A Little Honesty … On Safety and Solo Female Travel

Concerns about my safety on the road plagued those who love and care about me when I first announced my plan to travel solo around the world. Long-term travel is still an uncommon practice in the United States (compared to Europe and Australia) so perhaps the chief issue I dealt with was the fact that most of my friends had never heard of someone taking a round the world trip. Then top that with media portrayals of other countries and you might think every country outside the United States is fraught with peril at every corner.

Top of the Monument

Traveling totally solo and feeling very safe in Scotland, safe enough for this selfie on top of Stirling Monument.

I have not found this to be the case on the road these past years, but in my  early days of planning, their fears became my fears and the entire situation caused, to-date, the only anxiety attacks I have ever had. It was the solo aspect more than the safety when I first left (in the throes of the naïveté of my mid-twenties), but both fears were present during that first year. Before I left, my biggest solo fears circled around the idea of loneliness, but safety is the biggie that got thrown in my face most often then, as well as now, when I announce new places I plan to visit.

I am a young solo female and thus pretty much lowest on the totem pole in terms of the types of travelers. Couples have safety in numbers and male solo travelers have an easier go of it in terms of world-wide gender inequality issues, a fact not up for debate—it’s just different for a solo man. So I’d like to take a look at the different elements of safety on the road, it’s broad topic in regards to travel and most travelers I know have, at one time or another, dealt with safety fears related to: health, physical safety, and risky activities. Health is a topic for another day; today I’m focusing on physical safety fears that I could have let overcome my desire to travel over the years. Ones that I still have to make the conscious choice to overcome each time because it’s not a one-shot deal … the nature of some fears is that they are solved for a time and place, but not in general. I travel, but it does not mean that I don’t still harbor some fears; fear is a part of the human experience and evolutionary wise it was needed for survival. Now though, a lot of what triggers those fears on the evolutionary scale is no longer valid (it’s unlikely a cougar will stalk me down a city street at night) but they are vestiges of being human, so they have to be understood and addressed.

On Traveling as a Solo Female

If we boil down the core fear for solo women it’s rape. And I can’t downplay that, it’s a fear I share and it’s the main differentiating part of traveling as a solo woman — it’s my fear and the fear of every person who has raised an eyebrow when I announce that I travel solo. My best friend’s mother heartily disapproves of my travels, and though it often concerns the places I choose to visit (US media does not treat Mexico well in the news), she has known me since I was in high school and I know she genuinely fears for my safety; she fears that something truly devastating will happen.

And for my family, my dad puts a lot of trust in my judgment because he seldom mentions the core dangers. He emails me travel warnings and keeps me updated on conflicts in areas nearby my travel route—so I know he’s concerned—but he trusts me treat my own life with care, and that’s the main advice I usually email to other travels: respect your own life. I take precautions and steps to mitigate the chances I am in a bad situation; I choose hostels in safe areas, I stay sober, and I stay aware. There are more practical actions too, and I share more at the end of this post. Beyond that, I can’t stop random acts of violence on the road any more than I can at home — and the rape/homicide rates in many US cities prove that home is dangerous too.

My final bit about safety as a solo female traveler specifically concerns sexual harassment. Several readers have emailed me to ask  if I’ve ever feared for my safety, if I’ve had negative experiences on the road. I am tempted to write that I am lucky nothing terrible has happened to me, but that statement just pisses me off because it shouldn’t come down to luck. As a woman, I shouldn’t have to hope and pray that a man doesn’t decide to harm me, but it’s the state of the world right now and a topic my friend Jodi covered a few months ago after a woman traveler was raped and killed in Turkey.

To answer the question specifically though, which I rarely do, I have been aggressively groped three times in my life. Each time I was disappointed and mad more than anything, and none were to the point that I feared it would go further. And each time it reminded me that the way society sees women has a long way to go in a lot of places in the world, my own country included. Once was in broad daylight during a festival in India and another in Jordan, also during the day. The third was at a bar in Los Angeles and of the three it was the most aggressive, invasive, and left me feeling the worst—and it was in a crowded bar with my friends nearby.

Me and Jordi around Town

Since guards are down with locals during India’s Holi celebrations you have to be alert, but I will always remember the fun times with my friends Jordi and Neil wandering around town during the Festival of Colors.

I have never mentioned these incidences on the site not out of fear, shame, or covering anything up, but rather because they did not define my travel experiences in either of those two countries, nor in LA. And I wasn’t solo for any of them. In fact, in all three instances I had men and friends nearby and it didn’t stop the harassment. Three continents, three entirely different cultures, and yet similar attitudes toward women created that shared experience … more a statement on the way women are treated the world over rather than on travel specifically.

I can’t say that nothing will befall female travelers, but I can say that it is not the norm. Truly. Kindness the world over has been the baseline of my experiences all over the world, but it’s hard to combat that when the random acts of violence against women are highlighted more prominently in global media. I know that if something happens to me—and there is that chance—that it will likely be random, and it will be poor timing: wrong place, wrong time. And it could just as likely happen in the months I spend in the US as in the places I visit.

I can’t live from a place of fear and so I travel with self-defined policies, agreements I have made with myself to lessen the chances that I put myself in risky situations. Beyond that, I put my trust in the world.

how to make a krathong

A friend in Thailand shows Ana and M how to fold traditional patterns into the palm frond krathongs.

On Taking Risks

There is no one-size rule. Life, and travel, is about constantly assessing a situation, making predictions, observations, and acting based on those assessments. Sometimes the assessments are off and I make a bad choice. But it is an absolute fact that traveling has greatly increased my ability to size up a situation and a person and make an accurate judgment. In talking to people from all walks of life, all cultures, backgrounds, attitudes I have created a book of knowledge from which I pull when I encounter something new. If safety is the topic, then I have only increased my safety by traveling and added new experiences from which I can draw in uncertain situations.

Surf Camp

Not so risky, but tricky enough for me. Learning to surf in Byron Bay, Australia.

