Last updated on January 8, 2023
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 as a single woman. 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. 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.
Is it Safe to Travel Alone as a Woman? The Reality of Solo Female Travel
I have not found these fears to pan out 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 solo fears circled around the idea of loneliness, but safety is the biggie that gets thrown in my face most often, then as well as now, when I announce new places I will 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 the world. These are fears that I still consciously choose to overcome each time I leave 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 harbor fear; fear is a part of the human experience and evolutionary wise it was needed for survival. Now though, a lot of what triggers fears on the evolutionary scale are no longer valid (it’s unlikely a cougar will stalk me down a city street at night) but they are vestiges of being human, so let’s understand and address the main fears, one by one.
What Does Travel Safety Really Mean?
On Traveling as a Single Woman Alone
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 raises their eyebrow when I share 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 (U.S. media does not treat Mexico well in the news), she has known me since I was in high school and 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 U.S. cities prove that home is dangerous, too.
Safety as a solo female traveler also involves discussing sexual harassment. Female readers have asked over the years if I’ve ever feared for my safety, if I’ve had negative experiences on the road. I’m always tempted to write back that I’m 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.
Let’s look at that idea more closely: Safety for female travelers comes down to luck and not preparation alone.
Anyone who says that they avoided issues on the road “because they were prepared,” or because they did “all the right things,” imply a false sense of security. Plus it’s an insult to any woman who has been harmed while traveling—citing preparation as the sole reason for safety does a grave disservice to the facts. Violence against women is an epidemic. It’s a problem in the U.S., and a problem in many countries I visit. I can take steps to minimize my exposure to risk when traveling, but I can’t change the nature of the world—this ready violence against women. No one can plan against the sheer ill-luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
For the sake of transparency on this issue, I have been aggressively groped three times in my life. Each time I was disappointed and mad, and (luckily) none were to the point that I feared it would go further. Each incident 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. In 15+ years as a solo female traveler, I have experienced only two incidences of clear violence against me. One was in broad daylight during a festival in India and another in Jordan, also during the day. The third incident happened before I left to travel, 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.
I didn’t write about these incidences at the time not out of fear, shame, or covering anything up, but rather because they defined my travel experiences in neither Jordan and India, 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 during my time in the U.S. as in the places I travel.
I can’t live from a place of fear. I travel with self-defined policies, agreements I have made with myself to lessen my exposure to risky situations. Beyond that, I put my trust in the world. It may fail me, but that is a risk I have consciously chosen.
On the Safety of 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 that I add to whenever I encounter something new.
If safety is the topic, then I have only increased my safety by traveling—I have a greater breadth of experience and knowledge that I can draw from when assessing uncertain situations.
A reader emailed me 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 an adventurous traveler by any stretch—there are those who do all the big, risky, sporty things. For me though, I try to nudge the boundaries of my comfort zone, 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 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 very novice divers down even though it’s a difficult dive. The thought of diving that deep made me nervous, and I decided that seeing the caves 140 feet below the water was not 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 snorkeled nearby, did a couple of shore dives on the reef, and had a perfectly enjoyable time. Other divers may think my decision was silly because thousands of people do that dive without harm, but it didn’t feel right for me. I trusted that feeling, 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 zone. That’s how we grow and change—not by necessarily 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 while diving that deep, when there’s 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.
On the Actual Dangers of Solo Travel as a Single Woman
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 and drowning are far more common the world over than tragedies from these other fears according to the U.S. State Department. Fatal traffic accidents far outweigh death from terrorism, plane crashes, or infectious disease according to 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 that no matter your traffic infraction, you can buy your way out of the ticket for less than $100 (and often just $20).
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 nicknames in every places travelers take this risk (it’s also so common in Bali that it’s called a Bali Kiss). In 2011, I got in a traffic accident in Laos with my niece 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 U.S. travelers abroad? The first being traffic accidents in Mexico. No joke.
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, our perceptions are skewed by the media. Outside perspectives often simply reinforcing political doctrine or maintain 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 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 U.S. So in terms of harm, I don’t feel the religious or cultural based fears. 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.
Don’t forget to book travel insurance for your trip—a great policy provides coverage in case of medical emergencies, lost or stolen gear, adventure sports riders, and more. I’ve used IMG Global for more than a decade highly recommend it!
On Overcoming Travel Safety Fears, Solo or Otherwise
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 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. 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 on my 20s and 30s and thinking “what would my life look like if I had traveled young?”
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 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 a 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. It only takes a commitment to shifting your perspective to see that.
11 Practical Tips for Solo Females Traveling
These handful of tips should be paired with common sense and they will take you most any place you want to go in life:
Do Your Research & Bookmark Important Resources
Read the national travel advisories and research what the government says are the key dangers—many local embassies around the world will update country and city listings with nuanced safety information surfaced by no amount of Google searching. The U.S. government has one, though I find the Canadian one more thorough in some regards. The Canadian one also includes an extensive section on risks for women—have a read and then bookmark because it has a section for “If the worst happens.” While your embassy is one potential point of contact for Americans abroad, Pathway’s to Safety International provides care for American victim’s abroad.
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 the best travel books 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. Although 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 as a solo female traveler—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.
Choose When You’re Solo
Finding ways to get comfortable once you land, and know that you don’t have to be solo even if you are traveling solo. I often take a free walking tour on my first day or two in a capital city. These tours are chock full of historical information, which is fun, but they often include cultural information included too, which helps me understand where I should put my attention, and they offer me the lay of the land so I know the look and feel of the major neighborhoods. And what’s more, walking tours are filled with other travelers visiting for the next few days or weeks. It doesn’t always work out that I meet someone I want to do something else with, but sometimes I will at least meet people from the tour for food/drinks/daytrip another day. Even more, I have paid for one- or multi-day tours when I just wasn’t in a state of mind to handle things myself. If you arrive abroad and don’t love how things are going, book a tour, buy your peace of mind. If you mentally set aside a bit of budget to cover it, just in case, then it’s there if you need it.
