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 Now though, a lot of what triggers those fears on the evolutionary scale is no longer valid (it’s unlikely a cougar will stalk me down a city street at night) but they are vestiges of being human, so they have to be understood and addressed.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. vinceweist September 1, 2016 at 7:39 am #

    Creative post , I loved the points ! Does someone know if my assistant would be able to get a blank IRS 1040 – Schedule E document to complete ?

  2. Hannah Gray June 21, 2016 at 7:45 pm #

    Hi Shannon, I am a 16 year old girl, and I am saving all my money so that I can travel the world for a year after I graduate high school. Do you have any advice regarding how much I should save, how I could make contacts in other countries to visit, or just general advice to brand new travelers? My family is not exactly rich, so I am just trying to save every dollar to put towards this. I would like to find a job that I can work on while I’m traveling. I am going on a family vacation later this year to Paris and several cities in Italy, and I’m going to use that experience to “get a taste” of the traveling lifestyle. I am exceedingly interested in learning about other cultures, I took a few years of Arabic and am trying to learn basic phrases in French, Italian, and Spanish, and I was wondering if you had an article on respecting other cultures’ customs i.e. dress, manners, etc. I have read a large portion of the articles that you have posted, and I really enjoy how informative they are, especially through how your experiences are similar to the ones I would like to have. Thank you for a great post/blog, and I look forward to continuing to read through it.

    • Shannon O'Donnell June 24, 2016 at 2:09 pm #

      Hi Hannah! Thank you for writing, I am so glad the site has resonated with you. Like you, my family is not rich so I focused on having a good base of savings ahead of time, as well as online work. There is no firm number for you to save, it will fully depend on your route around the world. If you plan to stick to places like Central America and Southeast Asia, you could travel for a year on 18K. But if you plan to travel Europe, Africa, or some other spots, that ups the price. The number of countries matters too.

      Have you thought about doing something like looking at the Australian work visa? They allow young adults to secure a year working visa for the country, and it’s a very popular choice for Germans and others. They usually head to Oz for a year, they pick fruit on organic farms, do some WOOFing and generally mix work and travel.

      Take a close look at which places you want to visit and then start planning from there. The fewer long-distance plane flights you take the less you will need to save. If you stick to budget destinations, you will be golden. You can also plan on couch-surfing for parts of it. Or staying for a few months in a country/city you have always found interesting. That is a great way to immerse in a culture, volunteer, learn a new language — and also spend less money.

      I hope that helps! :)


  3. Alicia January 3, 2016 at 6:15 am #

    Hi Shannon, I just found your article while googling for tips on travelling as a solo female. I’m about to embark on my first ever solo trip – to the USA – and my friends have put the fear of God in me about being alone in some areas they refer to as “questionable” in terms of their safety. To allay their (and my) fears, I have opted to do group day trips at my first stop to try and ease myself into it.
    If you have any tips for me, I’d be most appreciative :)

    • Shannon O'Donnell January 3, 2016 at 10:39 am #

      Hi Alicia! Crazy to think that your friends have to warn you about the U.S., but I do understand why they might. More than anything, when there are cultural norms that are a bit different you just need to find the way to blend. That part is likely fairly easy, I would say that whatever cities you choose, to ask your accommodation about areas that you should avoid. Then employ the same precautions you would most anywhere — don’t walk home alone late at night, avoid getting too inebriated, etc. There are some dangerous neighborhoods in the cities, but the only times I have been hassled is when you might expect: late at night walking to my car or in a club.

      Sightseeing and the such, the big dangers are less. If you’re in NYC, keep your purse in front of you and across the body, don’t hold your smartphone out in front of you when looking at it. Most of the areas tourists go to are not the places we have issues. I wish you the best of luck and an amazing trip. :)

  4. Ambar December 25, 2015 at 12:54 am #

    Lots of great tips! Most of the tips and ideas are enough for all the travelers not just for a women traveler. Dressing like locals is also a great idea to stay safe while traveling alone.

    • Shannon O'Donnell December 25, 2015 at 11:29 am #

      Yes, good point! It’s important to blend in a bit to help thwart unwanted attention and show respect. Thanks for reading and weighing in!

