Solo travel, especially as a female, can be scary! I absolutely get it. I was terrified to book my first solo trip. Could I navigate the airport, foreign cities, languages & currencies? What would happen if I got lost? Is it safe?
All those questions and more ran through my head. And I can say, looking back, I made everything a much bigger deal than it needed to be!
I was more than capable of handling myself out there in the big world - and guess what? SO ARE YOU!
Below you will find some of my best advice and tips for solo travel. Where to stay, what to avoid, how to get out and meet new people, how to dine alone - all those things that I was anxious about I address for you so that you don't have to be nervous.
1. Research Your Destination
There are some places that are known to be the best for solo travel - ones that are considered by many to be the safest. There are other places that others will tell you to avoid.
My best advice is to research, research, and research some more. Find out what other female solo travelers have said about your desired destination. Did they find it safe? Are there warnings about that particular place?
For me, I learned that I needed to expect catcalling in Rome (more on that below), what scams to be aware of in Paris, and how to dress for the weather in Central America.
Each particular destination has it's pros and cons, so just find out as much as you can before you go.
2. Stay Connected
With so many social media apps, staying connected with friends and family while you are traveling solo has never been easier.
While traveling internationally, I didn't want to use up precious data or be charged an arm and a leg for calls or texts, so I made sure wherever I was staying had free wi-fi.
Then I could post on Facebook and Instagram every day to let my friends and family know I was safe. I could also use Facebook's Messenger to send individual messages to family if needed. My family felt better knowing they could get ahold of me and vice versa as I was embarking on my solo travel.
3. Dress Like a Local
This may seem strange, but try to blend in with the locals of where you are. Maybe at home you are known to rock out a mini skirt with a crop top and thigh high boots, but if you are traveling to a conservative country, you'll stand out like a sore thumb.
So why is it important to blend in? If you look painfully like a tourist, you will be a target for scam artists, pickpockets, and other general no-gooders.
There are certain times that there is nothing you can do; in Italy, I was quite obviously not Italian with my light skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes. That just meant I had to be on guard a little bit more in those situations.
In Paris, however, I chose to wear mostly black, minimal makeup, flat shoes, and had an air of confidence about me as I walked. I still was targeted a bit (more on that later), but it was dramatically less than what I've heard can happen.
4. Have the Right Gear
Since you won't have anyone with you to watch out for your stuff, make sure you are carrying the right gear to have you protected.
First, I have this hidden pouch from Amazon. I absolutely love it. I kept my passport, extra money, extra credit card, and hotel key in it when I traveled.
I wore the pouch underneath my clothing and it was not visible when I had pants and a shirt on. I think depending on the dress you were wearing, it might show through that.
But I only kept the items I didn't need access to that day. The money and credit card I used while out and about I kept in my purse. You don't want to have to go digging in your clothes and show that you have a hidden pouch when you are paying for a souvenir!
Secondly, solo travel is so much easier when you have an awesome travel purse like this one. This is the purse I kept my daily items in - camera, phone, money for the day, credit card.
I think crossbody bags are important. I see tourists with backpacks on and it's so easy to go up behind them while they are distracted and either unzip or slash their bag.
Also, having zippered tops and inside pouches just adds another layer of security. It makes it that much harder for a pickpocket to get into your bag - and the harder we make it, the better our odds!
5. Walk With Purpose
Nothing screams tourist like someone stopped at an intersection, looking at a map or their phone trying to figure out where they are...
Whenever I solo travel, I know where I am going before I leave. If I need to get from my hotel to a museum, I know exactly how to get to the subway station, which stops/transfers to take, and what streets to walk to get to the destination.
I put on an air of confidence and always act like I know exactly where I'm going, even if I actually don't. If I do find myself lost or needing to look at directions, I find a place to sit where I am protected (back up against a wall) or a cafe to plug into wifi and check where I am.
6. Get Comfortable Eating Alone
Not going to lie, this was one of the hardest part of solo travel for me. I am used to viewing dining as a social event, so sit in silence and eat was a new experience for me.
I also found it difficult to ask for a table for one at restaurants, thinking that I was inconveniencing the restaurant by taking up a whole table. Or that other patrons would judge me and feel sorry for me by myself.
However, these tips may help:
7. Pay Attention
This one is connected to walking with a purpose, but is more generalized.
I advise anyone embarking on solo travel, male or female, to always be on guard and pay attention to your surroundings. I believe the world to be generally good, full of wonderful human beings that I love connecting with - but I'm not naive.
I know that not everyone has good intentions, and there is crime, especially in big cities. I know that tourists can be targets for petty theft, scams, and rarely, violent crime.
One thing that I found actually played to my benefit was that I wasn't distracted by a companion when I traveled alone. I was able to fully focus on my surroundings and be aware of what was happening around me.
On the subway one day in Rome, for example, it was extremely crowded when suddenly I felt a hand reaching down my leg and feeling my purse! I was able to easily slap his hand, look him in the eyes and firmly say "no" and move away, but if I wasn't paying attention, I might have left the train with an empty purse...
