9 Tips for Women Traveling Alone

January 11, 2011 · 37 comments

Itching to travel? Check out my eguide, How to Take a Career Break to Travel.

Like it or not, women have to take special precautions while traveling alone.

After six months of backpacking solo in Africa, I’ve got a few ideas about how we can make the most of solo exploration — and stay safe along the way.

Solo traveler on the road in Madagascar. (Okay, so I look like I needed a shower. I probably did.)

If you’re about to embark on a solo trip or are thinking about traveling alone (Go! Go!), here are nine tips to make your trek the best it can be:

1. Befriend local women. Whether you’re in the market, on a bush taxi or sleeping in a hostel, make friends with the women who live there. Women around the globe have a sort of informal pact; we all watch out for each other. Even if you’ve only exchanged a smile with the woman sitting next to you, she’ll go out of her way to protect you if necessary. This rule becomes even more important if you feel like you’re in danger; seek out the closest woman and stick to her like glue.

2. Book a bed for the first night. After Day 1, I avoid making reservations whenever possible, to fully enjoy traveling by the seat of my pants. But for your first night, book a place to sleep in advance — preferably before you leave home. This will give you peace of mind, help you get over the first-day-of-travel jitters, and give you a goal and destination when you arrive in-country.

3. Only bring what you can easily carry. It’s always a good idea to keep your backpack light, but this becomes even more important when you’re traveling alone, simply because you don’t have anyone to help you. Traveling light could even be seen as a safety measure, because you can move more quickly away from danger (or pesky men who want to marry you) when you have less to carry. Make sure you have a free hand even when you’re carrying all your luggage, so you can shoo away those men or grab a pineapple for the road. With that in mind…

4. Carry food. Nothing heavy; granola or crackers will do it. This will keep you from venturing out in the dark by yourself at night when you’re hungry. It will also help you save money! I like to carry a plastic bowl and spoon (more versatile than a fork), plus a Swiss army knife. In Africa, I often bought a pineapple or cucumber — or even, once in Madagascar, a watermelon — and eat it over several days. (No, I didn’t carry the watermelon; I bought it when I knew I’d be staying in one place for a while.)

5. Also carry a book. Books are fabulous dinner companions. With a read you can pull out any time, you’re more likely to enjoy your solitude and less likely to feel lonely. Books are also great conversation starters. But don’t fill your backpack with books — they’re heavy and take up valuable space. Instead, carry just one or two, and keep your eye out for opportunities to swap with other travelers. Some hostels even have a designated book swap, allowing travelers to take a book and leave a book. And boy does it feel good when you find an awesome read on one of those shelves. (And now there’s the e-book! That should make it easier to carry more than one book at a time — so long as you’ve got a power outlet to recharge.)

6. Expect to pay more than couples. Single rooms are usually nearly the cost of a double, which can be incredibly frustrating. It’s what I call the “single tax.” In some instances, you’re going to pay more traveling alone than you would with a partner. Know this from the beginning to avoid letting that single tax ruin your travel mojo.  With that in mind…

7. Look for roommates. Or someone who can split with you the cost of a car or a guide. Buddying up, whether for accommodation or transportation or any other expenses, will help you reduce the cost of your trip. It may also help you feel safer, and it’s nice to have someone to lean on if you get sick.

8. Consider wearing a (fake) wedding ring. Don’t wear an expensive ring; it might get stolen. But having a band you can wave in the face of those pesky men is excellent proof that you’re married and unavailable. I didn’t wear a ring during my trip to Africa, solely because I’m too proud of being an independent, single woman — and I ended up regretting it. A ring would have helped me avoid quite a few wannabe suitors.

9. Make an effort to be friendly. Traveling solo is a fabulous time to reflect, but don’t overlook the chance to broaden your social network by reaching out to other travelers, as well as locals. Ironically, we tend to meet more people and forge more friendships when traveling alone. That’s because if we don’t make the effort to talk to strangers, we’ll have no one to hang out with but ourselves. It takes a little extra effort to put yourself out there, but opening up those lines of communication is well worth it.

Have you traveled alone? If so, I’d love to hear your tips in the comments.

