10 Tips for Solo Female Travelers
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Solo travel is on the rise these days, and single female travelers may face some particular threats and obstacles while on the road—so France-based (and female) TPG International Contributor Lane Nieset highlights 10 tips and tricks to help women take a safe and savvy solo getaway.
I’ve had my fair share of experiences—both good and bad—while traveling by myself, from post-college backpacking through Europe to exploring far-flung locales around the globe. There are certainly hazards out there, and at times, being alone might feel more lonely than exciting. But while you can’t avoid every danger or setback, there are ways to be more aware, cautious, prepared and empowered while you’re out there exploring the world Marco Polo-style, as a modern-day woman.
Here are my 10 tips for other solo female travelers:
Try to blend in. When I studied abroad in Paris during college, my professor said that wherever you go, you should learn how to say these six phrases and you’ll be golden: Hello, Goodbye, Thank You, How Much Does that Cost?, Where are the Toilets?, and I love You. I couldn’t agree with him more; these simple gestures make all the difference when it comes to respecting a culture. The same goes for dress code and clothing: a scarf can double as winter wear, as well as something to cover your hair or shoulders if you are in a Muslim country. This also goes for revealing or flashy clothing—save it for the nightclub. Even in sexy cities like Miami, you’re going to draw attention, and it may not always be the kind you want.
Talk to Strangers. As a child, parents and teachers always taught us to shy away from strangers, but one of the best ways to explore a city is by striking up a conversation with someone you don’t know. For instance, I’ve met new friends on trains who’ve started sharing their tips about particular destinations, and by the time we arrive at our final stop, they’ve become my travel partners. Look up from your smartphone, step outside of your comfort zone and go on a new adventure, whether it leads you to a hidden (and delicious) restaurant recommended by the bartender who just served you, or to a speakeasy club that’s filled with locals. In high-end hostels like Europe’s Generator, you could even book a private room, but still enjoy the social setting hostels are known for—and make a friend to go out with that night. Just remember to use common sense and never disclose too much information about yourself.
Be Prepared for a Plan B. Travel doesn’t always go smoothly. Planes are late or cancelled; trains get delayed; you might miss your ferry and have to wait a day or two for the next one. While airport information desks and airline attendants make it easier to handle these types of situations, it’s not always the case for other modes of transportation. My boyfriend is notorious for missing flights and has no fear of finding a last-minute spot to sleep in anywhere from Kazakhstan to Bangkok, but I’m the opposite—situations like this stress me out while I scramble for a solution.
I was once stranded at a train station outside of Venice in the middle of the night because my overnight connection was delayed three hours. For a woman on her own, a situation like this can be disconcerting, since many open-air train stations in Europe lack security, attendants, and any type of social setting like a café or restaurant. If you find yourself in a similar situation, try to find a well-lit spot that’s not deserted. Not an option? Train stations are typically near hotels, so try walking to a nearby spot and explaining your situation to the concierge. Most hotels are fine with allowing a woman on her own to sit in the lobby or hotel restaurant and wait for a few hours until her train arrives.
Use Social Media & Smartphone Apps. While you shouldn’t flash your new iPhone 6 around, prepare for your next journey by glancing at maps and recommendations on your phone. This way you have a general idea of where you’re heading and can avoid standing out too much like a tourist with a giant paper map. Social media is also a great way to find out about local events and attractions, as well as connect with locals. Book a room at a hotel, hostel or Airbnb while on the road, maybe even snagging a last-minute deal.
While I was exploring the coast of Croatia, I booked my B&B for the next night via iPad and not only found an incredible rate on a sea-view room, but also had a lovely welcome drink with the Croatian owner and daughter, who gave me great recommendations for things to do. Think Tinder is just for meeting your next boyfriend (or rendez-vous)? The app is also a way to get ideas for things to do from locals, and maybe even meet in a public group setting. Just be careful and once again use your common sense and female intuition.
Dine Alone—And Love It. One of the main concerns most travelers have is dining alone. Telling the hostess (who may not even speak English) you want a table for one may seem intimidating, but there are ways around the awkwardness.
Breakfast and lunch are the easiest meals for eating solo. I can’t even talk before coffee, so a table with me and a newspaper is the perfect plan for breakfast at a café. Same goes for lunchtime: bring a book if you need to feel entertained during your meal, or take advantage of some free WiFi. Often when I find myself sitting solo at a café or park, I’ll jot down my trip-notes and personal thoughts in a small, stylish notebook that can fit in my purse.
