A Room (or Three) of One's Own:
5 Smart Tips for Solo Female Travelers
Soon after landing in Lisbon, I started crying. And I'm not talking cutesy tears of joy.
Although the city was perhaps the most beautiful I'd seen in my lifetime, I was miserable. I hadn't slept a wink on my red eye flight and I spoke not a whit of Portuguese. Although lovely, everything felt so foreign: even the electrical outlets were wrong.
But what was really getting to me had nothing to do with needing a power adaptor. I was radically alone. I'd never been out of the country at all, let alone by myself, and everyone I knew was an entire ocean away.
Fast forward four years, and I've become something of a connoisseur of solo travel. In fact, I more frequently travel alone than in a group. Since my experience in Portugal, I've ventured to Greece, Spain, Ireland, Canada, and taken on two months-long domestic road trips, all by myself.
Although it'd gotten off to a rough start, my first trip abroad showed me just how much adventure you unlock when you're on your own, unmoored from the automatic comfort zone of a travel party. (And yes, I'll admit that adventure includes its Eat Pray Love moments; my foreign hottie was even named Felipe, just like Gilbert's.)
As it turns out, I'm not alone in my affinity for traveling that way. As online work makes the footloose "digital nomad" lifestyle more achievable and discount airlines open a literal world of possibilities, more and more people are traveling in the company of themselves — including women. In fact, according to some statistics from Booking.com and Solo Traveler, the majority of globe trotters going stag are female.
But solo travel does come with its own set of special considerations, and that's doubly true for women.
Traveling Alone as a Woman: How to Stay Safe and Confident
Although the world is (arguably) safer than ever before for people of all genders, certain destinations do carry extra risks for— and certainly extra side-eye toward — solo female travelers.
But if you prepare yourself ahead of time, you can enjoy the liberation of going it alone with confidence. Here's my best advice.
1. Be aware of your destination's culture and gender norms — before you get there.
Despite decades of progress, some countries are still further along than others when it comes to equality amongst the sexes. And you'll definitely want to know where on the spectrum your destination falls before you arrive.
Depending on where you're headed, for example, you may not be able to simply throw your favorite outfits in your suitcase and forget about it. It's prudent advice to dress modestly when visiting Muslim countries; if you're headed to sacred temples of any denomination, you may be required to cover your head and shoulders.
You can also use this information to make a more informed decision about your destinations in the first place. While I'd never suggest you skip a specific locale simply because you're female, it's the simple truth that some places are more dangerous than others. Even if you're not putting yourself in actual peril, you may be more comfortable (and therefore enjoy yourself more) in places where gender norms are more familiar.
2. Keep someone at home abreast of your location.
Yes, it might be annoying to text your mom every day or forward your best friend the address of every single hostel you sleep in.
But if something should go wrong during your trip, having folks at home with a basic sketch of your wearabouts can be a lifesaver — quite literally. Besides, your loved ones will totally be drooling over your adventures anyway; the least you can do is feed them more envy-fodder.
3. Be smart about where you stay.
When you don't have someone to split costs with, accommodations can quickly eat up your travel budget. Hostels, homestays, camping and couch surfing are all excellent ways to bring down the bottom line.
But as a solo female, it might be wise to think twice before you, say, sleep on the beach or crash the couch of a stranger. (I say this as someone who has done both of these things to no ill effect.)
If you do, at least go through commercial platforms like Couchsurfing that provide some measure of identification and security.
And once again, no matter where you lay your head, let somebody know about it. At the very least, it'll help you rest easier.
4. Find travel buddies.
I know, I know. But hear me out. This tip isn't actually anathema to the spirit of solo travel!
Even the most introverted among us — which, hello, that's me — needs social contact. And there are certain activities at your destination that might be safer (hiking in bear country) or just plain more fun (brunch) with a companion.
Fortunately, there are tons of ways to connect with people for group ventures during your solo sojourn. In fact, the potential to make new friends is one of the most appealing parts of traveling alone in the first place.
Facebook has a number of active groups of adventurers, like the Solo Female Traveler Network and Girls Love Travel. You can also check out Meetup to find groups gathering around common interests in the area, and even see if your city has a presence on Reddit.
Of course, you can also go about it the old fashioned way — meeting people face to face and striking up a conversation. Free walking tours are a great way to meet other English speakers in a foreign destination.
5.Don't be afraid to take charge!
I'm of the opinion that not just every woman, but every human being should have some basic self-defense skills.
Whether you take a few krav maga (self-defense courses) training classes or arm yourself with pepper spray, taking preparative measures will help keep you safe in the unlikely event you encounter a serious problem — but even if everything goes swimmingly, you'll walk through your destination with a lot more confidence. And it goes without saying that you always need to be aware of your environment; one of my favorite tricks is covertly checking out what's going on behind me in glassy store windows.
As a woman who's been traveling alone for almost half a decade, I'm happy to say the vast majority of my experiences have been positive, even when I've taken unnecessary risks. But by keeping your wits about you and informing yourself ahead of time, you'll stack the odds in your favor — and I promise, the prize of solo travel is totally worth your effort.
All opinions provided in this blog is supplied by Jamie Cattanach and is for informational purposes only. Barclays makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in the blog or found by following any link within this blog.
Image credit: Jamie Cattanach and Shutterstock
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