A reader emailed me in February about taking risks. He heard my story about hiking an active volcano in Guatemala on a podcast and asked: “Something that called my attention was your positive attitude towards risk, so different from mine. [Please share] a few sentences about how you approach risk in your travels, and especially inside your mind.”

My response to him:

I am not the most adventurous traveler by any stretch of the imagination—there are those who do all the big, risky sporty things, for me though, I try to push the bounds of my comfort just a little, but there are many things I won’t do that others will. Travel is highly personal, so if you don’t want to hike a volcano then I say don’t do it and stand firm in that decision.

When I was in Belize, just before I traveled through Guatemala, I had a big decision to make and I erred on the side of caution because it made me intensely uncomfortable to do something that some other travelers easily think is okay. I was at the blue hole, a very popular dive site off the coast of Belize, and I had planned, dreamed, and anticipated diving there for several years. Once I arrived though, I didn’t like the attitudes of the dive companies — many take down very novice divers even though it’s a difficult dive. The thought of diving that deep made me nervous, and I just didn’t think seeing the caves 140 feet below the water was worth the risk — I assessed the situation and realized I didn’t care enough about the experience to put myself on what I perceive is a risky dive. So I didn’t. Instead I went snorkeling nearby, did a couple of shore dives to the reefs and had a perfectly enjoyable time. And there are divers who think my decision was silly because thousands of people do that dive without harm, but it didn’t feel right for me, and I trusted that and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Traveling is highly personal and what one person does, enjoys, or finds interesting another won’t — and the same goes with risk. Find the travel experience that you think fits you personally and that makes you excited to travel and go do that! Travel should excite you and push just at the edge of your comfort. That’s how we grow and change, not by doing  outright risky things, but by confronting the small fears that are boxing us in and not allowing us to live the life we want.

My fear of that dive made it unsafe for me. It pushed me too far outside my comfort zone, and it’s likely I would have done something dangerous from that fear. I knew it wasn’t a good choice because I wouldn’t have stayed calm, and that could prove fatal in diving that deep, when there is no margin for error. For me, the balance of facing a fear versus the risks and safety of travel becomes learning what are informed fears — which are based on a truth — and which are instead masking fears of change or fears of challenging the status quo. It can be hard to tell the difference, at first, but there is a big difference in the actions that should result.

Holding a tarantula in Guatemala

On the Actual Dangers

The very basic fact of it all is that if something serious happens to me on the road it will likely be a transportation based injury — just like at home. Traffic accidents are far more common the world over than tragedies from these other fears according to the US State Department, and fatal traffic accidents far outweigh death from terrorism, plane crashes, or infectious disease says a report from the CDC.

Some chicken bus drivers in Central America are on duty for 24 hours while driving decades-old buses on pothole strewn roads. The rickety buses in India speed over high mountain passes in the dark and careen around curves protected by guard rails held on with scotch-tape and wishful thinking. Rampant corruption in Mexico (and Bali, and India, and …) means no matter your traffic infraction you can likely buy your way out of the ticket for less than $100 (and often just $20).

Chicken bus guatemala

A decked out chicken bus (painted school buses) on the streets of Antigua, Guatemala

And a “Thai tattoo” in Thailand doesn’t refer to getting some ink while tipsy and high on life,  it’s the scabs, scars, and road rash mottling the skin of travelers who have crashed their motorbikes. Something that happens often enough that it has a nickname (and so common in Bali too that it’s called a Bali Kiss). In 2011, I got in a traffic accident in Laos with Ana because I made a riskier decision than I probably should have and I have several gnarly “Laos tattoos” that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Ana came out of the accident unscathed (thank god) but I had a serious muffler burn, went into shock, and limped away with a lot of road rash on my hip, elbow, and knees.

Did you know that fatal traffic accidents in Thailand are the second leading cause of death for US travelers abroad? The first being traffic accidents in Mexico. No joke.

Three to a motorbike

Three to a motorbike with Jodi and Ana in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Now compare this to the dialogue from people each time I leave for Mexico or Thailand. I hear about the drug cartels in Mexico, getting seriously sick, and the “scary people” who may harm me. The reality is that while precautions for the other areas are needed, sometimes our perceptions are skewed by what outside forces are telling us. These outside perspectives often are simply reinforcing political doctrine or maintaining societal norms.

The map of the world according to mainstream media would have me think a broad swath of the world is untravelable … that the people in these countries I visit cultivate hate and will actively harm me. That’s not true. More than 95% of the world may not like the politics of the west, they may not like my religion, but they are not seeking out ways to harm me. Or you. In fact, that 95% doesn’t really think about me at all. They raise their kids and work each day to put food on the table … just like in the US. So in terms of harm, I don’t feel the religious or cultural based fears at all. Granted, there are regions I approach with caution because of the gender inequality issues, but the danger map of the world is far different in actuality than you might think, so I point you to this post for more on accurately assessing location-based fears.

On Overcoming Fears

Have enough fear to keep you present each moment of your travels, enough to keep you cautious, but not enough to stop you from traveling. Male or female, there is a basis for fear or we wouldn’t discuss this issue. Bad things can happen. But travel has changed my life; it made me a better person, it opened opportunities in my life and facets of understanding I never knew I lacked. It bred compassion into the fiber of who I am as a citizen of this world.

Safety and risks come down to time and place as much as anything. It’s hard for me to cover all the ideas swirling through my head on this topic in one post, perhaps out of a personal fear that it will seem like I am painting the entire world with a single brush stroke. Each region, country, or moment of life comes with its own issues, risks, and fears. I take steps to accurately understand the risks of a place, and I act with my own safety in mind. Then I release the rest to chance, which is all any of us can do because risk is a part of life. Just as there are little risks, there are big risks too, the biggest one for me being looking back at 80 and thinking “what would my life look like if I had traveled young?”

