More and more women are travelling solo these days. A woman travelling alone will have wonderful experiences and create long lasting memories. You do need to be more careful than if you were travelling with a male or another female companion.
Here are some tips for the woman travelling solo to keep you safe so that you will have a truly wonderful time.
1. Be selfish
If there was ever a time to be selfish and self-indulgent, it is now. First of all, make a commitment to yourself that you won’t feel guilty for doing exactly what you want for the duration of your trip. So your mother wants you to visit her cousin in Singapore, or an old work colleague has invited you to her summer house for a week. You don’t have to go. Very few of us get much opportunity in our lives to live on our own terms, without anyone being dependent on us. Make the most of it.
Your mistakes are yours alone. There is no one to blame for yourself, so smack yourself on the back of your hand and relish the feeling of not having to worry too much about what anyone else thinks. Have you walked all afternoon to a museum that’s closed that day? Well, no one is more disappointed than you. Either write the day off and lounge in a cafe with a book, or find something else to do that’s equally as interesting as your original plans.
2. Avoid the ‘couple bias’
Sadly, most holidays, excursions and hotels are biased towards loved-up couples travelling together. Things such as rates per room and single supplements are your worst enemy. Single supplements are some of the worst offending budget-busters, often raising the cost of anything by 25 to 100% of the trip cost if you were with someone else. Get savvy and find an operator that doesn’t charge a single supplement, or arrange to share a room with another single traveller. Some operators will even try to match you with someone on the basis of personality or preferred bedtime. Booking at the last minute is another way of reducing single supplements. If there’s just one place left on a tour, then the operator may even waive this altogether.
In terms of accommodation, you’ll get the best value in a hostel, where the nightly charge is per bed rather than per room. In these places, you might even hear couples whining about how expensive it is for both of them. Even if you can’t bear the thought of sharing a dormitory with fifteen strangers, some of the bigger hostels will have private single rooms which might suit your needs. Don’t expect a spacious double bed though!
You could even try couch surfing or home stays, although as a single woman it’s obviously safest to stay with another female.
3. Know your strengths but test your weaknesses
Solo travel can be close to a religious experience for many. You’ll have time to do a lot of navel-gazing and inner reflection but from the start, try to tailor your experiences to the person you really are. The key is in getting the balance right between doing things you’re comfortable with and pushing your limits. For me, the split is roughly 70:30.
Two-thirds of the time, I acknowledge I’m a natural introvert. I sneak into foreign cinemas on my own and sit at the back, I find a quiet cafe and have a solitary coffee, I wander art galleries in silence and awe. The rest of the time, I test my weaknesses. I force myself to walk up to another traveller in a hostel and challenge them to a game of pool, I respond to an advertisement looking for Bollywood film extras, I book a bus to somewhere I haven’t even read about in my guidebook. I find that this balance gives me the most rewarding travel experiences. I don’t enjoy all of it, but I’m always glad I pushed myself that little bit further.
4. Staying safe
Being on your own doesn’t necessarily mean that you are inherently in any more danger than you would be in a group. In fact, you’re more likely to blend in to the background as a solo traveller than a family group or a couple. Part of the fun is slipping on a pair of sunglasses, closing your lips and soaking up everything around you – sometimes people will barely notice you’re there.
A major part of staying safe is in the mind. Pickpockets, con artists and other undesirables prey upon people that are obviously tourists and who look like an easy target. The simplest but most effective thing you can do, having taken all the sensible precautions like removing expensive jewellery and wearing a money belt, is to stand tall and walk confidently. Throw your shoulders back, raise your chin and stride out. Imagine you’re a queen for the day, dressed in civilian clothes and surveying your kingdom, if you must. While it might feel funny at first, it will become natural after a while. Additional benefits include improving your posture in the meantime. Plus, if you look like you know what you’re doing and where you’re going, you might even feel like you really do!
For a more detailed break down of the things that you can do to stay safe on public transport and in your accommodation, read our Top 30 safety tips for women article.
5. Eating alone
For some reason, a lot of travellers on their own for the first time find eating out the hardest bit of the whole experience. Often, you won’t have cooking facilities in your accommodation, so dining at a cafe or restaurant is the only option available to you. We’re so used to dinner being a sociable activity that doing it alone feel really quite odd.
