Three pairs of shoes is all you need
Women traveling alone should pack light. Shoes are a particularly bulky and heavy item. You can manage most of the time with just three pairs. I have used this method on dozens of trips lasting anywhere from four days up to four months.
Take a pair of sandals or comfortable walking shoes that you can wear out to dinner. Take a couple of flip-flops to the beach for showers that aren’t so hot or even just as slippers. On travel days, you should wear your third, heaviest pair, whether they are hiking boots, if hiking is on the agenda, or dressier shoes otherwise. Bring flip-flops or walking sandals if you are going to a tropical location and will not be hiking.
Prioritize your medical kit.
After a few days of sun, fresh air, and freedom, your skin will probably be able to do without the 7-step routine and ten brushes. You only need a moisturizer that contains sunscreen. Pack multipurpose products like shampoo/body wash bars, but assemble a medical kit that will help you deal with minor ailments. Your existing medications should be included, as well as any other items that your doctor may recommend for your destination. For example, anti-malarial pills and a multi-spectrum antibiotic.
The rules about medication vary from country to country. In Malaysia, antihistamines cannot be purchased over the counter. Depending on where you are going, even throat lozenges may be difficult to find. Pack everything you might need in your hand luggage.
Take the feminine hygiene products with you.
If you are reliant on a particular brand or type of feminine hygiene product, you may have fewer options. Tampons, pads, and other feminine hygiene products can indeed be bulky, but they are very comforting when you really need them.
Two very useful items are a sarong and a scarf.
Bring items that can be used for multiple purposes. Women will find a sarong or scarf to be very useful. The sarong is useful as beachwear, beach towels, shawls, skirts, or even light sheets (see Youtube for various ways to tie them).
You can wear the scarf as a neck warmer and an accessory or to dress up your tops. In some countries, you will be required to wear it around your neck or shoulders in order to maintain modesty.
A woman alone is more approachable compared to a group or couple.
When I travel alone, I meet more locals and tourists. Because I have no one to talk to, I need to be more outgoing and start interacting with others. A lone traveler is less intimidating than a group chatting in their native language.
Remember that you will make more friends on the road. It could be due to your “holiday spirit” or because you are less worried about being judged by people whom you might never see again. You know instinctively that you are more dependent on other people in a foreign setting.
There are more options for female solo travelers.
Some companies offer women-only trips, as tour operators and cruise lines are realizing the importance of solo travelers and are trying to cater to their needs.
Operators such as Wild Women Expeditions or WHOA Travel help travelers connect with local women and support female-run businesses, including the hiring of female guides.
Ask for local advice and use common sense.
No matter your gender, staying safe is a top priority when traveling alone. Avoid areas that are deserted at night or during the day, especially in unfamiliar places. You can ask your accommodation which areas to avoid and if you need taxis or if you are able to walk alone at night. For example, in Cape Town, I was advised not to walk around the Business District at weekends due to the lack of pedestrians.
Do not be overconfident in easy countries.
For a Canadian, England is a mirror of home. People drive on the left and speak the same language. When I first visited London, I forgot to bring a map (in the days before smartphones), I missed my bus stop, and I got lost in an endless maze of streets named after trees.
This was embarrassing because I had navigated cities such as Delhi, Bangkok, and Cairo before without getting lost.
Carry the business card for your hotel and know how to get there. Your phone will lose power when it is out.
Take a chance now and then to be adventurous.
It’s important to be cautious and safe, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t also be adventurous. The most rewarding trips are those that push you out of your comfort zone and encourage you to try new things.
In 2009, while I was in New Zealand, I decided to make a tandem skydive, which had been on my bucket list since my teens. It still makes me smile. After seeing the breathtaking photos of Antarctica, I booked a cruise to Antarctica without doing any research. The trip turned out to be my best.
We are a lot of solo women.
In every corner of the globe, you’ll meet a lot of women traveling alone, from students to retirees in their 80s. Many of them may become your friends.
I met two women on my Antarctica cruise who I would later hike within Patagonia. I visited them in Sweden and the United States. Two Montreal friends I met on separate trips to Mexico and Ecuador. I see them regularly now when I return home. In Myanmar, I met a French woman who introduced me to another solo traveler. She married him later.