A Little Adrift

There are many things I may look back and regret, but this will not be one of them. To close this out, and before mentioning the specific female travel tips, I will say, as I have many times, that I have found more true kindness, friendship, and generosity in each corner of the world, in the mostly unlikely of people, and in countries other Americans assume are only filled with foes. People have gone out of their way to extend help when I needed it, times when I was at my most vulnerable — sick, lost, alone — and that common thread of generosity follows me around the world. Fears have their place in keeping us safe, but without frankly talking about the true facets of traveling in diverse places it’s easy to believe the world is the sum of its dangers. By and large it’s the opposite, traveling becomes the sum of human kindness and it only takes a commitment to shifting your perspective to see that.

“How safe do we want to be? How much of ourselves are we willing to give up for it?” — Sarah Hepola

Practical Solo Female Travel Tips


These handful of tips should be paired with common sense and they will take you most any place you want to go in life:

Understand Local Cultural Norms
The first thing I recommend to any traveler — male or female — is to understand the cultural norms. Read about your upcoming destination; read memoirs and histories and the accounts of travelers and locals in that destination. Email local expats or locals who blog; figure out the geo-politics and religions and these will inform your travels as well as your behaviors. I have a whole section of this site dedicated to travel literature broken down by region/country for this very reason — so you can learn and understand before you leave and have a baseline for your actions. In some places you should cover your hair (Iran) while others it’s best to cover shoulders and legs but belly is acceptable (India). The interactions between women and men differ and you cannot travel and assume your home culture will follow you. Though Western women are afforded “male” status in some countries, you cannot accept that as a given. That means things like direct eye contact, touching, and even the way you address others is up for adjustments as you travel.

Involve Others in Your Safety
Look around you and find ways to involve the people in this new place in your safety — usually just telling them you are alone is enough. This applies to bartenders, hotel clerks, and any place you might be waiting around. Tell your hotel you’re traveling alone and they will make certain you know any risky areas in the city; many also go out of their way to make sure you arrive home each evening. Bartenders only need to know that you’re concerned to take you under their wing. The same goes with waiting. At bus stations, when I have hours of sitting around, I will ask other groups if I can sit near them (or I’ll just do it). Recognize that you being alone is often a choice, and telling the right person gives you a network of people also aware and concerned for your safety.

Stay Aware
One reason I sleep for a week straight when I go home is because my brain is taxed after months of maintaining awareness of everything around me. When I’m walking down the street, there’s only one brain mapping the city to make sure I can get back to my guesthouse. On buses, if I’m solo then I’m likely not asleep. To date, the only times I have had issues is when I pair up with another traveler and both of us relax in ways we never would otherwise. We lose awareness and we forget things, get lost, allow ourselves to be surrounded by touts, etc. As a solo traveler, you need to assess and make decisions constantly. This post on how to build situational awareness is brilliant. Read it. Borrow a couple of those books from the library before you leave. And though it’s written for a male point of view, the descriptions of how to teach yourself to continually assess new situations is a valuable skill on the road.

Stay Sober
This is a personal choice and it dovetails with stay aware. While I love a good beer, and while enjoying drinks in dive-bars around the world is a backpacker rite of passage, I don’t ever get sloshed when I’m solo. My stance on drinking when I’m with others varies depending on the time, place, and situation, just as it did when I lived in Los Angeles.

Know Basic Self Defense
Before I left in 2008, I spent four months learning Krav Maga, an Israeli form of self-defense training. The gym was near my home in L.A. and I booked an unlimited package so I could rapidly build my self defense skills before I set off solo. Self-defense training for women is important, not only do you learn reflexive defense skills, but it’s a huge confidence booster. I have never used my Krav Maga training, thankfully, but every day I am the road I carry that knowledge. I know how to properly punch, and I know how to move beyond the exhaustion-barrier in a fight. Again, while I’ve never needed it, and there is every reason to believe that you won’t either if you are aware and cautious, there is no reason you shouldn’t research local classes and learn the basics. Many local YMCAs, libraries, or women’s group offer affordable classes. I highly recommend it.

Carry Travel Insurance
Since we’ve honestly looked at the safety issues, the biggest threat is actual bodily harm from traffic accidents. I carry travel insurance every time I leave the US. Although I have never used it — I paid for the Laos hospital visit out of pocket since it was only $80—I feel safer knowing I can call on medevac or a hospital visit if I am in a serious accident or very sick. This section on my resource page gives a detailed breakdown of how to pick a good company; or just head to World Nomads if you’re a backpacker and looking for the best policy my research has found, with decent rates to boot.

Carry a Doorstop and Safety Whistle
My travel friend Jodi highly recommends both, so though I carry only the whistle, I know several solo females who feel a lot safer with both.

Pay for Your Safety
Take a cab. Spring for the closer hotel. Plan enough of your day that you’re not left risky areas after dark. Traveling on a budget often puts us in a mind-frame of penny-pinching and it’s easy to get caught up in the notion of saving every dime possible. Before I left, I vowed to myself that if I caught myself in a moment when I was about to make a decision that valued my money over my safety that I would reconsider the choice. I take the cab when I’m lost, unsure, or have far to go, even though a cab is surely not very “backpackery” of me. I schedule my flights to arrive in a new city during the day if possible, or I book easy transport to the hotel if not.

What are your thoughts? This was a hard topic to cover and at more than 4,000 words I will end it. Do you agree with my assessment of the safety or have any other tips?

Other Entries in the ALA Travel Fears Series:

  • Why I Decided to Travel the World: A close look at the personal motivations for my 2008 round the world trip, as well as what made me want to stay on the road all these years.
  • How We Make the Big Decisions: How do you know if you’re making the right choice in your own life? This piece takes a look at how we should make the big decisions in our life and where the risks and questions lie.
  • Yes, Sometimes Travel is Lonely: Many readers have emailed about if they should take off on a solo trip, and this looks at what it’s like to travel solo, as well as why it can be a life-changing experience.
  • On Health and Travel Sickness: Getting sick on the road is a primary concern for a lot of travelers; this post takes a deep-dive on where, when, and why I’ve been sick on the road, as well as tips for staying healthy.
  • On Fear, Vulnerability, & the Less Sexy Side of Travel: This is the intro piece about why I started the Travel Fears series on ALA.