And if you’re looking for more travel tips, try these:

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Brenda January 11, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Great tips! My only addition is to tip #8, whether it’s a fake wedding ring or not, make sure you wear it on the correct finger/hand for that nation, many countries wear their wedding bands on the right hand not the left. It’s also a bit helpful to make sure it’s a modest wedding band (silver or gold, plain) rather than wearing one with diamonds or gemstones.
Great tips! Thank you for posting!

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Alexis Grant January 11, 2011 at 8:21 pm

Great additions!

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Briana January 11, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Alexis, thanks for these great ideas. I especially like the wedding band suggestion – I’d never thought of that before.

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Ashley January 12, 2011 at 8:12 am

Great tips! I couldn’t agree more- especially with the wedding ring idea. We come from a very liberal and safe part of the world.

My recent trip to Morocco proved that you can’t even look in a man’s direction or show skin without being harassed or them trying to ‘court you’. It seems flattering but they can be very persistent and at time, dangerous.

Thanks for posting.

Ashley

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Alexis Grant January 12, 2011 at 9:13 am

Yeah, I wouldn’t show ANY skin in many countries. You’re already an oddity with your white skin, and showing more of it can give the impression that you’re looking for something, even if you’d wear the outfit at home with no problem. Better to stay on the safe side and cover up!

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Chaz January 12, 2011 at 8:15 am

I’ve travelled alone and found it really hard to meet people when I wasn’t on a tour. I din’t want to go into bars because I didn’t want to waste my money. Any tips?

Another tip – in Muslim countries, make sure you cover up because the locals are not used to seeing female flesh, especially when it’s not the same colour as theirs

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Alexis Grant January 12, 2011 at 9:17 am

Where’d you travel? A few tips:
1. Stay in hostels that foster community. Folks who travel alone are always looking for new friends there.
2. Force yourself to open up. Say hi to someone you might have ignored at home. Make conversation. Ask a question. Friends aren’t likely to come to you — You’ve got to make the effort (which is easier than it sounds for some of us).
3. Let friends from home put you in touch with people they sort of know who live there. Meet up with any and every contact, even if they’re several degrees away from you. I meet the most interesting people this way!
4. Remember that solo travel isn’t for everyone. If you feel more comfortable or have more fun on a group tour or organized trip, go that route! Nothing wrong with that.

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Sasha July 5, 2011 at 1:02 pm

I have found that public buses are good places to meet locals, especially on long rides. I also make an effort to talk to the staff at every place I visit — the maid at the place where I stay, the cashier at the museum, etc. On my last trip, I chatted a lot with the guide of my kayak tour (who was a local) and we ended up going out for a bite to eat afterward kayaking — it was a great way to get more insight into the place and I felt like I made a new friend, too.
Sasha recently posted…Blessed are the fabulousMy Profile

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Jennifer Borgh January 12, 2011 at 8:31 am

Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do alone. Since I book a lot of caribbean travel I find that women let their guard down with friendly caribbean people. If you wouldnt’ walk alone at night at home then don’t do it on vacation. Don’t go alone with other people to their rooms etc, especially if you haven’t let anyone you know see who you are gonig with.

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Andi January 12, 2011 at 10:35 am

These are FANTASTIC tips!!! So awesome that you traveled solo in Africa.
Andi recently posted…Happy New Year!!!My Profile

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Katie January 12, 2011 at 11:43 am

I agree with the carry-a-book and carry-food tips – both can be real lifesavers!
Also: hostel common rooms are great places to meet new friends.
Katie recently posted…fictional communitiesMy Profile

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So Very Vienna January 12, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Great tips. I’ve followed many of these. I’ll also add 1) keep key belongings in the same – i.e., your passport is always in the same zippered pocket of your bag, your wallet in a certain section of your purse/bag 2) Give someone at home (a parent or trusted friend) a phone number where they could reach you – even if you email it along the way as you go by the seat of your pants 3) Know how to say “help” in the local language 4) Keep the address of where you’re staying written down in your pocket or bag that you carry with you throughout the day.