The best tip I can give you is to take something to read or write with you. Pick up a newspaper on the way, write your journal between courses, or take the time while you wait for your food to learn a few more phrases from your guidebook. Lots of single travellers use this time to plan the next day’s activities – a restaurant is a good place to do this, as the waiting staff are more likely to speak English than other locals, and may be able to give you some tips of their own on what to see and do in their region.
Choosing a seat at the bar or counter, or in a booth will either give you more privacy or remove the suggestion that you’re waiting for someone and have been stood up.
6. Find friends
You’ll notice that as a female traveller, there’s a certain kind of sisterhood in existence. Women travelling alone know what it’s like and more often than not, you’ll find someone looking out for you when your bag is unzipped on the subway, or offering to sit down a have a coffee with you while you pore over a map. You should take advantage of these encounters with other women.
Travelling completely solo for the duration of your trip – especially a long one – can get tiring and boring. The more often you can find someone to hang out with for a few days, the more you’ll experience and the more you’ll cherish your freedom when you’re alone again. Hooking up with another traveller for a short period can also be practical, for example in splitting the price of a hire car or sharing a cabin on a ferry journey.
Don’t be afraid to make friends with a couple. When I was travelling around the world with my boyfriend, we found it sad that single travellers were reluctant to spend time with us. After asking a few of them about it, they told us they got on really well with us but worried about interfering with the romance. Forget that! Couples who’ve been the road for a while will usually be just as glad of the company of someone new as you will be. It gives them the chance to be individuals for a change, too.
Talking to locals is another thing that can be a lot more rewarding for a single female traveller. While a family might be hesitant to invite a group of friends or a couple into their house for a home cooked meal, you will appear less threatening and are only one mouth to feed! Take the time to talk to local people and you’ll be rewarded. Even something as simple as asking a shopkeeper for directions can lead to some unforgettable conversations and experiences.
7. Choose your destination carefully
If you’re travelling for the first time on your own, do a lot of research into the places you want to visit. Somewhere with a considerable culture shock, for example India, Nepal or remote parts of Africa, might not be the best place to start. In places such as this, it’s more likely that you’ll generate unwanted attention from men (and from women!) as a single female travelling alone. Of course as long as you’re prepared, you can go anywhere. Just read up on the local culture and traditions and learn what you can do to try and blend in.
You might also want to plan a route that takes in places popular with independent travellers. These are spots with the best hostels, the most tried-and-tested tours and a strong community of other travellers to support you if you need their help.
8. Stay in touch
Whether you’re fifty or five thousand miles from home, always stay in touch with family and friends. Modern communication means that this is easier than ever and it can be cheap, too. When I was travelling, I liked the mixture of communication channels I used with loved ones back home. There were a couple of friends I would email, one who had demanded a postcard from every destination, and then I would call my family on Skype for a phone call or a video chat when a web cam was available. Sometimes we didn’t even talk about my travels, we talked about normal things back home, which far from making me homesick, were an enjoyable use of my time at the end of each day.
Always have an emergency contact that you can call any time of the day or night and expect an answer. Choose the most reliable person you know for this job and keep their number on you at all times, tattooed to your arm, if you must!
9. Learn how to be polite, and rude
If you’re not the kind of person who knows how to say no, then this is your time to learn. Even in your own language, it can be hard sometimes to tell someone clearly that you’re not interested in either what he is selling, or his romantic advances. In another language, it’s a whole new kettle of fish. Wherever you’re going, learn three phrases in the local language at the very least:
“Absolutely not, please leave me alone”.
You will be surprised by how quickly you find yourself using all three, one after the other. Vendors and potential con artists will be amazingly persistent and there’ll be plenty of times where you will need to verge on rudeness in order to put them off and leave you to bother someone else. If you can say this in their language without resorting to body language, you’ll command a lot more respect and they will get the impression that you’re a lot more comfortable with their country and the situation than you perhaps feel you are on the inside!
10. Give yourself a mission
Solo travellers can easily get lost within their plans and may find it harder to continually find the impetus to keep going and to think about what they’d like to do next. My top tip for anyone falling into this trap is to set yourself a series of ‘missions’ to achieve during the trip. I usually set a couple of big ones for the trip as a whole, such as getting invited to a wedding or having a big party night in a backpacker bar with some new friends. But I also set myself little challenges on a daily basis, which can be as tiny as I’m in the mood for. It might be taking a photograph of a cute street puppy, or finding a good latte.
The main thing is that somehow, these tiny things help give structure to your days. They’ll keep you going and even on a day when you feel like lazing around, you might feel like you achieved something worthwhile with your time!