Solo female travel is something that all women should try at least once in their lives. It’s empowering. Invigorating. Enjoyable. There’s definitely a reason that I have been travelling independently across the globe for the last eight years.
High Heels and a Backpack is a solo female travel blog, and 99% of the trips I’ve written about on this website are trips that I have planned and enjoyed completely on my own. However, I also wanted to write a more comprehensive, general guide to solo female travel. I’ve been doing this solo travel thing a while now and sometimes I forget how it felt going off into the big wide world by myself for the first time.
I know that your first solo trip can be daunting, which is why I wanted to address the most common concerns and FAQs here. Feel free to use the table of contents below to navigate to the most relevant sections.
Solo Female Travel:
Why Take My Advice?
I have been travelling solo since 2011. In that time, I’ve travelled to 45 countries, mostly alone.
I’ve done everything from the bucket list solo trips – doing an exchange program in the USA, enjoying a working holiday in Australia, doing humanitarian work in Southeast Asia, teaching English in South Korea, to travelling to more “adventurous” destinations alone.
As an example, I’ve adventured to places like Palestine, Bhutan, and Oman by myself. For the majority of that time I’ve been “nomadic” – travelling constantly and living in different countries. I know a thing or two about solo female travel.
Solo Female Travel:
Useful Advice Before You Go
The most useful advice and things to take into consideration before embarking on your first solo female travel adventure are detailed below.
Choose a Suitable Option for Your First Trip
Some of the solo female travel adventures I’ve had have been pretty wild. I backpacked solo through Azerbaijan where I couldn’t even communicate with a lot of the people in rural areas because they didn’t even speak the national language, but their own local village language – used a lot of miming skills on that trip!
The public transport links in Azerbaijan are virtually non-existent so I had to hitchhike or ride in farmers’ trucks filled with sheep to get around! I’ve also driven around the deserts of Oman alone in a 4×4. These were some of my favourite trips but I wouldn’t really recommend them for your first time travelling alone.
When you choose a destination for your first solo female travel adventure, you want to choose somewhere that is fairly well-trodden, and where you are likely to bump into other travellers. Trips such as interrailing in Europe, backpacking in Southeast Asia, or travelling through Australia are good first choices. Your first trip doesn’t have to be a super long one either. You can just book yourself a city break somewhere for a couple of days and see how you find it.
Do Plenty of Research Before You Go
It’s always important to come prepared. Regardless of where you are planning on travelling to, I’d advise you to do plenty of research in advance of your trip. Are there any specific cultural considerations that you need to take into account? Is there a certain dress code that you need to adhere to?
Even just browsing through travel blogs and travel guides helps you to get a feel for what the country is like. Not to mention, it helps you to know what the must-sees and the best places to eat are.
Consult a Variety of Different Sources
Following on from the above, it’s important to consult a variety of different sources before you travel too. Blogs and stories from fellow travellers help to paint a picture of what the experience of travelling in certain countries is like, while government advice helps you to be aware of the more practical considerations.
I personally like to consult the British government travel advice wherever I go. It’s sternly worded sometimes, sure. However it doesn’t scaremonger and it paints a fairly accurate picture of what to expect, as well as listing recent events, processes for visas, etc.
Respect the Customs of the Places You Visit
This ties into doing your research. Some places around the globe are more conservative as compared to what you may be used to at home.
If the local customs or dress code dictates that you should do certain things (for example, cover your hair or dress conservatively) then please ensure that you do so. Not only does this show that you respect the citizens of the country that you are travelling in, but it also aids you in not attracting negative attention to yourself and highlighting the fact that you are alone.
This may sound a little like common sense, however, you would not believe the number of people that ignore this advice. When I was in Egypt for example, I saw a lot of women wearing shorts and then wondering why they were getting a lot of stares – you’re doing that to yourself!
It’s Not “Weird” to Travel Alone Anywhere
If I had a dollar for every time someone told me that somewhere was “weird” for me to travel alone, well, I’d have a whole bunch of dollars. When it comes to travelling to places like Santorini or the Maldives that are known for being romantic destinations, I know that some people start to feel a little anxious.
Trust me, no-one is going to think that you are some weird or creepy woman that prowls around honeymoon destinations by herself and cries into her wine about not having a husband. Heck, I’ve been to plenty of “romantic” places alone. I only got looks because I WAS crying into my wine. (Kidding).
I’ve lived in Greece for the last two and a half years and recently decided to go to the island of Hydra by myself for the weekend. Hydra is another “romantic”, couple-y destination and some people questioned my decision to go their alone. Did people gawp at me or ask me what on earth I was doing there alone? Of course not! Most people are too preoccupied with themselves anyway, and they’ve seen solo travellers a thousand times before!
Consider Your Luggage Options and Don’t Overpack
Backpack vs suitcase. Everyone’s preference is different here. When I first went backpacking around Vietnam and Southeast Asia, I thought it was “cool” to have “one of those big backpacks”. That’s until I remembered I was 5”2 and putting the thing on almost caused me to topple over backward!
I generally prefer to use a four-wheel suitcase and not put so much strain on my back. In any case, consult various packing list suggestions online and try to only pack what you need. Don’t underestimate how annoying it is having to drag a heavy case around for weeks on end and lift it onto overhead bins in trains, buses, etc.
If you ARE going to use a backpack, I’d advise you to do a “trial run” before you go and see if everything fits inside/how heavy it is. That way, you won’t fall victim to toppling over backward like me or having to sit on top of your case to close it in a public space.
Be Prepared for Catcalls and Unwanted Advances
Okay, so not every country is the same in this regard. There are some countries where you can enjoy solo female travel and the locals will just leave you to get on with it. In others, you may find that you get a lot of curious looks and advances from the men.