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 from a male point of view, the descriptions of how to teach yourself to continually assess new situations is a valuable skill on the road.
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 push through 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. Will it save me if someone truly means me harm? I don’t know, probably not—but I like my chances better for knowing it.
Stop Being Too Nice
Say no to anything that makes you uncomfortable. I read once that men who want to do harm prey on the societal expectation that women are polite and accommodating—many of us were taught to give indirect and polite nos. Reading that changed how I approach interactions that make me uncomfortable. Because I did that, all the time. There were times in my early travels politely listened, or tried to gently ditch to an over-eager tout, cautious of being perceived as too aggressive or mean. Now I just don’t care if I’m rude, and you shouldn’t either. I would never be rude in the general course of life, but if it’s something unsolicited and I feel uncomfortable, I go for blunt and immediate. You don’t owe them your kindness, you owe your instincts and gut your attention.
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 U.S. I didn’t use it for many years on the road—I paid for my Laos hospital visit out of pocket since it was only $80—but I always felt safer knowing I can call on medevac or a hospital visit if I am in a serious accident or very sick. Since then, I had a chest infection in Spain (twice) and those hospital expenses, which were covered, easily covered the cost of my many years of buying coverage. This post thoroughly reviews options and gives a detailed breakdown of how to pick a good company; or just head to IMG if you’re 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 although 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 and you’re not riding on an overnight bus. 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, and I book easy transport to the hotel if not. Uber is now in most major cities around the world—download it, set it up, and be ready to use it in a pinch (and of course, buy a local SIM card when you land so you can summon said Uber).
What are your thoughts? Do you agree with my assessment of the safety or have any other tips and resources for solo women?
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.
112 thoughts on “A Little Honesty… On The Safety of Traveling Alone as a Woman”
Before you go, research the country and city you’ll be visiting to understand the local customs, laws, and any potential safety concerns.
I just get fascinated by your writing. I loved the way you share your thoughts about Women’s choice on Solo Travel and that’s what I appreciate the most.
This is a great, really informative and helpful article. I’m all about inspiring women to travel solo and all the benefits it brings, but the safety concern is a valid one. Being aware not afraid is my/our motto and listening to your instincts is key. Thanks for breaking this down!
For sure Kristin, you can always link to anything on the site that you find valuable. Thanks!
Safety while traveling is so important. I found this useful since the first priority for solo female travelers is usually safety. I appreciate that you share so much valuable information on the practical side of staying safe on the road. Thanks!
Thanks! So glad the post resonated and that you found it useful. Safe travels!
Yes! you are right safety yourself for a solo female traveler is an important part of the journey. Solo travelling is adventure travel. You share the solo female travel safety info on blog it is very helpful for solo traveler. Thanks for posting something worth reading. Great work.
This is really a very practical and good post. It’s a brave and excellent decision to travel solo because it is very empowering but with the situations prevailing all over the globe regarding the safety of women, many like me don’t get the guts or the opportunity to travel. Being an Indian girl, it’s too difficult (nearly impossible) to let my parents travel around the world solo, even though I have full faith on myself that I can do it and have a great ever-changing passion for travel. Need you advices on how to overcome the restrictions overprotective parents and let them allow me to start working on my dreams.
A little fan of this awesome post.
Hi Sushree! Thank you so much for the kind words, I am really glad that the post resonated. You are in a unique situation with the cultural aspect, I understand how that would be challenging to overcome the norms for where you could go solo. Have you thought about looking into volunteer programs or work somewhere, where you could be in one place and you could pitch that to your parents. Thailand is a very affordable ticket from India, and it’s also *incredibly* safe for solo women. If you found something there, perhaps you could help them ease into the idea of you being far from where they can protect you? Just a thought. It sounds like you have big dreams and I hope that you can find a place to travel and start this adventure that works for you, and for them.
Thanks Shannon for replying to my comment and for your kind suggestions. I am surely going to look forward to your advices and search oppiopportuin Thailand. It feels like I have a different connection with you. More such suggestions are welcome.
Regards and love.
So many great points! After many solo trips I realized one of my biggest concerns was always the threat of theft, so I I had an idea which has morphed into a business. It combines the security of a money belt with the fit of a sports bra to keep me safe on the road.
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.
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! :)
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 :)
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. :)
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.
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!
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!
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. :)
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.
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 :)
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. :)
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!
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. :)
Thanks so much for that Shannon – will do :)
ME TOO ADAM!!!!!!!!!!!!
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!!!!!
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
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!
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.
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 :)
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.
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.
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. :)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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! :)
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+!
Added you Anca! :)
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.
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.
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!
What an honest and thorough investigation of solo female travel. This is a topic I’m tackling, too. Love this post!
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!
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! :)
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! :-)
What a wonderful post. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences.
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 :)
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! :)
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!
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! :)
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!
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! :)
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.
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 :)
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 :)
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!)
For me it’s roaches, gah — I’d take a scary street taxi over roaches any day. ;-)
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 :)
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.
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! :)
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.
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 :)
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!
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.
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! :)
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.
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 :)
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!
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 :)
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.
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! :)
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.
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 :)
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.
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!
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!
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. :)
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 :)
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! :)
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.
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 :)
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!
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. :)
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.
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 :)
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!)
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 :)
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.
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 :)
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!
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! :)
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…
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 :)
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!
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! :)
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!
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!
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.
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! :)
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.
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
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…
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 :)
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.
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! :)
Thanks Shannon :)
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!
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 :)