  5. Allison @ Head Elsewhere November 30, 2015 at 11:10 am #

    Thank you for sharing this, I needed to hear all of these things! I’ve traveled solo many times, but for some reason I’m feeling antsy about heading to Nicaragua next week. My boyfriend is worried and his concerns started to become my own. I also appreciate you sharing your experiences being sexually harassed. I was once grabbed aggressively in Istanbul, and I have never shared it on my blog or really with anyone. Mostly because I didn’t want to let it define my trip but also because I didn’t want to give anyone else any reason to doubt my safety (whether or not those concerns were warranted…)

    I’m bookmarking this for later in case nerves nerves start to kick in again! Thanks!

    • Shannon O'Donnell November 30, 2015 at 12:42 pm #

      I am so glad that the piece resonated Allison. Like you, sometime the fears sneak up on me, especially when someone I love is expressing concerns. The reality on the ground is often so very different though. Also, have you thought about reaching out to local expats and bloggers wherever you are going in Nicaragua? Having someone local to grab coffee with in those first few days can also help you ground yourself once you are there. :)

  6. Emma Cruzz June 2, 2015 at 1:30 am #

    Traveling is so trans formative and important for personal growth, and part of that comes with taking calculated risks. Be aware while you travel, but don’t get so caught up in fear that you forget to enjoy. The world is beautiful, and odds are you’ll have nothing but amazing experiences abroad.

  7. Helen Warner May 26, 2015 at 9:47 pm #

    I really enjoyed this post – it was well balanced in looking at fear verses reality. I am about to head off on a solo trip through Central America, which after travelling solo through Asia, America and huge chunks of Europe wasn’t something that made me nervous… and then I started listening to those “stories” – now I am a little freaked out. Your article helped bring me back to reality! Thank you! Are there any areas though that you would recommend staying clear of in Central America as a solo female traveller? Also, my Spanish is complete beginner level – will this be a problem? Thanks, H :)

    • Shannon O'Donnell May 27, 2015 at 12:41 am #

      Hi Helen, so glad you found the site and this post helpful. Central America is a beautiful region of the world, and you will see and learn so much! It does have some rough spots, more than some other regions, but I do think you can find a safe path down the area. One place to be super cautious is Honduras. San Pedro Sula is one of (if not the) the most dangerous cities in the world right now in terms of homicides, and Tegucigalpa isn’t too far behind. Just avoid spending time in these cities (you may still have to bus through them, but don’t put them on the itinerary. The islands off the coast of Honduras are still safe though and gorgeous if you are a diver. El Salvador can be tricky too, so just make sure you are asking lots of questions as you go. The best source of advice will come from travelers heading in the opposite direction as you, they have just come from where you are heading, so mine them for information! They are good for giving ideas of solid bus companies, hostels in good areas, and the best routes through the region. I hope you have an amazing trip. :)

      • Helen Warner May 27, 2015 at 12:43 am #

        Thanks so much for that Shannon – that’s really great advice. Did you find hostels safe as you were travelling through? I have always stayed in hostels but have heard some horror stories of the ones in Central America… though not sure if its just fear mongering? Thanks again for your detailed response – helps with my planned route!

        • Shannon O'Donnell May 27, 2015 at 8:55 am #

          Hmm, that’s a tricky question for me. I was last there five years ago — at that time there wasn’t really any issues, I really loved them (Yellow House in Antigua, Guate was fantastic!). Not sure what issues they say are there. I know that in general, your chances of getting robbed are higher. Other safety concerns, well, that would be news to me. Perhaps you can find some other travel bloggers who have been backpacking the region more recently and shoot them an email, we are all usually pretty friendly at answering emails. :)

          • Helen Warner May 27, 2015 at 6:23 pm #

            Thanks so much for that Shannon – will do :)

  8. Its Not Ya Boi Adam October 2, 2014 at 11:34 am #

    ME TOO ADAM!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. YaBoiAdam October 2, 2014 at 11:28 am #

    Very neat that you made many new friends in places around the world! Hope you stay in touch with them! Update on me: I GOT A NEW PUPPY!!!!!