I’m not going to tell you that you need to wear a burlap sack and dress as unattractively as possible. As above, respect the customs and ensure that you are dressed appropriately but acknowledge the fact that unwanted male advances and attention are still a very likely possibility, especially in regions where you look completely different to the locals, or where a woman alone is not considered ‘normal’.
The best way to handle such instances, in my opinion, is to just continue on as you are and act as though you haven’t noticed any leers and whistles. If someone continues to harass or pester you, then head into a local business and notify a local of your concern.
Reserve at Least Your First Night’s Accommodation
As exotic as it seems to just spontaneously fly off somewhere at the drop of a hat, it exposes you to additional costs and a schedule where you’re not making the most of your time. I don’t believe in organising everything down to a T but at the same time have an idea of what you want to see and do, organise at least your first night’s accommodation and be aware of anything that has to be booked in advance. This will save you from a world of unnecessary stress.
Think Carefully About Where You Want to Stay
A lot of solo travellers will often book themselves into backpacker’s hostels when they travel – mostly for the social aspect and the ease of meeting others. When I started travelling, I did this a lot too, however now I’ve gotten a bit older, I prefer paying more for privacy and comfort.
Don’t think that choosing to stay in a hotel or a private Airbnb apartment means that you will be isolated. I always do this and still manage to meet plenty of people. I usually use apps like Couchsurfing or Meetup to organise events and meet other people.
Try and Arrive During the Day
Everything is more stressful at night – from a safety perspective for one thing. You don’t want to be dragging your suitcase around empty streets while lost.
This is also important from a coordinating perspective – trains, buses, and public transport may not run after a certain time. This can cause you to incur additional costs if you wind up having to take a cab.
Don’t Buy Into This “Fake Wedding Ring” Drama
In some countries, a woman travelling alone is an uncommon sight. One widespread piece of solo female travel advice that I don’t buy into is the notion that you need to wear a fake wedding band.
I think that this advice is a load of rubbish. It gives out the wrong opinion that women are more deserving of respect if they are perceived as being some guy’s property. A wedding ring isn’t necessarily going to deter weirdos, and being unmarried is not something to be ashamed about.
I’ve travelled to a lot of countries with vastly different cultures to my own. In Uzbekistan for example, I am considered super old to be unmarried, however, I was open with the locals I met and we discussed the differences in marriage expectations. Nobody was rude or judgemental. Let’s be open about our cultural differences, rather than ashamed of them.
Get Excited About Your Trip
Solo female travel can be daunting, but it’s also incredibly enjoyable and empowering. You are going to get out and see some incredible places and meet some wonderful people. Any opportunity to take an adventure is a life-changing, once in a lifetime experience.
Rather than dwelling on the things that make you feel nervous, think about all the things that excite you about your trip. Envisage all of the incredible local food you are going to try, and the beautiful temples you are going to see.
During Your Trip
So you’ve taken the plunge, booked the ticket, and set off on your first solo female travel adventure. The below tips for use during your trip will keep you safe, sane, and happy!
Take Everything One Step at a Time
Even though I’ve been travelling alone for over eight years now, I still get anxious sometimes. Try and take everything one step at a time. For example, rather than thinking “oh my God I just arrived in Vietnam by myself and I don’t know what I’m doing or where I’m going!”, break it down into little steps.
The first step is going through immigration and getting your luggage. The next step is finding the bus stop, etc. If you break it down like this, your first few solo trips feel a lot less overwhelming.
Meeting Travellers and Locals
The great thing about travelling alone is that you will find that you are only really alone when you want to be. Unless you venture miles off the beaten path, you will often find yourself bumping into other travellers without going out of your way to do so.
I really love apps like Couchsurfing and meetup. Events and cultural exchanges are hosted regularly in various cities across the globe. Couchsurfing isn’t just for crashing on someone’s sofa. You can use the “hangouts” part of the app to browse for travellers and locals around you that want to grab dinner or explore with someone. Just always meet in a public place and check their references before you go!
By the way, if you travel somewhere and you notice that there isn’t much of a traveller/expat community, don’t be deterred – create your own instead! I randomly spent a month in Thessaloniki, Northern Greece this August and noticed there were no meetup events.
Instead of just spending my time in the city alone, I set up an International dinner and drinks mixer to take place every Friday. I met some incredible people as a result!
Carry the Address of Where You’re Staying in the Local Language
This is a good one if you’re worried about getting lost or getting back to your hotel. I always carry a business card of the hotel/hostel or have my hosts write it down. Thankfully I’ve never needed it but you need to think worst-case scenario – what if you get really lost? You can just show the address to a cab driver. This is especially helpful if you are in places where English is not commonly spoken (hello Japan!).
Don’t Be Afraid to Assert Yourself
Do you know those odd people that approach you and start conversations on the train? You can get a lot of those travelling. This especially happens with local men that act concerned and want to help you find x, y, whatever.
Don’t be afraid to say no, or remove yourself from the situation. Us British people especially just beat around the bush a lot of the time. In some countries and cultures, smiling and making small talk with local men is almost considered an invitation.
Walk with Confidence
You could be an expat well versed in the local area for all people know or you could have a big burly 6ft rugby player boyfriend meeting you soon. Act confident in what you are doing and where you are going and people will be less likely to bother you.
Have any further questions and concerns about solo female travel or planning your first independent trip? You are welcome to drop me a comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Safe travels! Melissa xo
Note: This article on solo female travel was originally written on March 1st 2016. It was rewritten and updated on the 8th of October 2019.