8. Learn a Little of the Language
This just seems like common sense to me whenever you travel, but perhaps it is even more important in solo travel.
I'm not suggesting you try to be fluent in the language of your destination (but if you are - you go girl!), but learning at least some common phrases will go a long way in your experience of the country.
I knew not one word of Italian before going to Italy, but picking up a few key words and phrases helped me to communicate with locals and also understand what was happening around me.
Remember: the country you visit is not obligated to speak your language!! I find English speakers to be the worst violators of this. Do not assume everyone will be able to speak English everywhere you go. Carry a dictionary or online translator if you must, but be polite and try to speak the local language and it will get you a lot farther in your interactions!
9. Where to Stay
I've stayed at dingy hostels, upscale hotels and everything in between during my solo travel. There are obviously pros and cons to each so you have to weigh those against each other when deciding where to stay.
If being budget-conscious is highest on your priority list, then certainly a hostel may be the way to go. Other than staying for free with friends or family, a night at a hostel is probably the cheapest accommodation you will find.
You may even be able to find other female solo travelers to go out with - I've met some great friends this way!
Of course - you might not be staying in comfort this way. It could be dirty, loud, no privacy, etc. Depending on where you are staying, you might need to lock up your valuables in a locker to sleep comfortably at night.
On the other hand, at the end of a long solo travel adventure, I decided to splurge on a ritzy Parisian hotel. It had a queen bed (instead of those tiny twins I had been cramped on), a private bathroom, a large shower with lots of hot water, and was centrally located!
Yes, it ate up a large portion of my budget, but sleeping well and being pampered (?) with a hot water shower felt luxurious and deserved.
However, I will say that the majority of my travel accommodations have been mid-range hotels. I usually try to find the cheapest place I can with reasonable amenities - like free wifi, ensuite bathrooms, and located near a transit stop.
10. Meet New People
One thing you need to know about me is that I'm an introvert. Through and through. You know all those quizzes and checklists you see all over Pinterest? Yeah - I'm like a 100% introvert.
That doesn't necessarily mean I'm shy, however. I have learned how to strike up a conversation with strangers - but I'm awkward at it and usually small talk drains me after a while.
Solo travel has ironically enough made me realize that I am never alone. Yes, I may not have a travel companion, but I am always surrounded by people. And some of those people are just friends I haven't met yet.
When I would start to feel lonely on a trip, I would simply put myself out there a little bit more. Perhaps ask a question of someone in your tour group. Comment to someone sitting next to you at a bar or restaurant about the food.
Your social interactions are completely up to you. You can retreat back to your room if you are ready for solitude or go out with the intention of meeting someone new. It's all in your control.
But since you are traveling to experience the world, I would recommend you at least try to meet new people. That way you can really say you weren't just a tourist, but a traveler.
11. Copy Important Documents
It's good practice to make copies of your passport, ID, travel information (flights, hotel reservations, etc) and give a copy to family before you travel and keep an extra copy in your luggage in case anything gets lost or stolen.
12. Be Extra Cautious at Night
If you do decide to venture out at night, just use common sense and extra caution.
Know what places are considered "unsafe" and avoid those when possible. Take public transportation instead of walking, or even considering taking a taxi for maximum safety.
Be wary of anyone offering you a drink (see below) and make smart choices about what whether or not to pursue romantic interests. I'm not judging one way or another, but just take precautions if you decide to go home with someone in another country.
13. Don't Be Afraid to Lie
I know, I know - it goes against everything your parents taught you...But trust me on this one. It's ok to lie to a stranger who doesn't have the best intentions.
I was stopped many times in Paris by "lost tourists" asking for directions - maybe I looked too much like a local! ;) Perhaps they truly were lost, but my "danger" beacon went off in my gut and I just ignored them and kept walking. Could I have been a nice person and stopped to help? Yes. But I didn't want to be distracted and caught off guard.
In Rome, I actually wore a fake wedding ring and when men would hit on me, I'd point to it and say "sorry, I'm married." Most of the time, that would stop them, but occasionally I'd have to take it a step further and say "my husband is meeting me soon." That would stop them in their romantic pursuits pretty quickly.
14. Drink in Moderation
This may sound like a grouchy old woman giving advice to younger girls, but I've seen other young female solo travel blogs give the same advice! :)
I definitely love wine and am always up for a good beer (especially in a pub in London), but going beyond a few drinks to being drunk is a recipe for danger when you are alone.
One, you'll be more vulnerable to crime. Two, your inhibitions will be lowered and you may do something you regret. Three, you may have difficulty getting back to your accommodation. Four, you'll feel it in the morning and lose a day of travel if you feel sick.
Ok - mama will get off her soapbox. Just trust me on this one, don't drink too much.
15. JUST DO IT!!
Seriously. If I can do solo travel, so can you. No one starts off as an expert, and you might make mistakes along the way, but you'll learn, grow, and experience the world in a whole new way.
Your confidence will grow so much and you'll look back and wonder why you were ever nervous to go in the first place!