  10. lady traveler September 13, 2014 at 4:37 am #

    Thanks for the tips on how to stay safe. I was never afraid of anything in life till recently someone tried to harm me in an staged accident, then I realized there are sick people anywhere to harm you and it can happen anywhere to anybody. Unfortunately, I do stand out for being well off even when I wear flip flops, and I realized I could be an easy target.
    I also love to have a drink or two especially when I travel. I will keep my eyes open from now on, gone the days I used to get tipsy and walk around like a fool because I love taking a walk after few drinks. Luckily I’ve hanged out around nice neighborhoods in every city but I will be extra careful.

    Recently, I’ve decided to start traveling alone again, because if I don’t I will be miserable for not pursuing life, so if I’m gonna be miserable for traveling out of fear and not traveling at all, I rather be a miserable traveler, which I’m sure I will have happier times.

    By the way, I never been groped in any of the cities I traveled, but I got groped right here in Santa Monica, one of the richest neighborhoods in L.A, so just like you said it, it’s luck of a draw. Idiots do take a bus to nice places to grope & rob people, so you can’t avoid them unless you’re lucky. I always say my jeans were so tight that night from just washing it that he almost broke a finger to get anywhere, so I laugh it off.

    Good luck and I applaud your bravery Shannon (Amelia Earhart) O’Donnell

    • Shannon O'Donnell September 14, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

      Thank you for sharing your experience, and I am so sorry to hear that you also had some negative experiences in LA — it truly can happen anywhere. I hope your solo travels go well and that you are enjoying them; I know that when I switch to traveling with friends there is a transition time before I sink into the unique things that come with switching up your travel styles. Safe travels!

  11. Anne Dirkse August 29, 2014 at 6:44 pm #

    I just found your fantastic site and this article – I completely agree. I’ve traveled all over the world myself and traffic accidents are absolutely the biggest danger. I would add that I think sometimes it’s safer being a woman traveling solo, because many people will watch out for you and protect you for that reason alone. And we definitely get advantages that men never would (or local women, like you say) That’s not to say that I haven’t had a handful of unpleasant experiences at home and abroad, but on the whole more people are good than bad, and I think solo women really have it better than most anyone. Everyone feels so sorry for us. ;-) Thanks for your wonderful voice, I look forward to reading more.

    • Shannon O'Donnell August 30, 2014 at 8:53 pm #

      Thank you for sharing your own experiences Anne, and I am so glad to hear that you have found it safe and welcoming on the whole as you travel. Like you mention, often my solo woman status gets me a helping hand along the way and I most definitely have wonderful stories I may have never had without being a woman! Safe travels :)

  12. Sarah July 19, 2014 at 5:03 am #

    I feel so relieved reading your article. I recently spent 9 weeks travelling with a friend in Central and a little of South America. I had the most amazing experiences of my life and am madly saving to go back but this time solo and for hopefully a year. I know it will be a completely different experience and I cannot wait. I am so tired of people putting a downer on my trip though when I say I am going solo. I consider myself to be pretty street smart and have met enough female solo travellers on my last trip to feel confident I have made the right decision. The majority of people with negative things to say have never been to these parts of the world and probably never will go out of fear and I feel sorry for them. They haven’t a clue what they are missing out on. My last trip was the first time I had been anywhere other than Bali and a few guys at work were making jokes about me flying to Mexico and having my head chopped off. When you hear negatives about your trip enough you really do start to take it onboard and wonder if what you want to do is crazy. I was told so many things like this that I started to have anxiety and called my friend in the middle of the night crying, saying I was too scared and maybe I wouldn’t come about 3 days before I was due to leave. She was in Guatemala and I would spend a week alone in Mexico and then meet up with her. I had an amazing week and met some awesome people. Thanks so much for your reassurance. It’s exactly what I needed to hear because I am super excited for this trip.

  13. Meris July 26, 2013 at 3:51 am #

    This provided some really good tips and things to be aware of when being a solo traveller.

