Tips for the Solo Female Traveler
Traveling as a single female may seem scary or daunting, but a lot of things can seem that way if we only listen to our fears. The trick is to prepare yourself and to believe and trust in yourself fully while out there in the big, busy world. If you do that, if you really trust in your abilities, you’ll be fine. Think about it though, YOU ARE A SINGLE FEMALE ALWAYS! You are always alone with yourself (okay except when you’re not) and you do really well! Look how well you do, you’re even going to do it abroad. Cheers!
Also, I do not mean to imply that it is any easier to travel alone as a dude, I’m sure it has some advantages and quite a few disadvantages that I don’t have to worry about. If you are a male, this list could certainly help you too. I’m curious if you have noticed any specific disadvantages or if you have any solo male travelin’ tips to share with me as well, so send me an email or leave a note in the comments.
Also, it’s worth noting that whenever we travel abroad we make sure to :
Ensure our passports are more than 90 days from expiration (sometimes depending on the country it’s a full six-months so check on this) and that there are blank pages for stamps and visas
Call our banks to tell them our travel dates to ensure our debit and credit cards will work and not be marked as fraudulent.
Buy travel insurance or make sure we’re covered under our current health insurance.
Get any vaccinations needed for the specific destination.
Look into the sim card / data situation for our cell phones so we know how to proceed once we land at the airport.
Download a Few Helpful Apps
Download Maps.me or download your google maps for offline use. I love Maps.me because it’s extremely simple to use and it shows you an overview of the city with major streets and landmarks instead of a satellite view. I think this is an easier way to initially orient yourself and get an idea of how populated and busy certain parts of the city are. It’s also handy to track yourself on Maps.me when you’re in taxis, but definitely don’t be that tourist that prematurely tells the taxi they’re taking the wrong route, no one appreciates that.
Also, download the google translate app and whatever language you will be speaking. You should always try to learn hello, goodbye, and thank you. Like always. Always. Beyond that, it’s up to you, but having the translate app and attempting to speak the language, even if you fail, goes a really long way. People will want to help you, don’t worry.
Katie here – and before you leave the US, know what your cell options are. They vary by carrier, so find out what the fees are for use abroad AND make sure that your phone is compatible with the foreign networks.
Always Carry Cash
You never want money to be the reason you get into trouble. Basically, as a solo female traveler, it’s always okay to ask for help, but you never want to get into a situation that seems desperate. That is when others could potentially take advantage of the situation. Always keep a little cash on hand. It’s wise to put some in your pocket and some in the tiny zippered section inside your bag and then another random twenty in your sunglasses case. Split it up in case your bag spills on top of a mountain and all your stash spots are suddenly charging downhill. JK that tip was mainly because of pickpocketers.
Katie here – this even helps when traveling in the US and accidentally leaving your wallet in a restaurant. oops.
Keep it Charged
Keep your phone charged. When not using it, put it in airplane mode to preserve the battery. Gas tank? Full. Belly, never empty! Basically, make sure your batteries are charged before you skip out on an adventure. This is entry level travel stuff, but sometimes we forget that we do our best wandering and roaming only after we’ve had that huge salad. Don’t set off thinking you’ll wander to your lunch spot, you might, but make sure you have at least a little fuel to get you there first.
Talk Over Your Plan With Reception or Your Host
If you have a whole day of exploring planned, just chat it over with the nicest person at reception or call up your Airbnb host. Simply state your desired plan and ask if they think it’s doable in a day. You’ll be able to judge by their reaction if it can all be done or if there’s something super awesome you’ll be missing. I think going over the plan with your receptionist is also added security because then at least one person in the country you’re in had an idea of where you were going. Don’t let them sell you a packaged tour or charter you an all-day taxi (unless you want to! no judgment), but allow them to offer you encouragement to go explore.
Katie here : Sarah is spot-on in suggesting you discuss your plan with your host or concierge. And it’s good to be leery if they try to sell you a tourist package, BUT it’s also good to hear the advice they have. I was traveling in India once, and someone at the front-desk helpfully explained that it would be hard to find a taxi in the area of the city that I wanted to explore. They suggested a half or full-day taxi. It can be a great option, BUT, while I couldn’t get a taxi in that neighborhood, I could easily get a rickshaw. It’s helpful knowing what the options are and what you are comfortable with.