If there is ever anything that I can do to help, please do reach out on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and let’s talk about how we can make your travel dream a reality.


102 Responses to A Little Honesty … On Safety and Solo Female Travel

  1. lucrecer June 24, 2013 at 8:45 am #

    What a wonderful post. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences.

  2. Carol Dodsley June 23, 2013 at 10:26 am #

    What a great post, highlighting the fact that fears are helpful but also putting everything into context and giving some cool tips for solo female travellers too… I love that you choose when to take risks and when to say no, even though others disagree too :)

    • ShannonOD June 23, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

      Thanks Carol, appreciate you reading, sometimes having the confidence to stick up for my own comfort zones is the trickiest part (for me), to honor my own limits. Safe and happy travels! :)

  3. Vivien June 22, 2013 at 8:23 am #

    great post! I like how you point out how you choose not to do certain things when they are too much out of your comfort zone. I felt that we sometimes are easily influenced by society’s point of view, like peer pressure. I’ve been traveling by myself a couple times, and found the things I enjoy the most is not what everyone tells me “I have to do…”. Often those little moments of finding something cool by myself gave me a great satisfaction. Always be alert of your environment and observe people is critical especially traveling alone. Great tips and look forward to your next adventure!

    • ShannonOD June 23, 2013 at 3:17 pm #

      HI Vivien, thanks so much for weighing in on this issue, I love seeing how other women are also traveling safely. Like you, the best moments have come through following my own curiosities and taking cues from the people and places around me, even when that meant bucking peer pressure to stay out of “unsafe” countries. I appreciate you sharing your own experiences, safe travels! :)

  4. Sharon Powers June 21, 2013 at 7:39 am #

    What an excellent post – thank you! I took my first short, solo trip at 53 after a layoff and divorce. Everyone was worried about my lack of planning and my inate trust of people. I told them, people are not out there to harm me, they are just like us, trying to live their best life and hoping for the best for their families. I’ve only gone backpacking for a month at a time, but have done it 4 years now – and each time my feelings about the good of mankind increases. People always go out of their way to help me and befriend me. I like traveling with friends, but I love solo travel. Thanks again!

    • ShannonOD June 21, 2013 at 2:16 pm #

      Exactly Sharon — kindness has outweighed all else for me as well. I am so glad that your solo travels have been positive over the past years. Safe and happy travels and thank you for sharing your own experiences here so we can encourage and inspire other women to head out on the road as well! :)

  5. karen June 19, 2013 at 7:52 am #

    I have travelled solo for three years now. To be honest I have had a couple of incidents – a man groped me on a deserted beach in Peru and another man took a photo of me while I was taking a shower in a hostel in Bolivia. Well the hostel episode I couldn’t have prevented but I did demand the hostel did something and I reported him to the police. The Peru incident I realise I should have been more aware while walking on the beach. I was lost in thoughts and went from a crowded area to a deserted one quickly without realising it providing an opportunity. When he did this though I had already prepared and knew how to say ‘I don’t have anything’ and ‘are there tourist police around here’ in Spanish. Instead of running I turned around and faced him and then strongly marched off. I honestly think if I had cowered something worse might have happened. So lessons learned: how you present yourself can determine if you become a victim. Look strong, confident and if something bad happens be assertive. Report matters to the police if you can. These attacks are not okay and if the man is not mad to realise this then he will most likely attack again. Plus the safety tips in the blog post above.

    • ShannonOD June 19, 2013 at 11:34 am #

      I am so sorry to hear that you had some negativity on your travels, it shouldn’t have to be that way but I am glad to hear that none of them escalated further into something scarier. I love your idea about standing firm and confident. Especially in some of the countries where harassment happens, that is not an expected behavior from the local women so it has a strong impact and impression on the would-be attacker.

      I really appreciate you sharing your own experiences with solo female travel Karen with this community. Safe travels and thanks for stopping into the site :)

  6. ShannonOD June 18, 2013 at 11:47 pm #

    Ah yes, you are right about that Jo, I hadn’t really considered that aspect of males traveling — I have seen some similar situations as well when the guys I was with were aggressively approached as a means of intimidating them … could have gotten out of control for sure.

    I appreciate you sharing your own thoughts there, you have a handful of tips I hadn’t thought of in quite that way. Thanks for weighing in and safe travels :)

    • Jo June 19, 2013 at 12:26 am #

      Thanks, safe travels to you too :) BTW, the thought of holding a tarantula like in your pic above scares me more than any safety fears on the road (taking a street taxi in Mexico City included!)

      • ShannonOD June 19, 2013 at 8:33 am #

        For me it’s roaches, gah — I’d take a scary street taxi over roaches any day. ;-)

        • Jo June 19, 2013 at 11:56 pm #

          We had plenty of roaches in my college dorm so I grew up with them (pretty vile in hindsight – and in a quaint town in England of all places!). It’s the biting and jumping by spiders that freaks me out but there is no accounting for individual fears (I have an irrational fear of zucchini in my food, don’t ask!). Funny how fear is so individual :)

  7. Lisa @chickybus June 18, 2013 at 5:56 pm #

    This is an excellent post, Shannon; you really covered a lot and that’s a good thing. I’m glad you mentioned the stats re: traffic accidents in Thailand. I think it’s important for people to know this. I was in Indonesia last summer and worried about getting hit while a passenger on a motorbike. I still enjoyed myself (and would go back in a minute), but I was aware of the dangers. I also made sure I had medical evacuation insurance–just in case.

    I think that anything can happen anywhere, but when you’re a solo female, you’re a little more likely to be targeted when traveling abroad. (I had a scary close call in Rome, believe it or not.) That’s why I’m glad to see that you listed such excellent tips. I think the whistle and doorstop are excellent ideas and I may get both and pack them for my next trip. Thank you.