    I prefer travelling alone and going on volunteer trips, but I have found myself in unsafe situations not so much just being an unaccompanied female, but as an unaccompanied female with an Asian appearance. As an Australian-born I tend to forget my appearance, but others clearly build assumptions around it – where is my father/husband/chaperone (in one memorable case of harassment, my pimp)? Oh, I don’t have one? No ring? I must be asking for it then … I found it interesting that you mentioned that Western women are sometimes afforded ‘male’ status, which is something I haven’t experienced as much because of the assumptions that I am not actually ‘Western’.

    One of the things I’ve learned along the way as I’ve kept travelling is that appearing vulnerable can make you look like an easier target. It won’t deter everyone but being confident and trusting your gut helps. Which is where staying aware and sober are really important tips.

    But I do think a lot of locals look out for tourists, in a fashion. In a couple of South American cities I’ve been in where pickpocketing is rife, there would be locals in the street or people behind counters advising to be mindful about bags, etc … a solo traveller friend of mine who is a photographer (and carries fairly expensive gear) once commented that once she was travelling with her camera in the heart of a city about a dozen people advised her to be mindful of her gear.

    • ShannonOD July 26, 2013 at 5:36 pm #

      Meris, I am sorry to hear that you have had some negative experiences on the road — it’s tough to love travel and yet know you have to work around the issues and assumptions others bring to the equation that put you in danger. I hadn’t considered the differences too much as someone of Asian descent, though I did see first-hand some discrimination by others in Southeast Asia when they assumed that I was with a local and not another Westerner. I know my friend felt really bad about the encounter despite the fact that she too held an American passport, some people and places have a hard time working from the assumption of just how interconnected and integrated the world is becoming.

      Thank you for sharing your own experiences and the advice you have learned from it too, I think it’s very wise to note about not appearing vulnerable — and that includes distracted sometimes too with a guidebook out in public or something of that nature. Sometimes it can scream easy prey to people paying attention.

      Like you though, kindness has been a large theme in my travels and life and there is that too! There are precautions to take, but then a lot of wonderful things to find and discover on the road. Safe travels to you and again, I appreciate you sharing your own point of view here so others can read and be encouraged by your own journey. :)

  14. Sally Bucey July 20, 2013 at 12:18 am #

    Such great tips. I’m in the habit of dressing really modestly after living in Korea for over a year, and it’s really changed my style. I don’t even feel comfortable in a tank top anymore, it’s crazy! But that’s just one of the personal changes that I think many women go through when they spend time abroad, traveling or otherwise.

    • ShannonOD July 20, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

      Like you I find myself very often wearing conservative clothing even at home — only recently did I start wearing shorts again after years of not being used to anything above the knees. I think our sense of beauty shifts with travel too — I find myself admiring the silhouette of women in Myanmar and Thailand in their traditional dresses :) Thanks for sharing your experience here Sally.

    • Jaq November 4, 2016 at 6:40 pm #

      Hm, I felt like when I moved back to the US after 3 years in Korea, all my dresses are short by US standards.
      And I never stopped wearing tank-tops… though doing so got an occasional “tsk!” from an ajumma when I was in rural areas.

  15. Patri006 July 19, 2013 at 7:48 pm #

    I’m really encouraged with your life journey. I’ve always felt like traveling through the world and helping people with needs. This is one of my mayor concerns “Safety”. I really liked the tips. So true, the fact that we can be harmed while we are traveling just as we can be harmed in our own home or favorite coffee shop. We live in a wicked world but we cant let safety issues hinder us from traveling. Obviously thinking on our steps along the way it will help us be less vulnerable for this situations. I have a few questions for u is there any way i can contact you through e-mail. I will be more than happy to take some advice.

    • ShannonOD July 20, 2013 at 9:41 pm #

      Hi, I would love to talk to you more via email and talk about some of your concerns and anything I can do to help you get on the road. My email is: ShannonRODonnell at gmail.com

  16. ShannonOD July 15, 2013 at 2:25 pm #

    Thank you for sharing the weekly newspaper on solo travel, I think it’s such a timely topic right now and one that is thankfully gaining momentum as solo women like us talk about our experiences. Though many of the readers have shared that they too have encountered a few issues, I think the reality is a lot different than what a lot of people assume happens once you set foot off of US soil. It must have been so tough to arrive at your new job expecting one thing and having to deal with the hurdle of harassment; I am so sorry to hear that happened to you.