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Kim Palmer January 12, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Great tips! I have one to add, too. When a man starts acting weird or approaching you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, I think it’s important to immediately take control of the situation and show them that you will not be intimidated or made uncomfortable by them. I like to do this by saying somewhat loudly, “Can I help you?” In my experience, this sort of turns the table and makes them uncomfortable, even if they don’t speak English and understand exactly what you’re saying.

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Andrea James January 13, 2011 at 10:24 am

What a helpful list — the first point about women looking out for each other just warmed my heart.

This list, and that photo of you, injected a reminder of adventure and summer into my day!
Andrea James recently posted…Gracefully surrendering the things of youthMy Profile

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Becky January 14, 2011 at 8:02 pm

The point you make about meeting more people while traveling alone really recommends solo jaunts. While traveling in Europe while in college, I traveled through Germany and Switzerland by myself. I met and visited sights with a group of au pairs from all over (France, Slovenia…), and visited Dachau with a native Berliner as well as an American business woman living in Germany and another American traveler. I remember those days alone as the best of the entire trip–I saw Germany through a lens I could have never brought to my own eyes….

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kosta January 16, 2011 at 3:20 pm

well, i am not a woman, but i’d say this is a good list and goes well with what men should consider also before traveling alone. maybe except point 1 :)
1) before the last trip i gave up idea to bring notebooks or any kind of music/video players. any gadget that is. but it turned out to be a big mistake ’cause i started to read bible in madagascar ^) so i’d say from my experience – one should take any kind of smartphone that will substitute for music and video player, for notebook to connect to internet if you have wifi in it, gps (if you have offline maps for it) and actually even if you don’t have an offline map you can save your own coordinates of bus stations, hotels and etc and then easily navigate there, you can basically read any kind of book from your phone, i actually had lonely planet in pdf files last time (it is not handy at times especially if your phone is discharged, but if you’d compare the weight of the actual book and phone! next time i would take a spare battery for a phone or solar charger and would be more than happy) and plus you can take short videos and quick photos, you can write notes there. everything in one place!
2) unfortunately travel acquaintances often do not last longer even when you get back home and can write to each other. but that should not stop anyone. ’cause sometimes you can find a real friend or pal at least.
3) i would recommend to take a tripod even if you are not a photographer :) if you have one you don’t need a wedding ring :) you can fight animals and people with it, use it as a walking stick, search for a shallow water while crossing a river, dry your stuff on it and so on and so forth:)

and traveling alone is not that bad as people think! because actually you will not be alone. there is a good chance that you will meet someone even in the low season.

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Dianne Sharma Winter January 25, 2011 at 1:43 am

I have traveled for almost twenty years as a solo woman and think that one of the top tips is to befriend the local woman and a charming way to do that is to wear what the local women wear and in the way that they wear it. Its the best bridge to sisterhood that I know of AND its a handy way of saying HANDS OFF to the local men!
Dianne Sharma Winter recently posted…A Rainy Day Beat Poem on The RoadMy Profile

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GoingPlaces January 30, 2011 at 2:34 am

Thanks for the tips! I really admire those who have the guts and enjoy traveling solo for leisure. Well, I have not done it and most likely won’t do it in this lifetime ;) I still enjoy company for leisure trip. However, I did travel alone for business reasons for a few years. Here are some tips for ladies those who sleep alone in the hotel:
1) Place a torch light near the bed table as you’ll never know when you could experience a black-out.
2) Place a chair behind the door to prevent someone from forcing into the room.

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Holly February 22, 2011 at 10:37 pm

Wow, I just found this website on Women Traveling…..I used to travel alone with my DOG, Samuel, for safety, but more for companionship while I was on the road selling my leather stuff…. now I have a wonderful place here in Tahoe that is still here and ALL Women are welcome even without your pet!
THANK YOU, ALEXIS!!!!
hOLLY

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St Martin Island October 13, 2011 at 10:50 am

Great tips Alexis. And the blog is just awesome, I would keep on reading along.