    • ShannonOD June 19, 2013 at 12:08 am #

      The traffic is scary when you understand the reality because I think it’s something a lot of people, including travelers overlook (I definitely did when I first started out). Like you, I def carry medevac insurance just in case something major happens.

      Sorry to hear that you had an incident in Rome, I have to admit it was one of the seedier big cities I have walked around at night. Jodi swears by both the whistle and the doorstop so you totally should (and I think I will too!). I appreciate you weighing and sharing your own experiences Lisa! :)

  8. Lois June 18, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

    Shannon, great post! It’s one I wish I could have read many years ago. I experienced some of the negative things that have been mentioned back in my younger days (40+ years ago) but as others have said here, I never let it stop me from traveling and experiencing.

    Now, as an older woman, I’ve discovered that some of the things that concerned me (like rape) are no longer as big a concern (although it’s always in the back of my head, I suppose just because I’m a female) but things like getting sick or injured in an unfamiliar place or being mugged or robbed are higher priority “issues” for me today (older people are just targets of a different kind). I’ve learned to listen to my inner voice when it talks to me and to stay out of places or away from areas that might not be a safe place for me to go. I do that whether I’m here in the States or in another country – there really is no difference. I still go where I want to and I do the things you mention to stay as safe as I can, like staying aware and paying more for the feeling of safety, if it’s something that bothers me.

    Thank you so much for putting into words some great ideas on what to do along with your personal experiences.

    • ShannonOD June 18, 2013 at 11:56 pm #

      Thank you so much for sharing your own experiences Lois, it’s great to have the perspective of having some of the younger concerns as well as those facing you on the road now. The health issues are a real fear, and one I didn’t take seriously when I first set out until I nearly died of dysentery — a hard lesson but one I have taken with me on all future travels to really pay attention to my total well being, to each aspect of what it takes to stay safe and aware of the people, food, and places I encounter.

      I really appreciate you weighing in here and wish you safe travels :)

  9. Jo June 18, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

    I was in a bar the other night in Asia and witnessed some young, pleasant backpacker guys get set upon by a group of locals with batons, something I can’t imaging happening to ladies too often. There are safety risks to both men and women on the road, it is just that they are often different (rape versus gang fight, for example) and the media seems to give more coverage to the female risks, which kind of upsets me because it distorts the view of my safety to my friends and family. I absolutely agree with your post – there are safety concerns, but they can be managed in most cases (I’ve posted about the same topic myself earlier this year after a spate of press scaremongering: http://indianajo.com/2013/02/is-it-safe-for-women-to-travel-alone.html ). I’ve travelled as solo for nearly 3 years now and every time I’ve gotten into a fix has been because of my own stupidity (climbing a volcano in Guatemala with the wrong footwear comes most immediately to mind). Life is dangerous, but that doesn’t mean I’m prepared to stop living it. Great post!

  10. Harmonyhallresorts StVincent June 18, 2013 at 12:09 pm #

    One of the best articles I’ve read on travel issues of any sort in quite some time. We’ve hosted single female travelers and our facility comes with free concierge service that extends itself to friendship. We want everyone that stays with us to know that they are going to be looked after and taken care of.

    • ShannonOD June 18, 2013 at 11:45 pm #

      That sounds like a wonderful ammenity that I know would really come in handy and always helps me feel more secure when I know my hotel is keeping tabs on me. Really appreciate you sharing your thoughts here and practices — more hotels should offer this! :)

  11. Sky Fisher June 13, 2013 at 12:05 am #

    Thank you for this post! My best friend and I were “arguing” today about my dreams to travel the world. I casually mentioned going to Mexico for a writing retreat which launched him into a rant about how I would die the second I set foot off the plan and how I would be raped/murdered/kidnapped and when I said I had all intentions of backpacking around the world, I’m pretty sure he was planning my funeral in his head.

    Do bad things happen around the world? Yes. Am I at a bigger risk because I am young and female? Unfortunately, yes. But I refuse to live in fear. I will do my homework and I will research my destinations and take precautions.

    Bad things happen everywhere every day – just last week a girl was raped in our area. If I’m at risk, I might as well be at risk somewhere that is making me happy. I will NOT live in fear.

    • ShannonOD June 13, 2013 at 10:45 pm #

      Hi Sky, so glad you found the site as you think about heading down to Mexico. Though I can’t pretend the whole country is safe, I was there for months and loved it. I try to temper the criticism of my travels with the knowledge that it’s usually out of love and fear for me. If there is anything I can do to help as you plan for your writing retreat please let me know (also, what retreat is this? … sounds great!).

      I really appreciate you weighing in with your own experiences, safe travels. ~S :)

      • Sky Fisher June 13, 2013 at 11:46 pm #

        Thanks! I know that he was doing it out of love, though I’m pretty sure his arguments had the opposite effect than intended as I’m now more determined than ever ;)

        As far as the retreat…it’s one of my dreams to just go somewhere and WRITE for a few weeks or a month and I’ve been toying with the idea of finally doing that in Mexico…nothing final yet but we’ll see!

        • ShannonOD June 15, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

          Yes! Good plan, there are some gorgeous tiny beach towns and mountain towns that would be great for that. Ping me when you decide to buy you’re ticket and we’ll chat more :)

  12. OCDemon June 9, 2013 at 7:06 pm #

    I find it absolutely incomprehensible that Americans put up with our absurd crime rate and yet are horrifically paranoid of visiting countries that are far safer. Most recent bizarre question I’ve heard: “You’d go to THAILAND?!?!” Um, me and like…40 million other people. This was someone who had been held up at gunpoint multiple times, yet still feels safer in America.

    • ShannonOD June 13, 2013 at 10:37 pm #

      Agreed! The crime in America is some of the worst in the world and yet we fear some very safe countries, and safe areas in countries like Mexico. I felt safer in my small town in Mexico than I do walking areas of my own hometown! So many safe travels to you, I appreciate you sharing your perspective and thoughts here! :)

  13. Angela June 8, 2013 at 10:10 pm #

    Great advice, Shannon. I used to be intimidated by thought of solo female travel until a near-robbery experience in my own backyard in the U.S.

