purses that you wear across your shoulders. In Naples a few years back I was the victim of a “scooter bandit”. What’s that? Two guys on a scooter. The driver charges through a cross walk against the light and behind a woman. The passenger grabs her purse. In my case, all he got was the strap.
- Take care of your feet. Nothing will ruin a trip faster than sore feet. Women’s shoes are notoriously bad for feet. Choose comfort over fashion.
- Pamper yourself. Women traveling alone are, just that, alone. No kisses from family. No hugs from friends. A manicure, pedicure, massage… are all safe ways to get a little human touch. Everyone needs that once in a while.
For more female solo travel tips for a great trip:
- What to Do at Night When Traveling Alone – 7 Tips
- Best Solo Travel Advice: Top Tips from Janice & Tracey
- Travel Alone and Love it: 50 tips (Revised and Updated)
Safety Tips for Solo Female Travel
When I do an interview, which happens just about every other week, the focus is often the safety of solo female travelers.
Is it because I'm a woman? I don't think so. It seems to be because women are seen as more vulnerable than men. However, in talking to men who travel solo, they often feel vulnerable as well–albeit a different kind of vulnerable. They tell me of being challenged by other men, that it's a macho thing–some men just like to strut power. It's foreign to me as a woman but I have had it confirmed by my four sons.
So when I write about safety, while there may be a tip or two that is specific for solo female travel, 99% of it applies to men as well. Yes, traveling solo safely is pretty well the same for women and men but the reasons for concern, the dangers, are different. This is why I offer my tips for solo female travel.
On this site we try to write for all solo travelers. In The Solo Traveler's Handbook I dedicated about a quarter of the book to solo travel safety and just about all of it pertains equally to men and women. So, whatever your safety concerns, here are my top tips.
- Know your priorities. What's important is your person, your documents, your money, and your stuff–in that order. This means that you should be willing to protect your person first and throw away the rest if necessary. Or protect your person and your documents but give up your money and your stuff. In a world where there is so much emphasis on money, it's important to think about your priorities once in a while.
- Do your research. Know the risks of your destination before you leave. Check your government’s travel sites for information on travel document requirements, travel advisories, and other recommendations. Here are links for travel alerts for United Kingdom, United States, and Canada.
- Arrive during daylight. Always plan to arrive in a new destination well before dark. That way, if you are not comfortable with your hotel or hostel, you can change. Also, check out The Solo Traveler Accommodation Guide. The guide was crowdsourced from readers and every one of the 223 listings from over 60 countries has been recommended by a real person who has stayed there.
- Keep your accommodation to yourself. Your accommodation is your safe haven. Don’t tell people where you’re staying. If they ask, it's easy to be vague. Read: Solo Travel Safety: Safe Answers to Common Questions.
- Beware of people who flirt. Alone, out of your home culture where you can read people well, it's wise to keep people who flirt at a distance. This doesn't mean that you can't have a little fun but, as per point 6, stay in public, don't suggest anything that you won't follow through on, and be mindful that you can't read the situation well.
- Stay in public. Public is always safer than private. Stay in a public place with people you meet on your travels. In a different culture, on holiday mode, our “spidey senses” may not be on high alert. Being a in a public place keeps us safer. This is what saved me in my situation in Paris.
- Engage others in your safety. If you feel unsafe, draw on the support of total strangers – people of your choice, rather than people who approach you. Look for a family or a couple. Be proactive. Read: My Kind of Strangers.
- Other women are not necessarily safe. Women often feel safer with other women. And, when it comes to small time danger, we probably are. But there are also dangerous women who are just as capable of luring you into bad situations as men. Be cautious.
- Stay in touch with home. Leave your travel itinerary with a trusted friend or family member at home and stay in touch with them should you decide to change it. It's wise to check in periodically by phone, Facebook, or whatever medium you find easiest to use.
- Protect your documents. Keep your passport and other important documents secure. Have backup copies on you and at home with your trusted contact. Read Protect Yourself from Pickpockets: Keep Cards & Cash Safe.
- Separate your money. Keep money and back-up credit and debit cards in a at least two different places so that if you lose some, you haven't lost everything. I keep a bit in my luggage which is usually back in my hotel or hostel; some in a purse or backpack, whichever I'm carrying; and some in my pocket.
- Keep it simple. Dress conservatively and don’t flash expensive technology or jewelry. You don't want to attract attention from the wrong people for the wrong reasons, and there is no doubt that conservative dress, etc., can avoid problems.
- Grab your hotel's business card. Carry the name and address of the place you’re staying in the local language on a card. This will be helpful if you're taking a taxi home at night, especially if you don't know the language.
- Stay sober and well rested. You need your wits about you to stay safe. If you're not sober or you're jet lagged or hungover be very aware that your decision-making won't be as clear as usual.
- Find help for someone who needs help. If someone appears to need your help find someone else to help with you–preferably a local who can read the situation well. There have been instances when the need has been a ploy.
- Be rude if necessary. If you’re being bothered by someone who just doesn’t get the message that you don’t want their attention, be rude and noisy. They’ll usually back away.
- Secure yourself online. Public Wi-Fi is just that: public. Don’t buy things online or do any banking on public Wi-Fi unless you’re using a VPN. Sign up for a month of VPN for just $10 or a year for about $69. Readers of Solo Traveler get a 15% discount on an annual plan. Or read the what, why and how of a VPN with easy setup guide here.
And, the greatest common sense safety tip of all: trust your instincts. Listen to them. If something doesn’t feel right, get out of there.
For more solo travel safety advice read:
- Solo Travel Safety: who to trust
- Night Safety for Solo Travelers: 15 tips
- Solo Travel Safety: 10 ways to look confident.