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Jay October 15, 2011 at 11:18 pm

Good Blog. Travelling SOLO is great. I have done this for as long as I know myself. Travelling in places such as Africa and the Caribbean is great as local women are always willing to assist. The Caribbean is a great place for women travelling solo as women there have done solo travelling for centuries e.g. Mary Seacole and Mary Prince come to mind. Women understand other women travelling alone and the women you meet in buses or at the bus stops are willing to help.Often time the helpers and cleaners you meet in hotels are the ones who help you the most. The cleaner I met at an airline office turned out to be more knowledgeable than the airline staff. She, herself, as she related to me, is a solo traveller ever so often. The plane I flew on was full of women just Island hopping.
Martinique.

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ldf October 18, 2011 at 12:09 pm

great post. including the comments! i’ve been travelling alone for a few years now and i try to keep things light. one thing i always travel with is a rubber doorstop, to use on the inside, when i’m in my room alone. this includes when sleeping. it serves the same purpose as a chair – to keep people out- when a chair isn’t available.

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Alexis Grant October 18, 2011 at 12:12 pm

This is an AWESOME tip. Will remember this one! Thanks.

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wendy21 November 14, 2011 at 4:34 pm

Hi

Awesome tips :) I’ve travelled in China this summer. I met a girl on the internet and talked with her for about 3 years. Then she asked me to come there. And i went there alone.
Luckily she took good care of me, but i was also prepared to travel alone if i had to.
Not many Chinese can talk english (i was lucky) but if you find someone, don’t let go easily and ask anything you want. They are so kind and like to help you (if they are local people and not business people)

~ Wendy
Btw i’m planning to go back to China in february/march. This time without my friend (she won’t be in China that time).

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wendy21 November 14, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Btw btw haha:

Always carry deodorant with you, it’s a good thing for self defence :P

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Charmaine Dudley November 21, 2011 at 4:46 am

Glad I stumble on your blog … and agree with what you say!
I’m busy circumnavigating Africa solo (started with a bicycle but ditched it after it became more of a hassle than enjoyment).
A great way to connect with the locals (from a woman’s point of view especially in Muslim countries) is if you have your hands and feet henna’ed! They (the locals) just love it and you kinda blend in with them, which is quiet difficult when you white.
Where we like it or not, it is different traveling alone if you a woman (we’re face with more obstacles than men – period).

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Fara December 2, 2011 at 8:25 pm

This blog is definitively a great one but “diabolise” local men. I am from Madagascar , living for more than 20 years in China and Europe. maybe I should write a blog for black male traveling solo in Europa or the States as well. I believe not all local men are bad.

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Alexis Grant December 3, 2011 at 10:06 am

Point taken! Even though it’s perhaps unfair (to both men AND women), women have to take certain precautions when traveling alone. Hopefully we’ll only meet the good guys like you.

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Sisanne Tyler March 20, 2012 at 12:57 pm

I know we’d all love to think that as women we don’t need to worry about our safety any more but that just simply isn’t so – particularly when we’re travelling abroad. These are really valuable tips. As fun as it is to be spontaneous, a little bit of planning can go a long way. Thanks for sharing with all the women out there!

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LK Watts June 9, 2012 at 8:24 am

Hi Alexis,

All good advice there. I’ve travelled half the world on my own and I would say that safety mostly just boils down to common sense. Don’t stay in situations if you’re not happy with them and don’t go off with people who you don’t feel comfortable with.

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Stacy Brown April 10, 2013 at 1:55 pm

I actually AM married and wear my ring but often travel solo and find that it doesn’t always help (both in other countries or just weekend hiking trips here in the States). Even when I explain that I am married, I often hear “well, he’s not here, is he?” or “I’m married too, but no one needs to know.” This is obviously a different tactic than those actually looking for American wives but from those looking for a “hookup.” So the ring is a great idea, but be prepared to still have to deal with the men that are looking for something different….and tip 1…befriend other women, can really help with this.

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Beth April 6, 2014 at 1:34 am

I’ve heard tell wearing a (cheap) engagement ring is better, as it shows new love, etc. Maybe not in all countries.

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April October 6, 2014 at 10:11 am

This article is perfect for my sister. She will be doing a lot of traveling this year and next year alone. I wish she could learn a lot from here especially in going to different places she’s never been.

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