    Mishaps and danger are everywhere and there’s only so many precautionary steps you can take, so get out and see the world! Like you, I never feel alone whilst traveling.

    • ShannonOD June 13, 2013 at 10:36 pm #

      Thanks so much for sharing your own experience Angela, the near-robbery sounds scary and I am glad it was only a “nearly” … I hope with all the women who have shared here any women thinking of travel will feel empowered by those like you who don’t let fear keep them from the road. Safe travels :)

  14. Jess June 7, 2013 at 9:44 pm #

    I almost never really worry about traveling alone as a woman – though sometimes I wonder if I ‘should’ be worried. Actually, the way it usually goes through my head is ‘If I get killed doing this, is everyone going to think I was being incredibly stupid?’

    Like when I got semi-stranded at my hostel in Alaska last summer, and I was debating between asking a stranger for a ride and missing the hike I’d planned. I ended up getting a ride from a nice middle-aged fishing couple who seemed extremely unlikely to want to ax-murder me and hide my body in the woods, and by Alaska standards this is no big deal at all – but I was also well aware a lot of people would think I was taking a silly risk.

    • ShannonOD June 13, 2013 at 10:41 pm #

      I have those same thoughts — except I phrase it “will I win a Darwin award for this if I die doing it?” (http://www.darwinawards.com). I hitch-hiked in Mexico a couple times in a really safe 20 min stretch between my town and the next and debated writing about it here for the same reasons you hesitated — it seems wrong to others not in that situation. I know Alaska well, I have family there, and as you noted, it’s really common! Having a good grasp of the local norms plays a lot into the decisions for me too. So many safe travels and I appreciate you sharing your own thoughts here on the subject, thanks Jess and safe travels!

  15. Aurora June 6, 2013 at 11:02 am #

    Thanks for this post! As a solo female traveler, I did not feel unsafe in India, Nepal, or South America (where I traveled). I found people to be kind, thoughtful and caring, albeit curious, about me. And I found that people were more apt to talk with me than couples, groups or solo men. I got taken care of, ‘adopted’ on several occasions, food shared with me, etc. – which I loved! At the same time, I, like you, stayed very aware of my surroundings, was pickier about where I stayed, very infrequently went out at night, did not drink (I LOVE good beer – and since most of the world does not have good beer, that made it easier for me). Maybe I missed out on a quintessential travel thing, but being older than the typical-travel-and-party-type, I felt ok about missing out!

    • ShannonOD June 13, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

      Thank you for sharing your experiences on the road Aurora, like you said, in a lot of these places I found out-right curiosity (and that was sometimes overwhelming though not dangerous) and people were so kind when they find out you’re on your own. Like you, love good beer but willing to skip the younger travelers and the wild partying. Appreciate you weighing so other solo women in the ALA community can take heart and have the courage to travel, safe and happy travels. :)

  16. Beth L June 5, 2013 at 7:54 pm #

    I love that you wrote these tips, I think they are great. In an ideal world, we would focus on educating men to treat women with respect, but unfortunately that is incredibly unrealistic! so it’s up to us smart, intelligent, strong women to keep ourselves safe. Nice post! Very useful. Safe travels :)

    • ShannonOD June 13, 2013 at 7:42 pm #

      Exactly Beth, I think we have a lot to do on the education front too, but until that happens we have to talk about the issues openly and without the fear-mongering. Safe travels to you as well and I really appreciate you sharing your own thoughts here with the ALA community! :)

  17. Naomi Todd June 5, 2013 at 5:44 pm #

    Brilliant advice Shannon, this article puts solo female travel into perspective without fearmongering nor downplaying the dangers. I’m a big advocate of gut instinct – if something doesn’t feel right, get away from whatever it is asap.

    • ShannonOD June 13, 2013 at 7:34 pm #

      That is exactly spot-on Naomi, so often as women it’s easy to think downplay our gut instincts (sometimes I really fear being rude by walking out of an elevator or a place that seems off), but that is one of the truest ways to stay safe is to be aware and listen to what your instincts are telling you. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one, it’s great to see that so many other solo women weighing in :)

  18. camorose June 5, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

    This is fantastic, Shannon. I’m so grateful that my parents trust me: they’ve never planted fears or doubts in my head about what I’m doing or where I’m going. Even when they disapprove (more out of being unfamiliar with the place or just knowing what they’ve heard in the news), they’re still thrilled whenever I go somewhere new. I don’t think they ever would have thought that Vietnam or Colombia would be places worth visiting–but I think I convinced them when I cam home raving about the food, the people, the architecture.

    Out of everything, agree most with your point on staying sober and alert. I realize it’s just as dangerous in New York City as it is in Bangkok as it is in Sacramento: bad things can happen anywhere. But I never drink more than a beer or two when I’m traveling alone and I try to be extra alert in unfamiliar surroundings. I’ve wandered into plenty of questionable neighborhoods and I walk or take public transit alone most nights–and yet I’ve never had anything happen to be. Lucky, yes–but we create our own luck most of the time!

    Excellent post!

    • ShannonOD June 13, 2013 at 10:48 pm #

      I think I would love to meet your mum Christine, she sounds like a great lady. It’s so wonderful that your family was so supportive of you traveling during school and traveling young — that they were realistic and honest with you about the rest of the world out there. Really appreciate you sharing your own thoughts on that, staying alert really is key to it all. Glad you have been safe on the road these past years as well. :)

  19. Kelly Lewis June 5, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

    Thank you for writing this, and I’m sorry to hear about your experiences with sexual assault abroad. I too, have had negative experiences abroad (particularly in Argentina, when I was spied on in the bathroom, and in Mexico, when I was very nearly gang raped). Like you, I don’t ever really talk about it, because these experiences do not in any way reflect my time abroad. The world, I believe is mostly good. And people, I believe, are mostly good. For every negative experience I’ve had (and there have only been a few), I have had hundreds, if not thousands, of great experiences.