    I really appreciate you adding your own voice and experiences here — from friends I have heard incredibly positive things about the quality of life in Berlin so I am really keen to come that way for a visit at some point and I look forward to chatting with you more! :)

    • Anca Dumitru July 17, 2013 at 9:54 am #

      Thanks, Shannon.

      I live near Cologne, but, yes, I agree. Berlin is beautiful indeed. Plenty of things to see and do. And – if you’re into art and visual beauty – over the past few years it’s become the heart of the art world. Have seen some pretty awesome exhibits last month.

      Would sure love to stay in touch. :) Hit me up on Twitter or Google+!

      • ShannonOD July 17, 2013 at 11:35 am #

        Added you Anca! :)

  17. Anca Dumitru July 14, 2013 at 1:42 pm #

    Thanks so much for this comprehensive article, Shannon! I came across it through a Google+ post from Chris Guillebeau. As an expat living in Germany, I’ve been doing my fare share of travelling but not as extensive as yours and on business or vacations only.

    In all fairness, I don’t think I have the guts to volunteer (I watched one of your interviews on YouTube on that), which makes me appreciate and respect even more those who actually get involved in volunteering and leave the comfort of their hometown to help out elsewhere in the world.

    I am particularly drawn by this article because I travel solo myself and I even curate a little weekly newspaper centered on solo travel (http://paper.li/anca1268/1318853155 if you want to have a look).

    Fortunately, I’ve never been groped during my travels. Sexually harassed, yes. What’s sadder is that it happened at the first social event with my new co-workers as I’d started an expat assignment in Belgium in an environment where I’d thought I would be completely safe. Alcohol was involved. And I was by far the only sober one in the group.

    I agree with some of the previous commentators that it can happen anywhere, if you’re in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

    Once again, great perspective! I’ll keep following your posts.

  18. Pretraveller July 2, 2013 at 5:11 am #

    Thanks for a great article! Having done several trips as a solo female in my twenties, these days I am now doing family travel. As you have said there ARE risks, but you need to have better awareness of your surroundings and trust your instincts.

    After successfully travelling with no major problems I found it interesting that the only time I have felt at risk of being mugged was in my home town of the time of Melbourne in Australia. At the time we parked the car behind a restaurant. I felt uneasy and suggested to my husband that we park somewhere else but he laughed it off. After our meal when we came out there was a guy hanging around the car park, and we needed to get our 1 year old strapped in before we could leave. We were fortunate that there was a car parked beside us with some people in it who spoke to the person and distracted them while we loaded the car and quickly left… Ever since that incident I have trusted my instincts even more.

    • ShannonOD July 2, 2013 at 7:35 pm #

      Thanks so much for sharing your own experiences here. What I find interesting about your story is that if you were on the road, parking in an unknown city in a random country, you likely would have been more keen to follow that gut instinct — you inherently knew the choice was risky and it’s when we let down our guard, on the road or at home that some things can slip by. This has been the case for me when I join up with another traveler, sometimes I let a gut feeling pass because there’s a perceived (and to a point actual) safety in numbers.

      I am so glad that it worked out for you, that you were able to get your wee one in the car and get out of there without incident. Safe and happy travels!

  19. Blissom Booblé June 26, 2013 at 9:59 pm #

    What an honest and thorough investigation of solo female travel. This is a topic I’m tackling, too. Love this post!

  20. Judith June 24, 2013 at 6:06 pm #

    I am 60 today and traveled the world solo in the 70’s through mid 90’s. Agree with you and value your perspectives here. Brilliant!

    • ShannonOD June 24, 2013 at 8:11 pm #

      Thanks so much for reading and sharing a bit about your own travels Judith, I met a woman on the road who had also traveled in the 70s and she had the most fascinating stories. If we ever cross paths I’d love to grab a coffee with a kindred spirit! :)

      • Judith June 24, 2013 at 9:12 pm #

        I plan on moving back to Mexico. Let’s tay in touch. Connect with me via Judith Gargyi’s Mexico on Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn. I spent 15 years in Mexico and am Mexicana de corazon! :-)

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