This is the most common reaction I get when I tell someone I’m traveling alone. While it is a well-intentioned statement, I am annoyed that people still believe a woman traveling alone could feel intimidated or isolated. In an ideal world, solo female travel would not be a sign of defiance or courage but rather a matter of personal choice. When I travel alone, I am acutely aware of my surroundings, from the people that I meet to the streets that I choose to walk (or avoid).
When we asked our readership and communities about their solo travel experiences, more than half the women gave tips to avoid harm. Twenty-six percent of millennial women travel alone, but it is a fact that women of any age face some vulnerabilities when traveling. For my peace of mind, I also take self-defense courses like many of my friends. The methods may teach groin strikes or elbow strikes, but the instructors (and readers) also emphasize avoiding dangerous situations.
As I read their stories, the women’s enthusiasm for adventure and ability to overcome fear really impressed me. Rita Pearson, a reader of the article, may have said it best: “Number 1, safety first.” Number two, go!
We gathered powerful words of encouragement and wisdom from over 1,000 responses.
Safety is important.
You’ll have to be prepared to travel alone. Elena Burnett has spent many years hiking and taking photographs in remote areas of national parks, from Mesa Verde to Great Sand Dunes. She does extensive preparation to ensure her safety. She says that buying a map is the first thing she does before any trip. It allows me to know the trails and landmarks. She warns solo hikers to be prepared for changes in weather and carry enough water and a First-Aid kit.
Tip: When traveling in the backcountry or to an area where there is no cellular service, you can use a satellite GPS to stay in touch with family and friends. You can also call for assistance if necessary. Burnett swears her Garmin reach. Consider taking a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) wilderness first-aid training.
When to ask for professional help
You don’t need to be alone when you travel solo. Many tour companies cater to women who want a personalized experience with the help of local guides or naturalists. Rachelle Aikens, a reader, was surrounded by wildlife experts and photographers on a safari to Botswana. She also learned about the area.
Tip: Join a women-only tour to meet other like-minded people and make new friends. Wild Women Expeditions organizes adventurous trips in places such as Patagonia, Egypt, and Colorado. Damesly offers tours and creative retreats to destinations such as Istanbul and Colorado.
Open yourself to people.
You’ll be forced to meet locals and fellow travelers when you can’t spend your days chatting with your travel companion or planning your next snack. This can lead to new friendships. Aikens’ open-minded attitude led her to make a close friend during her Botswana Safari. They became so close they chat every week and plan to go on an Arctic trip together.
Tip: Many cities offer walking tours that are free or inexpensive. This is a good way to meet other travelers who share similar interests. There are also local classes, events, and experiences through Meetup, Airbnb, or tours with a company such as Encounter Travel that caters to singles. Tourlina is a great way to find women travel partners. BumbleBFF will also help you connect with other adventurers. But use your best judgment when meeting people.
Trust your gut
Over 40 women responded to our prompt, recommending developing stronger instincts and following your gut. Burnett, a solo traveler, tries to stay calm and aware of her mental and physical limits. She says, “Don’t hesitate or be afraid to take defensive actions if you are uncomfortable or feel threatened.”
Learn how to entertain yourself.
As a solo traveler, you will spend a lot of time alone, even though you may meet other people. Come prepared with creative ways to fill your time. Reader Nanci Mansfield found that a sketchbook and pen helped her build a rapport with a stranger while in India. Mansfield was intrigued by the man’s mosque-like home and asked if she could sketch him. She won him over despite his initial doubts. She writes, “It is a story about acceptance.” “I entered as a stranger but left to a chorus ‘byes.’
Tip: Before you embark on your trip, think about what you would like to do or experience more if you had the time. Drawing, taking pictures, or journaling are all ways to document your journey and find hobbies that you enjoy instead of playing Candy Crush Saga.
Think about a hostel.
Ginny says, “I immerse myself into the places I go, taking the time to breathe and absorb nature, traditions, and culture.” This led Ginny Greenwood to leave her hotel in Yangon, Myanmar, and check into a hostel. She was even matched up with an English-speaking motorbike guide by a fellow guest. He brought her to watch local artisans at work, including bronze makers and jade sculptors. They also saw bamboo weavers, embroidery, puppet-makers, and embroiderers. Greenwood and her tour guide watched the sun set over the longest teak bridge in the world.
You can rely on the kindness and generosity of strangers.
When you travel alone, it’s not wise to make friends with every person who passes by. But solo trips show how friendly and helpful people are all over the globe, regardless of language barriers. When reader Vivienne Vales arrived in Turkey, she received a helpful local. She says, “I was unsure how to reach my hotel after I got off the Istanbul metro.” A local woman rescued her. A local woman came to her rescue.
Tip: Learn some basic phrases or download Google Translate to help you communicate. You can share with just a few words or a friendly greeting. Drawings and gestures can also be helpful in a hurry.
Listen to great stories.
You’re more likely, when you travel alone, to notice the little details of a place or culture. Salena Parker, a reader from the United States, was mesmerized when she visited Japan by the vermillion-hued Great Torii of Miyajima. This 19th-century gate leads to the 13th-century Itsukushima Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The structures are located in the Seto Inland Sea, near Hiroshima. They pay tribute to the three sisters’ deities. Parker says that her host sister told her the gate is a gateway from the physical world to the spiritual world. The site was an Instagram opportunity for some, but for Parker, it had a deeper meaning. She says, “It is a vibrant piece of world history.” It reminded me of the stories that can be found within women’s heritage.