Take a Hotel Business Card
This may seem over the top, but I promise you it’s not. On your way out of the hotel, as you’re super excited to start exploring, STOP! Grab a business card from the front desk and check to make sure the number is correct on the card. Then when you exit the hotel, LOOK AT THE HOTEL. Look at the entrance, look at the building, look at the entire block. I know you’re thinking, what? You think I’m a dummy? But when you’re so amped to get out the door you walk full steam ahead completely forgetting to look at where you came from. It’s a weirdly unique foreign country traveling mishap and when you’re in a tourist area, especially when everything is in a foreign language, it can become confusing pretty quickly.
Pack a Light Day Bag
We pack for our fears. Don’t let that sentiment encourage you to take your huge bag out for a walk around the city. Take only the essentials. Phone, money, map, phone charger, water bottle, sunscreen, sunglasses, etc. Maybe a little snack, but not the whole pound of almonds. You don’t need the other shoes and the sunhat you barely wear or the three notepads. Try to pare down your items to the day’s essentials. If you’re in a touristy area know that you can most likely purchase any random items that suddenly seem essential while you’re out and about, but like I said, a little snack is always a good idea.
Know Where You Are Going
I love wandering around a new city and getting lost. Not lost, lost, but I’ve been walking west for two hours now lost. I think it’s a great way to explore, to meet people, and to generally just go with the flow. However, whenever I’m busy getting myself lost, I am always taking note of the street and which direction it is headed as well as any major intersections or landmarks like parks and statues. Don’t orient yourself to things that may change like a street fair, food cart market, farmer’s market, etc because while those look stationary, come a certain time that parking lot or avenue may be all packed up and sparkly clean like nothing ever happened there. Also, if you need to stop and look at your phone or a map, walk to a secure area to do so. Slide into an empty doorway and put your back against it, that way you’re facing the street, but you’re not blocking the sidewalk. Sit on a park bench or at a coffee shop and really look at where you are and where you’re going. So often we glance at a map quickly instead of fully orienting ourselves and proceeding with confidence.
This is similar to the last point, but before you leave the hotel, look at a big city map. Find yourself or the biggest landmark or intersection near your hotel. Then look at other large landmarks. Maybe there’s a river running on each side of the city. Remember which is west (or wherever) and east of you. Maybe in the south of the city is old city, make a mental note that your hotel is north of old city. Just allow your eyes to scan the city, picking up big landmarks and neighborhoods and situate yourself in the center of all of that. Doing this before you head out will help make everything a bit more clear while you’re on the street exploring. You don’t need to pull out a compass or pretend you’re Lewis and Clark, just have an idea of where you are in relation to the bigger stuff.
Have a Get Home Quick Plan
Why? Just because. Maybe you’ve been out for six hours and now it’s raining and you don’t want that beautiful art print you just bought to get ruined. Maybe you just climbed a volcano and you have altitude sickness for the first time and you never even knew you could get altitude at 10,000 (true story!). Whatever the reason may be, there could come a point in your day when your D-O-N-E. Cool! No need to stress because you made the get home quick plan, which means you know where to hop on and off public transit OR you have enough cash to get in a taxi and head back to your plush bed. Do it 🙂
Get Unlost Before You’re Totally Lost
If you’re really feeling lost or upset, first things first: Get somewhere safe, probably a restaurant or a bodega and eat and drink something. Calm down. You will be fine. We’re all wandering around alone. Then think about where you would like to go. Do you simply need directions to where you were headed? Do you just want to be back in the touristy neighborhood or old city? Are you ready to go back to the hotel? Think about where you really want to be and don’t let the momentary ‘I’M LOST!’ panic stop you from an awesome day. Either ask someone at the restaurant (someone older who seems a little bit in charge because you know how sometimes servers just tell you what you want to hear to make you leave a tip and walk out smiling..) or walk into a nearby hotel or shop and kindly, calmly ask for help. This has literally never failed me. Ever. Ever. Most people are good, they want to help you. Believe this.
Keep It Moving
If you’re unsure about a situation whether it’s a person starting a conversation or someone asking you for help, etc, etc, just keep walking. Remember that it’s always possible to turn around and offer help if you think you should or can, but most times it’s best to trust your gut and just go. There are a bunch of other people in the city that can help and are probably in a better position to since they are locals. Also, do not be shy in telling other people to get moving. If someone is bothering you, either remove yourself from the situation or ask them to leave. Maybe they didn’t mean any harm, but you don’t have to wait it out and be polite to see, find a new spot to sit.