At dinnertime, when it seems like everyone else is out with friends, on dates, laughing and conversing, I’ve found that tables seem too stuffy, so I opt to dine at the bar. Bartenders have a gift for gab, and can make great dinner companions. But remember, you took this voyage alone for a reason—whether it’s your own Eat Pray Love moment or a work trip—so consider simply savoring some alone time, free of distractions. (That is, aside from taking food pics for Instagram.)
Don’t Announce Your Room Number. Most hotels have gotten savvy when it comes to keeping guests’ room numbers private at check-in. It’s better to have the check-in person write down the room number instead of announcing it out loud for others to know where you’re staying. When getting into an elevator or walking to your room, stay mindful of unwanted company; if a person makes you feel uncomfortable, as soon as possible, get off, pick up your pace, or switch directions. Share your itinerary with a close friend, parent, roommate, so that someone knows where to find you in case of an emergency. And a last word of advice when staying at hotels or going out on the town alone: don’t drink past your own limit. We know those craft cocktails at the hotel bar look cute and all, but when you’re on your own, you put yourself at risk when you can’t stay aware of yourself and your surroundings.
Guard Your Bags & Valuables. A TSA-approved lock not only helps keep your bags (relatively) safe at the airport, but can also be used while staying in hostels and napping on trains. The same goes for keeping an eye on your purse, backpack and smartphone. I know a few women who have set their phones on a table while having lunch or a coffee, and the minute they looked away, it was gone.
Keep your passport safely stored at your hotel and stay aware of your bag in crowded places and on public transport. The Paris metro, for instance, is notorious for pickpockets who slash bags open and steal what’s inside. You should even be careful at clubs, especially when dancing with a handsome stranger. One second my friends were kissing a dark-eyed beauty, the next they realized their wallet was no longer in their cross-body purse. Always have spare copies of your passport and identification, just in case those go missing, too.
Carry Local Currency. Whether you withdraw money at an ATM or convert your dollars at the airport, always carry local currency in case of an emergency—and never pack it in a checked-in bag while flying. Depending on the country, some restaurants and taxi drivers may only take cash, or your credit card may not work with certain vendors (even with the international EMV chip). Having cash is also useful at local markets, or when your Uber driver fails to show and you need to hail a taxi. I also like to keep spare cash and an emergency credit card in a separate bag (usually stored safely at the hotel) in case something happens to my wallet or purse. For those in a real rut, Western Union is a great resource for friends or family to wire you money. (This has saved friends of mine who “lost” their purses at nightclubs in Paris.)
Wander, but Use Caution. I love learning my way around a new city—wandering through different neighborhoods during the day, figuring out how to navigate local transport, and finding great restaurants, cafes, bars and shops, but I always try to discover where not to go, especially at night.
When I first moved to Nice on the Cote d’Azur of France, I was told by locals that walking alone in the Old Town at night wasn’t the safest bet; women had been mugged, beaten up and grabbed in the street. As I result, I avoided unlit areas, tried to walk on busier streets, and kept my phone close at hand in case I needed to call for help.
But I also quickly learned to avoid speaking loudly on the phone or to a friend when walking at night, as my French isn’t always perfect. If you’re not fluent or can’t get a hang of an accent, speaking loudly will draw attention to the fact that you’re a tourist, and potentially an easy target.
The lesson? Do your exploring in daylight, and be prepared to get back to your lodging safe and sound at night, even if that means a direct taxi ride versus braving the subway. And always keep a card with your hotel’s name and address on it (especially for that moment when your trusty phone battery dies) that you can give to the driver to ease communication.
Take a Tour or Try a Local Activity. Free walking tours exist in most major international cities, and are a haven for solo travelers, because not only can they help you get your bearings and learn more about the culture, you’re with a crowd of people for a few hours and may find someone to meet up with for the next few days, or even make a new friend.
Other local activities can provide the same perks. If you’re in Bordeaux, sign up for a wine tasting. In Tulum, try a yoga class or week-long retreat. Go on a kayaking trip in Norway. Making connections with people who have similar interests can make the world feel smaller—and inspire you to keep traveling.
Treat solo travel as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and the world. Let loose, but take simple precautions like these to stay safe without worrying too much. You’re on vacation, after all.
What are some of your tips for staying safe while traveling solo?