    A couple of years ago I started a company that publishes travel guidebooks for women to encourage and empower them to get out there and experience the world. Your post reminds me of why it’s important for us, and for you, and every other solo female traveler out there, to keep keepin’ on. The world is too fantastic to stay home, but we do need to balance our travel with awareness of our health and safety.

    I will add one golden rule we live by at Go! Girl Guides: STAY OFF THE BEACHES AT NIGHT. Always. Without exception. Wherever you are. It’s just not a good idea.


    • ShannonOD June 13, 2013 at 7:32 pm #

      Your beach rule is so very wise, and I agree completely. I really wanted to see the bio-luminescence in the beach town I was living in earlier this year in Mexico, but I couldn’t seem to wrangle a group of friends down that way while it was happening. One guy friend scoffed at my caution and told me to just go look, and I stood firm because it’s such a bad and dangerous mix should something go wrong.

      I am sad to hear about your negative experiences traveling — it’s scary to have that happen in unfamiliar places, terrifying even and I am so glad to hear that you made it out okay. As you said, as terrifying as that is, it’s the good and positive that has always far out-weighed the others the world over.

      Your guide book series sounds wonderful Kelly, and when I re-vamp my resources page I will make sure to add the books to my female travel section. Safe and happy travels to you, I really appreciate you sharing your own experience and empowering message with the ALA community :)

  20. Oui In France June 5, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

    Enlightening post! While my travels pale in comparison to yours, I have been to Morocco, traveled extensively in Europe, New Zealand and a few other places, and the only time I was groped aggressively was on the New York City subway — in a city I called home for my entire college life and for a few years after.

    I’d like to recommend a book I just started called The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker. It’s a must-read for really anyone but would especially benefit the solo female traveler in looking to her intuition for signals that protect us from violence. So often we ignore our intuition (for any situation, not just when it comes to physical violence), take for example when an elevator door opens and inside there’s just one man, someone who gives you the creeps. I’ve gotten on that elevator pushing my warning signals aside in an effort to not want to offend a guy who is giving off the wrong vibe — and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Luckily nothing ever came of it. The book makes you think about things like that and to trust your gut and recognize those signals. I’m really enjoying it so far.

    Thanks again for the post. Got me thinking! (PS: I have no affiliation with the book, just wanted to pass on the recommendation because the advice could very well save someone’s life, and has!)

    • ShannonOD June 13, 2013 at 7:27 pm #

      Thank you so much for sharing that book, I added it to my Goodreads queue so I will remember to check it out from the library when I get home, it looks like a wonderful read for any solo female traveler before she sets off to travel (and after of course, I am keen to see what he says as I often cave to a situation as well when I don’t want to be perceived as rude).

      I am really sorry to hear about your NYC experience, it’s so disheartening when it happens when you perceive yourself as safe too — it’s easy to forget to keep your guard up in more familiar surroundings too.

      Again, I really appreciate you taking the time to share your own thoughts and experiences here as well so other ALA readers can take heart that though there are some hurdles and fears to overcome, there is a strong community of us solo females out there. Safe and happy travels :)

  21. Andi Perullo June 5, 2013 at 10:00 am #

    The only time I had an issue was when I didn’t listen to my intuition in India and got a massage from a male “therapist.” I was more mad at myself than him! Just yesterday a woman was raped and beaten a mile away from my clinic in Charlotte in a very safe neighborhood park in the middle of the day. Violence and crime can happen ANYWHERE. I love your tips, they are so helpful and you are no doubt an inspiration to many women trying to find the courage to travel solo.

    • ShannonOD June 13, 2013 at 7:20 pm #

      Aw Andi, I am sorry to hear that you had a negative experience in India — as you noted though, your intuition beforehand was warning you and you are now safer for that experience and for having the confidence to listen more carefully to what your instincts tell you about a people and place. I really appreciate you sharing your own experience here, it can be frustrating to know that there are caveats to travel as a women, but empowering to see so many like you who go solo on the road too :)

  22. Kristy June 5, 2013 at 3:23 am #

    Thank you for writing this post! I travel as a solo femaIe and a lot of people think im crazy, and sometimes they make me start to think the same way. But I think I have good common sense, and I am very observant, which helps me stay aware and safe. Every day theres new stories in the news that remind me that anything can happen anywhere. I could get hit by a car or be killed in a terroist attack in my hometown as well as anywhere else in the world. So im not going to let the fear of the unknown, and the opinions of others stop me from living my dreams by traveling the world!

    • ShannonOD June 13, 2013 at 7:17 pm #

      The reality when you’re actually on the road can be so tricky to describe to others, I know exactly what you mean Kristy about questioning your own sanity/judgment when enough people start doubting. But as you said, you pay attention, you’re aware and pick the places you visit and beyond that you can only live and enjoy life, I am so thankful my fears haven’t stopped me from finding the kindnesses out there in the world. Really appreciate you sharing your own experiences here so others can read and know there are a lot of us solo women out there! :)

  23. Nancy Boettcher Clark June 4, 2013 at 8:55 pm #

    Thank you so much for this great post! I have traveled a fair amount by myself and agree with your assessments. Being aware is a big one for me. My first trip to India, I was being picked up by someone and they were late. A guy outside the airport doors kept trying to convince me they weren’t coming, the time zone was different… anything he could and I just kept saying no, I will wait. The minute my ride appeared, he disappeared.

    I’m planning to do a solo trip thru Europe next year and this was an encouraging post that I can enjoy all the things I want to! I refuse to live in fear of ‘what might happen’. Thanks so much!!