Ask For Help, but Not From the Overly Helpful
Okay, this one is going to sound weird and maybe confusing, but obviously, there will be times when you need help. The key is asking someone who wants to help you, but not someone who wants to prey on you. Usually, the target is a few extra dollars, nothing major, but if there is an open opportunity it will be taken. Look for the taxi driver who looks bored or is almost napping, not the one who is sprinting up to you to offer a full day’s tour. It all comes down to trusting your gut because truthfully some overly helpful people are just awesome and nice, but some are putting on a false front. All I’m saying is, ask for help, but keep using your brain and your intuition as a compass.
Let’s say you didn’t ‘keep it moving‘ and you met a few awesome new friends. Great! I’m sure your spidey sense is up and you’re making sure this is really just a chill hang out and not some secret plan to harvest your organs. Afterall, your new friends seem kinda stoned and a little drunk so I doubt one of them will be precise with a scalpel at this hour, anyway, you still don’t have to overshare all of your information. It’s not really necessary to tell people exactly which hotel you’re staying in or when you’re leaving the city or what tomorrow’s plans are. You can keep it vague. Tell them the neighborhood of the hotel if you want to be polite. Let them know you have a work conference tomorrow (even if it’s only for an hour in the morning) white lies aimed at your self-preservation are forgivable, if you believe in God, I think he will still let you into heaven.
Go With The Flow
Sometimes getting lost or ending up somewhere completely different is what makes the day magical. Don’t hold onto your plans too tightly, unless that’s the way you need to operate. Make new friends and find yourself at some hidden waterfall or eating in a weird shack in some corner of the city. Once in Ecuador, a random young man started talking to me while I was journaling on a park bench, we ended up talking for hours, and as I talked to him I was almost pickpocketed, I started wondering if he was somehow part of the pickpocketing plan. Am I some dumb tourist?! After another hour of conversation, I realized I was crazy about the pickpocket conspiracy and even crazier because I planned to get on a public bus with this guy and go get dinner. We had the best day, great conversation that was actually lots of miming and drawing and giggling, a yummy dinner, and then he shared my taxi home (again, was he trying to see where I lived?! Nope.) only to share a single kiss and then he got back in the taxi and went on his way. To this day, I think about what a pure, honest, and sweet day I had with him, Sup, Christian Edwardo?! I also think of how I could have immediately closed myself off to those few hours. Also, just FYI most foreign people you meet are not trying to kiss you, they’re just super curious about other cultures like you are too! If it feels awkward, keep moving, if not, converse!
Meet Other Single Females and Travelers
Or whomever. Traveling alone, it’s pretty easy to meet other travelers. Sometimes they don’t want to mingle, but most times they are happy to. It’s weirdly uncommon in the states to share a table or even a bench with a stranger, but while traveling, push yourself to ask, “may I sit here?” or “did you feel like company” if you see someone eating alone, especially if they’re just browsing through a city guide. Share a drink and your tips with them or ask them what their plans are for the next day. You don’t have to become BFFs, but a little connection when you’re far from home is really genuine and kind. They will appreciate it and if they don’t you can immediately tell and just keep moving. I’ve met some wonderful people all because they or I was brave enough to say a simple ‘Hi.’
Get Home Before Dark
This isn’t completely necessary, but I find it is best to at least be on your block or in the neighborhood of your hotel once the streetlights turn on. Everything just seems a bit scary and shady after dark, nah? You would probably feel this way in the unfamiliar corners of your hometown city, so why would this be any different. Plan to get home before dark and if you want, refresh yourself and then go out in your neighborhood after dark. Ensure that where you’re staying and walking is considered safe, follow the next rule, and you’ll be fine.
Do Not Get Wasted Drunk
This is a tip for all women all the time, but hey, it’s worth sharing here. Sometimes you meet new pals whether they’re locals or other travelers and you want to hang, that’s cool! Take it slow though. These humans are still strangers and substances add another level of unknown and therefore danger to every situation. Always watch your drinks, consume a bunch of water while you’re drinking alcohol, and leave before you get too tipsy. There is always tomorrow.
Develop Helpful Routines
Katie here : Often times we’re traveling to get out of our old routines and embrace new experiences. But, when I’m traveling alone, sometimes I find a bit of a routine comforting, AND it can help with many of the points discussed above. A very simple routine is to have breakfast or coffee at the same cafe for a couple of days in a row. If you sit down and interact with the cafe staff, it’s likely that they will remember you. And very quickly they become another group of locals that you can ask for suggestions and/or help navigating the city.