    Be safe, strong, smart & travel far…


    • ShannonOD June 13, 2013 at 7:10 pm #

      Thanks so much for weighing in with your own experience Nancy, when I am leaving hubs (airports, train stations, etc) I always get really flustered by how persistent then men and taxi drivers can be — so glad that it worked out for you and your ride arrived! Solo in Europe sounds like a great adventure and I wish you so much luck and safe travels as well. Cheers and many thanks again, glad to have you a part of the ALA community :)

  24. Rika at Cubicle Throwdown June 4, 2013 at 8:36 pm #

    This is a really great post, and every solo female traveler should read it!! I have been to quite a few countries where women are definitely not treated the same as men and it took some adjusting, but I never feared for my safety. The only times I’ve ever been nervous have been completely my own fault – usually too much to drink with the wrong people in the wrong place, and I can’t blame anyone else for that. The only place I’ve had a physical altercation as a solo female was at home in Vancouver, BC, not while traveling!

    • ShannonOD June 8, 2013 at 11:21 pm #

      Agreed completely! I have definitely not been a saint and strict adherer to my “rules” but after feeling the fear of not having complete control by having chosen to drink in a circumstance that wasn’t quite right I have really learned to trust my gut and stick with the staying aware rule when I’m alone. I hope the altercation in BC was mild. Safe travels Rika! :)

  25. Mary B June 4, 2013 at 7:48 pm #

    This is such a great post. I agree with so many of your points I don’t even know where to start! I, too, am a “cautious risk-taker”, calculating the value of the experience versus the risk it entails… sometimes you just have to trust your gut. And I’ve spent plenty of time telling my mom that I am just as safe traveling as I have been living in several major (not so safe) cities in the US, though I’m still not sure she believes me. I love that you talked about how women SHOULDN’T have to worry more about rape/assault and that it’s attitudes towards women that need to change, not our travel plans… and yet it is something we all have to take into consideration, especially when alone in an unfamiliar place (but also here at home). Ultimately for me, the fear of not seeing something beautiful or extraordinary because I stayed home is greater than the fear of something bad happening while traveling. Thanks for your thoughtful perspective!

    • ShannonOD June 8, 2013 at 11:19 pm #

      Agree completely on trusting your guy — only you truly know if a place or experience really works with your own values and lifestyle; this is something it took me a long time to accept because there can be pressure to conform to the types of travels others are doing. Like you, I just feel I need to wander and explore those beautiful places and perhaps in sharing that solo travel can be safe, and that we have the right we can take a tiny step in empowering others to fight against that notion that women should stick to home. Safe travels Mary!

  26. Sierra Baldwin June 4, 2013 at 7:05 pm #

    This is the best post I’ve read about solo female travelers to date. I think you did an outstanding job addressing every angle possible and debunking a lot of assumptions/myths, etc. I lived in South America for 6 months and Asia for 9 and the only “truly scary” moment I can immediately recall is when I was thrown off my motorbike in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Luckily I was in a low traffic area (old town) and there were no speedy cars behind me so I was able to get back on and walk away with very faint Thai tattoos! Other than that I was getting in cabs at 4am in Chile and Peru and wandering alone through non-touristy neighborhoods completely untouched on both continents. I think us women are lucky because we generally have really good instincts – if a situation feels uncomfortable, get yourself out. Otherwise, carpe diem! I also like how you touched on staying aware and understanding cultural norms/differences. I think those two points are some of the most crucial when it comes to our safety. Overall GREAT post – definitely sharing it.

    • ShannonOD June 8, 2013 at 11:16 pm #

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your own safety experiences Sierra. I am so glad to hear that your accident in CM was only mild, it is terrifying to have something like that happen and really bring home how dangerous cars and traffic can be — as you noted, all the other fears never materialized. So glad you found your way to the site and safe travels where ever you are headed next! :)

  27. joanna_haugen June 4, 2013 at 5:09 pm #

    I absolutely agree with you regarding your traffic concerns. Every time I got in a matatu in Kenya, I hoped that I would arrive at my destination safely. Transportation is the big unknown because it is out of your control. Other things that could be dangerous – turning down that street, going to the club, etc. – are decisions you can make and control.

    • ShannonOD June 8, 2013 at 11:12 pm #

      A traveler I met in India had been in a serious matatu accident where several of the people died and it has be seriously cautious about traveling there — it’s always alarming to have the reality pop up like that. Agree completely on the rest, I believe in my own good judgement and beyond that cannot control anything but the travels I bring into my life. Thanks for sharing your experiences JoAnna

  28. Maike June 4, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

    Thank you for this interesting post, I think most people don’t know that the greatest danger is traffic, where gender and solo-or-not really doesn’t matter. I also think the tips are very good. Greetings from Berlin, which may well be the safest capital in the world, so leaving it to travel is always a risk in itself. I would not be surprised if leaving the house (where most accidents happen, apparently) to hang around the streets is a good way to stay safe here in Berlin :-) But seriously, in the few cases of random violence here that were in the media recently, the victim was a young solo male…

    • ShannonOD June 8, 2013 at 11:09 pm #

      Thank you for stopping in from Berlin and sharing your own experiences in solo travel and living in Berlin. Friend living there have really had positive things to say about the city, so I definitely believe you that it is safe; they have me convinced I may want to live there for a time! Safe travels and I really appreciate your comment :)

  29. Michelle June 4, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

    Great post! I plan on making the switch to self employment next year, and this will likely mean that I will be doing some solo trips.

    • ShannonOD June 4, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

      Thanks Michelle, that is a scary shift in it’s own right (to self-employment) so congrats on making the decision and good luck on the transition! :)

  30. Heather June 4, 2013 at 11:08 am #

    I just got back from my first solo international trip and feel so empowered! It was exhilarating to know I was quite capable of taking care of myself. And never once did I feel unsafe, though to be fair, Hong Kong isn’t an exceptionally dangerous place. I loved the freedom traveling solo afforded and look forward to doing it again!

    • ShannonOD June 4, 2013 at 2:54 pm #

      Congrats on your first trip! That is big and exhilarating for sure — I too felt so much stronger after time on the road, after proving to myself that I could take care of myself and realize my travel dream. Hong Kong might not be too dangerous, but with the language, food, and big city I have no doubt you had a lot to figure out. Keep me posted on where you head to next :)

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